Joey Sparks
3Jul/090

Friday’s 5 (07.03.09)

1.) It's my conviction that today's young people need to develop confidence that the Lord feels they are special and useful in His kingdom (Matt. 5:13-16). Simply Youth Ministry provides an article by LeaderTrek's Doug Franklin about helping young people gain confidence.

2.) Tuesday morning, I read this article from Radical Parenting, "How Teens Can Deal With Death." That afternoon, several of our Midway young people lost a classmate to a drowning accident. Additionally, we've all been touched by the news of the bus crash in Bolivia which resulted in injuries and loss of life. May we always remember the frailty of life and the strength of God.

3.) Drew Kizer uses a neat illustration to highlight how we try everything but Christ to escape sin and its consequences. The Hardest Lock to Pick.

4.) John Maxwell simply and concisely writes about The Purpose of Leadership, or Why I Do What I Do.

5.) Previously mentioned Art of Manliness just concluded their "30 Days to a Better Man" series. All of the tasks are helpful; some are very Biblical. The very best way to become a better man is to obey and live like Jesus Christ.

Have a great & safe holiday weekend for Him!

7Feb/090

Say It Ain’t So, A-Rod

I appreciate ESPN's bottom-line feature in principle. I don't enjoy, however, receiving big-time news through it (& I hate when I see the final score to a game while I'm watching the highlights of that very game, but I digress).

I've caught wind of several monumental announcements by way of the bottom line. I remember finding out about the deaths of Alabama/Kansas City Chiefs great Derrick Thomas and Redskins safety Sean Taylor. I found out that Dennis Franchione was bolting from Alabama to Texas A&M through the bottom line. I often keep up (not with excitement, though) with the latest Terrell Owens "he said/he said" soap opera that scrolls by. Today, I read about one more death.

Baseball is dead.

It's only hope was actually on dope. Sports Illustrated is reporting that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for two different kinds of anabolic steroids in 2003. He was the one guy with the ability, numbers, personality, and exposure to restore an air of integrity upon a previous era of infamy.

I don't foresee people getting as upset about A-Rod's doping as they did about Bonds and Clemens. Inconsistency is the one thing that has characterized the entire debate during the steroid era. I don't see that stopping now. The 'fair' thing to do is to toss A-Rod under the bus and out of the Hall the same way everyone's done Bond, Clemens, and McGwire (especially considering there's already more 'proof' of A-Rod's usage than any of the other three--a positive test). That doesn't matter anymore, though. A lot of people were cheating in baseball. Too many to know or to count. Since we can't accurately know who was doping or not, I'm afraid the baby will end up getting thrown out with the dirty water.

We should hope for some young studs to rise up and take over the game in the name of fairness, integrity, and honesty. For now, the future looks bleak.

Filed under: debate, news, sports No Comments
5Nov/080

About Last Night…

I feel strongly about our recent elections. Though many of you do also, I'm sure my opinions aren't of great value to you at a time like this. The beauty is that our opinions all count as "1" when we vote. And we'll all stand on judgment before God having to answer for how we used our blessings (including the right to vote). There, who says we need 'change' to have equality ;)?

Just a couple of things, if you don't mind...

America is great not because of who we elect with our votes, but because we can vote. We need to carefully consider how much weight we put on the shoulders of men. No one man has caused our shortcomings and no one man can lead us out of them. We need to thank God that we live in a country where our voices matter. Additionally, the freedoms that grant us the right to vote also give us opportunities to easily teach others about Jesus Christ. I have to think that if we as Christians were doing our part in helping those in need and sharing the good news, there would be less of a need to vote for someone based largely on social reasons.

One more thing about this...if you threatened to move before or after the election based on the outcome (I personally have read several regarding both candidates), what country exists that has blessings, opportunities, and freedoms to a greater (or even same) degree as our own? Canada, Mexico, and so on have their own problems--and they're worse than our problems. Let's not be stupid about this stuff...

