On the Way to the Cross: Who’s Hollering?

To the crowd, they were unimportant, overlookable: just a couple of blind guys who sat by the side of the road every day. It was probably their usual spot, on the road that led to Jerusalem. With so many travelling for Passover, they probably expected a good “haul” that day.

They probably didn’t expect to be healed.

Matthew 20:29-34. Continue reading

A New Personal Connection

I’m excited to let you know I’ve joined the ALTARWORK family, where my essay, Pursuit of Beauty (first seen on this blog) was highlighted yesterday! Here’s the link to see it there.

Check out the website or follow on social media.

The Balance Between Liberty and Licentiousness

I know that’s an old-fashioned word, licentiousness. It just means indulging your sin nature, allowing yourself “license” (the root word) to do whatever you want. It’s liberty taken to the extreme. It’s stretching through purpose for self-indulgence. I just couldn’t think of a more exact word, so I took a risk and used this one.

As I spent my quiet time in Galatians over the last weeks, this verse stood out:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. -Galatians 5:13

So many of God’s good
gifts turn to sin when
we take them to excess.

So many of God’s good gifts turn to sin when we take them to excess. It’s like dark chocolate. One piece of really good dark chocolate tastes wonderful and actually has some health benefits. A whole bar of dark chocolate leaves a funny taste in your mouth and actually damages your overall health. That’s what we tend to do with God’s blessings.

Think about it:

  • Love gets twisted into lust.
  • Food overfed becomes gluttony.
  • The conveniences of life such as curb-side service and internet, when overindulged, generate sloth.
  • The tangible blessings of home, cars, clothes, etc. find us prideful or envious, depending on who has them.
  • Sleep, when overused, contributes to escapism and/or laziness.
  • Even Bible study (How could there be anything wrong with Bible study?!?) can become the end goal, the feel-good thing, a source of pride as we acquire knowledge.

To put it bluntly, we tend to pervert for our personal pleasure that which God has given us for His glory and our good.

God wants us to enjoy His
creation and the blessings
of living in it.

The backlash to a self-indulgent lifestyle is one of asceticism, a rejection of comforts and pleasures altogether in favor of extreme abstinence. But God gave us love, food, sleep, and all these other things. He wants us to enjoy His creation and the blessings of living in it.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights… -James 1:17

In I Want to Live These Days with You (8/11), Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the functional purposes of our homes, eating & drinking, clothing, and relaxation but demonstrates how they are also meant to elicit enjoyment.  Of the ascetic life, he writes, “Where people are robbed of the possibility of bodily joys, when their bodies are used exclusively as a means to an end, there we find an assault on the original right of bodily life.”

So how and where do we find the necessary balance? Let’s consider these four ways to check your licentiousness without losing your liberty.

  1. A greater delight in the Giver than the gift

As you sit down to that sumptuous meal, where does your mind go? To your palate and your stomach or to the one who caused these foods to grow and provided them to you?

  1. A steady diet of God’s Word, and not just the parts we like

Keep yourself grounded by digging into difficult Scripture as well as reviewing the comfortable chapters. For example, test yourself for sinfulness in passages like 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, which covers sexual immorality, but also relish your protected citizen status in sections like Romans 8:31-39. Sit under Christ-centered teaching that doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable commands and standards of the Bible even while it celebrates the love and blessings found in following God.

  1. An intimate dedication to the work of the Spirit in our lives

Learn how to hear the Holy Spirit and practice responding promptly. (There are books for this, or talk to a trusted adviser.) He will prompt you to step away from certain worldly pleasures when you need it. Your willingness or unwillingness to obey demonstrates your attachment to that pleasure. For example, Paul told the Corinthians that married couples might sometimes abstain from sex in order to focus on prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5) even when God normally smiles on sex within a marriage. For me, an unwillingness to fast when prompted by the Holy Spirit shows me that food has taken too high of a priority in my life.

