Joey Sparks
1Sep/110

The People in Naaman’s Life

Though not necessarily written to be an allegory for New Testament Christianity, the account of Naaman’s leprosy in 2 Kings 5 reinforces important principles about salvation—and helping others find it.

Naaman was a great man (2 Kings 5:1). He is commander of the Syrian army, held in high favor by his king, and a man of great strength in battle. Though not an Israelite, the Lord used Naaman to give victory to Syria.

Naaman was a sick man (2 Kings 5:1b). The first verse ends with the phrase, “but he was a leper.” His leprosy must not have been very severe, for he was able to continue his service in the army and enjoy family life with his wife. But he was still sick and in need of healing.

Naaman went to the most obvious of place for healing (2 Kings 5:4-7). Upon arriving in Israel, he went to the King of Israel. Powerful as he was, he admitted he could not heal Naaman. He even became paranoid this was a ploy to begin battle.

Naaman—because of his logical thinking—rejected the instructions given by Elisha (2 Kings 5:11-12). He came to Elisha thinking he would give him healing and make it easy. He wanted him to just speak the words, wave his hands over him and he’d be clean. Not only was the direction to dip in a river repulsive, but the choice of river angered Naaman because he knew of much cleaner rivers than the Jordan. In his mind, this “cure” didn’t make sense.

Naaman obeyed and was healed (2 Kings 5:14). Despite his hesitations, Naaman eventually did “according to the word of the man of God.” The text says that he was not only cleansed, but his flesh was restored like the flesh of a small child.

Though the above summary is in keeping with the text, it does leave out two significant moments in the story.

First, a young servant girl from Israel tells him of Elisha (2 Kings 5:2-3). She was carried away by Syria during a raid and became Naaman’s wife’s servant. She tells him about the prophet in Samaria (Elisha). Based on that information, he then travels to Israel. Without her influence, Naaman misses out.

Second, his personal servants convince him to dip in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:13). After he receives the illogical and offensive instructions from Elisha, he turns and goes away in his rage. His personal servants come to him and remind him about Elisha’s healing promise. He accepts their challenge and heads to the Jordan.

If those two moments play out differently, Naaman may have missed his healing altogether. Those were more than just moments, however. They were people. That little girl and those servants spoke up and guided Naaman in the direction he needed to go. They also made significant risks to do so. They were mere servants addressing a man of great stature and prominence. Their courage saved Naaman from his sickly existence.

You and I live with, work with, have fun with, and bump into “Naamans” every day. They’re great people, but they need salvation from the sickness of sin. As with Naaman, they need the word of the Lord to heal them. As with Naaman, they’ll likely object to sensibility of the Bible’s teachings regarding salvation. And just like Naaman, they need godly people—you and me—to lead them to the Lord time and time again. Despite the risks we see from our perspective, the rewards for them are too great to neglect.

Fortunately for Naaman’s health, the people around him loved him enough to help him find healing. Fortunately for our friends’ souls, the Lord places us in their lives; may we selflessly use daily opportunities to bring them to Him.

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31Aug/110

Later & Greater

The Bible reinforces the simple principle of “we reap what we sow.” The statement itself is built off common agricultural knowledge. Seeds are planted (sown) in one season; they grow into fruit-bearing plants, which are harvested (reaped) in another season. We should always remember this foundational and incredibly practical principle.

But we would do well to remember a further explanation of the principle. It is easy to convince ourselves that the principle has failed for us. We should always remember that “we reap what we sow...later and greater.” Large plants and trees take time to grow from a single tiny seed. Tiny cells take time to grow into a healthy baby at birth. Small deposits into interest-bearing accounts take time to grow into seven-figure balances. The small, daily decisions we make—whether good or bad—determine much of what we experience throughout our lives.

Notice the passage from Galatians where Paul emphasizes the principle:

One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:6-10)

We often isolate this principle toward bad, sinful, and lazy areas of life. But Paul uses it to not only address that principle with Christians, but to remind them of the eternal life that awaits (reaping) toward those who live by the Spirit (sowing). If we are curious as to how to live by the Spirit, this chapter immediately follows what we know as “the fruit of the Spirit.”

Do we need reminders that poor choices lead to even poorer outcomes? Certainly. Do we need to know that once we sin, we cannot control nor anticipate the consequences? Without a doubt. But we also need to know that, for God’s faithful children, the good we do on a daily basis is building up to a reward beyond our imaginations. Yes, it will be later; but we should thank God it will be greater.

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30Aug/110

Heads Up!

Just a heads up for the next few days/weeks I'm "archiving" some of my bulletin articles from the past year by posting them here. I've got the itch to start back again, but I'm still working some things out.

If/when I begin actively blogging, it won't be at near the pace as these article posts are popping up. Thanks for swinging by!

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27May/110

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect (John Maxwell)

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect was not an enjoyable read for me. As such, it was not a quick read. It's taken me a year to get through it, reading inconsistently.

But that doesn't mean that it wasn't a helpful resource. And it certainly doesn't mean I'm finished consulting it. In true John Maxwell style, it's full of outlined principles, helpful tips, and especially powerful illustrations and quotes. I'll catalog and use these for many years to come.

