Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New (to me) Truck

I'm now the owner of a Nissan D21 pickup truck (1992, 4x4, v6, automatic, King Cab, in Midnight Blue Pearl with 139k miles and pretty new Goodyear tires). I bought it for a really great price. I stumbled across it when looking for something to drive while my old Wagoneer was being repaired and repainted. The plan I sold Darla was that I would not have to rush my paint and body guy and I could just sell the truck after the Wagoneer was done, which is much better than renting a car (or burdening someone by borrowing their's). Well, I'm afraid I'm growing attached to it! I think it just may be a keeper (shhh! Don't tell Darla). It runs really great and is just so handy.

I always loved these Hardbodies. They came out the year I graduated high school. I had friends who had them (I was a GM and Toyota truck guy back then) and I thought they were really cool. I had forgotten how easy/fun/economical these little trucks are. I've enjoyed zipping around in it and having the useful bed in the back (taking the trash and hauling wood is a little more of a hassle in the Wagoneer because I have to hook up the little trailer—it's hard to beat a truck!).

I'm not a mechanic, but can do most low- and mid-level work in my garage. I totally have respect for you experts out there! I like piddling around with it and learning about how to do stuff. And for the first time in my life (with a few exceptions), I've learned that it's freeing to have a car to drive while working on another! I've always felt the pressure to get my projects finished quickly because I've depended on the car for transportation!!

So far I've changed the oil & filter, the spark plugs & wires, the belts (they were in horrendous shape), the thermostat (I had virtually no heat), and air filter. I also fixed a speedometer problem (previous owner said it worked before I bought it) and replaced all a/c vents (that were brittle and sun-baked).

Issues it has:
•The transmission seems to want to shift nearer the rpm redline than seems right. I'm going to change the fluid and filter and see if that helps.
•The cruise control doesn't work. Switch is on and light is too. No engage. Guys on the "Infamous Nissan" Hardbody Forum online have suggested a couple of fixes that I'm going to try today.
•The body is great except for a palm-of-your-hand-sized dent in the front of the hood and some peeling factory clear coat on the hood and roof. But there's no rust on body or frame!
•The driver's seat has a small crack in the vinyl part (just above the recline handle) and a cigarette burn right in the middle. I'll just look for a replacement seat from time-to-time at the junkyard, but I'm not worried about this. It looks like the skin on the the dash has become unglued in places. And the cover of center console is showing age. It, like the top of the steering wheel, is deteriorating.

Fun stuff to work on! Or NOT work on (it's an old truck so it doesn't need to be perfect)!

Now to come up with a name. I'm thinking, "Buster."

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christmas Tree CAMPING Adventure

That's right. We've taken the Sparks family Christmas tree adventure to new heights. We decided to take one more trip in Miss Daisy (the camper) before putting her up for the winter the weekend after Thanksgiving to our favorite Christmas tree farm in White Top Virginia.
Miss Daisy has been an ongoing project since May, and has probably been one of the reasons I've blogged less since May. We've redone almost everything and we have camped!
After a great Thanksgiving Day with my dad, sister, step brother, and families we finished packing up; and went with our good friends the Hicks from Mississippi (yes, the "Mississippi Hicks"), who we camp with every year in Elkmont. They drove all the way up to get a tree! 

We hooked up Miss Daisy to the Wag and went. All five of us with both dogs. Yes, we all slept in Daisy. Even the dogs. The nights saw temperatures dip down to the low 20s. All water and drinks left outside were frozen solid! The camper was warm, but it was a little rough to go outside in the mornings and cook breakfast (which begins with melting ice for coffee)! 

We were saddened to learn that Charlie, the Christmas tree farm owner, died a couple of weeks ago. Now his daughter was selling trees. There were more people buying than we have seen in previous years (that doesn't mean many–we're usually the only ones!). She was there making wreaths and taking money. We took our time to find a tree, taking lots of pictures. The dogs love running free as we look. This year they had a couple of farm hands who cut your tree for you and take it to the old tree binder for you.

