Joey Sparks
7May/130

2 Things that Scare Me About Parenting and 1 That Destroys Them

So this is birth month for our first child, Hazel Grace. We're at maximum excitement and anxiety about the journey ahead.

Two things I've read scare me to death about bringing this precious girl into the world under my stewardship:

1. A girl's father is the most important person in her life.

2. Parenting is largely who you are and what you do as a person; not what you do or what you say as a parent.

Talk about pressure! The Lord created this beautiful soul and body inside Amanda's womb and he's entrusting her to my leadership (thankfully, with Amanda's help). And that leadership isn't as much something I learn from a book/lecture/class as it is an outgrowth of who I am as a person.

Not me & Hazel. She's not born yet.

Not me & Hazel. She's not born yet.

I am humbled the Lord trusts me and Amanda to raise Hazel to know him. But I also recognize his trust has little-to-nothing to do with my ability to earn or deserve it. I want to please the Lord more than anything, but boy do I fall short sometimes (cf. Rom. 3:23)! My laziness, fearfulness, apathy, complacency, anger, jealousy, and judging rise to the surface more often than my ability to control them.

So I'm a little anxious I'll raise a lazy, scared, disinterested, entitled, mad, jealous, judgmental little girl. Overreaction? Possibly. But I still have doubts about my ability to consistently be the man of God she needs in her life.

But there's one statement that continues to blow up these doubts.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Paul had every reason to believe he was unworthy to preach the gospel and serve as an apostle. But he recognized God's loving mercy and grace allowed him and empowered him to do just that.

I am so thankful Jesus came to extend God's grace over my sin. And I'm thankful that as I grow daily in His grace, my daughter can see not how great I am, but how awesome God is.

While I want to be the perfect dad for Hazel, I'm thankful that she gets to see the perfect Father working through an imperfect one. And that she can learn she has the same hope in Him.

2Aug/120

Protect Their Hearts

The Internet is simultaneously one of humanities' greatest inventions, amazing blessings, and dangerous threats. We are always one click away from danger no matter our age, gender, profession, naivety, or blamelessness. We must make sure we interact with the same godliness online that God expects in all other ways of life.

We frequently hear of children who are harmed by brutal and sick individuals who gain access to their lives through the Internet. We should do all we can to close up those loopholes.

As parents, you have the right--and responsibility--to know exactly what your children are doing on the Internet...no matter how old they are. You should have the same access to their accounts (with passwords, etc.) they do. You should talk openly and honestly about their online friendships, habits, and overall safety. But when you do, do your best to model the attitudes in yourself you wish to see from them. If you're condescending and not understanding, you shut those doors of communication down.

ABCLRC-Internet Safety (by ABC LRC Flickr CC by nc sa)

But the most urgent arena of concern for your children on the Internet is that of sexual sin, specifically pornography.

The statistical likelihood of your child facing a child predator online is slim. But the chances of your child NOT viewing pornography online in some capacity is about 3% for boys and 9% for girls. That includes those who unintentionally stumble across it. If your child wants to find it, there's a 100% chance he or she will. It's just that easy.

The good news is that God forgives and cleanses no matter the depths of sin (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

More good news is that you don't have to know everything about the Internet and computer technology to protect your child's heart from spiritual threats such as pornography.

The most powerful weapons at your disposal are spiritual and internal; they should be aimed at his or her heart. Pray for them. Model purity, consistency, and propriety before them--online and off. Talk openly and honestly (with common sense) with them about temptations, sexual sin, and God's purpose for sexual intimacy in marriage.

Would you rather them to hear the truth from you and God's Word or error from the world and Satan?

There are other weapons that can assist you from an external perspective, as well.

The best place to start is http://covenanteyes.com. Covenant Eyes specializes in Internet technology that provides a safe surfing atmosphere for the entire family. They feature two softwares: Internet accountability software (browsing is monitored around the clock and reports are sent via e-mail to accountability partners) and Internet filtering software (specific sites are blocked and attempts to access blocked sites are logged and sent via the accountability reports). These softwares simply run in the background, but cannot be disabled without also disabling access to the Internet. This "two-pronged" approach is the best external solution, especially for homes with children. Covenant Eyes charges for using their services. While they are not free, they are more than reasonable. Amanda and I have used the accountability software for years and we pay for an entire year of service for less than what most Internet service providers charge for one month. There are a few free services out there, but research suggests the paid services are much more efficient and effective. If you recognize the legitimacy of this most dangerous threat, is any price too great?

