Later this month I will be self-publishing an e-book through Amazon Kindle… Lord willing. The title of the book is The Starting Five: Discovering the Five Doctrines that Anchor the Christian Life. A 31-day devotional, this book will be especially helpful for new Christians who are looking to establish a strong foundation for their Christian life. But I believe it will be a good resource for established Christians as well, reminding us all of foundational truths. More details forthcoming.
In the last few years, I have become more intentional about buying more American-made products. But I had never given much thought to where my Bibles are made. Until now. I stumbled across this eye-opening post (albeit a little dated…2011), about how a large percentage of Bibles are now made in China, by a company that apparently does not support line up with my Christians values.
I took at look at the last 4 Bibles I have purchased (a NLT, MEV, and 2 KJVs) and found that two were printed in the U.S., one in Italy, and one in Korea (I’m assuming, and hoping, that means South Korea).
If you want me to recommend a Bible Publisher, I am a huge fan of the Trinitarian Bible Society (TBS), based in the UK, and whose Bibles are printed in the Netherlands. They only produce King James Version Bibles, but that is not a problem for me since that is the translation I prefer for my daily Bible reading.
TBS Bibles are the best combination of quality and value. They are not quite at the same level of quality as Cambridge, Allan, or Schuyler, which are the highest quality Bibles on the planet. But they are much higher quality than the vast majority of Bibles you will find at Walmart or your local Christian bookstore, and at remarkably low prices (a calfskin Bible for only $43!).
Another great thing about TBS is that they are not a corporation that views the Bible as product to sale. Unfortunately, most Bibles are published primarily to make money. TBS is a ministry whose primary goal is the distribution of the Word of God. This is why their prices are so low.
This Monday, August 21st, is a significant day because of the total eclipse of the sun that will be experienced over a significant swath of the continental United States. Last week I came across an article by Ann Graham Lotz, in which she suggested that perhaps this eclipse is a sort of harbinger, or warning sign, of God’s impending judgment. She referred to this video by Australian pastor Steve Cioccolanti, who believes God’s judgment will fall on the United States between the two solar eclipses of the next seven years:
By linking to the video above, I’m not recommending that you watch the video. In fact, save yourself the hour, because I’ve done the watching for you. While an effective speaker, I found three major problems with his presentation:
(1) He makes very strong, confident assertions that God’s judgment will fall on the U. S., and, therefore, the world, between the two solar eclipses (2017 & 2024). Then he backpedals significantly and comes across as saying this is just a “possibility.” So, if you didn’t notice…he’s now covered his tracks. If it happens like he suggested, he’s a prophet. If it doesn’t happen, he can point to his disclaimer statement. I’m not saying his intent was malicious; he may have complete integrity. It just seems odd that he gives himself such an “out.”
(2) He claims that the epicenter of both eclipses is at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. I have a little advantage on the geography of things because I grew up in the area of which he speaks. While the confluence of these two great rivers is certainly not far from the exact epicenter (about 40-45 miles), it is not the actual epicenter, as the map below shows:
On a side note, we drove through the area last week as a family, and stood at the bottom of the state of Illinois, right at the confluence of the two mighty rivers: the Mississippi and the Ohio:
According to Pastor Steve Cioccolanti, this will be the exact point at which God’s judgment will fall and the U. S. will be divided physically:
He mentions the New Madrid seismic zone (he mispronounces ‘Madrid’, but hey, he’s Australian, so I’ll give him a pass on that one) is right there as well, which is how God will bring the judgment… via earthquake(s). While it is true that a major quake in the New Madrid would likely bring devastating damage to the tristate region (Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri, and far Western Kentucky), the actual seismic zone is south of where the two eclipses cross as well as the confluence of the two great rivers:
On to the 3rd major problem with his thesis:
(3) I do not believe the United States is the “Babylon the Great” of the book of Revelation. The entire thesis rests on the assertion that the U.S.A. is indeed “Babylon the Great.” If it is not, then this whole thing is pointless. While in many ways we as a nation have the spirit of Babylon, I have yet to find a compelling enough argument to convince me that the United States is even mentioned in the Bible. That said, end-times prophecy expert I am not. So, perhaps I am wrong on this one.
Whether I am right or whether this Australian pastor is right, the truth is that every day brings us closer to the day of God’s judgment. Maybe it will be in the next seven days or seven years, or maybe it will not be for another seventy years. One thing is for sure… God’s judgment is coming and the only way to be eternally protected is to be found “in Christ.”
Have you repented of your sin and placed your faith in Jesus Christ to save you from the wrath to come? Jesus died on the cross for sinners and rose from the grave, conquering death and Hell. Run to Him for salvation before it’s too late!
