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.

23Jul/120

Every Good Gift & Every Perfect Gift (James 1:16-17)

Throughout his treatise on practical, everyday Christianity, James' golden thread is godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom.

Everyone makes decisions everyday. James imperatively stresses that these decisions must be made in light of heavenly wisdom, not earthly.

After outlining the process of temptation, James tells early Christians, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:16-17).

Regalito (by MCSimon Flickr CC by nc sa)

What wisdom is found in these two verses? Specifically, he warns Christians about the danger of deception. The power of a lie lies not in its telling, but in its receiving. False statements are hurled toward our hearts and minds daily. Our responsibility rests not so much in not hearing lies as it does in not believing them. James makes it clear that Christians bear the responsibility to not fall prey to deceptive schemes.

In the context of this passage, he's specifically reminding the brethren about the danger of blaming their difficulties on God. He shows temptation and deception are against God's very nature in verse 13; he then outlines the starring role our personal desires play in the temptation drama in verses 14 and 15. Verse 16 serves as a bookend to this section of thought. "God tempts us with evil" is as bold and dangerous a lie that we will ever hear.

We cannot believe it.

But James isn't finished. Not only does God not tempt us with evil, but he is the ultimate source of everything good. The Psalmist said, "You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told" (Ps 40:5).

God is not the villian, and is indeed the ultimate hero.

To cast blame for bad upon God and his grandiose goodness is blasphemous to his nature. Falling prey to the lie that he is responsible for our misfortunes is disastrous to our souls.

16Jul/120

2 Keys to Resist Temptation (James 1:14-15)

Humanity shares several "common lots." All human beings require food and water for physical nourishment. Every person desires love, affection, and companionship for emotional health. Everyone suffers pain, disappointment, and heartache.

Spiritually, all mankind faces--and gives in to--temptation.

James says, "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."

Paul says in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

We face plenty of uncertainties in life, but we are certain to face temptation and sin.

Temptation's certainty is sobering. And knowing we are drawn away from within our own hearts, much like a fish is lured by its belly toward a dangling worm, can be discouraging as well. But these revelations must not drive us to guilt. Harboring guilt for being human can be dangerous. We can attempt to ease the pain through ungodly, selfish, or fleshly pursuits.

Young Smallmouth Bass (by nklatt Flickr CC by, nc, sa)

Jesus, the Son of God, was tempted while on earth, and yet never sinned (Heb. 4:15). While sin is born from temptation, temptation is not sinful. When Satan tempted Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11, he used the very things Jesus wanted and was sent to earth to accomplish. Satan tempted Jesus to do good things in ways contrary to God's ways.

We also cannot allow our missteps into sin to fuel our temptations. Though we can never be perfect, we must be aware that sin creates new temptations more powerful and destructive than we anticipate. For example, resisting the temptation to drink after 20 years of alcoholism is more difficult than resisting the first drink. If we feed temptations with the flesh, they grow into gigantic beasts.

Reality. Knowing sin's deceptive and deadly power helps us develop healthy fears of temptation. Though we all face it, we must never grow comfortable with it nor welcome it. The price for playing with temptation is steep. James follows verse 14 with this, "Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (1:15).

This harmonizes with Paul's words in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Water, carbon monoxide, and other natural compounds are abundant on earth. But we must always respect their power to destroy humanity. Temptation is no different.

Replacement. Knowing that temptation results from our own desires can be discouraging if we're not careful. We must be intentional to continually replace our wants with God's desires. When the two compete, we must always submit to God's will.

But over time, we can also develop the heart and attitude that above all longs for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. The more we try to be like God from the inside out, the less power we give to our human desires and tendencies.

The Psalmist once said, "With my whole heart I have sought you; Oh, let me not wander from your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You" (Ps. 119:10-11).

The truth about temptation may be discouraging at the surface. But a complete appreciation for God's forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:7) and continual providence in the face of temptation (Jas. 4:7) gives us every motivation and all strength to resist.