  1. An ongoing identification with the person of Jesus

Jesus could enjoy a good meal with the best of them…and the worst (e.g. Zacchaeus). He supplied wine for a wedding (John 2:1-11) and a picnic for a crowd (John 6:1-14). He probably enjoyed the foot rub that came with having oil poured on His feet (John 12:1-11), and He could let down His guard to play with children (Luke 18:15-17). This was a man who enjoyed His earthly life. But He also knew when it was time to get serious, to say the hard things, and finally, to release it all.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! -Philippians 2:8

What is the purpose
of sheets?

Imagine you just bought a new set of sheets. They’re 600-thread-count Egyptian cotton, and they feel good. You crawl under the covers and snuggle down. But your purpose in the bed is not to enjoy the sheets. It’s to sleep. What if you were so busy enjoying the sheets that you didn’t sleep? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? The purpose of the sheets is to help you sleep better, and they will, if you keep everything in the proper perspective.

In the same way, God gives us so many good things to help us live this life on earth not only with purpose but also with pleasure. He told the Israelites, “Open your mouth and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). If we’ll stay grounded in the four things above, we’ll learn how to enjoy the pleasures without obscuring our purpose.

4 ways to enjoy the pleasures of life without obscuring the purpose. via @Carole_Sparks #NotAboutMe #ChristianLiberty  (click to tweet)

What do you think? How do we balance the pleasures and the calling to purity in the Christ-life? Honestly, I’m just trying to work through all this, and I’d love some input. Leave a comment. I’ll try to give a thoughtful reply.

The Ones Who “Also Ran”

The last two weeks, our entire schedule was disrupted. We don’t watch a lot of television, but we didn’t even change the channel during this time. We stayed up late, eyes glued to the screen. Breakfast found us checking news feeds for updates, and TV during dinner? Yes, for these two weeks, it was acceptable! As you probably guessed, we are Olympaholics! It doesn’t matter what sport or what level of competition (heats, semifinals, medal rounds), we watch it. We even have special words that only come out every two years (because we’re just as bad about winter Olympics). For example, eating during a good competition is an Olympicnic.

Of course, we rooted for the USA (final medal count: 121!), but we also cheered for anyone who was trying their hardest and anyone representing a country that hadn’t ever won a medal, such as Singapore in men’s swimming 100m butterfly.

What makes the Olympics so special?

  • The comradery: Bolt and De Grasse (sprinting) smiling and joking as they crossed the line in the semi-finals of the 200m.
  • The sportsmanship: Hamblin and D’Agostino (running) help each other up after a fall in the 5000m qualifying race, the USA women’s gymnastics team cheering each other on as they competed.
  • The patriotism: Ryan Crouse (shot put) at 23 years old, 6’7”/245lbs., with tears in his eyes as they played the national anthem; Michael Phelps (swimming) looking the same even after standing on the highest podium twenty-two times before.
  • The joy: Nijat Rahimov (weightlifting) of Kazakhstan dancing when he won gold.
  • The celebration of the human body’s ability rather than its appearance.
  • The platform for Christ: testimonies of Helen Maroulis (wrestling), David Boudia and Steels Johnson (synchronized diving), among others.

My favorite tweet from the Olympics:

The Olympics are rich with lessons for our spiritual lives, and you’ve probably read multiple articles to that effect. Let me add one more. *smile*

These guys got lapped.
In the Olympics.

The image that sticks in my mind even after the closing ceremonies is this: Mo Farah of Great Britain fell in the 10,000m finals then surged ahead to win gold—an amazing feat. As he ran around the track alongside the Kenyans and Ethiopians, they passed a couple of runners. These other guys got lapped. In the Olympics. Farah has been winning these middle/long distance races for years. He was the favorite, and most commentators could have predicted the top five, if not the exact order of their completion. How discouraging for the rest of the field.

What does an Olympic runner think when he gets lapped? (click to tweet)

It makes me wonder what was going through their minds in those moments, as they watched the backs of Farah and the others speed past them.

Did they regret their decisions to travel to Rio?

Was their effort worthless?

What was the point of running, knowing they would not win?