Additionally, the Covenant Eyes website also features a wealth of resources for all kinds of Internet safety and protection. They have numerous (free) e-books, articles, statistics, podcasts, and a well-maintained and regularly-updated blog. No matter your relationship to the dangers on the Internet, whether totally naive or buried in addiction, there's something to educate, challenge, and help you.

Every child born in our part of the world is a "digital native." He or she will never know a time with less technology. He or she will never be less tech-savvy. He or she will one day view smart phones like many of us view rotary phones.

In a matter of a few decades, computers have moved from warehouses to business centers to living rooms to briefcases to front pockets. We as adults and parents will never be on the edge of technological advancement like younger generations. But that's no excuse for letting this powerful tool destroy their souls. May God help us to use the Internet responsibly and ensure our children do the same.

 I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman? (Job 31:1)

Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:42)

The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him. (Proverbs 20:7)

30Jul/120

Everybody Just Do Your Job

On January 1, 1979, Alabama and Penn State met in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to crown the 1978 National Champion. Most fans in our area, if not across the country, remember this game for its fourth quarter "Goal Line Stand." Penn State ran the ball twice from the 1 yard line and the Alabama defense denied them both times. Alabama won 14-7.

Alabama-Penn State Goal Line Stand (courtesy The Crimson White)

Alabama Linebacker Barry Krauss is heralded for making the tackle on the 4th down play that kept Penn State out of the end zone. Earlier this Fall, when Alabama played at Penn State, Barry was interviewed about that play. When asked to describe what happened, he simply said, "Everyone just did their job."

He then explained the difference between that play and the third down play when fellow linebacker Rich Wingo made the tackle. On third down, Krauss was assigned to defend the lead blocker, thus freeing up Wingo to tackle the ball carrier. On fourth down, the assignments were swapped. Wingo absorbed the blocker, while Krauss leaped to stop the Penn State running back.

We as the Lord's church can learn a lot about teamwork from the sports world. Those linebackers did what they were assigned to do. But everyone else on the field--the defensive line, outside linebackers, and defensive backs--also did what they were assigned to do. In the moment, they were concerned about doing their jobs. They didn't care who would be featured on the best-selling Daniel A. Moore painting.

"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:10-11)

Peter says each one is to use his or her gift in serving one another. Doing so is how we show we are good stewards, or caretakers, of the gifts God gives us. Living for ourselves is not only a detriment to the church, but it is irresponsible and disrespectful toward God and what he's given us.

Our goal should always be, "...that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ." Search your heart for what you do best (not necessarily what you want to do best). Commit to using it for God's glory in the lives of others. The church is already victorious. But we can "win" everyday if we all just do our jobs.

12Jul/120

2 Reasons “The Blame Game” Doesn’t Work For Sin

Blame is funny.

We're often tempted to blame someone or something else for our shortcomings and mistakes. We hope, that by successfully shifting blame, to avoid punishment and accountability.

Not only is the "blame game" deceptive--because no one or nothing is responsible for our lives except ourselves--but it cripples progress. Once we convince ourselves we've shifted the blame, we've also given up control to fix the problem. Those who rely on blame instead of responsibility create a prison where improvement is impossible.

We can attempt to blame other people at every turn, but we always face the truth that we can't change others. We can try to blame external circumstances, but then we find out we can't change those either.

Courageously accepting responsibility grants the possibility of freedom. Only those grounded in responsibility and accountability make great strides of improvement and growth.

It's sad that many would rather wallow in negative situations than accept responsibility and thus be empowered to improve them. As Christians, we should not allow this attitude to thrive.

And we cannot allow it to exist when it comes to temptation and sin.

You only have yourself to blame (by higgott Flickr CC by nc sa)

James 1:12 says, "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." I almost think James anticipated a response to that statement something like this, "Well, it'd sure be a lot easier to endure temptation if that same Lord would stop tempting us to get us to give up!"

So James says in verses 13 and 14, "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."

It is impossible to blame God for temptation and sin. Just as it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2), it is impossible for God to be tempted, and thus to tempt us. Not only is it futile to cast blame at God's feet, how dare us do so in light of all he has done and all he promises!