At first, I was discouraged by not being able to "get into" the book. Clearly, Maxwell knows what he's talking about. And clearly, he's doing it well. But it wasn't clicking. Then, I read the excerpt about Maxwell by Charlie Wetzel--Maxwell's writer. Near the end of Wetzel's section, he claims that Maxwell is a "speaker who writes" (which makes sense if he hires a writer). I'm a writer who occasionally speaks. From that point, I was at peace that everything wasn't necessarily "connecting."

It's predictable enough that if I didn't already trust Maxwell's authenticity, I'd be tempted to think this was a formulaic, assembly-line effort. It's not bad. Just not sure that it goes anywhere. The best thing Maxwell, his editors, or his publisher could have done was only publish Part II (Connecting Practices).

Over the final few chapters, I was more than ready for the book to end. It's a shame I felt that way; the best chapter is Chapter 10, "Connecters Live What They Communicate." Above all, the world needs leaders and communicators with "trust captial."

Despite my hesitancies about the book, I think this volume is a solid introductory resource about communication. I recommend it to those looking for such. But if you're already familiar with effective communication skills or with much of Maxwell's work, I'm not sure you'd miss much by not reading. (Unless you're a preacher who wants a bunch of good illustrations.)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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23Aug/100

“What I Love About the Church” at Preacher’s Pen

Chris Gallagher over at Preacher's Pen graciously invited me to write a guest post for his "What I Love About the Church" series. I appreciate his thoughtfulness & all he does for the Lord and the church.

Check out the post, "What I Love About the Church."

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4May/100

The Heart Mender (Andy Andrews)

The remarkable thing about human forgiveness--us forgiving others even if they don't deserve it, know they hurt us, want it, or ask for it--is that it frees those who do the forgiving (Ephesians 4:32).

Andy Andrews paints a picture of this principle in The Heart Mender (Thomas Nelson). Based on historical fact, the story introduces characters who should--and do--harbor hatred in their hearts for one another. Through the power of forgiveness, each character changes over the period of several months. To be expected, these personal changes alter the direction of their relationship.

Nothing communicates a truth more powerfully than story. And what Andrews does in The Heart Mender, is communicate story. Though "forgiveness" is the cornerstone theme of the book, it's inclusion in the narrative isn't forced. The story is well-told; it would be a great story even without an emphasis on the principle of forgiveness.

If you have connections with the Gulf Coast, especially in the state of Alabama, you may find this fascinating as it opens your eyes to the historical importance of that area during World War II. The Heart Mender is an overall enjoyable and entertaining read.

The Heart Mender is available for purchase today, May 4th, 2010.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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20Mar/101

The Hole in Our Gospel (Richard Stearns)

"The Hole in our Gospel" begins with the true story of Richard Stearns, who forsook a luxurious living as big-time CEO to become the president of World Vision, a company dedicated to helping the poor, sick, and injusticed around the globe.

The bulk of the book is focused upon the responsibility of Christians to help those who need help the most. It is built on an undeniable scriptural foundation and is supplemented with gut-wrenching and hope-inspiring stories throughout. These are its greatest qualities.

Stearns uses effective illustrations to illuminate the truths and principles from scripture. He uses statistics not superfluously, but only as necessary. Stearns refrains from overemphasizing his personal story and doesn't elevate it to be the standard for everyone else. And finally, he is also to be commended for not using the book as a platform to publicize World Vision.

I did feel that it could have been 10-15% shorter of a volume. Some of the material in the final "What do I do?" section was helpful, but I wanted more concrete options and legitimate advice. It felt as though it was added haphazardly to the rest of the book. Finally, the author's testimony about his and others' salvation is inconsistent with Biblical teaching.

Overall, this is a helpful contribution to the discussion about the church's mission to help the needs of others. It should be consulted by church leaders and people who in positions of influence.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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27Jan/101

God Is Present, Even In Rebellion

The status of human relationships determines the level of involvement or presence between given individuals or groups. As humans, we typically do not increase our time with and proximity to those with whom we are upset. We naturally withdraw from those who’ve hurt us, with whom we have disagreements, or those we cannot trust. But God’s nature is not human nature. Even in the midst of rebellion, God still reveals himself.

The writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95:7-11, which in part, says, “where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years” (Hebrews 3:9). In verse 17 of the same chapter, the writer asks the rhetorical question, “And with whom was he provoked (angered, JS) for forty years?” The writer’s point in the passage is to show the consequence of disobedience to God. But notice the combination of these two verses from Hebrews 3. Even though God was angry with His people because of their hard-heartedness, he continued to show them his works. Despite their grumbling, complaining, and lack of gratitude, God still provided them with daily guidance, nourishment, and protection.

In the book of Jonah, God is angry at Nineveh and with Jonah for running. But he reveals himself through the horrific storm at sea and through the belly of a giant fish. Romans 1:18-32 reminds us that though Gentiles had rejected God for centuries, he still revealed himself through nature and other invisible attributes. The soldiers of one of the most ruthless and godless empires in world history executed an innocent man brought to them by the scattered Jews they had conquered. At the close of his crucifixion, a Roman centurion proclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). On his darkest day, God revealed himself to man.