God's purpose is not to protect America or spread democracy, but to protect the church and spread the gospel. I'm a proud American. However, I need to remember that the church existed--and thrived--prior to 1776. Additionally, if this nation ever ceases to exist, the church will still exist (Daniel 2:44). It's very comforting to always know that God is in control and that He takes care of His people (ie, Heb. 13:5). However, I need to remember that America is not "His people." It's tempting to think God has a great purpose in keeping this nation strong for millenniums to come, but He's not told us that in His word. Therefore, I need to be careful in assuming such. I pray that God will bless America; not because God needs America, but because America needs God.

I have been hypocritical. This is a more humorous approach, but one that I probably needed to come to grips about. Over the past several months, I easily decided for whom I would cast my vote based on some simple logic. I always want to vote for the man (or woman) who stands up for morality and integrity and who exhibits those things in his or her life. Of the two main candidates, it's obvious there's only one who comes close to doing so. I am appalled at the complete lack of accountability and honesty that's put forward by one candidate, and how so many Americans aren't bothered by such.

Let it be known however, that some 22 months ago I celebrated a new era of 'change' and 'hope' on the sidelines of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I can see how it is easy to overlook what we think is important when we stand to benefit directly from a person's work. In no way do I approve of how dishonest Nick Saban looked when he left Miami; in no way do I approve of his choice of words when he's fired up. But, I am presently glad he's coaching my team and not yours.* So, I do admit to being inconsistent with my approach to the election this year. It's something I'll try to work on...for now, I wish Obama (& Saban) the best in the near future.

The LORD looks down from heaven;
he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
and observes all their deeds.
The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in this steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.

Psalm 33:13-19


* Comparing Obama & Saban is really not fair...to Saban. He came in with a lot more experience and is already following through with his promises.

30May/080

Celebrity Birthdays (On Your Birthday)

This past Saturday (May 31) was my birthday. One of the coolest things about birthdays is checking to see who else has the same birthday. I have at least three friends that have the same birthday, so that's cool. Celebrity birthdays are awesome too.

Check out some of the more famous folks who were brought into the world on the same day:
- A poet (Walt Whitman, 1819)
- A pope (Pius XI, 1857)
- A prince (Rainier of Monaco, 1923: married Grace Kelley)
- Musicians (Peter Yarrow, 1938: Peter, Paul, & Mary; John Bonham, 1948: dead drummer, Led Zeppelin; Johnny Paycheck, 1941)
- Actors & Actresses (Clint Eastwood, 1930; Tom Berenger, 1950; Lea Thompson, 1961; Brooke Shields, 1965; Colin Ferrell, 1976)
- Athletes (Joe Namath, 1943; Kenny Lofton, 1967; Jake Peavy, 1981)

Pretty impressive list, eh? Doubt any of them listed me on their blog as having their same birthday :).

Celebrity Link: Birthdays

Filed under: news, random No Comments
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.

4Oct/070

A Debate with Worldwide Implications Held in Alabama

On Wednesday, October 3rd, the Fixed-Point Foundation hosted a debate between two Oxford university professors. It took place at UAB's Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham, Alabama.

It is labeled "The God Delusion Debate" as it featured the popular author of the book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins. Debating Dawkins about the existence of God was fellow Oxford professor John Lennox--a God believer and professed Christian.

According to the Birmingham-based Fixed-Point Foundation, CD's and DVD's will be available for purchase. You might be interested in looking into more information. I hope they will also release a transcript for reading.

"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" Hebrews 11:6

28Sep/070

Do This In Remembrance (09.16.07 Bulletin Article)

This past Tuesday, our nation remembered the events of September 11, 2001. That tragic day in our nation’s history will forever be remembered and honored as a day when a bold enemy destroyed thousands of lives on American soil. We are reminded of many emotions and principles as we think of the events of that day; we are emboldened thinking of those who have since put their lives at risk in battle. It is certainly a helpful and therapeutic opportunity for Americans to reflect upon this solemn anniversary.

