Joey Sparks
27Sep/112

4 Things We Learned Rock Climbing

Over the summer, we carried 25 young people & adults (and met up with 25 more from Northport and 9th Ave in Haleyville) to Climb Nashville for an indoor rock climbing lock-in. Teens typically get excited for lock-ins of any kind. But we had a particularly fun time climbing and “hanging” out together.

All 50 of us got together around 2AM and sang a few songs, then discussed what things we witnessed throughout the night that could help us in our spiritual lives. Here are five of the things we talked about as a group:

1) We need others to do difficult things. The only way I’m remotely safe high up on a wall (with no padding below) is if someone else is below belaying for me. A belayer uses a clip that utilizes gravity as a brake in case the climber slips off the wall. He or she just hangs there until they start climbing again or are let down slowly by the belayer. So, first of all, we need someone else to make sure we don’t fall. Next, we need the encouragement provided by the belayer and others on the ground. We heard the sound of “you can do it” and “hang in there” throughout the night. Hearing positive words of praise helps us reach the top. Finally, we need others to help us find ways out. It’s easy to get so focused on everything going around you that you don’t see the next hand or foot grip. But the person below—who has a different perspective—can see things you don’t see. He or she can help you navigate out of a difficult situation.

Similarly, God has never intended for Christians to navigate through life alone. There are times we need one another to keep us from falling, “whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death” (James 5:20). We also need encouragement daily from one another, “exhort one another every day...that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Finally, we often need the advice of others because they can see thigns we don’t see, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (Proverbs 19:20).

2) The best time for distractions is not while you’re on the wall. One of our teen girls was climbing while her older sister belayed for her (I won’t mention names). When the younger sister was almost to the top, her older sister below screamed, “Did you remember to get the cooler off the bus?” When you’re confronting fears and reaching new heights, the last thing on your mind is whether or not you “remembered the cooler.” It’s easy for us to get distracted spiritually. We can’t afford to get distracted by criticism, hypocrisy by others, frustrations, or fun as we work in the kingdom. Nehemiah recognized this when he told Sanballat and Tobiah, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). How many times have we abandoned the work of the Lord to check if we “got the cooler off the bus?”

3) We learn best by doing. The Climb Nashville staff taught the group of belayers in about 20-30 minutes. They utilized a hands-on approach and made the students put into practice what they learned in order to be certified to belay. In a more traditional classroom setting, it may have taken much longer to instruct that group of people about procedures and potential problems. We do a good thing by emphasizing Biblical learning; we need to teach the Bible in a classroom setting. Many who neglect this opportunity weekly should re-evaluate their decision. But we must also never forget that we grow most and best by daily doing what our God teaches. “But the one who looks into the perfect law,the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts,he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25).

4) It’s not the real thing. Indoor rock climbing is an exciting thing to do. The night we spent doing it allowed us to challenge ourselves and have fun doing so. It’s a great way to learn and gain experience in a controlled and safe environment. But it’s not real rock climbing. We don’t actually go anywhere. We get to the top, then turn around and slide back down. Likewise, some of the things we do within the church and especially in “youth ministry” are intended to train young people and families in a controlled and safer environment. They’re still very real experiences, but they’re not intended to be the end in and of themselves. We should pray for opportunities to put the spiritual habits we build into practice in the world around us. “Pray also for us, that God mayopen to us a door for the word,to declare the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3).

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.

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?”

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.

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."

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)