Watching and Waiting

The guard stands in the tower, eyes cast downward, searching through the thick night for any change, ears tuned for any out-of-the-ordinary noise. He raises his eyes to the distant mountains, their peaks muted by the sameness of the sky. He leans against the edge of the window for a moment, but he cannot relax. He will not descend until the sun ascends.

sandstone tower
watchmen’s tower in the Middle East (c) Carole Sparks

Even in the deepest, loneliest part of the night, the guard never doubts the rising of the sun. With absolute confidence, he glances to the east for a moment, eager to catch the first graying of the dark sky, the first dimming of the stars. Continue reading

Why Do You Ask? 3 types of questions put to Jesus

The understanding arising
from the search for an
answer outweighs the
value of the answer itself.

I learned a long time ago that God relishes our questions. When we come to Him with an authentic desire to know more, trust more, glorify more, He welcomes even the toughest of questions and points us down a path of discovery. Sometimes God doesn’t give us a straightforward answer—oftentimes actually—but the depth and breadth of understanding we receive from the search for an answer outweighs the value of the answer itself, had we received it.

When Jesus walked the roads of Galilee and Judea, people asked him lots of questions. I read somewhere that he directly answered only three questions. Usually, he pressed into the question somehow, and often he replied to that question with a question of his own. Remember these?

Whose image is this? And whose inscription?  -Matthew 22:20

What is written in the Law? How do you read it? -Luke 10:26

It wasn’t the status or appearance of the person that affected how Jesus answered. It was the person’s heart. John said, He knew what was in each person (John 2:25). Jesus deliberately led the questioner to the Truth behind the question, which, like our own inquiries today, was actually more important than the specific answer.

As we read through the Gospels, we find at least three types of people who asked Jesus questions. In our examples, let’s limit ourselves to Pharisees, just to make it interesting, and we can find all three types of askers among this group.

Demonstrators declare, “Look what I know.”

I’ve seen this type of person in classrooms and lecture halls. He asks a question to impress the professor and students, not because he wants to learn. In front of Jesus, this type is most clear when the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus about the resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33). They asked in order to trick Him, to show how clever they were. They weren’t sincerely interested in Jesus’ answer.

Debaters challenge, “Prove it.”

This is the one who says, “I’m not going to take your word for it. Show me the evidence.” Sometimes the Pharisees were indignant about Jesus’ claims and/or actions. How could Jesus be so bold? Then they asked things like this:

The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this? -John 2:18

Or this:

To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.’ Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. -Mark 8:11-13

Jesus wasn’t interested in giving signs (a.k.a. miracles) to people who weren’t interested in trusting Him. He just walked away. He left them standing there in His dust, looking slightly foolish.

Discoverers plead, “I just don’t know, but I want to believe.”

I almost called this section “Doubters plead.” I am convinced that it’s okay to doubt…when you take your doubts straight to God. Doubting is really about what you discover in the process. So keep reading.

Immediately after the Pharisees challenge Jesus at the temple (John 2:18), John gives us the contrasting story of Nicodemus, an individual Pharisee (John 3). Did you ever wonder why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night? According to the notes in my Bible, either he was afraid of being judged by his peers or he just wanted to avoid the interruptions of a day-time crowd. Doesn’t matter, really, because Jesus saw his heart. Jesus saw that he honestly wanted some answers. Nicodemus thought Jesus might actually be the Messiah, but things weren’t happening the way he had always been told they would happen. Nicodemus was sincerely trying to wrap his mind around all this new, tradition-busting information.

Jesus didn’t condemn
Nicodemus for asking

So this time, Jesus was patient. He answered Nicodemus’ questions in the best way he could, according to Nicodemus’ understanding. The answers aren’t as straightforward as he—or we—might wish (“Born again?” What?), but there’s no sense of impatience on Jesus’ part…maybe frustration because Nicodemus should have understood, but Jesus didn’t rush off, and He didn’t condemn Nicodemus for asking.

This is where we find ourselves, so may years later. Before we go to God with our questions, we must ask ourselves why we are asking. What do you hope to gain from questioning God? To demonstrate, to debate, or to discover Truth? Because it’s not the questions themselves that are the problem.