I don’t think they thought any of these things.

Paul told the Corinthian Christians, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24…Is anyone surprised by my choice of a verse? I doubt it!). We need to be careful here to see what Paul intended and what he didn’t. He did not say, “Only run if you can win.” He also didn’t say, “Do whatever it takes—even cheating—to win,” or “Hey, everyone is a winner.”

When Paul said run in such a way as to get the prize, he meant run as if you will win, run your absolute best every time, put in the work to win even if you know you can’t.

But why bother?

Very few of us will reach the pinnacle of achievement in our given fields. As a Bible study writer, I will never be Beth Moore or Kay Arthur. That doesn’t mean I’ve missed my calling. It doesn’t mean I shut my computer and walk away. I will strive to be the best regardless of how much attention I get. Because somehow that’s where God’s glory lies: in my best effort. As my friend, Leigh Powers, put it in her post about the Olympics, “We are not defined by what we achieve but by what Christ has done for us.”

Mo Farah and Usain Bolt were designed to run, then they were cultivated to reach their peak potential. But so were those guys who got lapped. They may not go home with medals around their necks, but I believe they did their absolute best. They still made their countries proud. They are still Olympians.

At some level, the Olympics are no longer about the individual athletes but about their nations. In the same way, the things to which God calls us are not about us but about Him.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters… -Colossians 3:23 (Yep, Paul again.)

Even if you can’t win the prize, run (or whatever your version of running is) as if you were going to win. You were created to do it, you are called to do it, and now you are cultivating your ability to do it.

So run your race.

Represent your faith family and your God.

Relish the privilege of appearance regardless of the final standings.

I’m called to run my race regardless of the final standings because the race is not about me. (click to tweet)

What was your most inspirational moment in the Olympics? What made you think twice? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Update 9.20.16   Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern-day Olympics, established the Olympic creed after being inspired by a speech he heard (given by Bishop Ethelbert Talbot). Looks like he thought the same way we have here! This is it: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

The Crutch: a Short Story

The muted tip of Jack’s crutch played counterpoint to the flop of his one sneaker. If the hall hadn’t been so crowded, there would have been an echo. He liked the echo. He decided to ask permission for early dismissal in his next class so he could be alone in the hall.

“When you gonna get off that thing, Jack?” Carly was the only one who seemed to dislike his crutch. The rest of his friends thought it was cool…or maybe they were jealous of the extra attention he got because of it.

“I don’t know.” Jack shrugged with the shoulder that wasn’t over the crutch. “The doctor says another week or two, but I can move pretty fast on it now, and it’s actually comfortable.”

“Looks to me like you want to keep it.” Carly’s brow furrowed and her lip turned up, like she had caught a whiff of the cafeteria dumpster. She veered toward her next class before he could drum up a suitable answer.

Jack did want to
keep his crutch.

The truth was, he did want to keep it. He felt more in control of his path with the crutch, and he didn’t stumble over his own feet like he used to. Plus, people were so encouraging. Complete strangers at the big department store applauded his maneuverability and kids on the bus moved so he could have whatever seat he wanted. If people would just try it, they would see how much better life was with a crutch.

Jack shared his thoughts with his parents over dinner. They were such good listeners. Later, his dad climbed into the attic and pulled out an old wooden crutch. He used it to walk around the garage on one foot for almost ten minutes with Jack calling out pointers and trying not to laugh when his dad bumped into things. Jack’s dad hobbled over to Jack’s perch on the workbench. “You know, Jack, I think you’re right. I’ll have to build up some strength in my arm and shoulder, but I can move around fairly well with this crutch, and I’m sure it’ll get me some attention at work.”

The next evening, Jack’s dad came home with a shiny metal crutch for his mom. There was even a pink bow on the shoulder rest. “But I’m not hurt,” she insisted. Jack and his dad worked for half an hour before they convinced her to give it a try. Jack smiled to see that his mom finally had something to lean on while she cut vegetables for dinner.

They walked with Jack’s
familiar thump-squash stride.

