The Privilege of Pursuing My Passion

What are you passionate about? What kind of work feeds your soul?

My father worked 25 years at a chemical plant. His father–my grandfather–worked and died in the coal mines of Kentucky. My father-in-law worked 20+ years at a series of power plants belonging to TVA, power plants his father helped build.

My father managed the trains: driving the engines as they pulled the cars full of coal and before that, applying brakes to all the separate cars. He was the other kind of engineer—the kind that doesn’t have a four-year-degree and “a head full of knowledge but no practical sense.” His words, not mine.

I never asked my dad what he wanted to do with his life. If I had, I think he would have looked at me sideways because it wasn’t the kind of question people asked themselves when their dads worked in coal mines and their best friends died in Vietnam. He graduated from high school, got married, and moved south for a “good job” that would pay the bills and leave him a little time for fun on his days off, which weren’t necessarily the weekends.

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Not My Words But His

From my seat at my wide, slightly dirty office window, it seems there are plenty of words floating around out there these days, and maybe you don’t need any more words to fill your ears. So this week, I offer you only the Father’s words along with some of my images of His creation. 

Psalm 46

Table Mountain
Lion’s Rump from Table Mountain (c) Carole Sparks

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

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Nameless: Series Introduction

What’s in a name? Shakespeare said it wasn’t really important:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  -William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

But God prioritizes names. He equates them to one’s reputation—especially His own. God told Abram his name would be great (Genesis 12:2). Later, He changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “He struggles with God” (Genesis 32:28). And repeatedly, the Psalmists praise God’s Name.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Psalm 29:2

Later, Peter heals a man just by saying Jesus’ name:

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Acts 3:6

And he insists before the Sanhedrin:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”  –Acts 4:12

There’s power in one’s name—especially Jesus’.

Why do we get so embarrassed
when we forget someone’s name?

And identity. If names weren’t important, we wouldn’t get so embarrassed when we forget someone’s name, and it wouldn’t be so significant if we call someone by the wrong name. We also wouldn’t work so hard to pronounce names properly.

So what does it mean when someone remains nameless in the Biblical narrative? In particular, many people Jesus healed and some with whom He interacted often aren’t recognized by name. Continue reading

Some People Aren’t Gonna Like You

As Christians, we often think everyone needs to like us. If people want to be around us and think we’re nice, we assume we’re representing Christ well.

Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: It roots the standard for Christ-likeness in other people’s opinions. They are not God. Jesus is God, and there were some people who didn’t like him when he was on earth. In fact, certain people despised Him. Our standard for Christlikeness is … (wait for it) … Christ. Continue reading

Why I didn’t have new content this week

So this happened.

GrishaVerse books
#GrishaVerse (out of order)

My blog isn’t the only thing I neglected since I dipped my toe into Leigh Bardugo’s YA “tsarpunk” world less than two weeks ago. My only regret is that there aren’t any more stories.

Goodreads reviews coming soon. (I didn’t stop long enough to review each one as I finished it.)

What book series completely captivated you when you first read it? What book do you wish you could read again for the first time? Drop me a note in the comments.

5 Things to Try When Your Bible Study Feels Dry

I started Amos last week in my personal Bible study time. I could spend the rest of my days in the Gospels, but we need the whole of Scripture. Every portion—every verse—has a purpose. So about once a year, my husband and I venture back into the Old Testament. I studied Amos for a Hebrew exegesis class in seminary, but I have never walked through it in my personal quiet time.

The first couple of chapters were interesting, from a historical and geographical perspective, but I had some trouble with application. My Bible study time felt dry. What do you do when your Bible study time feels dry? Continue reading

3 Biblical Moms who “Owned” Their Unconventional Roles

In recognition of Mother’s Day this Sunday (12 May 2019), I offer three portraits of biblical mothers who overcame their less-than-ideal circumstances and produced amazing kids (one way or another).

Naomi owned the mother-in-law role

When Naomi’s husband and both her sons died, she remained in Edom with no family and no way to take care of herself. It’s not a surprise she decided to return to her own people. What does surprise is the commitment Ruth, her daughter-in-law, made to Naomi. (For more on Ruth’s side of the story, see my recent post, Blessed Are: The Meek.) At first, Naomi was like, “whatever,” about Ruth’s refusal to leave her. She was still full of grief and even told people to call her Bitter.