God wants the best for us. We must develop a trusting attitude toward him and his word that dares not blame him for shortcomings, mistakes, and sin.

It is impossible to blame anyone or anything else. Instead of listing everyone or everything we cannot blame, James tells us the source of temptation: our own desires. You and I cannot successfully blame anyone or anything else for sin because it all starts in our own hearts. We are "tempted" to sin because it, in some way, appeals to us individually. Temptation, and thus sin, are controlled and guided by our own selfish desires.

Bummer? Maybe, if we're lazy. But not if we truly want to change things.

Jesus' power has defeated the strangling power of sin and death (1 Cor. 15:56-57). And he gives us the opportunity to obey him instead of our own desires. If we destroy, suppress, and manage our earthly desires, we can successfully navigate the labyrinth of temptation in this life. It will never be easy. But it will always be possible; provided we accept responsibility and cut out the blame.

9Sep/110

To Each Is Given For the Common Good

Tim Cook at Apple: “This is the most focused company I know of, am aware of, or have any knowledge of... We say no to good ideas every day.” Cook then pointed out to analysts that every single product the company makes would fit on the single conference table in front of him. “And we had revenue last year of $40 billion." (courtesy Seth Godin)


One of Apple's primary reputations is simplicity. At first glance, this quote seems to support the notion that "less is more." And maybe it does. But notice his assessment of the company is "focused." Cook (Apple's new CEO & Auburn University Alum) implies that saying "no" to good opportunities frees them up for the best opportunities. It allows them to focus their efforts on what they do best, not everything they can do.

As members of the Lord's church, while we're expected to do as much good possible, we're not expected to do everything possible. Several times in the New Testament Paul develops the connection between the church and the body of Christ. The most developed of these passages is in 1 Corinthians 12:4-31. In the immediate context, he's discussing the church's use of spiritual gifts. But the main principle in the heart of the passage is for everyone to do his/her part. It's a glaring temptation to try to be well-rounded and raise our children to be well-rounded. Doing so to the detriment of our strengths causes the whole body to suffer.

Isolate what you do well. Give it and your life fully to the Lord and His work. And don't feel guilty for not doing something that is someone else's strength.

4Oct/070

An Open Door for Effective Work (09.30.2007 Bulletin Article)

When Paul was concluding what we know as 1 Corinthians, he tells the Christians in Corinth that he is remaining in Ephesus a little longer. Additionally, he tells them why he is remaining there: “for a wide door for effective work has opened to me…” (1 Cor. 16:9).

On several occasions in the New Testament, the imagery of a door is used to represent opportunities. Jesus said “I am the door” (John 10:9). The only way to the Father is through Jesus (John 14:6). When Jesus told the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25), the bridegroom came and took the prepared virgins, leaving the unprepared searching for oil: “And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready when in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut” (Matt. 25:10). The finality of judgment is represented by a closed door. That’s a pretty clear image. When Jesus spoke to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3, he said the following words: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). We have the privilege of opening the door to allow Jesus into our lives. He’s done the work, we have to be willing to open our lives to his will.

Hopefully, we see the power of the door analogy in scripture. Likewise, we need to see the opportunities literal doors present us in this life. How often do we remember that souls live behind the many doors in our communities? Probably not as much as we need to. Not as much as Jesus does.

What has happened to the practice of door knocking? Like so many other things, it is fallen by the wayside because it seems confrontational and outdated. And yet, there are some people who might only have the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus if someone lovingly visits their home.

We always have the opportunity to tell our neighbors about the love of Christ. Specifically, next weekend we have a marvelous opportunity to tell the community that the Lord loves them and that the church at Midway cares about them. Next Saturday, we will spend several hours knocking the doors of the communities around us to inform them specifically about our upcoming Youth Weekend. Generally, we want them to know that we are a loving group of Christians seeking to serve and obey God.

Many of us aren’t thrilled when someone we don’t know knocks on our doors. Yet we would all do well to greet them with love and hospitality. That itself may be an opportunity to share the gospel with others. Improving our response to the practice will help us as we spread our good message.