Later in the week, Jack rummaged through the dumpsters near the hospital and found two used crutches. After applying some Clorox and a little duct tape, he presented them to his two best friends. They laughed. They fell down. They resorted to sword-fighting at one point. But after six juice boxes and a bit of cajoling, they walked home with Jack’s familiar thump-squash stride.

When Carly saw the three classmates using a crutch, she just rolled her eyes. Two days later, however, another five students came to school with crutches. By the end of the grading period, at least twenty percent of every class walked with a crutch. This fact slowed class changes and bus loading in the afternoons. Before long, the cafeteria created special lines for those on crutches and the library recruited student volunteers to carry study materials for the same kids.

The principal tried to keep this…phenomenon…quiet, but #crutchlife exploded on social media, which led to news crews clogging the entryways and phone lines of the school. On the second day of media coverage, one of the reporters leaned on a crutch to record her story for the camera.

Carly noticed the becrutched reporter out the window of her civics class. While Mr. Lewis droned on about moral codes and the “rule of law,” Carly searched for a cast or brace on the reporter’s favored leg. There wasn’t one.

After tripping over two crutches on the way out of class, Carly sought out Jack. “What are you doing, Jack?” Carly’s hands stretched stiff at her sides, elbows tight, eyes wide. “This is crazy! None of these people actually need crutches!”

Jack lowered himself onto the cafeteria seat and laid his crutch carefully under the table. He gestured toward the vacant seat beside him without speaking to Carly. She sighed as her body cascaded into the seat. Another sigh propelled her head to face Jack’s.

“My crutch makes
me a better person.”

He smiled kindly and patted her hand. “Carly, we’ve been friends for a long time, haven’t we?” He waited until she nodded slowly before he continued. “Then I feel comfortable telling you this. I have realized this crutch helps me move around in a way that I can’t on my own. It makes me a better, stronger person because I am now in control of my movements. I always know exactly where to find it and how to use it. Don’t you see? I am more free now.”

Jack’s patronizing tone made Carly want to vomit, but it was his words that drew a flush to her cheeks. “Have you lost your mind? You have two feet. You learned how to walk from your parents. You can go anywhere…run even. Now you’ve tied yourself to this crutch. It was supposed to be temporary, but you’ve gotten so comfortable with it that you’ve made it permanent. You are not better. You are not stronger.”

With that, Carly jumped up and ran away freely, on her own two feet.

Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? -Galatians 3:3

What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God [to Abraham] and thus do away with the promise. -Galatians 3:17

I’d love it if you shared this with some friends…

The Crutch: A short story and allegory via @Carole_Sparks. #NotAboutMe #legalism (click to tweet)

Can you see the allegory? Have you found yourself leaning on something that was originally helpful but eventually harmful? Want to share an example (doesn’t have to be personal)? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

The Spiral Slide of Temptation

Imagine Peter, James, and John sitting in Gethsemane, waiting for Jesus to come back from praying…

It had been a long and significance-laden day, starting when Jesus sent a couple of disciples into town to find some man carrying a water jar. Random. But that man had a room available for Jesus and the disciples to observe Passover. Who still has a room unoccupied on the morning of the biggest celebration of the year? But there he was, and there it was. Mark 14:12-16 Continue reading

Servant Leadership: Focusing on the Foot

“Buzzword” is such an interesting word. It means a vogue term, with the idea that people are making noise about it. But sometimes buzzwords become like something else that buzzes: a fly. It hovers around your head, and you only pay enough attention to swat at it. You don’t actually stop and look at the fly. With buzzwords, we may hear them so often they lose real meaning.

Servant Leadership is one such term. A buzzword in churches for the last fifteen or so years, it’s been defined and redefined, tossed around and held up, until it has lost meaning. (Maybe not for everyone, but for many.)

gnarly foot
a gnarly foot, but clean–not mine!   (c) Carole Sparks

The image most often associated with servant leadership is that of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. I’ve written about this situation before, but today will be different. Let’s stop and put ourselves in that position: kneeling on the floor before twenty-four gnarly, calloused, dirty feet…probably hairy, possibly stinky, and perfectly awkward.

