Joey Sparks
12Apr/130

Intentional Parenting: Autopilot is for Planes by Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan

Intentional Parenting: Autopilot is for Planes by Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan is a treatise on how to discover what to do as an outgrowth of parents' relationships to God than simply instructing parents what to do.

Though the book focuses on the hearts of parents, it is not overly theoretical and abstract. The authors make a concerted effort to make the material practical with real stories and pointed questions throughout each chapter. What they have to say is well-worth reading, but their practical suggestions make it invaluable.

Intentional Parenting: Autopilot is for Planes

Intentional Parenting: Autopilot is for Planes

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. As I glance back over my highlighted sections, it is eye-opening to see how much these statements address me as a person as much as they do me as a parent. And that's the authors' goal. Who I am as a person will naturally and directly determine who I am as a parent.

I connected to two main principles: Being a Grown-Up Parent (Chapter 3) and Being a Spiritual Parent (Chapter 9). The authors make it clear that a child's confidence comes in large part from seeing us be adults and act like parents. And their idea of being a "spiritual parent" is not following a list of "spiritual things" parents do, but rather modeling our personal dependance on God for our children to see, and thus know it's important for their lives.

The book is written more with parents of adolescent children in mind, but is certainly helpful for parents with children of any age. I especially think it's a helpful resource for those who might counsel parents. It would make a great resource to put in their hands.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

2Aug/120

Protect Their Hearts

The Internet is simultaneously one of humanities' greatest inventions, amazing blessings, and dangerous threats. We are always one click away from danger no matter our age, gender, profession, naivety, or blamelessness. We must make sure we interact with the same godliness online that God expects in all other ways of life.

We frequently hear of children who are harmed by brutal and sick individuals who gain access to their lives through the Internet. We should do all we can to close up those loopholes.

As parents, you have the right--and responsibility--to know exactly what your children are doing on the Internet...no matter how old they are. You should have the same access to their accounts (with passwords, etc.) they do. You should talk openly and honestly about their online friendships, habits, and overall safety. But when you do, do your best to model the attitudes in yourself you wish to see from them. If you're condescending and not understanding, you shut those doors of communication down.

ABCLRC-Internet Safety (by ABC LRC Flickr CC by nc sa)

But the most urgent arena of concern for your children on the Internet is that of sexual sin, specifically pornography.

The statistical likelihood of your child facing a child predator online is slim. But the chances of your child NOT viewing pornography online in some capacity is about 3% for boys and 9% for girls. That includes those who unintentionally stumble across it. If your child wants to find it, there's a 100% chance he or she will. It's just that easy.

The good news is that God forgives and cleanses no matter the depths of sin (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

More good news is that you don't have to know everything about the Internet and computer technology to protect your child's heart from spiritual threats such as pornography.

The most powerful weapons at your disposal are spiritual and internal; they should be aimed at his or her heart. Pray for them. Model purity, consistency, and propriety before them--online and off. Talk openly and honestly (with common sense) with them about temptations, sexual sin, and God's purpose for sexual intimacy in marriage.

Would you rather them to hear the truth from you and God's Word or error from the world and Satan?

There are other weapons that can assist you from an external perspective, as well.

The best place to start is http://covenanteyes.com. Covenant Eyes specializes in Internet technology that provides a safe surfing atmosphere for the entire family. They feature two softwares: Internet accountability software (browsing is monitored around the clock and reports are sent via e-mail to accountability partners) and Internet filtering software (specific sites are blocked and attempts to access blocked sites are logged and sent via the accountability reports). These softwares simply run in the background, but cannot be disabled without also disabling access to the Internet. This "two-pronged" approach is the best external solution, especially for homes with children. Covenant Eyes charges for using their services. While they are not free, they are more than reasonable. Amanda and I have used the accountability software for years and we pay for an entire year of service for less than what most Internet service providers charge for one month. There are a few free services out there, but research suggests the paid services are much more efficient and effective. If you recognize the legitimacy of this most dangerous threat, is any price too great?

Additionally, the Covenant Eyes website also features a wealth of resources for all kinds of Internet safety and protection. They have numerous (free) e-books, articles, statistics, podcasts, and a well-maintained and regularly-updated blog. No matter your relationship to the dangers on the Internet, whether totally naive or buried in addiction, there's something to educate, challenge, and help you.

Every child born in our part of the world is a "digital native." He or she will never know a time with less technology. He or she will never be less tech-savvy. He or she will one day view smart phones like many of us view rotary phones.

