Joey Sparks
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!

13Aug/070

A Biblical Contemporary Ministry, Part 3

For the last two weeks, we have been looking at Acts 17 and Paul’s sermon in Athens (often called his “Mars Hill Sermon”) for inspiration as we reach out to our 21st century generation. He was placed into a daunting—but amazingly providential—situation where he could teach some of the brightest academic minds of the first century about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus far, we have observed that Paul had (1) a touched spirit over their idolatry and (2) the courage to engage them in discussions about the truth. Ultimately, Paul’s actions led to several in the audience believing and following him (Acts 17:34).

It is with that same end in mind that we turn our attention to the final area of an effective contemporary ministry. We should always seek the truth about how to reach souls with the gospel; we should always look to the Bible for guidance in so doing; we should keep in mind that it works!

The final aspect of Paul’s situation was that he proclaimed the message boldly. He had a powerful message, and he preached it powerfully. He did not skirt the truth about idolatry; he did not leave room for the Athenians to think their way was okay also; he preached the full, unadulterated truth about the God of the universe and about his risen Son. Notice briefly some of Paul’s phrases:

· “What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (17:23)

· “The God who made the world...does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything…” (17:24-25)

· “We ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, and image formed by the art and imagination of man” (17:29)

· “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness”

(17:30-31)

· “of this he has given assurance to all by rising [Jesus] from the dead.”

(17:31)

As we remember his original audience (and their gods that surrounded them), some of these things would definitely fall into the “stepping on toes” category. Although Paul himself said to preach the truth in a loving nature (Eph. 4:15), the truth still needs to be taught specifically. At Athens, Paul preached with love, and that meant challenging the error of the Athenians. Today, we must lovingly address and meet the challenges of the 21st century. The person from whom I was inspired to do this study said in his lesson, “It’s not hard to be Biblical if you’re not committed to being contemporary. And it’s not hard to be contemporary if you’re not committed to being Biblical.” That statement exhibits the truth of our position in the 21st century. We must always be Biblical; we must also make sure the saving Biblical message reaches our surrounding audience and culture.

Briefly, I want to think about this same idea from a slightly different angle. Within the church, we have struggled over the past several decades to have the same success in reaching people as we did 40 to 60 years ago. Not only do we face that challenge, but we are often reminded of limited success “within our own walls.” Many of our young people grow up and then grow out of service to the Lord. I readily admit that the ultimate responsibility for our young people exists with their parents. However, let’s think about how far powerful, sound, challenging, and loving preaching will go in not only reaching the lost around us, but also in meeting the spiritual needs of Christians.

Sadly, many congregations—intentionally or unintentionally—preach and teach messages that do not challenge their audiences out of fear that they might not come back. Although we want people to be happily in Christ, they can’t be such without hearing and obeying the full truth. Today, the issues may not be the same as they were for Paul, but preaching the truth will still be unpopular. It will be difficult for us to proclaim God’s will regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage; many people are sensitive about preaching on homosexuality; many are not comfortable when preaching the truth about gambling; many do not want to hear what God says about “social drinking.” Yet the truth about those things is vitally important to pleasing God and enjoying true fellowship with him and with other Christians.

May we be committed to preaching the powerful gospel message...in so doing we save ourselves and our generation (1 Tim. 4:16).

27Jul/071

A Biblical Contemporary Ministry, Part 1 (Acts 17:16-34)

One struggle of every generation of God’s people is to reach the people around them with the truth about God’s love. Throughout time, accepting that love has meant living in ways contradictory to the present worldly generation. Thus, resistance mounts and discouragement abounds. Thankfully, God has preserved the words and actions aimed at sinful generations as an example for times to come.

In the 21st century, we need to follow these examples as we continue to reach our contemporaries with the life-changing truth about Jesus Christ. Paul serves as one such powerful example when he speaks the truth at the Athenian Areopagus before the “brightest” philosophers of that time (Acts 17:16-34). As we notice this passage for the next several weeks, we need to keep the ending in our minds.

Acts 17:34 says, “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”

Paul’s sermon was successful! He caused some to believe! The text says that many scoffed at the resurrection, but some believed! What Paul did, we must do, for his actions brought fruit for the Lord.

First, Paul had a distressed heart. Notice how this account begins, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols(Acts 17:16; emphasis added). Paul’s spirit was touched as he witnessed the sinful practices of the Athenians. Paul did not go around robotically preaching and condemning people. His message resulted from a sorrowful and outraged disposition over the idolatry that surrounded him.

