Summer Update (2017)

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I have slowed down the blogging this year, and significantly cut down on Twitter. Facebook is where I spend most of my social media time. That said, I thought it would be good for me to give a mid-year update here on my blog.

First, I am using a new Bible reading plan this year. It is a simple read through the Bible in one year schedule from Ligonier Ministries. This particular plan divides the Bible into six Old Testament and six New Testament readings per week (M-F and one Weekend reading assignment). I like how this approach gives you one day per week for catch up, because no matter how disciplined a person is, life has a way of causing you to miss a day here and there. The one weekend reading is a little longer than those during the weekdays, especially in the Old Testament.

Second, I wrote earlier this year about how 2016 was the first year in which I reached my goal of reading an average of one book per week. This year I’m a little behind schedule in accomplishing that, but I am not so far behind as to make the goal unreachable. The genre in which I have been reading the most is fiction, and more specifically, westerns. I have been reading an excellent series by Elmer Kelton on the Texas Rangers. His fictional stories are considered to be very accurate when it comes to the history of the western frontier.

One ministry book that I am currently reading that is outstanding is Daniel Henderson’s Old Paths, New Power. Henderson believes that more than anything, churches need to have pastors and leaders who spend much time in the Word and in prayer, based on Acts 6:4. I agree. The challenge is keeping this priority front and center.

Third, I have been doing more traveling than I have done in years. This April my mother was diagnosed with cancer for the third time in her life. I’m basically visiting her (both driving up and flying up) about once every four to six weeks. Add to that our summer vacation with my in-laws at the beach in South Carolina in June and this has turned into the summer of travel!

Returning from one of our visits to Nonna in May, we were able to take a little side trip to Stone Mountain where we made the 40 minute hike to the top. Above is a picture from the summit.

 

 

Coach Ken Sparks (February 25, 1944 – March 29, 2017)

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Longtime Carson-Newman football coach Ken Sparks died early yesterday morning. He achieved remarkable success as far as football is concerned, but more importantly, he impacted thousands of lives for Christ. Below is a Baptist Press release about Coach Sparks, including material I passed along to Baptist Press to help with the story…

 

Ken Sparks, among winningest college football coaches, dies

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (BP) –– Ken Sparks, legendary football coach at Carson-Newman University, died Wednesday (March 29) after a five-year battle with cancer. He was 73.

Sparks, who announced his retirement Nov. 14 after 37 seasons, finished his Carson-Newman career with a winning percentage of .7699 — fourth highest in college football history, while his 338 victories stand at fifth best nationally.

However, those numbers — including 99 losses and two ties -– “mattered little to Sparks,” according to a news release from Carson-Newman, which is affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. “The Eagles’ head man was far more likely to ask a player, colleague or coach how their heart was and to guide them to a life in the light of Christ.

“Sparks himself lived his life at the foot of the cross, doing everything in his power to honor his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at every turn.”

Carson-Newman President J. Randall O’Brien said Sparks “leaves a legacy that has influenced, and will continue to impact, the lives of Carson-Newman student-athletes for years to come. Ken’s devotion to seeing that his players develop on the field was secondary to seeing them develop as Christian young men off the field.”

O’Brien added that Sparks “inspired us in the way he so bravely fought his battle with cancer — with courage and full of faith. Our hearts are saddened, but we know that Ken is with his loving heavenly Father. Our prayers are with his dear wife Carol and his family.”

Sparks grounded the Carson-Newman football program in a yearly theme rooted in a Bible verse, the C-N news release stated.

For the 2016 team, Sparks’ “me 2 We for HE” theme was based on Philippians 1:27 — “Just one thing: live your (me) life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (He), so (We) will be seen standing firm in one Spirit, with one mind, working side-by-side (we) for the Gospel (He).”

“For a Sparks-led practice, it was a common sight to see the session open and close with a prayer, led by players wearing Carson-Newman gear not adorned by C-N slogans, but with Bible verses,” the university release said. A video tribute to Sparks can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACoFb9JAeEg.

Under Sparks, the Eagles won five NAIA national title games in six appearances. A move to NCAA Division II didn’t hamper his Carson-Newman squads as the Eagles played for the D-II national title three times and were a semifinalist in 2009.