24Nov/110

Thanksgiving 2011

http://flic.kr/p/3e2D7Y

http://flic.kr/p/3e2D7Y

Psalm 23

1Apr/091

I’m a Fool

I love surfing the internet on April Fool's Day. It's a virtual game of "I Spy" to find the fake blog posts, the new upgrade to Gmail (this year it's Autopilot), and other attempts to get people to bite hook, line, and sinker. I've not been creative enough to devise a good April Fool's joke myself (I briefly considered complementing Lane Kiffin's public relations genius), but I love the hoopla surrounding the day. Based on my posting schedule, you might think me making a post at all is a joke ;).

This year, my mind turned toward the word of God. "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good" (Ps. 14:1, ESV).

Something heavy and heartbreaking struck me this morning about this verse. I am a fool. I've never uttered the phrase "There is no God." I've never formulated an elaborate argument against the existence of God. But the verse isn't pointing the finger at the staunch, Richard Dawkins-like atheists. "The fool says in his heart...they do abominable deeds...there is none who does good." The "fool" label isn't just reserved for those who articulate a disbelief in God, but also for those who act as if He doesn't exist.

When I presume on God's grace and act in my own selfish interests, I'm a fool (Rom. 6:1-2).

When I talk badly about someone God created with a grand and glorious purpose in His spiritual kingdom, I'm a fool (Eph. 4:29).

When I convince myself this life is about "stuff" and how much of it I can accumulate, I'm a fool (Luke 12:13-21)

When I stretch, bend, or hide the truth--even when I'm doing something I think needs to be done--I'm a fool (Col. 3:9-10).

When I attempt to fulfill a God-given need in an ungodly way, I'm a fool (Matt. 4:2-4).

When I put off encouraging a brother or sister because "there's always tomorrow," I'm a fool (Heb. 3:13).

When I minimize God's standards of purity by surrounding myself with unholy people/watching unholy TV & movies/going to unholy places, I'm a fool (Eph. 5:3-12).

When I think that God won't do what He says He will do when I dishonor the blood of Christ, I'm a fool (Heb. 10:29-31).

"Father, help me to stop living as a fool--as if You don't exist. Thank you for forgiving the foolish (1 Jn. 1:9)."

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God (Psalm 14:2).
5Nov/080

About Last Night…

I feel strongly about our recent elections. Though many of you do also, I'm sure my opinions aren't of great value to you at a time like this. The beauty is that our opinions all count as "1" when we vote. And we'll all stand on judgment before God having to answer for how we used our blessings (including the right to vote). There, who says we need 'change' to have equality ;)?

Just a couple of things, if you don't mind...

America is great not because of who we elect with our votes, but because we can vote. We need to carefully consider how much weight we put on the shoulders of men. No one man has caused our shortcomings and no one man can lead us out of them. We need to thank God that we live in a country where our voices matter. Additionally, the freedoms that grant us the right to vote also give us opportunities to easily teach others about Jesus Christ. I have to think that if we as Christians were doing our part in helping those in need and sharing the good news, there would be less of a need to vote for someone based largely on social reasons.

One more thing about this...if you threatened to move before or after the election based on the outcome (I personally have read several regarding both candidates), what country exists that has blessings, opportunities, and freedoms to a greater (or even same) degree as our own? Canada, Mexico, and so on have their own problems--and they're worse than our problems. Let's not be stupid about this stuff...

God's purpose is not to protect America or spread democracy, but to protect the church and spread the gospel. I'm a proud American. However, I need to remember that the church existed--and thrived--prior to 1776. Additionally, if this nation ever ceases to exist, the church will still exist (Daniel 2:44). It's very comforting to always know that God is in control and that He takes care of His people (ie, Heb. 13:5). However, I need to remember that America is not "His people." It's tempting to think God has a great purpose in keeping this nation strong for millenniums to come, but He's not told us that in His word. Therefore, I need to be careful in assuming such. I pray that God will bless America; not because God needs America, but because America needs God.