Many of God’s messengers were touched by their audiences’ spiritual plight. When David wrote the 119th Psalm about God’s word, he included his grief over man’s wickedness:

“Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law” (119:53).

“My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (119:136).

“I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands” (119:158).

Jeremiah—known as the “Weeping Prophet”—was continually troubled over his people’s sinfulness:

“But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down
with tears, because the
Lord’s flock has been taken captive” (Jer. 13:17).

“Let my eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease, for the virgin daughter of my
people is shattered with a great wound, with a very grievous blow”
(Jer. 14:17).

Jesus wept over the shameful condition of Jerusalem:

“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!’” (Lk. 19:41-42).

Paul emotionally warned of false teachers:

“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on
earthly things”
(Phil. 3:18).

If we are to reach the generation around us, we—like David, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul—must be touched by its sinful state. Not only must our mind understand the sin around us, but our emotions must be pricked over sin’s consequences.

If we callously preach down at the lost around us, there will be few brought to the Lord. If we begin with a spirit that is troubled over the spiritual state of the lost, and then proclaim the uncompromised truth, souls can (and will) be won for Christ. May we sincerely and prayerfully consider the unfortunate immorality of our current generation.

Have a great week...for Him!

21May/070

The Value of a Godly Mentor — Bulletin Article 05.20.07

As today is Kerry, Natalie, and Sawyer’s final Sunday with us, it’s only fitting to express some things for which I am thankful. Kerry has served as a valuable influence in my personal spiritual and ministerial development. Additionally, I also know Natalie has encouraged Amanda in countless ways for good. We will certainly miss working alongside them in the Kingdom (as will the rest of you), but we look forward to our continuing friendship in Christ.

In the book of Acts, we see Paul’s interactions with men like Barnabas, Mark, Luke, Silas, and Timothy. His ultimate goal was to spread the gospel of Christ. In so doing, he knew that training other men was a necessity.

For the rest of our time together, let’s narrow the scope to three of Paul’s letters (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) that are written to two younger preachers (Timothy and Titus). It’s interesting to note that much of Paul’s advice relates to Timothy and Titus as individuals; he understood personal development was the key to public ministry development. Thus, the following truths are important in our everyday lives as well as to those of us in public ministry.

Don’t compromise Truth. One of the most repeated themes in these three letters of Paul is to stay true to Truth. He knew these younger men could be vulnerable to older teachers with selfish agendas (1 Tim. 1:3-7). He knew false teachers would try anything to infiltrate the churches at Ephesus and Crete. I find it interesting that the clearest passage about the inspiration of the scriptures is found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Paul knew the source of strength for Timothy and Titus in their battles against false doctrine was the true word of God. Notice Paul’s words: “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word…reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 3:16-4:2). Godly mentors encourage others to depend on the unchanging word of God for guidance. I thank Kerry for his constant encouragement to seek the Truth and teach it unashamedly.

Instill confidence. The more I work with young people (and all people I suppose), the more I realize that we are our own biggest enemies to progress. I have to battle myself more than anyone else in order to do the things I know I should. You may have esteem issues to overcome to be a faithful follower of Christ. I think Paul acknowledged this idea by directly building confidence in Timothy and Titus. We’re familiar with his statement to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example…” He also makes a similar one to Titus, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” Paul was reminding these young men of their importance in the Kingdom. Paul built their confidence when others might have torn it down. I am thankful to Kerry for instilling personal confidence in me, my abilities, and my decisions.

Build independence. The greatest value of a mentor can be seen once he or she is no longer actively mentoring an individual. Likewise, the true test of parenthood is the decisions our children make once adults. Paul left both Timothy and Titus to preach in churches while he was absent. He was turning the public role of teaching over to them in Ephesus and Crete. The first letter to Timothy begins with “remain at Ephesus…” and the letter to Titus starts with “This is why I left you in Crete…” Paul had trained them in order to put them into situations where they would be of the best service in the church. As much as I am able to learn in the presence of Kerry, I am forced to learn more when I have to do things all by myself. I am grateful for the times he has let me learn by letting me (and sometimes encouraging me to) be independent.

We are saddened to see Kerry, Natalie, and Sawyer leave us. However, we are excited for their new work in Northport. We are also excited for the plans the Lord has in store for us here at Midway. We know we will all be more prepared to do His work because of the time the Richardson’s have shared with us.