In a matter of a few decades, computers have moved from warehouses to business centers to living rooms to briefcases to front pockets. We as adults and parents will never be on the edge of technological advancement like younger generations. But that's no excuse for letting this powerful tool destroy their souls. May God help us to use the Internet responsibly and ensure our children do the same.

 I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman? (Job 31:1)

Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:42)

The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him. (Proverbs 20:7)

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).

23Sep/110

You Are the Shortest Distance

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

The shortest distance between children’s hearts and Christ is their parents (Deut. 6:6-9).

From the beginning of creation, God designed the world to operate through parents raising children, who then become parents who raise their children, etc. Modern societies spend countless hours and dollars attempting to transform current generations into upstanding citizens. Yet God’s design places them into the care of people who are relationally and emotionally in the best situation to protect them, teach them, and introduce them to Him.

  • They are blessed to listen to you pray thanksgiving for their food.
  • They are blessed to see you show affection to your spouse.
  • They are blessed to interrupt your quiet personal study of God’s Word.
  • They are blessed to notice your graceful and calm response to difficulties at work.
  • They are blessed to discuss perplexing spiritual questions while you’re in the car.
  • They are blessed to ask you about sensitive and embarrassing things they hear at school.
  • They are blessed to cry on your shoulder when you tell them about death, pain, and loss.
  • They are blessed to observe that your commitment to the Lord guides your every decision.
  • They are blessed to approach God’s throne while you tuck them into bed each night.
  • They are blessed to receive the discipline you lovingly provide.
  • They are blessed to hear your words of praise more often than words of correction.
  • They are blessed to witness your example of service to the Lord and others.
  • They are blessed not just to have someone. They are blessed to have you.

The ugly side of this blessing is that parents are also the shortest distance from their child’s heart to hypocrisy, apathy, resentment, and rebellion. Each day’s decisions are building something in their hearts. You have the opportunity to ensure what it is.

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)

25Oct/070

A Better Question to Ask — 10.28.2007 Bulletin Article

On a constant basis, prominent athletes make the news for all sorts of legal problems. College athletes do many of the same things as other college students, but it makes the news because they are talented athletes. In the professional ranks, we’ve seen front page stories dealing with O.J. Simpson (murder), Ray Lewis (murder), Kobe Bryant (rape), Michael Vick (dog fighting), and O.J. again (burglary and stealing). The first three were acquitted or had the case dropped. Vick has pled guilty. And the second Simpson case is still ongoing. All of this activity has caused ESPN to hire Roger Cossack from Court TV as its senior legal analyst. Needless to say, he is a busy man.

When incidents happen on the college level, media sources and fans are quick to ask, “Why doesn’t that coach do a better job of disciplining his players?” or “Why won’t the school to something to make its players behave?” For pros, we ask, “What is the league (NFL, NBA, etc.) going to do get better conduct out of the players?” or “How long will so-and-so be suspended from his team’s games?”

Although all of these are pertinent questions in time, they fail to recognize an important level of responsibility. The responsibility for people’s (athletes or not) actions belongs to the country’s legal system and cultural framework before it belongs to a sports team, college, or league. The better question is, “What can we do as a nation—or as a culture—to keep people from murdering, forcing animals to fight to the death, etc.?”

As the New Testament church, we must make sure to ask the right question so that we can find the right answers. One of the most prominent (and alarming) questions in church circles is, “Why are we as the church losing our young people?” Several studies have supposedly been conducted to determine that young Christians are falling away at a rate of anywhere from 50% to 90% once they graduate high school. The actual figure is not as important as the scary trend it reflects. Although the church needs to ask the question and do all it can do help young people create a long-term commitment to Christ, asking only that question negates a better one. The better question to ask is, “Why are our homes losing our young people?”

When God created the family, his design was for it to ensure that the following generations learned about Him and lived a life of faithful devotion in His service (Deut. 6:7, 20-25). This was God’s purpose long before Christ died for the church. If parents feel the church has let them down by not raising their children properly, that reflects a misunderstanding of God’s purpose for the home. If churches give in to the idea that they need to raise children in the Lord, then those statistics are unlikely to improve.

We need to qualify a couple of things: First, just because a church has Youth Minister or a Youth Program does not mean they have given in to this pressure. Second, the church does have a responsibility to teach and encourage young people in their service to the Lord (Titus 2:4, 6). However, that responsibility is secondary to that of the home.

The ideal—and most successful—approach is one that uses the church’s resources and efforts to help parents raise young people in the Lord. Parenting is hard, but it does not have to be done alone.

Let’s commit to asking and answering the best questions possible. Only then can work together to improve our efforts carrying out God’s will.

