Joey Sparks
16Sep/110

4 Things Jesus Says About Salvation

In John 5:34, Jesus says, "Not that the testimony I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved."

Jesus spoke and taught during his ministry on earth so that we all might be saved (Luke 19:10). Because it leads to salvation, we must obey all he taught. The following are not a trite formula, but rather the simple truths spoken by Jesus:

1) Believe Him.

"I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins" (John 8:24).

The foundation of obedience is faith in Jesus as the Son of God. He is the only one through whom man is saved (Acts 4:12).

2) Repent of sin.

"No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3).

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

Believing Jesus illuminates our sinful state. A life of complete change from sin is the only life that can follow Jesus. We must put our old lives to death daily, or we'll experience death in the life beyond.

3) Confess Him before others.

"So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).

Followers of Jesus must acknowledge him as the Son of God. This commitment is expected when we obey Christ and every day thereafter. The pull to deny him is strong at times, but we must always confess our discipleship (John 12:42-43).

4) Be immersed.

"Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16).

The gospel is for all. Thus, the need for baptism is for all as well. We meet Christ at his death (Rom. 6:3-4) and are born again through immersion for the forgiveness of sins (John 3:3-5).

Many well-meaning souls claim, "all we need is Jesus" to be saved. They don't want to exclude or offend others by specifics and difficult commands. Yet, the honest reading of scripture guides us to the expectations of salvation, straight from the Savior.

13Sep/110

When Can You Start?

This post was originally published in the Sunday, April 24, 2011 Midway Herald (our bulletin)...three days prior to the April 27th tornado Super-Outbreak that devastated the state of Alabama.

Destruction can happen in a single moment. Rebuilding rarely ever does.

Residents from Oklahoma through North Carolina are experiencing the lengthy rebuilding process following last weekend’s deadly severe storms. Americans are still rebuilding from traumatic school attacks at Virginia Tech and Columbine, CO—anniversaries of both occurred this past week. Our country is still picking up the pieces of the economy, fear, politics, and military action from the 9/11 attacks of nine-and-a-half years ago.

It’s almost always easier and quicker to tear down than to build up. It takes months or even years to build a building that we can demolish in 15 seconds once it becomes obsolete. Ingesting a poisonous substance has immediate consequences, but eating the healthiest foods takes months or years to cause measurable improvements. We (and by "we," I mean someone who knows how to chop down a tree...not myself) spend only a few hours chopping down a tree that needed decades to grow big and tall.

Theologically, God did the same with sin. Adam and Eve introduced sin with two bites and God spent thousands of years preparing the hearts of humanity for redemption through His Son. We have the tremendous benefit of witnessing the process on the pages of inspired Scripture. The saving gospel was planned “before the foundation of the earth” and found its fulfillment in the “fullness of time” (Ephesians 1:4, 10). Though God was physically capable of redeeming sin in the garden, His infinite wisdom knew we weren’t capable of receiving it. So he rebuilt in much lengthier time than we destroyed.

If our lives feel destroyed, God’s work through Christ ensures that we don’t have to stay that way. Thankfully, the Lord forgives us immediately upon obedience (cf. Acts 22:16). But we can’t undo a moment of hurt with a single moment of good. We can’t hold ourselves to an impossible standard, nor should we expect it of others. We can always look for starting moments.

Destruction can happen in a single moment. Rebuilding rarely ever does. Starting always does.

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.

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?”

6Sep/110

The Gym

Dear journal,

I've been needing to write this for some time now. I've known the truth about my situation but have not admitted it to myself. I am not in the physical shape I need to be in. I need to lose quite a few pounds and lower my cholesterol. I also have high blood pressure, don't sleep well, and run out of breath quickly. But those are all really connected to being overweight. I know taking care of these problems will make me feel better and lengthen my time here on earth.

I've tried to talk to my Doctor about it, but surely he's too busy to really care about my health, right? I know that's his specialty, but his answers are so easy to say but really hard to do. He says the main thing I need to do is exercise regularly. He highly recommends me join the local gym.

I love the idea of exercising with other people. But I'm not sure I can find the time very often. I mean, most days after work, I've only got five or six hours left to eat dinner, watch my favorite TV shows, help with the kids' homework, and surf the internet. Someone told me the gym is open in the morning, too. But as it is, waking up as late as I do, I'm already rushed for work. I want to exercise, but I clearly don't have any time during the day.

And besides, though I love the idea of exercising with other people, I'm not sure I want to exercise with those people. Most of the people that go to the gym feel way too good about themselves and their bodies. They clearly don't want someone there who’s chubby and out-of-breath. If I went they would judge me. None of them know what it's like to struggle with their weight. There are other people at the gym--some of the most prominent gym members, in fact--who are nothing but hypocrites. I've seen some of them in the drive-through line at Dairy Queen; I've seen others buying sugary drinks at the grocery store. Why should I commit to helping myself if other people aren't doing the same? Not to mention no one's very friendly at the gym, anyway. All they want is my money each time I go.

So, I guess after thinking about it some, I'll wait a little while longer before I go exercise at the gym. I know I need to, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I'll start exercising one day. I really will. Maybe when the kids' sports season is over; or I may have to wait until after they graduate. Their social well-being is more important than my weight, right?

Again, I WILL decide to do this. And when I do, I won't let anything stand in my way.