Prior to the 7.0 earthquake that ravaged the Port-au-Prince area of Haiti, it had the reputation of being a corrupt political and social society filled with rampant voodooists. (Though that’s not the reason the earthquake happened. “For he sends rain on the just and on the unjust” [Matt. 5:45].) In the wake of the disaster, God’s people are revealing his love.

Roberta Edwards, who runs the Son Light Orphanage and Nutrition Center overseen by the Estes Church of Christ (Henderson, TN), arrived from out of town a few days following the earthquake and asked, “How much food do we have?”

“About a month’s worth,” she was told.

“Alright,” she said, “put aside food for two days, and let’s start giving the rest away to the neighbors.”

God always finds a way.

“But the Lord is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

But that’s not the end of Roberta’s story. The following day, a friend from the Dominican Republic called and said he’d be there with 4,000 pounds of food and supplies (Luke 6:38).

This story comes courtesy of Justin Gerhardt, the Outreach Minister for the Henderson Church of Christ. His blog can be accessed at. Contact the Estes Church of Christ in Henderson, TN for more information about helping Haiti.

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19Jan/100

Give God the Glory…

“I always give God the glory. I never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life. And I know that, if nothing else, I’m standing on the rock.”

The brilliance behind Colt McCoy’s words lies not in the strength and faith of the young man himself, though he is to be commended. His parents, Brad and Debra McCoy, are to be applauded for raising a young man who exhibits such spiritual maturity in a public forum. But they are not the ultimate source of praise. To heed Colt’s words is to give the glory to God. Before the second-largest BCS Championship TV viewership in its 12-year history, McCoy turned everyone’s attention not toward his team’s loss, Alabama’s victory, or even his dangling numb right arm. He humbled himself—and each of us—before the God whose power is perfected in human weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Our trust in the power of the Lord is not as impacting on others in times of great success. McCoy’s words would have been inspiring had he said them from the mid-field podium with burnt orange confetti stuck to his championship cap. But they hold immeasurable value because he said them with the podium—covered by crimson confetti and the other team—standing in the distance. Holding a trophy, those words might seem predictable; but injured and to the side, they are unforgettable.

When Jesus finds Mary and Martha worried about the health of their brother, Lazarus, they are unaware of the loss they are about to experience. Yet Jesus offers these words of direction, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). Through Lazarus’ death, the grief of Mary, Martha, and Jesus, and the ensuing raising of Lazarus, many Jews believed in Jesus (John 11:38). We must not assume that things must go as we plan, envision, or dream in order for our lives to most glorify God.

During the game, several brethren on Twitter prayed for McCoy’s health and were hopeful for his return to the game. Though God didn’t answer their prayers with Colt’s return, a Texas victory, or a storybook ending to a fantastic career and season, he did work things together for good more than we could have imagined. With four sentences that evening, a 23-year-old young man defined dependence on God for an audience of millions.

We should remember that God takes the pieces of shattered dreams and broken hearts and molds moments of glory more beautiful than gold, silver, diamonds, and on some occasions, crystal.

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15Dec/090

Boats on Land? Cars in Water?

Last week, we noticed some similarities between train-automobile safety and sexual sin. The basic connection is that trains and sex--though both serve great purposes--are extremely dangerous.

Today, we're going to briefly explore two more modes of transportation, boats and automobiles. Connecting the two gives us a small picture of God's design for sex and the consequences if we abuse that design.

boat-cropped

First, it's obvious from their appearance that boats are designed for water and cars are designed for the road. Boats don't need wheels, but rather an effective way to float on the water's surface. Cars need to stay cose to the road for safety, but don't need a lot of surface contact, thus they have wheels. Likewise, our bodies have been designed for service to the Lord. Sexually speaking, He designed us for an intimate, committed relationship with a single spouse (1 Cor. 6:12-14).

When boats begin moving (on their own, not on a trailer) on land, and when cars get into water, there are problems. And bad problems. If a boat "drives" on land or a car is in water (in an element for which it is not designed) for a long period of time, the damage is significant and sometimes irreparable. When we use our bodies to serve our fleshly desires instead of how our Lord has designed us, we will suffer damage. If left unattended, the damage can be irreparable.auto-cropped

Finally, when damage is done to a boat or to a car, it can seriously impact it's usefulness once it's back where it was designed. We see this most glaringly when "flooded" cars--or cars from the seacoast--are sold through used car dealerships. If you buy a car with water damage, you take a significant risk. A car's ability to perform in its designed realm is hampered when it goes to places--especially water--it shouldn't. Not only is sexual sin dangerous in the "here-and-now," it can leave lasting scars throughout the future, even if those sins have been overcome and forgiven. The guilt, shame, and embarrassment can literally last a lifetime. Pre-marital immorality can seriously impact the health and vitality of an otherwise godly and happy marriage.

Our Lord has designed us as beautiful, wonderful, sexual creatures to enjoy that relationship in a committed marriage. If we devise our own plan for sexual fulfillment and reject the Lord's plan, we will suffer. And we risk our physical and emotional health and our spiritual destination.

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