Joey Sparks
26Jul/120

The Easiest To Blame

The easiest people to blame are:

  1. Those who are bigger than we are and
  2. Those with whom we don't have a close relationship.

As you can expect, the bigger someone is, the easier they are to blame.

  • Governments. The bigger the political level, the worse they are.
  • Big banks, credit cards, Wall Street.
  • School systems, Boards of Education, Superintendents, school administration and staff.
  • Hospitals, Healthcare providers, insurance companies, drug companies, doctors.
  • TV shows, movies, musical artists, celebrities, news media.

I wouldn't dare suggest these always display responsibility. The bigger the stage, the greater the responsibility (Luke 12:48). They'll be held accountable for how they've occupied the world through their large influence. Which means our finger-pointing is ultimately pointless.

Blame (by FatBusinessman Flickr CC by nc sa)

The other group whom it's easy to blame is composed of those with whom we are not very close.

To test this, did you object to any of the groups I mentioned above?

If you are an educator, because of your personal passions, relationships with other educators, and your view "behind the scenes," you may object that any overall scholastic shortcomings are the fault of the system.

If you work in the healthcare industry as a nurse, doctor, or sales rep, you may be slower to gripe about your industries' shortcomings.

How many spouses in close-knit, intimate, and trusting marriages frequently blame each other? It's hard to play the "blame game" within a thriving relationship.

What does all this mean?

There's no one bigger than God. So it's easy to see why so much blame can be cast his way (James 1:13-15). Whether it's for natural disasters, a cancer diagnosis, the sudden loss of a loved one, or the rock-bottom crash of irresponsibility, it's easy to pin our trials on God because there's no one bigger. There's nothing we can do to change God's "bigness" (Psalm 139:7-12). From day one, he's forever been the Creator, Provider, and Loving Judge.

But we can close the loophole of blame by drawing closer to him daily (Hebrews 10:22; James 4:8). The more intimate we become with his heart and mind, by staying in his word and talking to him in prayer, the more we see his infinite wisdom, mercy, love, and compassion. We won't allow ourselves to blame him because we recognize his complete perfection.

Constantly drawing near to him forces us to see that He Himself has done everything possible to win us back (John 3:16; Hebrews 7:25). The only way we blame God because He seems far away is because we've distanced ourselves from His love and provision.

Blame is useless at best and destructive and debilitating to personal responsibility at worst. There are a multitude of practical reasons to eliminate it from our hearts and tongues. As we continue pruning, we must draw near to God daily to remind ourselves that He's in control. And thus, we have nothing to blame.

16Sep/110

4 Things Jesus Says About Salvation

In John 5:34, Jesus says, "Not that the testimony I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved."

Jesus spoke and taught during his ministry on earth so that we all might be saved (Luke 19:10). Because it leads to salvation, we must obey all he taught. The following are not a trite formula, but rather the simple truths spoken by Jesus:

1) Believe Him.

"I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins" (John 8:24).

The foundation of obedience is faith in Jesus as the Son of God. He is the only one through whom man is saved (Acts 4:12).

2) Repent of sin.

"No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3).

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

Believing Jesus illuminates our sinful state. A life of complete change from sin is the only life that can follow Jesus. We must put our old lives to death daily, or we'll experience death in the life beyond.

3) Confess Him before others.

"So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).

Followers of Jesus must acknowledge him as the Son of God. This commitment is expected when we obey Christ and every day thereafter. The pull to deny him is strong at times, but we must always confess our discipleship (John 12:42-43).

4) Be immersed.

"Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16).

The gospel is for all. Thus, the need for baptism is for all as well. We meet Christ at his death (Rom. 6:3-4) and are born again through immersion for the forgiveness of sins (John 3:3-5).

Many well-meaning souls claim, "all we need is Jesus" to be saved. They don't want to exclude or offend others by specifics and difficult commands. Yet, the honest reading of scripture guides us to the expectations of salvation, straight from the Savior.

7Sep/110

Some Things Are Just Obvious

Sights, smells, and sounds. All three can reveal where we’ve been or what we’ve been doing.

We can easily tell when someone’s been...