Sparks’ teams recorded 21 South Atlantic Conference Championships, 25 NCAA or NAIA playoff appearances and 104 All-Americans. Most recently, a street was renamed after him that runs through the middle of Carson-Newman’s campus in Jefferson City, Tenn.

Sparks was inducted into the inaugural NCAA Division II Hall of Fame coaches class in 2010 and is a member of the South Atlantic Conference Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the NAIA Hall of Fame. He has been honored with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Lifetime Achievement Award and National Coach of the Year.

Sports columnist Brett Maragni, also a Florida pastor, noted that when Sparks ended his coaching career last fall “people talked more about Ken Sparks the man of God than the successful coach. Everyone who knew him, myself included, had zero doubts that winning on the field, as important as it was, was not the most important part of his job. No, his main goal in coaching was to impact young men with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Maragni, online at http://www.pastorbrett.com, reported that Sparks said in a January interview with WBIR in nearby Knoxville, “I don’t want to have a legacy,” noting, “Let me tell you what I want, I want an investment in the Kingdom of God that’s lasting. That’s what I want.”

Sparks’ son Chad, now the teaching pastor at Providence Church in Knoxville, chose to play for his dad at Carson-Newman even though he received attention from larger schools in higher divisions of college football, Maragni recounted.

“It was a great experience for me,” Chad said. “I had always wanted to play for my dad. He was and is my hero. When I was growing up, other coaches were about winning. For Dad, winning is priority No. 4, behind No. 1 – bringing players and others to Christ, No. 2 – teaching players how to be good people and No. 3 – teaching players to play great football.”

Chad Sparks said he is proud of the impact his dad had in the lives of thousands. “Not a week goes by when someone does not ask me if I’m related to Coach Ken Sparks when they hear or see my last name,” he told Maragni. “When I tell them that he’s my dad, I am often treated to stories of how their son or brother or cousin — or how they themselves — came to Christ because of him, sometimes with tears in their eyes.”

In addition to his wife and son, Sparks is survived by a daughter, Chandra Childress; stepson Tim Bobo: stepdaughter Kim Hines; and 14 grandchildren.

The Sparks family will receive friends at Manley Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., from 2-6 p.m. Friday (March 31) followed by a service open to the public. In accordance with the family’s wishes, the burial will be private.

Want to Become a Reader? Here’s How…

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It’s one thing to be literate… to have the skill to read. It’s another thing to be identified as a reader of books. Regrettably, most Americans don’t read much, if at all. According to the Pew Research Center:

Among all American adults, the average (mean) number of books read or listened to in the past year is 12 and the median (midpoint) number is 5–in other words, half of adults read more than 5 books and half read fewer. Neither number is significantly different from previous years.

Half of American adults read 5 books or less per year? That’s stunning. With average reading skills (250 words per minute), it would take just 6 hours to read one 200 page book. The average book in America is 232 pages, so let’s round that up, being conservative, to 6 1/2 hours per book. That would mean it would take about 32.5 hours to read five books. Hang with me here… just a little more math… there are about 5,782 awake hours per year (assuming 8 hours of sleep per day). Putting it all together, this means that the average American adult spends about 0.0056% of their waking hours reading books.

Let’s compare that to watching television. According to multiple sources, the average American adult watches over 5 hours of television per day. This roughly 32% of waking hours. And this isn’t even counting watching movies at the cinema or on DVD. Yikes!

I can understand why this the lifestyle of the average American adult is more about television than reading. We all want to “chill our” after a long day at work, and the idea of working your way through a book is not exactly the best way to chill out after working all day.

Neither do I want to suggest that watching TV is morally wrong or sinful. Depending on what you are watching, TV can land anywhere on the moral spectrum. However, one has to wonder if our lives would be more greatly enriched if we were to reduce that television input at least a little and pick up a book more often, especially if it is a good book. And please note, I’m not too naive to fail to recognize that the same that is said about television offerings representing all points on the moral spectrum also applies to books. There are fantastic, enriching, life-changing books and there are raunchy, trashy, morally bankrupt books and all manner in between. I want to move forward with this discussion under the assumption that we are talking about reading quality books.