The biggest hurdle many of us face is that of fear. Maybe it’s the fear of having the door slammed in our faces. Maybe it’s the fear of a barking dog. Maybe it’s the fear of saying the wrong thing. Maybe it’s the fear of doing something we’ve never done before. As understandable as those fears are, we must realize all of them are centered upon the wrong thing: us. If we are convinced the community needs to know about Jesus and how to obey him, then we need to spread the gospel because it’s God’s will and not our own. If we’re going about the Lord’s business, then we have no reason to fear. That’s why Paul told Timothy the following in 2 Timothy 1:6-7, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God...for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

I hope you’ll prayerfully consider the opportunity to tell the community about our upcoming Youth Weekend. Please make your plans to stay after the PM service tonight. We’ll meet on Saturday, October 6 at 8:30 am to begin knocking. If you are unable to be here at 8:30, let me know, and you can join up with us when you are available.

Let’s commit to doing the Lord’s will and making his love and grace known to the world...starting with the world around us.

28Sep/070

Do This In Remembrance (09.16.07 Bulletin Article)

This past Tuesday, our nation remembered the events of September 11, 2001. That tragic day in our nation’s history will forever be remembered and honored as a day when a bold enemy destroyed thousands of lives on American soil. We are reminded of many emotions and principles as we think of the events of that day; we are emboldened thinking of those who have since put their lives at risk in battle. It is certainly a helpful and therapeutic opportunity for Americans to reflect upon this solemn anniversary.

For Christians, our God has purposely designed remembrance into our relationship with Him. Just as Americans honor the price paid for our physical and political freedoms, we as Christians are privileged to regularly remember the price paid for our spiritual freedom.

When Paul wrote what we know as 1 Corinthians, there were many issues he had to address. The common thread among them was division; Corinth had allowed sin to divide the beautiful body of Christ. One of the most appalling things to Paul was their divisiveness during the Lord’s Supper. They were no longer partaking together, both in spirit and in proximity. In correcting this, Paul reminds them of the original purposes of the Lord’s Supper: 1) remember Christ’s death and 2) commune together as the Lord’s body. Using Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11, let’s briefly notice similarities between our remembrance as Christians and that of Americans on September 11th.

We should be united, not divided. One of the strongest reminders for our country on September 11th anniversaries should be the need to stay united as a nation. It is a sad thought to contrast the feelings of unification from late 2001 with the extreme division six years later. We’ve progressed from fighting over how to defeat the enemy into whether to continue fighting; some political groups in this country have already claimed we’ve lost. How are we supposed to survive as a nation if something as important as war (and real soldiers’ lives) is carelessly used for political cat fights?

Likewise, as Christians we are to come together over the blood and sacrifice of Jesus. Before Paul recounted Jesus’ instructions about the communion, he first told the Corinthians they could no longer be divided. A vital part of our remembrance is coming together to remember. Forsaking the worship assembly not only forsakes the Lord, but also fellow Christians who are remembering their Savior’s sacrifice.

We should participate in a memorial. One of the most observed aspects of the September 11th anniversary every year is the memorial service. Whether a local service or a national service at Ground Zero, our minds, eyes, and hearts are turned toward opportunities to remember and honor the lives lost on that horrible day. Many family members travel many miles to share in these annual experiences. Although nothing can bring their lost loved ones back, it is important to memorialize their lives and their heroics on such a day.

The second prong of the Christians’ communion looks back to the cross of Christ. When Paul looked back to the night Jesus was betrayed, he quoted our Savior’s words: “this is my body...this is the cup of the new covenant...do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Although we are united during the Lord’s Supper, we observe on a very personal level the horrible death of our Savior. We remember that our sin is just as responsible for His death as anyone else’s (cf. Acts 2:36). We remember his stripes, scars, blood, tears, thorns, love.

We look to a greater day. As we reflect upon the events of September 11, 2001, everyone’s hope is to live in a land where we—and our descendants—do not have to fear outside attacks of that magnitude. We make promises and take actions to ensure our nation will forever be safer.

Paul reminds us that not only do we proclaim the Lord’s death, we do so “until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Rightfully so, we make the connection that it’s only because of cruel Calvary that we have Heavenly hope. His darkest day of death is our brightest moment of liberation. As we together remember our Lord’s sacrifice, may we do so viewing our future reward.

May we continue to pray for our nation as she proclaims freedom; may we together as Christians proclaim the power of the Cross...in this life and the next.

Have a great week!

26Jan/070

Bulletin Article 01.28.07 — Equation for Church Growth: YOU!