  • At a BBQ restaurant
  • Running around or playing outside
  • Cheering for their favorite sports team
  • Hunting or fishing
  • Cutting grass or working in the yard
  • Receiving devastating news
  • Out in the rain

I wonder what the Jewish Council saw or heard that caused them to say about Peter and John, “And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13b)? It’s likely the council members had seen the two men traveling with Jesus before. But it’s also likely the previous statements about them being bold, “uneducated, common men” connected them to Jesus as well. They would have placed Jesus in those same categories as well. (Uneducated refers to the formal level of studying the law, not mental capacity.)

What does the world today need to see to recognize that we’ve “been with Jesus?”

  • Jesus himself said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
  • The “Fruit of the Spirit” are obvious characteristics of the Christian life (Gal. 5:22-23; cf. Matt. 7:20).
  • Peter reminds persecuted Christians, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers,they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Pet. 2:11-12; cf. Matt. 5:16).
  • Paul commended Christians in Thessalonica, “Andyou became imitators of usand of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with thejoy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lordsounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (1 Thess. 1:6-8, emphasis added).

Who are the people in your life whom you know “have been with Jesus?” Are you living so that others know you “have been with Jesus?”

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.

2May/070

Waiting to Change the World — Bulletin Article 05.06.07

The world needs a change. It almost always has. Controversy abounds about how to change it. Christians know that Jesus is the source of successful change. A handful of first-century Christians changed their world by teaching Jesus was the Christ (Acts 17:6). Paul made remarkable changes in the highest places of the world by teaching the truth about Jesus (Phil. 4:22). A scandalous Samaritan woman changed the world around her by introducing them to the Messiah (John 4:1-42).

Modern change-theorists call for understanding, tolerance, and equality. Jesus called for these same things—philosophically. However, He never intended for us tolerate and promote selfish and sinful choices. Jesus also never intended for his followers to wait until they thought conditions were perfect to start changes. A popular song claims the current youthful generation is “Waiting on the World to Change” before deciding to change the world themselves.

I am not satisfied with the direction of our nation or world. Nor am I satisfied with waiting until others are motivated to change. I am glad first-century Christians did not wait until Rome fell before preaching the truth on her streets. I am thankful Paul did not wait for Roman officials to grow a conscience before telling them his life-changing account. I am grateful the woman did not wait on the stubborn Samaritans before telling them the Messiah was giving water at the well.

Therefore we must ask, “Why am I waiting to change the world?” Luckily, the Samaritan woman in John 4 serves as a wonderful model for how to stop waiting to change the world:

A changed life changes the world. Jesus convinced the woman that He was the Messiah by revealing the knowledge of her personal life and explaining the truth about worship. This revelation motivated her to go tell others about Jesus. Part of her testimony was, “He told me all that I ever did” (John 4:29, 39). The logical implication is that she was remorseful about her sinful choices. When Paul was making the defense of his ministry in 2 Corinthians, he included, “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry…” (2 Cor. 6:3). We cannot afford to put obstacles in the way of introducing the world to Christ. May our selfish and sinful choices cease as we submit our lives to Christ. Only then can we change the world.

Changed steps change the world. The woman’s reaction to Jesus is astounding. She leaves her water jar behind, showing a change of mission. She then goes to town to proclaim Christ instead of going to hide in shame. We would see more fruit of the Lord’s work if we would just go into the world and tell people about Jesus just as He has commanded (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15). May we change our steps so that we go to those who need Jesus.

A changed thirst changes the world. The inner change within this woman was her focus on the spiritual over the physical. She replaced physical water for eternal living water (John 4:14). This fueled her as she changed the world around her. Our thirst must be spiritual if Christ is to change the world through us. Jesus says later in John 4, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me.” Our desire for the spiritual work of the Lord should boost our world-changing endeavors.

If we are going to follow in the steps of this humble woman, we must change the world today! She immediately left the well to tell others about Jesus. Back in 2 Corinthians 6, we see that Paul says, “Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). Today is the day of salvation for us if we do not know Christ as our Savior. It is also the day of salvation for the world that so urgently needs a change. May we stop waiting to change the world.