Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Tree Time!

Dara got this t-shirt for me for Christmas! Perfect.
Yep. It's that time again! When the Sparks family turns Griswold!

It's getting harder to get all the kids together, but the great Annual Sparks Christmas Tree Adventure is always a big deal! Drew came up from Georgia and Duncan from Jefferson City and we jumped in the dirty Wagoneer to go find a tree. After eating at a Mennonite market on the way, we pointed the Wag toward Whitetop Virginia, just a few miles away from the northeastern "tip" of Tennessee. There was no snow this year as has happened before, but it was still awesome!

I think the Wagoneer was MADE for this kind of family memory. Who cares if it sucks down a couple of tanks of gas on this glorious day? It's worth it!

Our old friend Charlie has had some health problems, but we found him at the local store. He's in his 80s now, and still takes care of us!

Over the years, there some patterns have emerged that reoccur almost every year. One is the fact that campaigning ensues as the hunt for the perfect tree commences. Everybody wants to find the Sparks Family Christmas Tree. I think our kids took pictures with three or four different trees only to have the tree vetoed for another one. We usually walk several acres trying to find one, and we usually end up pretty near the barn where we started! Sparky and Mo also get in on the hunt (actually, they're just looking for yummy deer and rabbit poop. It's disgusting.)!

Then there's the horseplay that always seems to happen. Thankfully this year no one got hurt or mad!

Once the tree is found, I get on hands and knees and cut it down. 
Then there's the get it on the Wag and take lots of pictures part. 

This year Drew wanted to buy a tree for his dorm room. Interesting for a guy who often complains about how poor he is! But hey, it's Christmas! 

Both trees loaded on the Wag gets lots of attention! And when five adults and two dogs get out, conversations galore! People really dig the tree-toting Wagoneer, especially when we tell them about our tradition.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Chasin' Rabbits

I am about making disciples. There is NOTHING more exciting and rewarding than watching people grow spiritually. That's what I live for. However, there are times when I need to not think about anything serious. And God is good with that. He wants us to enjoy simple things, good things he has created. Beautiful things. Even things of the physical world.
One of the things in this world that are entirely pleasant for me is rabbit hunting with Mo. I totally relax. I totally soak in the beauty of creation and consider with wonder his grace and power. Mo and I don't kill many rabbits, but we both love it like crazy. Mo is a tough little dude. He never stops. As soon as he sees me with hunting pants on, he starts shaking and whining in anticipation. When we arrive to where we will be hunting, he can hardly stand it. I have to fight him to get his collar on. He will go full speed with his nose to the ground as long as I will stay out there with him. I love this dog! Here are just a few pictures from some hunting in the last couple of weeks:
Pictures don't do this scene justice. Mo is working this hedge like crazy, nose going full speed. In the midst of this is the amazing beauty all around. The Tennessee River is to my left (not pictured).

I have so much fun chasing Mo as he chases rabbits. It's a good time. We both enjoy a good cold drink after hunting hard.

Friday, November 13, 2015

On the List of Things I Like

Some of the things people like are curious to me. They are as different as we are—indeed they are a part of our individuality. "Things I like" is a subject we all enjoy discussing! I was at a restaurant a couple of weeks ago and a young couple at the table next to mine were talking rather loudly so that I could hear their conversation (I don't usually eavesdrop!). They must have been on a first date, because all they talked about was stuff they liked. Funny.

I like cutting firewood.

I can't really figure out why! It's hard, it makes you stink like chainsaw smoke and sawdust, it's kind of dangerous, it takes a lot of time, and I'm sore for two or three days afterward! Maybe it's some weird, Freudian, childhood psychology thing. I've been cutting wood since I was a kid. My family always had a fireplace and heated our home with wood. My dad worked my tail off cutting, splitting, and stacking wood. It wasn't always fun then, but I loved being with him and the men with which we worked. Manly stuff: loud chainsaws, big trees falling, cool tools (axes, wedges, mauls, and trucks), and lots of opportunities to prove one's strength made it strangely enjoyable. He would teach me how to recognize different types of trees and how to work on saws and how to "read" the logs and use proper techniques in order to split them with less difficulty. There were also many opportunities for my dad to compliment my strength and hard work (which he did more often than I deserved), which is important for a boy's confidence.