Suppose three people come to Jesus with exactly the same question, but the motivation behind each is different. Jesus’ reply will be different for each one. How are you asking questions? First, don’t be afraid to ask. Second, know that the answers you get (or lack thereof) probably tell you more about yourself than about your God.


Missional Women

Faith is in the Gap*

You rush to the end of the line for the biggest roller coaster at the amusement park, elbowing your way in front of another pair of riders because getting behind those two additional people might possibly cause you to wait an extra ninety seconds when you finally reach the other end of the line. You look up: “Two-hour wait from this point.” One hundred and twenty minutes is a long time to compel your mind to focus on something—anything—other than this death-defying machine that will hurl you through space with your bare feet dangling below…then above…then beside you. You make friendly conversation with the people behind you and try to pretend that you didn’t accost them just so you could cut those seconds off your wait time.

That fluttering in your stomach
is not from lack of food…

After the interminable two hours leaves you with tired feet, back pain (if you’re over forty, like me), and a growling stomach, you finally arrive at the front gates. Brief images of Churchill Downs flash through your mind…or is it the cattle chutes at a slaughterhouse? You realize the fluttering in your stomach is not from lack of food. You irrationally forget that at least four million people were in front of you in that line and not one of them is now dead. Your hands grip the cow-herding bars. Your tongue stutters and you try to laugh it off. You put on your brave face because everyone around you already remembered to do that, and you don’t want to be the odd-man-out.

07-27 roller coaster (2)
(c) Carole Sparks Six Flags over Georgia

Even as you kick off your flip-flops, you know there is still time to back out. How can you be sure the mechanism will support you? Why should you trust the engineers and mechanics who built this contraption? What if your safety harness unlatches mid-barrel roll?  There’s the exit gate; you see it at the end of the platform. Shoes in one hand, cell phone in the other, you hesitate as you reach toward the cubbyhole. All the friendly encouragement in the world could not boost your confidence at this moment.

That is doubt—pure doubt in which you question the sanity not only of yourself but of those around you and those in authority over you. You mentally test the waters of justification and consider the ramifications of walking away even while you empty your hands and turn toward certain death . . . at least it feels like it.

Taking a deep breath, you step across that gap, an empty space between solid ground and steel girders. The seat grabs you, and before you realize what has happened, the safety harness is locked, the minimum-wage college-age ride attendant has “inspected” your latch (yeah, right), and you are moving.

You had to leave your justifications
and ramifications in that cubbyhole
with your spare change.

Now doubt has a new face. You are committed and your doubts, while still relevant, cannot affect your actions. Well, you could scream, but nothing would really change. You had to leave your justifications and ramifications in that cubbyhole with your spare change. The click-click-click of the up-hill climb sounds like a time bomb, and in the momentary hesitation at the top, you feel certain that you are facing death. You sit very still because any sudden movement will surely knock the entire chain of seats off the rail. Stopping the engines and returning to the platform is not an option.

Ninety seconds later, smile plastered to your face (along with a couple of small bugs), you coast back into the platform and tell the next row of risk-takers, “You’re gonna love it!”

Risk-taking always
involves doubt.

Risk-taking always involves doubt. That’s what makes it risky. The real choice was a simple one: Do you step across that open-air gap into the seat or do you walk away and never know, tattooing the doubts onto your soul forever? The act of faith transpired in that gap.

That sounds a little intense for an amusement park, I know.

Risk and doubt are just as much a part of the Christ-life as they are a day at the park…except the stakes are much greater. We’re talking about eternity here. Just like with the roller coaster, there is only one way to remove the doubts: experience. And the only way to get the experience is to commit despite the doubts. When you choose to follow Christ, you step across a gap into a new world of risk and adventure. Your doubts don’t simply vanish, but as you gain experience, they become calculable risks. And just like with the roller coaster, you are actually safe whether you recognize it or not.

Risk and doubt are as much a part of the Christ-life as they are a day at the park…except the stakes are greater. (click to tweet)

Do you like roller coasters? I love them and hate them, yet I continue to get in line. How does this imagery help you face the inevitable risks of the Christ-life? Please share with all of us in the comments below!

*not The Gap®, the clothing store