Monday, December 22, 2008

Defining the ECHO...part 3

So I'm obviously a major slacker, but I'm going to play the "it's the holidays" card and say that I've been busy. I decided that I'm just going to do the last 2 letters together - otherwise, I'll never get through this thing!

H - Historical Influence
History is written by those who take risks. Stories have never been told about people that played it safe and did things like everyone else. They have always been told about the ones who stood out, stood up, and stood strong for what they believed in. Someone once asked the question, "What does it mean to be a history maker?" I say that a history maker is someone who has influence that lives longer than they do. Are we only concerned with what people think about us right now, or are we thinking about the future? What kind of influence will we have on the generations to come? Will we have any? What will they remember about us? Will it be something worth remembering?

O - Ownership of Destiny
Only you can prevent forest fires. OK, maybe I stole that from Smokey the Bear, but the point is still the same. We are the only ones who can take control of our own destiny. We can't expect someone else to do it for us. Destiny is not something that will just happen when we wake up one day, it's something that we have to work at. If there's a dream/vision/calling in our hearts that we just know is a part of our God-given future, then we need to do our part to make it happen. It would be foolish for us to wait until "someday" to start living out our destiny. We need to start NOW. If we won't take ownership of our personal calling (whatever & wherever that might be), no one else will. All we will have is a life filled with regrets and missed opportunities.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Defining the ECHO...part 2

I've been out of town for the last week (NC & SC), so it has been hard to keep up with the blog. I decided to break it down into 4 parts, so no one has to read one really huge update. It's kinda like my favorite kind of books: short chapters helps the reading go by faster.

C - Courageous Leadership
"Courage is doing what's right, even when it's hard." We live in a culture that is filled with indifference and moral compromise. We must choose to stand up and do what is right, even when it's not popular or cool.

The choices that we make today will determine the people that we will become tomorrow - along with our habits, priorities, sins, etc. We need to make sure that we are making the right kinds of choices in order to insure that we are becoming the right kind of person/leader. I have come to the conclusion that culture, by nature, always follows something or someone. People are watching our lives to see if we are going to blend in with everyone else, or step out and lead. They are looking for leaders to follow - people to show them how to live and what things are important.

Which will you be? Do you have the courage to say no to your friends when they want to do something that goes against your values or makes you feel uncomfortable? Can you stand against the culture, against the majority, and do what you know is right? Or do you just go along with the crowd and pretend like nothing is wrong? You are either a part of the solution or you're apart of the problem - there is no middle ground.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Defining the ECHO

Now that I have officially preached what it means to live the echo, I can now publicly post what the letters stand for. I purposely did not include it in the last post, just incase someone might would have actually read about it before I got the chance to preach it (i'm weird like that).

E - Engage Life
"Every man dies, but not every man truly lives." Too often we treat life as something we just need to exist through instead of actually engaging in. Life is way too short to let opportunities, dreams, and experiences pass us by. As Christians, we haven't just been promised life, but life more abundantly - and we, of all people, should be taking advantage of the full life that God has promised us. To do otherwise, is to neglect a great gift from God. In a world filled with despair, doubt, apathy, and routine - we need to lead by example and really grab a hold of life and LIVE IT!

The words to a popular secular song say,
If I traded it all,
If I gave it all away for one thing.
Just for one thing.
If I sorted it out,
If I knew all about this one thing.
Wouldn't that be something.

The life that God gives us is the one thing that is worth trading everything else for. The only way to truly experience life is by letting go of everything else. We were not meant to live mundane, average lives - we were meant to live life to the absolute fullest.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Live The Echo

This Sunday I get to preach "Living the Echo" for our youth service. I even got bracelets made to give out to the students. I have spent the last couple of weeks trying to narrow down the thoughts and points of the message. I was really having a hard time trying to find the right words or thoughts to represent each letter of the word "echo". I finally figured it out by looking through my old journals & notebooks from the past 8 years (who would have thought a journal would be that useful?! - note sarcasm). When I finally had it all written down and I stepped back to look at them, I realized something interesting. The four thoughts that I had settled on - the ones that really expressed what echo means - were things that I have been preaching/saying for the past 10ish years. I didn't try to make it work out that way, it just did.

I can see that I'm really not preaching anything new, I just finally have it in a package that makes it clear. I really feel like I have waited my whole life to preach this message - not because it's so great and amazing, but because I have finally brought clarity to the message of my life. I now have a really clear idea of what Mark Sparks is all about. It's not perfect, and it's not complete, but it's a start. It still needs focus, and it still needs tuning, but at least I know what the picture kind of looks like.

This whole process is kind of cool. I started out just trying to fine tune a concept, a message about living a life that inspires a reproducing change in others. I began talking about making an echo that others can follow - and I ended up discovering what my echo is. How cool is God?!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

TV Lessons: Knight Rider

There's one thing that I really like about the 80's - all of the cool TV shows from that era keep being remade or ocntinued. It's probably got a lot to do with the fact that my generation has penetrated the "adult working world" enough, that if we miss something from our childhood, we can just bring it back again. Whether you actually watch the new Knight Rider series or just think it's a waste of time - it's still kinda cool, at least from a nostalgia point of view.

I was watching an episode the other day, and there were things about the main character's (Michael's) past that was causing problems for the missions that he was on. Anytime he was on a mission, trying to be under cover, someone from his past would always show up and interfere with what was going on. This became enough of a problem, that the guys in charge of Knight Industries had to take drastic action to deal with the problems. They decided that they best way to deal with Michael's past was to simply kill him...or at least make it look like they killed him.