I have been hypocritical. This is a more humorous approach, but one that I probably needed to come to grips about. Over the past several months, I easily decided for whom I would cast my vote based on some simple logic. I always want to vote for the man (or woman) who stands up for morality and integrity and who exhibits those things in his or her life. Of the two main candidates, it's obvious there's only one who comes close to doing so. I am appalled at the complete lack of accountability and honesty that's put forward by one candidate, and how so many Americans aren't bothered by such.

Let it be known however, that some 22 months ago I celebrated a new era of 'change' and 'hope' on the sidelines of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I can see how it is easy to overlook what we think is important when we stand to benefit directly from a person's work. In no way do I approve of how dishonest Nick Saban looked when he left Miami; in no way do I approve of his choice of words when he's fired up. But, I am presently glad he's coaching my team and not yours.* So, I do admit to being inconsistent with my approach to the election this year. It's something I'll try to work on...for now, I wish Obama (& Saban) the best in the near future.

The LORD looks down from heaven;
he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
and observes all their deeds.
The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in this steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.

Psalm 33:13-19


* Comparing Obama & Saban is really not fair...to Saban. He came in with a lot more experience and is already following through with his promises.

15Jun/070

Faithful Fathers (Psalm 23) — Bulletin Article 06.17.2007

As we think about the various roles in which our Fathers serve in the home, we find no greater example of a loving Father than from the Lord himself (Eph. 1:2,3,17). One of the most familiar descriptions of our Spiritual Father is found in Psalm 23. In these beloved six verses, David shows us several pictures of the faithfulness of the Lord. As fathers who follow in the Lord’s steps, we should likewise be faithful to our children. Let’s notice three things important to faithful fathers:

The Presence of Faithful Fathers (vs. 1-3). “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” We know that our Heavenly Father has blessed us with bountiful spiritual blessings, ultimately through Christ (Eph. 1:3) . However, we often forget that one of those blessings is His presence. Our God loves us so much that he longs to be with us as we live for him. This is the reason He’s prepared heaven as our home (John 14:1-6). As Christians, having the Lord present in our lives gives us the courage to do His will (Matt. 28:20).

Fathers who cherish the lives of their children and truly want what’s best for them will be present with them. Although it’s his responsibility to provide physically for the family, it’s also up to him to determine the home’s direction in other areas as well. Making time to spend with children is one of the best ways fathers reinforce proper values in the hearts of their children. We’ve all heard it said before, “Children spell ‘love’ ‘T-I-M-E.’” If we are going to be faithful fathers in the mold of the Father, we must be present with our children. Thanks to all of you dads for your presence.

The Protection of Faithful Fathers (vs. 4-5). “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” There are some things we as God’s children are incapable of handling alone. God’s presence coupled with God’s power gives us ultimate protection from our greatest fears. James tells us in his letter that the “devil will flee” from us if we submit into the presence of God. He flees because of the power of our Father (Jas. 4:6-10). Thanks be to God for His constant protection of our souls.

Likewise, fathers have the responsibility to protect their homes. No father would casually allow an intruder to enter his home, leaving his family to fend for themselves. We as fathers must make sure we are not leaving our children’s souls vulnerable to spiritual intruders. Fathers have the authority (and responsibility, Eph. 6:1-4) to lead the home toward spiritual purity while limiting sinful influences. Thanks to you, fathers, for your spiritual protection of today’s children.

The Promises of Faithful Fathers (vs. 6). “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” At the end of this difficult life, I am thankful for a God who has dreamed great dreams for me, and who has planned and prepared for those to come true. Aren’t you? No matter our fears, loneliness, and insecurities, we have the precious and true promises of God awaiting.

Responsible fathers understand the importance of dreaming dreams for their children, and doing all they can to help their children reach those dreams. There are numerous examples where dads (and moms) have pushed too hard and been unreasonable with their dreams and expectations. Faithful fathers, however, know the importance of looking to the future as they raise their children. They know today’s choices will affect tomorrow’s circumstances. Ultimately, fathers dream for their children to become faithful Christians. We should make sure we’re encouraging them as they make that decision and long after they’ve made it. Thanks to you dads who’ve helped your children lead lives of faithfulness to the Lord.

A faithful father looks forward to the day when he—and his child—dwell with the LORD forever.