Joey Sparks
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?”

21Nov/080

Peter: A Case Study in Maturity

In the first post of this series, we studied Peter’s weakness the night before Jesus was crucified. After Jesus’ arrest, the crowd questioned Peter about his association with Him. All three times, Peter denied his Lord. Peter was weak when Jesus—his major source of spiritual influence—was taken away from him. He buckled when pressured by the crowd. And when forced to choose his true allegiance, he denied knowing Jesus Christ.

After that tragic night, Peter goes on to do great things for his Lord. Much of the first half of the book of Acts features Peter as its main character. He also pens two books of the New Testament. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2 jump-starts this post-resurrection greatness.

At Pentecost of Acts 2, notice that Peter’s faith stood strong when...

Jesus was taken away—for good—from His disciples (Acts 1:6-10). Fifty days prior to this account, Peter acted immaturely and denied knowing Jesus. Now, Jesus has died and resurrected. He is back spending time with the apostles and disciples. In Acts 1, however, we read that Jesus ascends to heaven to be with the Father until His second coming (Matt. 25:36-37). This is more significant than being arrested and taken away to trial. This is final.

Notice how Peter responds after Jesus leaves this time. First, he leads the effort to replace Judas with Mathias (Acts 1:15ff). Then, at Pentecost, he preaches that Jesus is the Christ, and some 3,000 souls are baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:14-41). Though Peter no longer had his major source of spiritual influence, he exercised spiritual strength by introducing a multitude of souls to their Savior. As Jesus had comforted Peter and the apostles, He comforts us today, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Some in the crowd were pressuring the disciples (Acts 2:5-13). Peter denied knowing Jesus when the crowd approached him directly. He gave in to peer pressure. Here, in Acts 2, we see pressure from some in the audience that day. Through the Holy Spirit, the apostles were doing unbelievable things (Acts 2:1-12). They were so unbelievable that some mockingly accused the apostles of being drunk!

The apostles could avoid embarrassment by not speaking in tongues. Peter could preach an easier message to the Jewish crowd that Jesus was not the Messiah. Peter also could ignore the insults hurled by the audience. Instead, Peter and the apostles display great courage by confronting their erroneous claims (2:14-15) and by preaching the truth about Jesus Christ (2:16-41).

He was forced to choose his allegiance (Acts 2:14-39). In Matthew 26, Peter could not ride the fence regarding his association with Jesus. He could only answer “yes” or “no” (“present” was not an option). In Acts 2—before an anti-Jesus crowd—he had to choose if and how strongly to preach the saving message about Jesus. Based on how the people previously handled Jesus, they could kill Peter just the same. If a violent disturbance broke out, the apostles and disciples were clearly outnumbered. On this occasion, Peter boldly tells the people “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

Even though the truth would be difficult for some to accept, he proclaimed it anyway. His faith in Christ was strong and his actions prove it. Like Peter, we will face situations where our faith and allegiance are tested. We must choose Christ anytime and every time. Peter made a dramatic turnaround from his denial of Jesus to his sermon on Pentecost.

Next time, we’ll look at what made the difference for Peter and can make the difference for us today.

In case you missed it, check out Part 1, "Peter: A Case Study in Immaturity."

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).

3Aug/070

A Biblical Contemporary Ministry, Part 2

Last week, we began discussing a Biblical approach to reaching the current generation. Each generation of God’s people has been challenged to change the world around it for good; each generation of God’s people has faced various difficulties in so doing.

Fortunately, God has blessed us with countless recorded examples of men and women who successfully reached their surrounding generations with the good news of God’s blessings. As we reach out to our 21st century audience, we will do well to follow in their steps.

Paul’s sermon in Athens—found in Acts 17—is an excellent example for us to observe. We should be inspired by Paul’s actions, not only because of what he said, but because of the result of his preaching: “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:34).

Before Paul did anything to reach out to the corruption of the 1st century, his spirit was provoked by their sin. We too must be touched by the sinful choices of the people living around us. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (John 3:16), we must have a spirit that aches for the whole world to repent.

The second thing Paul had was the courage to engage his contemporaries. The series of events began in the Jewish synagogues—a familiar place for Paul to start his preaching. In addition to the Jewish audience, Paul eventually began teaching Christ to the Epicureans and Stoics—some of the leading intellectuals in 1st century Rome. Paul was in the intellectual center of the Roman empire and began discussing the gospel with the brightest minds in the empire. Although this in itself required Paul to courageously engage the 1st century culture, the transpiring events increased the need for godly bravery.

After hearing Paul’s message, the Epicureans and Stoics then grabbed him and took him to the Areopagus to further explain himself. Now Paul and the gospel of Jesus Christ were on trial before these many 1st century scholars. Paul exemplified courage by preaching God’s message boldly in this daunting scenario. Without his mighty valor on that day, certain men and women may have never come to know Jesus.

We too should have great courage to teach the lost about Jesus. First and foremost, we should be courageous because God is with us as we go. Joshua was reminded of this inspiring thought as he began leading the children of Israel. God said that just as He was with Moses, He would be with Joshua. He then said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go ” (Joshua 1:9). We should have the courage to engage our 21st century contemporaries because God is with us as we do His will. His power and comfort should encourage us to teach His truth to those who need it the most.

As we go with God, we must remember that our level of confidence and courage is reflective of our personal confidence in our God. If our faith is not strong enough to actively reach out to those who need the gospel, our faith isn’t strong enough. We have been left in the world to bear fruit in the world (John 15:1-8), therefore we must fulfill this purpose by taking courage and taking the gospel. Relative to this idea, we must understand that the world does not want to hear a message from a weak, insecure, and discouraged messenger. If we are going to bring others to Jesus, we must do so with confidence, courage, and boldness. It will try us from time to time—as it did Paul—but we must use every opportunity for Him.

May God bless us with courage to reach out to this generation.

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!