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.

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.

27Sep/112

4 Things We Learned Rock Climbing

Over the summer, we carried 25 young people & adults (and met up with 25 more from Northport and 9th Ave in Haleyville) to Climb Nashville for an indoor rock climbing lock-in. Teens typically get excited for lock-ins of any kind. But we had a particularly fun time climbing and “hanging” out together.

All 50 of us got together around 2AM and sang a few songs, then discussed what things we witnessed throughout the night that could help us in our spiritual lives. Here are five of the things we talked about as a group:

1) We need others to do difficult things. The only way I’m remotely safe high up on a wall (with no padding below) is if someone else is below belaying for me. A belayer uses a clip that utilizes gravity as a brake in case the climber slips off the wall. He or she just hangs there until they start climbing again or are let down slowly by the belayer. So, first of all, we need someone else to make sure we don’t fall. Next, we need the encouragement provided by the belayer and others on the ground. We heard the sound of “you can do it” and “hang in there” throughout the night. Hearing positive words of praise helps us reach the top. Finally, we need others to help us find ways out. It’s easy to get so focused on everything going around you that you don’t see the next hand or foot grip. But the person below—who has a different perspective—can see things you don’t see. He or she can help you navigate out of a difficult situation.

Similarly, God has never intended for Christians to navigate through life alone. There are times we need one another to keep us from falling, “whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death” (James 5:20). We also need encouragement daily from one another, “exhort one another every day...that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Finally, we often need the advice of others because they can see thigns we don’t see, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (Proverbs 19:20).

2) The best time for distractions is not while you’re on the wall. One of our teen girls was climbing while her older sister belayed for her (I won’t mention names). When the younger sister was almost to the top, her older sister below screamed, “Did you remember to get the cooler off the bus?” When you’re confronting fears and reaching new heights, the last thing on your mind is whether or not you “remembered the cooler.” It’s easy for us to get distracted spiritually. We can’t afford to get distracted by criticism, hypocrisy by others, frustrations, or fun as we work in the kingdom. Nehemiah recognized this when he told Sanballat and Tobiah, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). How many times have we abandoned the work of the Lord to check if we “got the cooler off the bus?”

3) We learn best by doing. The Climb Nashville staff taught the group of belayers in about 20-30 minutes. They utilized a hands-on approach and made the students put into practice what they learned in order to be certified to belay. In a more traditional classroom setting, it may have taken much longer to instruct that group of people about procedures and potential problems. We do a good thing by emphasizing Biblical learning; we need to teach the Bible in a classroom setting. Many who neglect this opportunity weekly should re-evaluate their decision. But we must also never forget that we grow most and best by daily doing what our God teaches. “But the one who looks into the perfect law,the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts,he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25).

4) It’s not the real thing. Indoor rock climbing is an exciting thing to do. The night we spent doing it allowed us to challenge ourselves and have fun doing so. It’s a great way to learn and gain experience in a controlled and safe environment. But it’s not real rock climbing. We don’t actually go anywhere. We get to the top, then turn around and slide back down. Likewise, some of the things we do within the church and especially in “youth ministry” are intended to train young people and families in a controlled and safer environment. They’re still very real experiences, but they’re not intended to be the end in and of themselves. We should pray for opportunities to put the spiritual habits we build into practice in the world around us. “Pray also for us, that God mayopen to us a door for the word,to declare the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3).

11Jul/071

The Problem With an "Attendance Problem" — Bulletin Article 07.08.07

Worship attendance can be a sensitive issue for Christians. Some are satisfied with coming only on Sunday mornings. Or Sunday evenings. Or for long enough to take the Lord’s Supper. Some are content with worshiping only at holidays. Some are only at the local assembly when facing tough times. Although some individuals seem content with their on-and-off attendance patterns, their attitude gets defensive when discussed by an elder, preacher, Bible class teacher, or fellow Christian. The truth is that many Christians are aware of their attendance problems, yet they take no action to fix it.

What does the Bible say about worship attendance? Very little, actually. I think that is by design; obedient lives don’t have to be convinced about the importance of worship and Bible study attendance. Truthfully, if we have “attendance problems” attendance is not our main problem. Upon examination, Hebrews 10:24-25 bears four principles that reveal what an “attendance problem” really is:

An “attendance problem” is really a heart problem. In New Testament Greek—as in most languages—much of the meaning of a clause is determined by the verb. In Hebrews 10:25, the verb form is translated “not neglecting” or “not forsaking.” In other passages in the New Testament, we see the idea of intentionally neglecting or forsaking in the same word. Paul uses the word in 2 Timothy 4:10 and again in verse 16, “For Demas, in love with the present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica...At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (emphasis not in ESV). Demas and those who forsook Paul made an intentional choice to neglect him. When we choose something else over worshiping our God (sleep, recreation, etc.), we intentionally desert the opportunity to tell God how great He is. Additionally, the same verb is used in Hebrews 13:5, “for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (emphasis not in ESV). What a shame that our Lord has said that he will never forsake us, yet our hearts sometimes intentionally forsake Him.

An “attendance problem” is really a fellowship problem. The immediate context of Hebrews 10:25 is worth addressing. Notice what the author says in verse 24, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…”; he then continues later in verse 25, “but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The Hebrews’ writer knew that Christian fellowship was an important aspect of not falling away from Christ. Coming together for worship, Bible study, prayer, and other spiritual activities is vital to keeping our—and our fellow Christians’—spiritual determination strong. By neglecting these opportunities, we make the statement that we care about ourselves more than we do our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we never be guilty of such selfishness, but may we lift the needs of others above our own (Phil. 2:3-4).

An “attendance problem” is really a worship problem. In Hebrews 10:19-25, the author is explaining the beautiful opportunity Christians have to approach God directly through Christ (because of His sacrifice). First-century Christians were tempted to fall back into Judaism. The author is reminding them that Christ allows that which the previous High Priests could not: continual and direct access to God. The implication is that not worshipping correctly negates the blessing of New Testament worship. Intentionally forsaking worship opportunities makes the same statement. Our attitude toward attendance is also our attitude toward the blessing of New Testament worship.

An “attendance problem” is really a Cross problem. Finally, the broader context of Hebrews chapter 10 reveals a humbling principle about worship. By this point in the letter to the Hebrews, the author says essentially that, “Christianity is better than Judaism because of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.” If we fail to worship correctly or worship regularly, we prove that we do not care about the cross of Christ. Notice what the writer says later in chapter 10, “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy...how much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?...It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:28-29, 31). We see how much God values worship when we see the cross; do we value it enough to follow Him there?

May we always seek to fix our problems, even if they are bigger than they seem. See you at worship.