Naomi rose from her grief and
directed Ruth toward a happy future.

But Naomi rose from her grief and directed Ruth toward a happy future. She advised Ruth on local customs and on finding another husband. Boaz turned out to be a wonderful husband for Ruth, and Naomi got to hold her grandson on her lap.

Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!”  –Ruth 4:16-17a

Ruth may have gained another mother-in-law when she married Boaz, but something tells me Naomi remained an important and influential part of her life.

Hannah owned the longed-for-and-lost role

Hannah desperately longed for a child—just one child! Finally (to make a long story short), after pleading to God for years, God blessed her with a son after Hannah promised to give Him back to the service of God. Hannah kept Samuel until he was weaned (probably about three years), then she left him at the temple with the old priest, Eli.

Hannah released Samuel, but
she didn’t disregarded him.

God blessed Hannah with five other children after Samuel (1 Samuel 2:21), but she never stopped being Samuel’s mother. Just because she released him doesn’t mean she disregarded him. Every year, she faithfully brought him a new cloak (1 Samuel 2:19).

Eunice owned the cross-cultural marriage role

We know so little about Timothy’s mother, Eunice. What’s the story behind her marriage to a non-Jewish guy (Acts 16:1)? And how did her mother, Lois, feel about it? Paul said to Timothy,

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.  –2 Timothy 1:5

Eunice raised Timothy
to love God.

It seems Timothy’s father wasn’t one of those “God-fearing Greeks” like the ones who joined Paul and Silas in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-4), and yet Eunice raised Timothy to fear God, love others, and follow the Law. Sometime after Jesus came to earth and changed everything, both Eunice and Lois shifted their devotion, becoming Christ-followers.

Eunice navigated her cross-cultural marriage while consistently instilling her faith into her son. She didn’t let her circumstances excuse her from diligence in faith matters.

Naomi’s grandson, Obed, was the grandfather of King David and in the lineage of Jesus (Ruth 4:17).

Hannah’s son spoke for God for years and anointed both King Saul (1 Samuel 10:1) and King David (1 Samuel 16:12-13).

Eunice’s son helped the Gospel spread around the world and was the recipient of two letters that influence Christian thinking even today (1 and 2 Timothy).

These women had unconventional mothering rolls, but they were exactly where God wanted them to be, doing what He wanted them to do. This Mother’s Day…okay, every day…let’s celebrate the mothers around us who may not look or act like your “typical” mom, if there is such a thing.

Being a mother–and “owning” that role–has always taken many forms, as far back as biblical times. Even #MothersDay is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Have you known the blessing of an unconventional mom in your life? Maybe you are the unconventional mom. Know another biblical example of an unconventional mothering role? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!

The Evangelical Extrovert Ideal

I grew up with the Four Spiritual Laws, door-to-door evangelism, and massive loads of guilt for not telling my unchurched neighbors and classmates all about how Jesus changed my life. As a young adult, I studied methods of evangelism in which I was expected to walk up to a stranger at the mall and “convert” her. There is nothing in the world that makes me more uncomfortable, and nothing in the Bible that suggests we should do this.

I went to church every Sunday, too. There was a designated time in the service to greet everyone sitting around me. If I finished my greetings quickly—which I usually did—I stood awkwardly staring forward, waiting on the singing to resume, or I rummaged in my purse, pretending to look for something. Continue reading

A Small League of Unrecognized Radicals

Biblical flash fiction based on John 19:38-42 (and the other gospels).

“Get me an audience with Pilate. Now.” Joseph’s servant nodded and stepped away, soon lost in the dispersing crowd, but Joseph couldn’t move. He tried not to think about the twelve-year-old who had amazed him in the temple more than two decades earlier. He forced himself to breathe again and steadied his hands.

Now for the eyes. They hadn’t left Jesus since a centurion thrust his spear into Jesus’ side. Look away, Joseph. You have to look away. You have to take care of this, even if He isn’t what you anticipated. Jesus deserves that much. Continue reading