Just think about it for a second. Do you want to wash those feet? I don’t. I cut my son’s toe-nails, but only immediately after a shower. Still, it puts me in an uncomfortable position physically, there’s often a stink, and I’m left with…yep, a bunch of toenail clippings. Eww.

When our lives influence those
around us, we lead them…either
toward Jesus or away from Him.

Before you hit “next” on your e-mail or scroll down to another blog, thinking this doesn’t apply to you, remember that we are all leaders: from the CEO to “just” a stay-at-home Mom, from head pastor to nursery worker, from dean of the university to freshman student. When our lives influence those around us, we lead them…either toward Jesus or away from Him. So regardless of our leadership roles, serving those around us involves figuratively washing their feet.

Here are four observations of foot-washing as we reexamine servant leadership.

John 13:1-17.

In Jesus day, foot-washing was the job of the lowest servant.

Jesus turned a need
into an opportunity.

There were no servants in the upper room, but a bunch of feet needed to be washed. Jesus willingly stepped into a role that wasn’t in His job description because He saw a need. He didn’t delegate. Instead, He turned the need into an opportunity. An opportunity for what, you ask? For blessing those who followed him and for modeling service before He talked about it (John 13:12).

I’m a big fan of delegation. I delegate certain household chores to my children regularly. I delegate party planning to someone else in the group, if possible. Delegation helps people invest in the group/project/etc. and gives them a chance to grow. But we must never delegate a task because we are unwilling to do it. Never ask anyone to do something you refuse to do yourself.

The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.Luke 22:26

Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.Mark 9:35

Washing the feet removed filth from hard-to-reach areas.

footwashing 2
prayer with foot-washing (c) Carole Sparks

As I get older, I find it harder and harder to reach my feet in any meaningful way. Some of the disciples were older. All of them were wearing robes. (You ever try to wash off your feet in a skirt? It’s much harder.) Their backs may have been sore from all the walking. Instead of the disciples straining and stretching to scrub their own pinky toes, Jesus took each foot into His hands—toes and all—and cleaned them thoroughly. (Okay, I don’t think he gave each one a pedicure or anything, but the feet were clean when he got done.)

In leadership, it’s our job to point out spots that have been missed, to train where skills are lacking, and to fill in the gaps. The key is to approach the person with humility, like Jesus on His knees, rather than hovering over the person and pointing out all their mistakes. Again, this cleansing, though difficult, is a chance to bless the other person, to promote his or her growth (like disciplining our children).

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.Philippians 2:3

The need for foot-washing resulted from everyday life in the world.

The disciples got their feet dirty because they walked everywhere they went, and they wore sandals. They had done nothing exceptional. Just living was hard, dirty work.

“Just living” is still hard work. The stink of tennis shoes (or dress pumps) is different from the stink of sandals, but it comes from the same place: from living in the world. Sin rubs off on us; we lose focus or become lazy; we pick up a bad habit from an acquaintance. As leaders, we offer accountability to those around us, helping them shed these bits of worldliness before they grow.

“Just living” is still hard work. (I repeated myself on purpose.) We get weary or discouraged. Sometimes we lose hope. When we as leaders have the chance to figuratively bend down and pour cool water on someone’s weary feet, to take the menial task while they rest, we choose to take it because our actions will bless them and give them rest.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.John 16:33

Foot-washing produced clean feet.

When Jesus hung up that damp towel after the final foot (including Judas’, don’t forget!) and unfolded Himself from the floor, all twenty-four feet were still just as gnarly, but at least they were clean.

Investing in the purity of
those around us reaps benefits
in every aspect of life.