A couple of weeks ago, we began a discussion concerning church growth. We noticed that Paul mentions the “equation” for growth in 1 Corinthians 3:6 when he says, “I planted. Apollos watered. God gave the growth.” Last week, we noted that growth occurs when our efforts (planting and watering) are multiplied by the power of the Lord. Although we have responsibilities, He makes the difference.

As a reminder, here’s how we might put Paul’s words into an equation:

([Paul]p + [Apollos]w)Lord = growth

or

(planting + watering)Lord = growth

As we finish our thoughts this month on church growth, it seems appropriate to simplify our equation as much as possible. We must realize that the Lord needs each one of us; He wants our name in parentheses; He will multiply our efforts. We could simply write it this way:

(Joey)Lord = growth

OR

(Your name)Lord = growth

Let’s notice some things together that will characterize a life that’s being used by God for growth:

Be a child of God. God’s efforts to cause growth in our lives, in the lives of those around us, and in the church depend on us depends on us being truly His. Sure, He loves everyone, but he does great things with His children. Are you a child of God? Have you obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:12)? If you’ve become a Christian but aren’t living life one, don’t you want to come back home to a loving and powerful Father (Lk. 15)? We all want great things for our own lives, for our families, and for our church home. God gives us His power when we submit to His will and to His control.

Do something. As Christians, we often get shy and timid about some of our Biblical responsibilities. We don’t have enough courage to talk to someone about their relationship with Jesus. We’re afraid we might offend a brother by talking to him about his lifestyle. We don’t say anything to a dear sister who needs encouragement because we don’t know what to say. These insecurities and others like them reflect a false perception of the Lord’s work: it’s not about what we do! The Lord needs us to do something for Him and He’ll make the progress. In talking about consoling others (funeral homes, etc.), one of my beloved college professors asked us, “What’s wrong with just saying, ‘I love you’?” His point was we would be saying something and it’s something we all want to hear. That’s something that will cause growth.

Be positive. Despite the threats of persecution—first from Jews, then from Romans—the first century church was excited about the opportunity to tell others about Jesus! In Acts 4, Peter and John said, “We can’t help be speak the things we have seen and heard!” What a marvelous example of a positive attitude. During Exposure last month, I talked briefly with Keith Parker, who spoke on Thursday night. He asked me the following question about Wednesday’s events: “How many baptisms did you have?” Not “did you have any baptisms?” Not “did you have a good night?” Not “who spoke last evening?” But “how many…” He didn’t know me before that evening; he likely didn’t know many of the 800ish people there in Huntsville; yet, he still expected for there to be growth among us. The Lord needs us to be positive.

Be where you are. It would be easy to look at Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:6 and think, “That’s just for preachers.” Paul was a preacher. Apollos was a preacher. Therefore, the Lord needs only preachers and other leaders doing His work. Go up to verse 5: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed…” We’re all servants: preachers, teachers, elders, deacons, members, YOU! Later, in verse 9, Paul says, “For we are God’s fellow workers.” Paul intended for more than he and Apollos to be “fellow workers.” Did the Corinthians have major problems? Of course. But Paul still said he was their fellow worker. God needs us; most importantly, he needs us where we’re at. He needs us to work.

If we don’t do it, who will?

19Jan/070

Bulletin Article 01.21.07 — Equation for Church Growth: The Lord

A couple of weeks ago, we began a discussion concerning church growth. We noticed that Paul mentions the “equation” for growth in 1 Corinthians 3:6 when he says, “I planted. Apollos watered. God gave the growth.” Last week’s point of emphasis is that we as the church need to be watering (through teaching, encouraging, etc.) those who have received and obeyed the gospel. Both planting and watering are a necessity on our end.

As a reminder, here’s how we might simplify Paul’s words into an equation:

([Paul]p + [Apollos]w)Lord = growth
or
(planting + watering)Lord = growth

The third portion of the equation is that which is most important in the process of church growth: the power of the Lord.

Paul says in our text, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” Just as God causes physical seeds (corn, cotton, etc.) to grow when conditions are right, He too causes the growth of the church from the spiritual seed of the gospel.