Here are some pictures of our time there. Notice that the girls even dressed up the dogs in sweaters. Not entirely impractical. It was below freezing there. Mo is cold natured and Sparky has lost lots of hair in his old age.

After getting lunch at the Whitetop Store, we drove up to Grayson Highlands. It was cold and windy. But the wind was really whipping at the top. It seems to always be windy there, but this was the strongest wind I've seen there. Like 60-80 mph constant. You had to lean into it to stand, and you had to yell to be heard. Cuttingly cold! Darla and Duncan hunkered down in a cleft of the rock while we went to the top.

After spending the night back at Grindstone Campground, we packed up and headed home. We stopped in Abingdon for lunch. People were taking pictures of the Wag and Miss Daisy like we were celebrities and waved at us like we were a one-car parade! One lady gleefully ran out of a building and asked to take a selfie with our family and the Wag & camper! So funny.

Okay, I feel compelled to dispel the "Pinterest Perfection" images here and remind readers that all is not perfect! The Wagoneer SUCKS gas, especially when pulling the trailer at interstate speeds. Also my pictures (intentionally) do not show the damage to the back bumper and right rear quarter panel sustained in the recent wreck I had. In addition, Darla and the kids (not Dara, who drives a Jeep truck) were complaining of the loud, droning, exhaust sound that now is even louder due to the damage in the back. I'm getting the Wag fixed and repainted soon, but it still leaks oil and has a tired engine with over 225k miles. This is evident on long, steep uphill climbs. Daisy's not the perfect camper either. We don't have a working oven, refrigerator, or any air conditioning. And wow, it's tight with five adults and two dogs! We had our share of bickering and patience-wearing-thin. So don't be fooled by the pictures. Know that we are a family of sinners who are in process, and we have limited funds to try to stretch and still have fun experiences together. Thankfully, there were no breakdowns.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Teach us to Pray

The following is from a sermon given on November 20, 2016

God has given us an incredible tool and privilege: prayer. Prayer is most basically communicating with God. That’s right, the God of the universe (not the president), who has unlimited power has given us mere humans the privilege of calling on him and telling him what’s on our minds: expressing thanks, making requests, confessing sin, interceding for others, sharing our fears & frustrations and even just engaging in common small talk. It is an amazing gift! Right off the bat, I’m going to confess that I don’t understand all the hows and whys of prayer. Like, how does a sovereign God who has a plan take our prayers into consideration? Do our prayers really change things? (Truth is, I’m comfortable with the fact that God has already taken our prayer—or lack of it—into consideration before we ever pray). But these questions really aren’t important, all we really need to know is that God has asked us to pray, and told us that our prayers matter and really do change things. 

You know what’s really amazing? So few people take advantage of it. I’m one of them. I struggle to pray regularly, effectively, deliberately, passionately. I get busy and it’s one of those things like flossing and exercising that I know I should do, and do sometimes, and when I do I’m always glad I did—but I don’t do enough. Truth is praying is more important than anything else we can spend time doing. We believers have a relationship with God. We are his children. I don’t know about you but all my relationships require communication. Without it there IS no relationship. Think of your relationships: If you have issues with your spouse, your kids, your parents…I can tell you for sure that a fundamental truth is that communication can make so much difference! Think: when you were dating you would write notes, talk all night on phone, text little sweet nothings throughout the day, sit and talk for hours. Now perhaps it’s completely reduced to necessary information only. Perhaps even worse, it’s laced with a prickly or sarcastic edge. With our kids: there was a time when they were babies when only gentle, smiling, affirmative words were the norm as they were learning to talk. Now they’re teens and the little you do say can be negative barking. Is there any wonder why these relationships are strained?  Teenagers, you should especially take this to heart! You want to have your life go well with you? Speak often & respectful with your folks. If every sentence you speak to your parents could be ended with the words, “you idiot,” just know that you’re playing your cards poorly—and it’s only hurting you! 1. You’re less likely to get what you want, 2.God is not pleased. “Honor your father & mother…that it may be well with you.” Let’s all try something: more positive communication. I will promise you it will make a difference! 