For Christians, our God has purposely designed remembrance into our relationship with Him. Just as Americans honor the price paid for our physical and political freedoms, we as Christians are privileged to regularly remember the price paid for our spiritual freedom.

When Paul wrote what we know as 1 Corinthians, there were many issues he had to address. The common thread among them was division; Corinth had allowed sin to divide the beautiful body of Christ. One of the most appalling things to Paul was their divisiveness during the Lord’s Supper. They were no longer partaking together, both in spirit and in proximity. In correcting this, Paul reminds them of the original purposes of the Lord’s Supper: 1) remember Christ’s death and 2) commune together as the Lord’s body. Using Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11, let’s briefly notice similarities between our remembrance as Christians and that of Americans on September 11th.

We should be united, not divided. One of the strongest reminders for our country on September 11th anniversaries should be the need to stay united as a nation. It is a sad thought to contrast the feelings of unification from late 2001 with the extreme division six years later. We’ve progressed from fighting over how to defeat the enemy into whether to continue fighting; some political groups in this country have already claimed we’ve lost. How are we supposed to survive as a nation if something as important as war (and real soldiers’ lives) is carelessly used for political cat fights?

Likewise, as Christians we are to come together over the blood and sacrifice of Jesus. Before Paul recounted Jesus’ instructions about the communion, he first told the Corinthians they could no longer be divided. A vital part of our remembrance is coming together to remember. Forsaking the worship assembly not only forsakes the Lord, but also fellow Christians who are remembering their Savior’s sacrifice.

We should participate in a memorial. One of the most observed aspects of the September 11th anniversary every year is the memorial service. Whether a local service or a national service at Ground Zero, our minds, eyes, and hearts are turned toward opportunities to remember and honor the lives lost on that horrible day. Many family members travel many miles to share in these annual experiences. Although nothing can bring their lost loved ones back, it is important to memorialize their lives and their heroics on such a day.

The second prong of the Christians’ communion looks back to the cross of Christ. When Paul looked back to the night Jesus was betrayed, he quoted our Savior’s words: “this is my body...this is the cup of the new covenant...do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Although we are united during the Lord’s Supper, we observe on a very personal level the horrible death of our Savior. We remember that our sin is just as responsible for His death as anyone else’s (cf. Acts 2:36). We remember his stripes, scars, blood, tears, thorns, love.

We look to a greater day. As we reflect upon the events of September 11, 2001, everyone’s hope is to live in a land where we—and our descendants—do not have to fear outside attacks of that magnitude. We make promises and take actions to ensure our nation will forever be safer.

Paul reminds us that not only do we proclaim the Lord’s death, we do so “until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Rightfully so, we make the connection that it’s only because of cruel Calvary that we have Heavenly hope. His darkest day of death is our brightest moment of liberation. As we together remember our Lord’s sacrifice, may we do so viewing our future reward.

May we continue to pray for our nation as she proclaims freedom; may we together as Christians proclaim the power of the Cross...in this life and the next.

Have a great week!

17Aug/070

Speed Limit Christianity (08.19.2007 Bulletin Article)

You may have heard on the news that this past week was officially known as “Take Back Our Highways” week in the state of Alabama. State troopers and other police agencies committed to an increased presence on our highways for the purpose of increasing traffic safety. Through Wednesday (3 Days), there were over 10,000 offenses that were ticketed. Over those three days: 8,115 tickets were issued for speeding; 449 for following too closely; 156 for improper lane changes; 3,000 for no seatbelt or improper child restraint. Additionally, 55 DUI arrests were made.

Regrettably, many of us have an attitude toward Christianity much like we do about posted speed limits and other traffic laws. Notice some unfortunate similarities between the two:

We are too concerned with “how far we can go” and still not get in trouble. We all like to know how much over the speed limit we can drive and still not get ticketed. Yet, this attitude flies right in the face of the words “speed limit.” Technically, it is as fast as we can drive without citation. As Christians, we get caught up with “how far can we go” and still not sin. No matter the issue (dancing, drinking, gambling, etc.), asking that very question displays a misunderstanding of our calling to be completely pure (2 Tim. 2:22).