I must confess: there were times that I despised cutting wood. Like the time when I was 14 when my dad had me cut and carry lots of big oak logs up the steep ridge on which we log at a the heat of the myself. I remember crying at one point from frustration and exhaustion when the log I was wrestling up the hill got away from me and rolled 50 yards straight down.

I definitely love the end result. There's nothing more comforting and romantic than a fire on a cold day. I love the smell, the crackle and hiss of the burning wood, the flickering glow of the flames, and the direct heat. Nothing chases cold away like that. On some dark winter nights I find myself fighting to stay awake in order to enjoy the fire a little longer.
A beautiful day for cutting wood. This is a trailer load of oak logs.
The Wagoneer is a workhorse! The Jeep 4wd and 360 V8 were 
made for this!

But maybe it's the peace I find while focusing on the task of cutting wood that's the best thing of all. My job requires a lot of meeting, sitting, emailing, reading & studying, making decisions, and planning. I do very little physical work--and I miss it. Don't misunderstand. I LOVE my job. But it's emotionally and intellectually taxing. Sometimes it's just downright draining. I'm an extravert and love people, but I find that the older I get the more I appreciate time alone. Only, often when I'm alone I get sucked into doing emails and phone calls and studying.

But I like getting outside in the woods. Cutting wood occupies my mind and my body. I find I'm not thinking about people's problems and the world's troubles and leadership strategy or sermon series. I'm thinking about my Stihl chainsaw, that tree, the perfect cut, split, and stack. How can I get as much wood on the trailer as possible without losing any on the journey or blowing a tire. There's a real sense of accomplishment when I finally get that wood stacked under my deck. I'm ready for winter. I've been a provider. Now to enjoy.

I'm always on the hunt for wood. Not just any wood—I'm a bit of a firewood snob. I prefer oak, hickory, and beech. Walnut, ash, cherry, and hard maple are ok, too. But I will not waste time and effort on soft maple, sweet gum, poplar, sycamore, locust (burns great and long, but stinks), birch, bradford pear (holds too much water), elm, hackberry, boxelder, pine (and other evergreens). Finding a big oak tree that has fallen and getting permission to take the wood is like hitting a little jackpot for me!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Meaning of a Man...Standing for the Samaritan Woman

We talk about manhood a lot at Providence Church. We feel the need to do this because it seems manhood is under attack—or at the very least there is an attempt underway to redefine what it means to be a man. I'm convinced we find the ultimate expression of manhood in the man, Jesus Christ. In his life and teaching, he shows us a man is one who exhibits integrity, discipline, humility, and courage. At Providence we have a successful once-every-month meeting called MANday Night to discuss these four "cornerstones." It takes us two years (24 monthly meetings with a lot of great food) to unpack all four. MANday Night has been exported to churches in different states and countries indicating that the need to remind guys about what it means to be a man is great in other places as well.
For more about MANday Night, contact who can tell you when the next meeting is at Providence (usually the second Monday night of each month) along with menus, the topic, and notes for past meetings.
The subject of MANday Night and men came up during a radio show for which I was asked to be a guest. Andrew Wood, Director of Hope Resource Center, interviewed me in part about the church's role in the Abortion battle and how Christian men in particular should be engaged. You can hear the show here.
I was surprised at the number of texts and emails I received after the show aired—some from men, some from women. It seems there is a hunger for a biblical definition of godly male leadership to those facing the fallout of abortion. Courage regarding abortion and other social ills is not shown by yelling and believing the right things in the face of a politically correct culture. Courage is best shown by reaching into the culture, going behind enemy lines, as it were, and showing kindness to those who have believed the lies and are facing the consequences. Because that's what real men do. We don't just talk. We act. We rescue. We risk. We care. We LEAD.
Listen to the show and consider how God wants you and your church to be redemptive like the early church was in addressing cultural sin and its consequences.