Are You a Reader?

What about you? Can you identify yourself as a reader? I’m not asking if you are literate. I’m asking if you read books. Here are some probing questions: When was the last time you completed an entire book? Do you have a book, or books, that you are currently reading? How many books did you read last year?

If your answers to those questions leaves you disappointed with yourself as a reader, and if you want to do something about it, please keep reading.

I’m not going to lay out a number of books that you must read to be considered a legitimate “reader.” You need to decide that for yourself. We are all at different stations in life and being a “reader” for one person might mean reading six books a year (one per month) while being a “reader” for another person might mean reading many more.

If you happen to be someone who is disappointed with the amount you read, I want to extend some encouragement to you, and hopefully offer you a helping hand in becoming the reader you desire to be.

Continue reading Want to Become a Reader? Here’s How…

52 ideas for 2017…

Forget about resolutions… Here’s some ideas for you for 2017:

  • Read through the Bible (or the New Testament).
  • Fast from something occasionally (food, Facebook, TV, etc.).
  • Make a new friend, or two, or more.
  • Eat something you’ve never eaten before.
  • Write a book.
  • Write an old-fashioned snail mail letter to an old friend.
  • Establish a new habit of walking with your spouse or parent or sibling.
  • Eat meat from an animal you killed yourself. (I accomplished this idea this week, with a successful pheasant hunt).
  • Plant a garden.
  • Read more. Much more.
  • Get on the floor and wrestle with your kids or grandkids.
  • Take some ibuprofen the next morning.
  • Read a biography.
  • Videotape an interview of one of your older relatives.
  • Eat at local restaurants (non-chain) as much as possible, especially when traveling.
  • Give away more money.
  • Play a game of UNO with your family.
  • Play a game of Killer UNO with your family.
  • Return to playing regular UNO with your family so you will love each other again.
  • Clean out your closet or garage or attic or basement.
  • Watch an episode of the Andy Griffith show.
  • Spend an evening with your old friends reminiscing about how good things used to be, without looking at your phones one single time.
  • Enjoy a sunrise.
  • Take a Sunday afternoon drive with your family.
  • Pray more. Much more.
  • Play more board games with family and friends.
  • Learn a new skill.
  • Give away some of your stuff.
  • Pay for the order for the person behind you in the drive-thru.
  • Make sure they are not a family of six or more.
  • Take more pictures.
  • Write out your goals (make them Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-keyed)
  • Go to worship every weekend unless Providentially hindered.
  • Design your life plan, no matter how old you are.
  • Ask a trusted friend to keep you accountable about what matters in your life. Offer to do the same for them.
  • Think of someone who you think is probably lonely and either call them or go visit them or meet them for lunch.
  • Laugh at yourself more.
  • When you go to church, ask people, “How can I pray for you?” Then, pray for them on the spot.
  • Take a bubble bath. When you get in the bath, dramatically say, “Calgon, take me away!”
  • Men, grow a beard at least once this year.
  • Women, let your man grow a beard at least once this year.
  • Teenagers, your parents really do know a few things. Listen to them. They love you. They really do.
  • Go watch a ballgame at your alma mater. Wear the colors and cheer for those kids like they are yours.
  • Start each day by saying the Lord’s Prayer. It’s not the only great prayer, but it is the one prayer Jesus told us to pray.
  • Try to find some times to turn off your phone.
  • Sing in the shower.
  • Read the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
  • On August 21st, be in a location to experience the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the United States in over 80 years!
  • Go Christmas caroling at a nursing home or retirement home.
  • Go to a museum.
  • Enjoy a sunset.
  • Make things right with God.

A Christmas Family Worship Guide

WORSHIP THROUGH THE WORD

Pick one or more Scriptures to read:

Matthew 1:18 – 2:12

Luke 1:5 – 2:21

Isaiah 7:14

Isaiah 9:6

Isaiah 60:1-3

John 3:16

Galatians 4:4-7

WORSHIP THROUGH PRAYER

Possible prayer topics:

  • Thanks to God for sending Jesus
  • Prayer for the missionaries who are telling others about Jesus
  • Comfort for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones this Christmas
  • “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)
  • Orphans and widows (James 1:27)

WORSHIP THROUGH TESTIMONY

Ideas:

> Have someone share their testimony of how they were born again.