Now hear: God wants you to communicate with him. That’s prayer. It’s powerful. It’s under-utilized. And it’s the thing the devil wants to keep you from doing. He knows that when we pray God’s power is unleashed. So he’ll do anything to stop us. It’s that important. Important enough that Jesus wanted us to see it as a habit in his life.  

Luke 11;
1Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 
Jesus’ disciples saw this in his life. After making it clear that he and his word were the main things, his disciples wanted to know how to pray. This should be OUR desire! We have a relationship with him. He has spoken to us in his Word. I challenged you to do this. Sit at his feet & hear (absorb) his word. If you did, you received blessed, one-way communication. It makes perfect sense that Jesus would next teach them how to communicate with God. How are we to pray? That’s the question the disciples asked, & Jesus was eager to answer. Think about it: Jesus didn’t teach them how to sing, preach, take up offering, or even share their faith (all important things). He taught them to pray.

2And he said to them, “When you pray, say... 
Now, this isn’t a prayer to be said as a vain repetition, as if it’s a formula. No, it’s a model prayer. We are to pray like this.

hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. 

3Give us each day our daily bread,
4and forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” 

Please note that Luke’s version of this prayer is a little bit shorter than Matthew's, which is the basis of the familiar “Lord’s Prayer" our version of which was canonized in Anglican Book of Common PrayerAll the versions are essentially the same. Here Jesus is giving us a guide to remember the essential aspects of an effective prayer. 
For the past 20 years, I’ve been using this method. Why? It’s the one Jesus gave us!

1. Acknowledge your privileged position. 
This was radical! You’re his child! He loves you & wants to hear from you. You’re never interrupting! You have his ear. 

hallowed be your name. 
2. Affirm his “Awesomeness.” 
Tell him of your love and awe for him. This is a great time to both praise him for who he is and thank him for what he has done.

your kingdom come (your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven).
3. Align your priorities with his: his Kingdom is first. 
The heart of Christ’s outline is that we pray that God’s rule and reign be realized and that his will and way be accomplished. Don’t miss this. This takes some thought and meditation. Think about what’s important to HIM—not you. This is where we ask him to make himself known and loved in this world. This is where we pray for God to revive his church and awaken people to be born again. This is where we pray that God will pour out his Spirit and transform our culture! Imagine in your mind what God’s “will be[ing] done on earth as it is in heaven” might look like! Long for this in your heart! Ask him to do it!

This central point is the climax. Everything else we pray should be “according to his will” with the advancement of his Kingdom in mind. Jesus said (John 5:14-15), “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him”. That’s the kind of prayer God WILL answer!

Give us each day our daily bread. 
4. Ask him to provide for needs. 
This is where you pray for God to provide for our physical needs: food, shelter, clothing, health, etc. Christ came to this physical earth and knows that we have these needs. He cares for us and will provide! Also pray for others you know who have needs.

5. Address sin. 
Now, Jesus didn't sin. But he told us to spend a good portion of our prayer (over half!) dealing with our daily struggle with sin. Notice, however, it’s the last part of Jesus’ model prayer. My tendency is to start with this.  But we’ve already been forgiven! Now we’re dealing with sin’s effect on our relationships. 

Forgive us our sins, 
Confess your sins to God. (trespasses= Ignoring the law and going somewhere you don’t belong.)

for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to (sins against) us. 
Forgive others’ sins.

And lead us not into temptation. 
Ask God to guide you away from sin. He will!

That’s how to pray. 
OH, but there’s more! Because praying is more than just checking all the boxes. Praying effectively means having the right passion and heart.
5And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

So how should we pray? With determination. Undaunted. Relentless. Persistently.
Not worrying about inconveniencing God, but urgently coming to the One who never sleeps, who cares about us and our concerns, who LOVES us more than we love our own kids. Who’s default answer is YES! We should pray expecting that God wants to give us more than we ask! Even up to the Holy Spirit himself! And he wants us to ask!

NOW: Let’s Pray!