19Oct/070

First Things First — Bulletin Article 10.14.2007

As our minds are turned toward the precious lives of our young people this weekend, there is one lesson we should commit to instilling within them. It is a principle we all utilize, no matter our spiritual condition. Dads use it loading the car for vacation. Moms calculate it when they make their grocery runs. Children need it when placing their toys back into their toy box. When there are a lot of items that must fit into a defined space, math dictates that the biggest items must go in before smaller items. When I went to Sam’s this week to buy food, it was a tight squeeze to get everything into their supersized buggies. In order for things to fit, the two 35-lb jugs of frying oil had to be in at the bottom. The biggest boxes remaining had to be next to the oil to complete the bottom level. Only then could the rest (bags, smaller boxes, etc.) fit within the buggy. To have done otherwise would have left no room for the biggest items (or resulted in crushed smaller items).

When we view all of the “stuff” we could be doing with our time, energy, and money, we need to humbly ask ourselves what we should be doing. If we fail to put the biggest (most important) opportunities first in our lives, we will fail within them. Families fail when its leaders fail to put it in the center of their lives. Sports teams fail when its members fail to emphasize teamwork. College students fail when being in college becomes more important than being a student. We as Christians will fail when we decide there are more important things than our relationship to the Lord.

Jesus words are clear in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He essentially says, you will have what you need when you choose to honor me before and more than anything else.

Centuries prior, Solomon outlined this principle as well. Notice his words in Proverbs 3, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil...Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (3:5-10). When we commit to blessing the Lord with our lives, time and money—before we use those things for anything else—he will in turn bless us. Marshall Keeble is often attributed to describing it that as we shovel out the window (giving to God), God is shoveling in the door (with a much bigger shovel).

We see a picture of this principle in Matthew 8, when Jesus explained this to a disciple. “Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.’ Was Jesus uncompassionate toward this man’s loss? Was he calloused that the man needed to bury him? Of course not. Some scholars argue that the man’s response was a typical excuse in the first century (like saying, “the dog ate my homework”). Made up or not, Jesus makes a clear point: nothing is as important as following him. Is burying the dead important and necessary? Absolutely. Just not as important as one’s relationship to Christ. The disciple was making something more necessary than it truly was.

We must fight this same temptation every day. Grades are important, but not most important. Scholarships are important, but not most important. Social leadership is important, but not most important. Jobs and career-planning are important, just not most important.

When we begin to truly put God in our lives first, then everything else will fit into place. Go ahead and put it to the test...see if he doesn’t bless your life.

Thanks again for your efforts this weekend!

4Oct/070

An Open Door for Effective Work (09.30.2007 Bulletin Article)

When Paul was concluding what we know as 1 Corinthians, he tells the Christians in Corinth that he is remaining in Ephesus a little longer. Additionally, he tells them why he is remaining there: “for a wide door for effective work has opened to me…” (1 Cor. 16:9).

On several occasions in the New Testament, the imagery of a door is used to represent opportunities. Jesus said “I am the door” (John 10:9). The only way to the Father is through Jesus (John 14:6). When Jesus told the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25), the bridegroom came and took the prepared virgins, leaving the unprepared searching for oil: “And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready when in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut” (Matt. 25:10). The finality of judgment is represented by a closed door. That’s a pretty clear image. When Jesus spoke to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3, he said the following words: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). We have the privilege of opening the door to allow Jesus into our lives. He’s done the work, we have to be willing to open our lives to his will.

Hopefully, we see the power of the door analogy in scripture. Likewise, we need to see the opportunities literal doors present us in this life. How often do we remember that souls live behind the many doors in our communities? Probably not as much as we need to. Not as much as Jesus does.

What has happened to the practice of door knocking? Like so many other things, it is fallen by the wayside because it seems confrontational and outdated. And yet, there are some people who might only have the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus if someone lovingly visits their home.

We always have the opportunity to tell our neighbors about the love of Christ. Specifically, next weekend we have a marvelous opportunity to tell the community that the Lord loves them and that the church at Midway cares about them. Next Saturday, we will spend several hours knocking the doors of the communities around us to inform them specifically about our upcoming Youth Weekend. Generally, we want them to know that we are a loving group of Christians seeking to serve and obey God.

Many of us aren’t thrilled when someone we don’t know knocks on our doors. Yet we would all do well to greet them with love and hospitality. That itself may be an opportunity to share the gospel with others. Improving our response to the practice will help us as we spread our good message.