30Aug/110

3 Excuses for Delaying Obedience

Excuses for sin are as universal and as old as sin itself. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they blamed one another and subtly blamed God. Thousands of years later, we spend immeasurable time, money, and energy to defend, justify, and deflect attention our spiritual and moral shortcomings. Even if we don’t intentionally think we’re creating excuses, we can easily fall into the trap of justifying our decisions quicker than we realize. In addition to sin itself, we can use excuses to keep us from gaining forgiveness of our sins through obedience to God’s will. There are three common excuses we use to keep us from being obedient to the Lord:

Sometime. James says in James 4:13-16, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” One of Satan’s most successful weapons is “later” or “tomorrow.” But we’re not guaranteed either. Multitudes of people have stepped into eternity thinking they had a little more time in which repent of sin. Let’s stop living in sin immediately. Let’s come to the Lord in obedience today.  “Sometime else” never comes.

Someone. In chapter one, James emphasizes that temptations to sin arise from within, not around us. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (1:14-15). The seeds of sin come from within our own hearts. When we choose our selfish desires over the will of God, we sin. When discussing our conflicts in 4:1-4, James uses a form of the word “you” 14 times. Though James makes it clear we are the source of our own sin, we do our best to turn the focus on how others. We argue that others cause us to sin; we say others hurt us in such a way to cause us to respond with sinful behavior; we expect others to fix themselves before we correct our sinfulness. Let’s stop minimizing our personal responsibility to our own sin. Let’s not use others as a crutch keeping us from living faithfully to the Lord.

Somewhat. One of James’ major themes in his letter on “practical faith” is “complete obedience.” At least seven passages emphasize the principle of obeying the Lord in every way. One such passage is 2:14-17, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’; without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Faith is obviously a good thing; yet James is emphatic that faith alone isn’t enough to please God. There’s no room for somewhat believing, somewhat obeying, somewhat loving. Let’s stop thinking partial obedience is enough. Let’s obey the Lord totally.

Let’s commit to the Lord and His will. And to avoid using these and other excuses for sin.

1Jul/092

Tough Times, Tough Questions (1-Who’s to Blame?)

We are currently living in difficult financial times (not that you need me to tell you, or anything). When we experience a difficult situation of any kind (more than just financial), we have an opportunity to learn valuable lessons. Among them, we should learn how to improve the situation. There are several questions we need to ask--and answer--along the way in order to get to that intended destination.
lighted-sign-question-mark

I'm not an economist. I'm not a politician. And I'm not a politician who thinks he's an economist. The purpose of this post--and the ones that follow--is not to be political, dogmatic, or controversial. During difficult times, it's a temptation to let emotion override reason; our goal, however, is to exercise reason by asking and answering pointed questions concerning our current economic climate.

We could spend a long time figuring out exactly what policies and factors led to our current recession. We know a lot of people made some stupid choices. But we also want to know who messed up, right? The government blames businesses. Businesses blame the government. New government blames the old government. The unemployed blame the employed. The employed blame the unemployed. We're quick to blame someone--anyone--just not ourselves.

Most Americans have taken full advantage of a credit-based economy over the past several years and decades. That means we as consumers have spent more than we have earned. Banks have loaned more than they could afford to people they shouldn't have loaned to. Americans have tallied up debt on credit cards, car financing, mortgages, department store cards, home equity lines of credit, payday loans, and any other possible way to get something they simply can't afford with cash. Eventually, the sources of the given credit come calling for their money--especially when their lender comes after them. Though a portion of the downturn is cyclical, we are largely victims of our own dependency on credit and debt. In order to move forward, it's important that we recognize our role in getting ourselves into financial trouble.

We as Christians shouldn't be surprised by the answer to "Who's to blame?" Accepting personal responsibility is at the very heart of becoming a Christian. We submit to God because we realize our sinful shortcomings. We regularly admit to and repent of sin that creeps into our lives. Just as we recognize our spiritual shortcomings, we must have the courage to admit that our poor financial choices contributed to our nation's economic recession. Only by admitting fault can we accept the personal responsibility to improve the situation.

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." James 1:2-3

9Jun/090

Principle of the Path (Andy Stanley)

principleofthepathcover

Andy Stanley can do a lot of things REALLY well (lead groups of people, preach, write, etc.). One thing he cannot do is navigate a vehicle with a keen sense of direction. He uses his directional disorientation--and several entertaining examples of it--to demonstrate the power of The Principle of the Path, which is defined as: "Direction--not intention--determines destination." As a principle, it is true for every person in every place in every time. Stanley acknowledges that he is merely verbalizing and illustrating the principle's power.

I am highly impressed by the  message of the book. Though most who read the book will likely agree with Stanley's Christian perspective and his appeal to the Bible, the principle itself applies to those who don't share the same perspective. As one who teaches the Bible to young people on a regular basis, one of the greatest compliments I can give the book is the degree at which I've been incorporating its material into my lessons. From lessons about purity, friendships, and finances, I've been able to effectively apply the truth about the principle.

As a piece of literature, The Principle of the Path may not be as well-written as Communicating for a Change or Visioneering. Though I do recommend both of those titles for church leaders/ministers, I give a higher recommendation to Principle of the Path because of its universal and paradigm-shifting message. Stanley also offers the material in a series of audio sermons (entitled "Destinations") from North Point Community Church outside Atlanta.

Reviewed as part of Thomas Nelson's Book Review Blogger program.

Side Note: I was delighted to see Julie Faires listed as the cover designer for the book; we were members of the same social club in college. Great job, Julie!

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."