As Christ-following leaders, we are called to prioritize the increasing purity (You could say holiness or sanctification, if you want.) of those we lead. Our correction, our encouragement, our instruction…all have this as an underlying goal. Investing in the purity of those around us reaps benefits in every aspect of life: business, relational, personal. It may not be comfortable at the time—for the foot-washer or for the other person—but in the long run, we bless the other person by helping them draw nearer to God.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean [feet] and a pure heart.Psalm 24:3-4a (with a small change for fun)

One more thought: People can tell when we’re faking it. The desire to bless those around us must be authentic. Enough said.

Do those in your sphere of influence know you are interested in their personal growth…in their purity? Are they aware of your desire to bless them? When we get back to the real meaning of servant leadership, they will.

Want to share this? Servant Leadership: what it means to figuratively wash someone’s feet. #NotAboutMe #faith (click to tweet)

How does Jesus’ example here help you better understand servant leadership? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


Shared at Mrs. Disciple’s #FridayFive linkup.

“Confident Humility” is not an Oxymoron

I think I’m fairly humble. I’m not proud of this fact (because if I was, then it wouldn’t really be humility). It’s just that I have incredible confidence in what God can do through me. It’s not what I do, but “God who works in [me] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). While I don’t do it perfectly, I try to focus my gifts, skills, and resources on His glory. That’s why I write and why I parent the way I do and…well, why I do just about everything I do. But sometimes, I sense that people find me overly confident, maybe even arrogant. I used to feel bad about this…until I took a closer look at John the Baptist.

Mark 1:1-8. Also Matthew 3:1-17 and Luke 3:1-20.

We know from the other gospels that John was Jesus’ relative and that he was set apart (a Nazarite) from before he was born. When he was roughly thirty or thirty-one years old, he appeared in the wilderness, preaching (1:4). Not in a synagogue, not credentialed through Bible college or seminary, not paying his dues as a youth minister and waiting for his chance to shine in a pulpit. He was out in the sticks. People had to come to him. And boy did they come! Sure, it’s hyperbole, but Mark says all the country folk and all the city people showed up. There was this…charisma about him that didn’t come from his family tree or education. He was a messenger, a herald (like one who goes before a king to announce his arrival), a preparer (Mark 1:2-3, based on Old Testament prophecies).

John the Baptist confidently “owned”
his calling as a prophet.

Despite his lack of education and experience (Had he been preaching before this? The way Mark says he appeared makes me think not.), John identified himself with the prophets of old. The camel’s hair clothes and leather belt were the uniform, so to speak, of the Old Testament prophets. (I learned that in my NIV notes.) He confidently “owned” his calling, even confronting the Pharisees and Sadducees. Remember what he called them? “You brood of vipers!” (Matthew 3:7). Ouch.

John unapologetically said what needed to be said—not just to the religious leaders but also to the common people. The gospel writers summarize his message, but it would go something like this: “You have sinned, and you need forgiveness. Make a public display (baptism) of the fact that you recognize your sins for what they are and you truly want to change.” No sacrifices, no giving of alms. Forgiveness was between the individual and God. John didn’t beat around the bush, try not to step on people’s toes, or start each sermon with a joke.

People wanted to make a bigger deal
out of John than he thought proper.

At the same time that he spoke so confidently, John insisted that he was not the focus, not the important one in his ministry. Always, always, always, he pointed to the Messiah—even before he knew Jesus, his cousin, was the one to whom he was pointing. Remember, John was the first prophet in Israel for over 400 years. Camel’s hair coats with leather belts hadn’t been “in vogue” for a long time. You get the impression that people wanted to make a bigger deal out of John than he thought proper. His words in Mark 1:7 sound like a protest. In today’s language, he might say, “Stop it! There’s another guy coming who is way more important than me. In fact, I don’t even deserve the privilege of loosening the straps on his Chacos!” The Message puts it like this: “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life.”

Just think for a minute about the vigorous confidence of John’s authentic humility. How does it compare to the world’s concept of humility?

After pondering this for quite a while (like, years!) and reading about faithful people in the Bible, I’ve come to this definition of humility: Humility is a constant awareness of my position in relation to God Most High.