The biggest hurdle many of us face is that of fear. Maybe it’s the fear of having the door slammed in our faces. Maybe it’s the fear of a barking dog. Maybe it’s the fear of saying the wrong thing. Maybe it’s the fear of doing something we’ve never done before. As understandable as those fears are, we must realize all of them are centered upon the wrong thing: us. If we are convinced the community needs to know about Jesus and how to obey him, then we need to spread the gospel because it’s God’s will and not our own. If we’re going about the Lord’s business, then we have no reason to fear. That’s why Paul told Timothy the following in 2 Timothy 1:6-7, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God...for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

I hope you’ll prayerfully consider the opportunity to tell the community about our upcoming Youth Weekend. Please make your plans to stay after the PM service tonight. We’ll meet on Saturday, October 6 at 8:30 am to begin knocking. If you are unable to be here at 8:30, let me know, and you can join up with us when you are available.

Let’s commit to doing the Lord’s will and making his love and grace known to the world...starting with the world around us.

7May/070

2007 Connect Retreat — Waiting to Change the World

Amanda and I just returned from Lake Guntersville State Park in Guntersville, Alabama from our 2007 Connect (7th-12th grades) Retreat. Retreats are one of the most--if not the most--inspiring times spent with young people.

We focused on not "Waiting to Change the World" as a take-off of John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change." Our lessons focused on the actions of the Samaritan woman in John 4 who changed her world after her encounter with Jesus.

After a wonderful weekend of reflection, one of "those moments" happened on the way home. I was scanning the radio for stations with a signal and "Waiting on the World to Change" started playing. I turned up the volume since it was part of our focus for the weekend. When it got to the chorus, the kids on the bus starting singing "waiting to change the world" instead of the original lyrics. Pretty cool moment. There are good young people out there--and most of them aren't waiting around to change the world for good.

Filed under: Bible, Midway, youth No Comments
21Nov/060

Bulletin Article 11.26.06 — Big Lessons from a Little Guy

One of the most beloved “children’s” stories from the Old Testament is that of David and Goliath—found in 1 Samuel 17. What makes this account particularly inspiring is the fact that not only was David smaller than Goliath (for everyone was smaller than the 9 foot-plus giant), he was much younger and far more militarily inexperienced.

As the story unfolds, no one from the Israelite armies was willing to stand up against Goliath, but this young shepherd boy David. In addition to taking this stance on his own, he went without armor or a reputable military weapon. However—because of the unfailing power of God and David’s strength in it—that little shepherd defeated Goliath with one smooth stone that was hurled from a nearby brook. The lessons from this memorable account are no doubt endless. Let’s notice but a few of them together for a moment:

Priorities really do matter. Even among all of the Israelites (God’s people, you know), David was the first one to mention God in the standoff with Goliath. David’s first recorded words conclude with this statement, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26). Later before hurling that fatal stone from the sling, David told Goliath, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Sam. 17:45). David shows the source of his confidence: the God of the universe is on his side. More correctly, David had chosen to be on God’s side, and that made the difference. It’s one thing to claim our priorities are in order (as did the Israelites), but it’s another thing to prove it (like David).

You can’t defeat giants if you’re fighting amongst yourselves. When David arrived on the scene, it became clear that unity was not the strength of the Israelite army. Even his own brothers looked down upon him for simply asking questions about the giant before them (1 Sam. 17:28-30). The church has many big battles to fight. Yet, we can’t win them if we don’t commit to being united for the cause of Christ.

Defeating giants inspires others. On several occasions, David’s example paved the way for others—most notably after slaying Goliath. In verse 37, after David pleads with Saul about how God has always been with him, Saul responds with, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” After David killed Goliath with his weapon of Gath destruction (Gath: see verse 23), the men of the armies of Israel begin to fight—successfully even—against the feared Philistines (1 Sam. 17:52-53). The courage of David not only led to personal victory, but also to the victory of his brothers and fellow-citizens. When you and I do great things in this life, we inspire other Christians as well...what a marvelous opportunity!

I remember being fascinated with this story as a young boy, and there were probably many reasons for such. Today, however, I am inspired so much by David’s actions because I am in a very similar situation as a young minister. There are no doubt people that think I’m incapable because of my age, inexperience, or any of a long list of offenses. Thankfully, David shows that I can be successful against whatever giants may challenge me. What’s better is that David proves that the power and potential to defeat giants isn’t created or conjured up within me, but it already exists in the Ruler of our universe. My task is to cling to Him in order to defeat the giants of sin, negativity, discouragement, apathy, or inactivity.

Timothy was also in a very similar situation as a young preacher in Ephesus. Notice Paul’s specific advice to him: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers and example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity...practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:12-16).

David and Timothy set wonderful examples for us all...may we always rely upon the power Lord as we try to defeat giants!

Have a great week as school resumes!