We forget boundaries are in place for our well-being. God has revealed His will about expectations of the Christian life not to hinder us from living a fun life, but to take care of us. Our naivety as children causes us to think that a red stove eye looks fun to touch; a loving parental eye corrects us for getting close to it. The purpose is not to keep the child from having freedom, but to watch out for him or her. Likewise, we forget that God has told us to be pure and holy because that life is the best life to live. A life that is dependent upon sin will not last easily in this life or the one to come.

Playing favorites damages the whole. It is my speculation that many of those tickets that have been issued over the past several days have been cited to individuals who “know somebody” in the legal system. The intense and well-meaning efforts by our state will be for naught if some people have those tickets thrown out in court just because of their connections. Not only does the state miss out on revenue, but that individual will not learn the importance of safety on the roads. Favoritism has no place in the Lord’s church. If there are rules in place on the congregational level, they must apply to everyone. It is a strong temptation for the Youth Minister to plan events, programs, or regulations for specific individuals. However, what is best for the whole is what needs to be done. We all hurt if we play favorites in the church (Gal. 3:28).

We think certain rules matter more than others. Many of us are okay bending (or breaking) the posted speed limits. Almost all of us take seriously laws about rape, murder, etc. Although the legal system recognizes a severity of laws, our hearts should be such to respect all of them with reverence. As Christians, we need to respect God’s will concerning every aspect of our lives. I have actually met married guys who have the staunchest of fervor for true New Testament worship, yet operate with a “look but don’t touch” mentality with attractive women. That is not respecting God’s will for our personal purity. All of the boundaries God has given us are important; we should respect them all in word and action (Jas. 1:21-22).

Finally, it only matters if someone ‘important’ is present. Even those who have no regard for the speed limit will slow down if they see a patrol car. Why? Because someone is present who can punish them. That itself acknowledges an understanding about the laws and emphasizes an irreverent attitude. As Christians, we must ask ourselves:

“Are there certain things I will not do at church services but will do with friends?”

“Are there clothes that I wouldn't wear around fellow Christians but will wear to the mall?”

“Do I say things that sound ‘holy’ when I’m around the preacher, but don’t mention them to people who need the Lord?”

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing no matter who is present. If it’s not worth doing, it’s not worth doing no matter who is present. We should strive to live a faithful life before God instead of putting on a show before men (Matt. 7:21-23).

May we all examine our hearts to make sure we are not living like “Speed Limit Christianity.”

6Nov/060

Childhood Memory Location Suffers Burnout

One of those places from my childhood memories--Gatorland in Orlando, Florida--suffered a major fire on Monday.

That massive gator head that is on fire above had a little 5 year old playing on it some 18 years ago. They're reporting that 4 animals are feared dead. Maybe the loss will not escalate.

...glad we got some pictures there...good mental note for future fun times: take pictures!

Filed under: news No Comments
17Oct/060

300,000,000 +/-

The US Census Bureau is officially recognizing the US population as 300,000,000 (three-hundred million). Wow. Big number. We recognized 200,000,000 back in 1967; looking into the future, it looks like it will be less than 40 years when we hit 400,000,000. Here is how the bureau keeps track of the population in between the census, which they conduct every 10-years:

"The bureau has a 'population clock' that estimates a birth every seven seconds, a death every 13 seconds and a new immigrant every 31 seconds. Add it together and you get one new American every 11 seconds." (From My Way News )

Therefore, roughly every 11 seconds, a new American soul is brought into the world. If we as the church need a reminder of the large evangelistic task at hand, this is most certainly a good one. We are constantly reminded of the freedom that enables us to "worship freely without the fear of outside persecution." That same freedom also allows us to evangelize to those around us. May we feel the urgency to reach lost Americans with the gospel of Jesus Christ...all 300,000,000 of them.