Do you sing the Psalms? I’ll admit, I have very little experience or knowledge in this area. But I do want to grow in my knowledge and, hopefully, practice of singing the Psalms. After all, Psalms are, by definition, songs. They were meant to be sung. Many of the Psalms are preceded by instructions to the musicians who would lead the people in singing the song (psalm). For example, these words precede Psalm 55 (MEV):
For the Music Director. With stringed instruments. A Contemplative Maskil of David.
Perhaps you are aware that many churches in the past only sung Psalms in their worship service. Churches that started using hymns in worship were considered by the traditionalists as liberal and radical! It seems that today the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, because now it is rare to go to any church that sings a single Psalm in an entire calendar year!
I believe we need to find some balance. After all, we are commanded to sing Psalms:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3.16, MEV)
Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. (Ephesians 5.19, MEV)
So where find resources to help you sing the Psalms? Here are some websites that might be of service to you on this topic:
The Psalms Project – Gifted musicians, including some well-known Christian artists, combine to set the Psalms to contemporary worship.
Contemporary Psalms – Blogger Christine Longhurst has set up an index of contemporary worships songs inspired by the Psalms. Some of the links are broken/out of date.
Prayerbook – Artist Brian Moss is seeking to write tunes for all the Psalms. Looks like he has two CDs out so far, covering Psalms 1-30.
If you want to go for a more traditional approach, there is always the Scottish Metrical Psalmbook (commonly known as the 1650 Scottish Psalter). These metrical psalms are the books of Psalms, rewritten to be easily set to song. Here is the always popular Psalm 23 in metrical form:
1. The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.
2. My soul He doth restore again,
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for His own Name’s sake.
3. Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill,
For Thou art with me, and Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.
4. A table Thou hast furnished me
In presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.
5. Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me,
And in God’s house forevermore
My dwelling place shall be.
Here are a couple of youtube videos of Psalm 23 in this form:
If you are interested in owning the 1650 Scottish Psalter, the Trinitarian Bible Society has copies available for as little as $5.50. They also offer it as an appendix to the Windsor Text Bible. I own this version (TBS Windsor w/ Metrical Psalms). If you want a cheaper copy, they have the hardback edition for only $20.
Finally, I found thepsalmssung.org, a blog that offers mp3 musical renditions of several of the psalms. It’s worth a browse, at minimum.
Last week we traveled to Tennessee and Illinois.
On the way to Illinois, we stayed over at my in-laws’ house where we were able to reunite with our seminary friends, Chris and Lisa (picture above). In the kind providence of God, these dear friends, who are missionaries overseas, “just happened” to be furloughing in Lacey’s hometown in Tennessee, even though they are both Texans. We were also thrilled that our friends from Georgia, Steven and Cheryl, drove up one day to join in on the mini-reunion. Chris, Steven, and I all drove school buses for Crowley ISD (Texas) while in seminary together.
As my Mom continues to battle cancer, we faced a major setback in that her oncologist felt it might be necessary to quit the chemo treatments after only 3 of 6 infusions, because she was so frail and weak. This took us by surprise and caused us to storm the gates of Heaven with pleas for her to be healthy enough to continue the chemo regimen. This was the purpose of our trip to Illinois… to encourage and support her, and for Lacey and I to be with her and Dad for the meeting with the oncologist on August 10th, where we would see the PET scan results and decide on whether to continue the chemo (a huge thanks go to our friends, Dave and Lou, for watching the kids for us; our kiddos always going to “Uncle” Dave and “Aunt” Lou’s place). Regarding the Doctor’s office visit… Praise the Lord! By the grace of God, the vast majority of the cancer is gone and the doctor felt she had improved enough in one week to continue her treatments that very day.
In Illinois, in the midst of a very stressful week surrounding my Mom’s health, we were blessed to get away one evening for some fun and fellowship. Longtime family friends, Mark and Pam, invited us out to their farm where the kids had the time of their lives riding 4-wheelers for the first time. Lacey and I had a little fun on them too! In fact, for me it was like going back in time to 1980-82 when me and the neighbor boys spent our summers on 3-wheelers and motorcycles. Pam’s sister, Kristi, a friend of mine from high school, and nephew, Bryden, brought their 4-wheeler over to join in the fun. We so appreciated Mark and Pam’s hospitality.
As is often the case when we make this long trip to both of our “hometowns,” we were thrilled to be able to see many friends.
Of course the greatest part of the trip was seeing our beloved Nonna be able to resume her fight against cancer. We cherish your prayers for her.
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.
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.