As we’ve noted in the past couple of weeks, we certainly should be doing our part by planting and watering. However, we should be humbly petitioning the Lord for the success of our efforts; we should give Him all glory and praise for the growth and obedience that occurs; we should continue to turn the lost to Him, not “our” church.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul shows that the power of the gospel doesn’t depend solely on man, but on the efforts of God:

In Romans 1:16, Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Catch that? The gospel is the power of God for salvation for believers. It’s the good news of the death, burial, resurrection of Christ that enables us to have complete salvation from our sins. We too, like Paul shouldn’t be ashamed of the gospel; we, like Paul should acknowledge the power of God alone to save man from sin.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul uses an everyday item to demonstrate the power of God. There he says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” We are jars of clay (or earthen vessels) that contain the supreme power of God.

A little background into the 1st century culture really makes this illustration come alive. People in the 1st century would often hide their most valuable possessions in plain-looking clay pots. They did so in order to keep any intruders from stealing what was most valuable to them. That’s us, folks! We are “plain” and “unworthy” vessels that contain the treasure and riches of our God...in order to show that the power is His alone. If we were attractive and extravagant vessels, it would be more tempting to give ourselves the glory than our deserving God.

As we think about the growth we’ve experienced here at Midway over the past several years and months, I hope we understand that many faithful Christians have contributed to that growth. More importantly, I hope we all understand that God has been working among our actions and deeds to cause growth in our hearts and within the kingdom.

May we never forget the role of God in the growth of the church. May we always give Him the thanks. May we do what it takes to bring others to that all-surpassing power.

Have a great week!

19Jan/070

Bulletin Article 01.14.07 — Equation for Church Growth: Water-ers

Last week, we began a discussion concerning church growth. We noticed that Paul mentions the “equation” for growth in 1 Corinthians 3:6 when he says, “I planted. Apollos watered. God gave the growth.” Last week’s point of emphasis is that we as the church need to be planting the seed of the gospel in the hearts of men. Planting is the first step in the growth of faithful Christians, and therefore also the church.

As a reminder here’s how we might simply Paul’s words into an equation:

([Paul]p + [Apollos]w)Lord = growth
or
(planting + watering)Lord = growth

The second part of the equation is just as important as the first. Just as a seed in the ground of the earth needs constant care and attention, so too does the seed of the gospel in the lives of people. Paul’s way of illustrating this care—represented by the work of Apollos—is the idea of watering. Whether it’s rain water or water from a man-made source of irrigation, in order to grow, crops must be watered. Likewise, in order for the church to grow, people must be watered as well.

Noticing this idea likely causes us to ask, “How do we water the church?” Let’s notice several ways in which we can actively be watering (and growing) the Lord’s body:

Teaching and preaching. Apollos’ role in first-century Corinth was to teach. Context bears out to us that the reason Paul includes Apollos in the equation is that the people at Corinth were pitting Paul and Apollos against each other over “who taught who” or “who baptized who.” Therefore, Paul says, “Apollos watered.” He made a significant contribution to the work at Corinth. Even though growth starts with teaching and preaching the word, still more teaching is necessary if true growth is to occur.

The lack of continual learning was a major criticism of the Hebrew writer when he wrote to what were likely Jewish Christians (Heb. 5:12-14). They had learned enough to become Christians; they hadn’t learned enough to remain as strong Christians. May we teach and preach the whole counsel of God that we might continue to build the body.

Encouragement. Not only is continual teaching of the truth a necessary component to growth, but encouraging the members of the body is necessary as well. We have no greater duty that relates to our relationships with fellow Christians than that of encouragement. Everyone needs (or would like to have) kind words and thoughts spoken to them. People need to know that we’re thinking about them and praying for them in tough times (or good times). When Christians make difficult decisions because of their faith, they need to be reinforced and commended. When someone obeys Christ through baptism or responds to the Lord’s invitation repenting of sin, we should be there to encourage them for making those steps of boldness and courage.

The New Testament is ripe with passages emphasizing Christian encouragement. Notice again the words of the Hebrew writer, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” He says, “don’t put off encouragement! Your brothers and sisters need it!” What a perfect reminder: encourage today so that your brethren don’t fall victim to sin.

In the spring of 2004, Amanda and I were supposed to go to Haiti on a campaign; it was canceled because they overthrew the government a week before we left. As we were preparing for the trip months in advance, Jesse Robertson, who was heading up the trip, reminded us that we weren't there just to plant; he said they needed watering as well. Sometimes, especially with mission trips, we get so focused on spreading the word that we forget the necessity of cultivating the word.

One of the reasons we’ve grown at Midway is because many have committed to being waterers. May we all commit to watering the church in the coming year.