Category Archives: "They Still Speak"

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.

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Interstellar, C. S. Lewis, and 2 Peter 3:8

We recently watched the sci-fi drama Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chasten, and Michael Caine. (**Spoiler Alert**) Sometime in the not-so-distant future, Earth is on the verge of becoming inhabitable. The human race will die unless someone can figure out how to colonize another planet. In the process of searching for a potential planet to colonize, Matthew McConaughey’s character, Cooper, enters a black hole. Expecting to perish, instead he finds himself in a tesseract. Inside the tesseract, Cooper is somehow on the other side of his daughter’s bedroom bookshelves. He is able to peek through the bookshelf and see different time frames of his daughter’s life in that room. Amazingly, he is also able to cross the space-time continuum and actually cause books to fall off the shelf. Using Morse code, he is able to communicate to her via a wristwatch lying on the bookshelf, a watch he gave her prior to leaving on his space journey. Through Morse code he delivers to her quantum data collected from the black hole. This data provides the solution to a gravitational equation that is the key to successfully saving the human race from extinction.

How does this relate to the eminent author C. S. Lewis and 2 Peter 3.18?

When Cooper is in the tesseract, he is able to see into, and even communicate, with his daughter, at various times through her life. He is able to see history not as a progression of sequential events, but, in essence, all at once. He even sees himself in the room (think Marty McFly seeing himself in Back to the Future II). At first, Cooper thinks that he has been aided by some five-dimensional alien beings which are obviously more intelligent and advanced than humans. Eventually, though, he realizes that it is not aliens, but a more evolved humanity that has learned to master the space-time continuum.

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Quotes below are from Book IV, chapter 3, “Time  and Beyond Time”

Consider these concepts from Interstellar with what C. S. Lewis wrote back in the 1940s, as found in the book Mere Christianity:

“We tend to assume that the whole universe and God Himself are always moving on from past to future just as we do. But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the Theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in Time at all: later the Philosophers took it over: and now some of the scientists are doing the same.”

Lewis is addressing the very principle on which much of the movie Interstellar is dependent: it is possible to be outside of time as we know and experience it. The difference is that Interstellar envisions a God-less, evolved humanity being the ones who will experience and master the implications of such an eternal view. Lewis, instead, believes God is the One dwelling outside of time. Lewis uses the concept of God hearing and answering prayers as an example of how He stands outside of time:

“His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty – and every  other moment from the beginning of the world –  is always Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of the prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.”

How does this impact our prayer lives?

“He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us… You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created.”

Is your brain hurting yet? If Lewis is correct, then his theory enables us also to think about how God seems to be so more patient in dealing with the things we think He should rushing to fix. In other words, it gives us a clue as to why God is sometimes slow to give us the answers to our prayers.  After all, as 2 Peter 3.8 says, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

God is awesome and beyond our comprehension! His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways higher than our ways!

I’m Shocked at the Relevance of this Interview with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

One of my heroes is the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981).* In the interview from 1970 (the year in which I was born) he boldly presents the truth of Christianity, according to the Bible. What shocked me was how relevant his words are for today. Please note that his definition of “tolerance” is probably slightly different from yours and mine, but I hope that doesn’t cause you to miss what he is saying on the subject. The demeanor in which he communicates the message reveals the right way to go about declaring the exclusivity of the Christian message. He is not arrogant, he is not angry, and he is not condescending. He is stating the facts of what the Bible teaches and the necessary implications for Christians. My how we need men of God to stand up for the truth like this!

 

*Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was on the fast track to become one of the leading physicians in the U.K. when he was called of God to leave medicine and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Initially a pastor in his native Wales, he eventually fulfilled the role of pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, where he became known worldwide for his engaging biblical expositions.

 

Ray Stedman on Maintaining Humility and Integrity in Preaching

Early in his preaching ministry Ray Stedman sensed God giving him three principles to help him maintain humility and integrity in preaching:

First, never be concerned with how many people you’re preaching to, whether it’s two or three, or two or three hundred, preach the message God gives you. Second, never be concerned with how much they’re going to give you when you get through. Third, never be concerned with how well you think you’ve done.

“I can’t say I’ve always followed those,” Ray admitted, “but when I’ve departed from them I’ve felt the Spirit of God depart from me as well. When I’ve been faithful to them, I’ve left it up to God and He’s done His usual wonders with some very feeble work on my part.”

– from Portrait of Integrity: the Life of Ray C. Stedman by Mark S. Mitchell (page 99)

R.I.P. Zig Ziglar

Zig Ziglar died today. I met him back in 1989 at the First Baptist Church of Dallas. I was in Dallas that weekend for a conference for young people who were going into full-time vocational ministry, hosted by Dallas Baptist University. We went to the early service to hear W. A. Criswell preach. We arrived rather early and I was standing in one of the aisles admiring the beauty of the old sanctuary when suddenly I heard an enthusiastic and loud raspy voice say, “Hi, I”m Zig Ziglar!” With a big smile, his hand was extended toward me. I warmly greeted him, introduced myself and we spoke briefly. He graciously autographed my Bible.

From everything I can tell, Zig was a true Christian gentleman. For a few years I enjoyed using his Performance Planner and used it as a model to custom make my own. His life story is quite remarkable, an example of the power of Jesus to radically change a life. The Southern boy from Yazoo City, Mississippi inspired millions to focus on the positive, go after their dreams, and be unselfish along the way. Here is a sample of Zig’s teaching…

One of Zig’s sayings was, “I’ll see YOU at the top!” Zig is now above the top, with his Savior.

Rich Mullins Graduated to Glory Fifteen Years Ago Today

On September 19, 1997, somewhere on I-39 north of Bloomington, Illinois, Rich Mullins was involved in an accident that resulted in his death. I was privileged to meet and hang out with Rich for about 30 minutes one night in college with a few of my classmates. He was down-to-earth, engaging, provocative, and fun. As I reflect upon his life, I loved his music, his artistic word pictures, and his anti-celebrity. Hard to believe it’s been fifteen years.