Example #2: Jesus

The Pharisees actually asked Jesus straight-up, “Who do you think you are?” (John 8:53). Check out His answer. It’s spot-on for confident humility:

If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. (John 8:54)

Jesus was confident in His relationship to the Father. That’s why James’ admonition to humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:10) finds its best example in Philippians 2:6-11, where Jesus made himself nothing and yet God exalted him to the highest place. If God wants to raise me, He will raise me. If He wants to lower me, He will do it. As believers, we don’t need to “scratch and claw” to get ahead. We don’t follow the American ideal of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” (a notion which Malcolm Gladwell disproved anyway in Outliers). Oh, I could write a whole post on this!

Analogy: Mirror

It’s our job to reflect Him.
It’s His job to put us in the
place where He is best reflected.

Think of yourself like a mirror in the sunlight. The mirror doesn’t—can’t—produce light. It creates that blinding glare by focusing diffuse sunlight. As believers, we simply reflect the Light while He repositions the mirror (rotating it, lifting it, lowering it) for greatest effect. In other words, it’s our job to reflect Him. It’s His job to put us in the place where He is best reflected.

mirror glare
(c) Carole Sparks

A mirror is only as beautiful as what it reflects. It would be ridiculous for a mirror to be vain, and it’s similarly ridiculous for us to be prideful.

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. –Luke 14:11

Here’s my conclusion.

I don’t need people to tell me how great I am, and I don’t worry about how great I am. I know how great He is…and that’s enough.


Why am I sharing this now? Well, I read two separate articles on humility this week. Both of them say—more eloquently than I—much what I’ve stated here. Made you read mine first! I also included a couple of related links that I wrote.

Want to share this post?

“Confident Humility” is Not an Oxymoron: How real humility boldly asserts God’s glory. (click to tweet)

If you’d like to respond, leave me a note in the comments. I always respond.

White Collar Christianity

It’s clear that Jesus cleansed the temple (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-48, John 2:13-17) because merchants were doing business there, defiling what was supposed to be holy. I wonder, though, if there could have been another reason beneath the obvious one…

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. … Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. –Exodus 12:3, 6

Set apart for the Lord your God every firstborn male of your herds and flocks. … Each year you and your family are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God. –Deuteronomy 15:19-20

Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd… -Deuteronomy 16:2

Sacrificial lambs in the Old Testament cost something—something significant, not just in coins but in time, effort…even love. The people were supposed to tend that firstborn male animal for a year, to protect those spotless lambs (“without defect,” Numbers says over and over) before they gave them to God. So when people in Jesus’ day trotted into the temple court with a bulging purse, their investment in the sacrifice was purely financial. They spent no effort or time, they had no emotional connection to the sacrificial animals. They hadn’t fed it or protected it from predators or led it into the fold each night. The people were buying their way into a false sense of acceptance.

We no longer offer animal sacrifices (thank goodness!), but the principle of sacrifice remains.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. –Hebrews 13:15-16

The offering of service is
supposed to take effort, cost time,
and mean something when it’s given.

We can’t just pay and expect someone else—the professional Christian—to do the work for us. We praise Him with our own mouths, not only the mouths of the paid professionals at the front of the church. We do good and share with others ourselves, not only through charitable organizations and collection drives. The offering of service (doing good and sharing) is supposed to take effort, cost time, and mean something to the giver when it’s given. Feels like I’m stating the obvious, but to truly be a sacrifice, our offering needs to be…well, sacrificial.

What Is Sacrifice, Really?

It’s the difference between donating money to an orphanage and adopting a child. WE NEED BOTH, obviously, but if all you ever do is donate money to this or that cause/charity without experiencing the meeting of needs, the down-to-earthiness of real ministry, you’ve missed so much of the Christ-life!

I would never openly criticize the ladies’ organizations that collect socks this month and canned goods next month. We need people to donate tangible items to help people without the means to buy these things for themselves. I cringe a little, though, when they call that collection a mission project. How are we “on mission” when we’re sitting in our safe, clean churches, keeping our distance from the ones who need tangible help and spiritual guidance?

Jesus entered into the
healing experience alongside
the one being healed.

