Joey Sparks
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).
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."

19Nov/080

Peter: A Case Study in Immaturity

Peter was one of Jesus closest apostles. We might know more about him than we do any other figure in the New Testament, outside of Jesus himself. And yet, time and time again, Peter ends up displaying his shortsightedness and immaturity.



The most immature moment of Peter’s life—the time when he was spiritually weakest—likely came when Jesus needed him the most. When Jesus was arrested and carried off to the cross, Peter followed. He would later buckle under pressure and deny association with Jesus. Some of the circumstances regarding Peter’s situation are similar to ones we face when we make weak and immature decisions.



Jesus was taken from the disciples (Matthew 26:47-56). Jesus was obviously important to the disciples as they followed him around for almost three years. They heard his teachings and saw his miracles. Peter’s faith was built upon his direct interaction with Jesus. His overall faithfulness is to be commended; but he failed to be strong when Jesus was taken away from him.



Most everyone develops their personal faith because someone else influences them in that direction. Yet, basing faith only on someone else will prove detrimental when tested. This is one reason many young people fall away upon leaving home—their sources of influence, support, and encouragement are no long around. May we respond with strength when our faith is tested. May we train and strengthen young people to handle this necessary part of growing up.



The crowd was pressuring Peter (Matthew 26:69, 71, 73). When Peter claimed he had nothing to do with Jesus, he was prompted on all three occasions by someone in the crowd. This was a crowd, by the way, who was trying to condemn Jesus. No matter his motives for being there, Peter was in the midst of the wrong crowd. And he couldn’t handle their pressure.



With good reason, we emphasize the dangers of peer pressure to our young people. Young or old, we should all remember warnings about evil companions from Solomon (ie, Prov. 22:24-25) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:33). Being a part of the wrong crowd will lead us in the wrong direction. Likewise, not being prepared with spiritual strength will leave us defenseless when we’re in unavoidable situations with ungodly people. If we’re going to be spiritually mature, we must have the strength to stand up and stand out for good, no matter who else is around.



Peter was forced to choose his allegiance (Matthew 26:69-75). Not only was Peter in the midst of the wrong crowd, but he was forced to choose his true allegiance. He couldn’t remain neutral. He had been with Jesus or he hadn’t. Peter’s decision to deny Jesus is heartbreaking because it went against his earlier claim of faithfulness (Mt. 26:35).



The true strength of our faith is evident when it is tested. Football players don’t know the effectiveness of strength training until they’re blocking or tackling an opposing player. Marathon runners don’t know the effectiveness of their training until they push themselves for mile after mile. Likewise, we will have our faith tested. We will prove ourselves genuine or phony. We must develop the strength to choose Christ no matter the cost.



In order to learn from Peter’s example, we must commit to developing healthy spiritual habits and attitudes that give us true spiritual strength.

Stay tuned for Part 2, "Peter: A Case Study in Maturity."

9Jun/080

But It’s the Prom!

This is one of the best reads I've ran across in a while. I appreciate all that Brother Steve Higginbotham does in the kingdom; I'm especially grateful for his handling of this issue. I'll be running this in our bulletin next spring.

Well, dancing certainly has not become any more moral over the years. If anything, the modern dance is more sensuous today than it ever was...So then, what then has changed? What has changed are the attitudes and respect (or lack of) God’s people have for His will. Some apparently seem to be more willing to justify their “pet” sins than they are willing to justify God’s high moral standard.

But It's the Prom! (preachinghelp.org)

19Oct/070

Why Do We Wait — Bulletin Article 10.21.2007

Which is a better place to sleep, the couch or the bed? The answer is obvious. Beds provide more room, more comfort, and more durability. Although comfortable in the short term, couches are not designed for—and typically do not respond well to—long nights of sleep on a regular basis. Yet how often do we find ourselves drifting into sleep while laying on the couch, aware of the need to get up and go to bed...only to stay there and fall into a deep sleep?

The other night, Amanda and I were watching TV as our night was ending. I had turned it over to watch Survivorman has the guy was stranded on Costa Rica and was attempting to survive for seven days all by himself. It is always intriguing to observe his resourcefulness and improvisation in the face of legitimately dangerous situations.

I was beginning to feel it. My eyes were getting heavier and I was getting more still. I knew my body was ready for bed. Yet my mind was just interested enough in Survivorman to push it to the edge. Something about being in that state of sleep limbo can be really peaceful as well. So I stayed.

About an hour-and-a-half later, Amanda woke me up to tell me we needed to get up and actually go to bed. In spite of the appeal—at the time—to stay on the couch, sleeping in the bed was much more comfortable. It always is.

In spite of knowing which place was better for sleeping, I still chose to stay in the more uncomfortable place. Knowing I would likely have the opportunity to get up later and actually go to the bed. Even though I knew what was in my best interest, I chose otherwise. As trivial of a concern as this is from a physical level, there’s a spiritual application.

Which is the better place to live, in Christ or out of Christ? The answer is obvious. Paul tells us that every spiritual blessing is located in Christ (Eph. 1:3). How many are located out of Christ? Zero. Surely no honest-thinking individual would look at life without Jesus and conclude that it is more comfortable and more appealing—especially in the long term—than life with Him. Yet too many of us spurn the opportunity to get up and follow Him. Too many of us have felt the comfort of Christ by obeying him, yet have wandered back to the “couch” of the world. Many of us enjoy being around Christians (those in Christ—Gal. 3:26-27) and doing Christ-like things, yet don’t have a personal relationship with Him. What a wonderful opportunity to conscientiously brush aside. Unlike my late night antics above, there is no certainty of a later time to get up and make things right. If we knowingly stare down the choice between Christ’s way and our way, and—even for a moment—choose our way, we are testing God’s grace, love, and mercy (Rom. 6:1-2).

May we all have the strength to make the decision to follow Christ—right now. God bless...have a wonderful week!