> Share your favorite Christmas memory.

> Find an exciting Christian testimony on video (ex. www.iamsecond.com)

WORSHIP THROUGH SONG

Have someone lead a Christmas song with piano or guitar or a cappella. Or use a CD or a video from Youtube and sing along. Suggested songs:

“O Come All Ye Faithful”

“Joy to the World”

“ Go Tell It on the Mountain”

“O Holy Night”

Some Good Ground Rules for the Giving and Receiving of “Prophetic Words”

At Harvest Bible Chapel, we seek to walk a very careful line between avoiding the excesses of much of the charismatic movement and yet not quenching the Spirit of God’s work in our midst. For many years, as both a pastor and a Christian, I avoided any kind of “prophetic” type activity. I have very little experience in this area and am quite cautious about this kind of thing. However, although we are not a “charismatic” church, we also believe that God is big and can certainly speak today if He desires (it will ALWAYS be consistent with Scripture).

Following up on my message this past Sunday on the gift of prophecy, here is some excellent counsel from Pastor J. D. Greear on how to give and to receive a prophetic word:

Ground Rules for Giving Words

  1. Never claim the authority of God on your words, even if you feel convinced the Holy Spirit might be speaking through you.
  2. Prophetic speech is strongest when tied to actual Scripture.
  3. The gift of prophecy has a purpose: building up the church and guiding in mission. Use it only for those things.

Ground Rules for Receiving Words

  1. It’s okay to be a little skeptical.
  2. Ask, “Does this word contradict what God has said in the Scriptures?”
  3. Ask, “Does this word accord with what I know God is doing in my life?”
  4. Ask, “Does this word glorify God or the one giving it?”

Greear has additional, helpful material under each of these points. It’s all found in chapter 10, (pages 145-149) of his excellent book on the Holy Spirit, titled Jesus, Continued…

The Gift of Prophecy for Today: A Story from J. D. Greear

This morning at Harvest Bible Chapel of Jacksonville I preached a message from Acts 2.17-18 on the gift of prophecy. The title of the message is “What to Expect in the Last Days, pt. 1.” I shared an amazing story from Pastor Matt Chandler about an experience with the gift of prophecy that he had many years ago. Here is another story from Pastor J. D. Greear’s book, Jesus Continued:

“Justin, a young man in my church, told me a story recently about an Indian woman he observed sitting by herself in a city park. He had never seen her before, but had the inexplicable urge to go tell her that though her brother had recently died, god loved her and would never forsake her. He told me that this kind of thing never happens to him but the impression was so strong . . . still, he just couldn’t bring himself to go up to her to say it! What if he was wrong? So he demurred. Several hours later, he ran into the same woman at a Starbucks in another part of the city, and he considered this to be God gently giving him another chance. So he held his breath, walked up to her and said, “Ma’am, we’ve never met, and I’m not sure why I feel this way . . . but I had the sense that God wanted me to tell you . . .” and he gave her the message.

Justin said that when he finished, she stared at him with wide eyes for several, terribly long seconds. Then she dropped her head and began to cry. She said, “How did you know? I thought no one in this city knew. Actually . . . he was not really my brother, but my cousin, but he grew up in my house and I always thought of him as my brother. I even introduced him to others that way. He died last week.” She was Hindu and had just moved away from her family in India to the United States. Justin told her that he could only guess that God cared for her and had a plan for her and her family. Eventually, through further conversation, the lady came to profess Christ as her Savior.”              (J. D. Greear, Jesus Continued…, pages 143-144)

This is the gift of prophecy in operation today. Echoing Matt Chandler, for those who say that this kind of work of the Holy Spirit ended around 100 A.D., I say “If this wasn’t God, then who else can get the credit? Satan? Last time I checked he wasn’t in the redemption business!”

Abundant Life (Jn.10.10) … Abiding Life (Jn.15.5)