Jesus broke the bread into pieces to feed the masses (John 6:1-13). Jesus stooped down, made some mud with his spit and smeared it on a blind guy’s face (John 9:1-7). Sometimes he didn’t touch—didn’t even see—the one He healed (e.g. the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:5-13), but many times, he entered into the healing experience alongside the one being healed. For those of us who can’t usually do miracles (which includes me and, I’m assuming, all of you), we need to follow the hands-on approach.

This Isn’t Just My Opinion

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian during WWII, knew this to be true.

 A major theme for Bonhoeffer was that every Christian must be ‘fully human’ by bringing God into his whole life, not merely into some ‘spiritual’ realm. To be an ethereal figure who merely talked about God, but somehow refused to get his hands dirty in the real world in which God had placed him, was bad theology. –Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

More recently (and less famously), I read these musings from Kelly Johnson, a blogger at The Glorious Table.

How was I to answer this call? When I saw stories on the news about impoverished people in war-torn countries, I prayed for mercy. I sent money to the Red Cross in response to natural disasters, sponsored children through Compassion International, and gave to our church mission programs.

If I was honest, I really didn’t run across many hungry or poor people in my comfortable suburban circles, so I offered my money and my prayers where and when I could. Is this what God meant when He said to “spend myself” on behalf of the hungry? How could a suburban mom “satisfy needs of the oppressed” when the needs were so many and felt so far away? Could there be more?

Johnson learns that there is more, that actually serving with your own hands is a far different—and more blessed—experience than paying someone else to serve.

It’s Not the Pastor’s Job

Our leaders equip the rest
of us to share Truth.

Our church leaders are not responsible for meeting the needs of people or telling them about Jesus on our behalf. They do these things as believers, but they don’t do them for us or instead of us. God gave us church leaders to equip his people for works of service (Ephesians 4:12). Our leaders equip the rest of us to share Truth, to do good and share with others, those sacrifices with which God is pleased (back to Hebrews 13:16. See also James 1:27).

In “Escaping Professional Christianity,” I wrote,

I want to stop being like the doctor, all sterile and expecting people to come to me. I want to be more like the midwife who goes out into homes and gets messy attending the birth (John 3) of new believers.

I write this from a place of conviction. Like Johnson, I don’t do it. I make excuses about being too busy or protecting my kids, but the truth is that I just don’t want to get my hands dirty. It would be inconvenient, maybe even painful. So I’m saying these things to myself first and just sharing the same thoughts with you. Let’s stop looking at the authentic Christ-Life as something beneath us. Let’s loosen our ties, dig into people’s problems, hold their hands, look them in the eye, and walk alongside them! Let’s sweat in His service, get some calluses, and lose sleep over lost friends.

Yes, we’ll get hurt.

Yes, we’ll get dirty.

Yes, we’ll feel exhausted.

Yes, it’ll be expensive.

But. (You knew there was a ‘but’, didn’t you?) You know that feeling at the end of a long day of manual labor? That sense of accomplishment and satisfaction? That’s what waits for us, except now it’s bound up in God’s pleasure, which is even better!

Want to share this?

White Collar Christianity: Why God calls us to get our hands dirty. #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Use the comments below to share your own thoughts on this topic. I’d love to hear from you!

The Error in the ‘I’

Jesus and the disciples had just finished their final Passover meal. The next twelve hours would be the most dramatic in all of history. According to John’s gospel, Jesus still has a lot to say before Judas plants that (temporarily) fatal kiss on his cheek. He wants the disciples to be prepared for the coming day (which we, ironically, call Good Friday) but He never tells them straight-up what will happen. I think maybe that’s because they would have overreacted, refused to step aside, gathered more swords. Instead, He repeats how they can’t go with Him into this next thing.

John 13:36-38.

Peter won’t leave it alone. I’m not surprised; he’s the impulsive, brash, head-strong disciple. Probably the oldest, he often serves as spokesperson for the group…and often that open mouth finds his own foot stuck in it. Continue reading