They figured the best way to keep his past from causing problems, was to convince the world that Michael had died. Afterall, nobody can hunt you down and interfere with your life if you are technically dead. Near the end of the episode, one of the other characters was talking to Michael and said something to extent of, "How does it feel to be free? Now that your dead, your past can't follow you anymore." (or something close to that).

As I watched this strategy unfold on the TV screen, I realized that God did the same thing with us. Our past kept getting in the way of what God wanted us to be; our debt of sin wouldn't quit following us around and interfering with the life we were trying to live for God. So He came up with a solution, He sent Jesus to die in our place and counted his death to equal our death. Romans 6:6 says, "Our old sinful selves were crucifed with Christ so that sin might lose it's power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin." And Romans 7:6 says, "But now we have been released from the law, for we died with Christ, and we are no longer captive to its power. Now we can really serve God, not in the old way by obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way, by the Spirit." So when Jesus died on the cross, from God's perspective, we died also. That is why Paul can say in Philippians 2:20, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

So the next time that your past, or Satan, or anyone else tries to remind you of all the things you have done wrong - just remember that you are a dead man (or woman) and your past doesn't matter to God anymore. You can live free now.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

the seasons of email

So I was doing some thinking the other day (I know, it was a scary experience), and I discovered something about the correlation between seasons of my life and my email addresses. It turns out that I seemed to always change my email address (for whatever reasons) at about the same time that a season of my life was changing. Let's take a walk down the past 12 years...

Winter-ish 1997 - I had been out of high school for about 8 months or so, and had been saved for just over a year. I experienced my first Winterfest (in Lancaster, PA!!) and had discovered that there was more to serving Jesus than just attending church; He wanted me to actually live for Him! Getting saved was great, but living for God became a whole new & wonderful thing. At some point we had gotten a computer at home and I was finally able to connect to the internet. My very first email address was (stands for Draw Me Close to You, just like the song). It defined the passion of my heart and my first steps in this thing called Christianity.

Summer 1999 - I found out that I was accepted to join a program called Master's Commission, a 9 month discipleship program for college students. I had never dreamed that this kind of thing would actually happen to me, eventhough I had hoped for it for over 2 years. I had no idea how I was going to pay for it, how I would get there, what I would do if things didn't work out, or what I would do afterwards. All I knew is that I was about to do something amazing that I desired to do with all of my heart. That summer I chaged my email to (from Proverbs 3:5-6, "trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths."), just because I wanted a cool new address. Two weeks before I was to leave for MCDC, with no money to pay for the year at all and hardly any support from home, I started to pack up my stuff. I simply stepped out in faith and trusted what I felt God was telling me to do. That year marked the start of an incredible change in my life. My relationship with God grew so much deeper and stronger - I have never been the same since.

Sometime in 2002 - I had spent 3 years with MCDC, was the Assistant Director of the program, and was facing a lot of changes related to the future of that program - where were we going to live, what was our name going to be, will we still have financial support, are we going to have to close down? At some point during that year, and for some unknown reason, I changed my email to (from Job 19:25, "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He will stand at last on the earth." aka my favorite verse). The only thing that I knew to be constant was God and that hope that I had in my Redeemer. We moved our operations to the campgrounds in Columbia, MD and the program stayed alive for 2 more years before we closed it down on our terms. I stayed in the area and ended up getting a job with the school system working at an Outdoor Education Center and renting an apartment with a friend of mine. I was now trying to figure out what to do with my life and where to go from that point.

Summer 2005 - I was getting ready to move from Pasadena, MD to Westminster, MD and I had no clue what I was going to do when I got there. I was excited about moving to a new area where there were people that already knew...kinda. Before the move, I changed my email yet again, to (carpe meaning to seize, deo meaning God). In the midst of all the uncertainty, God was the One person that I continued to hold onto. I ended up working part time for the Westminster Church of God, and then full time as the Youth Pastor, and finally switching roles as the Discipleship Pastor/part time substitute teacher.

Looking back on those different periods of life and the particular emails that I have had, I can see how God was speaking to me and carrying me into the next season. I can even see how those periods reflect the seasons of nature. We all go through these seasons if we will pay attention to it - and not all seasons are as fun and fruitful as others.

DrwMeCls2u: Spring - New life, excitement, growth
Sparky35n6: Summer - Continued growth, a time for breaking from normal routine of life.
Sparx1925: Fall - Growth isn't as visible, change is happening, low enthusiasm
carpe_deo: Winter - Not much activity, growth drastically slows down, few periods of excitement. (that is not to say that life at Westminster has been horrible, cause I have enjoyed being here so far - only that personally, things have been a little life-less...if that makes sense.)

So my seasons seem to last about 3 years before changing to a new one. And here I am standing on the brink of a new season, with a new email address. I can honestly say that I did not see a new season coming and decide that it would be cool to change my email. I decided to change my email (out of what I feel God saying to me) and after seeing a pattern from my past, can discern that God is getting ready to change my season. What excites me is that the next season in the cycle is spring, and with it, comes the potential for amazing things.

There is more that I'm sure I could share, but I know that I've gone long enough. Based on my previous post, and what God has been speaking, my new email address is silentecho27. If you are one of my regular contacts, you will be getting an email very soon about this change. If you want to know why I'm changing it, just read the really long post before this really long post!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

the silent echo

My favorite quote from the the movie Gladiator has always been, "What you do in this life echoes in eternity". That line has stuck with me over the past 8 years. I have always liked the word echo and planned on using it someday as the name of something: ministry, youth group, leadership track, ...something. Within the last month or so, I have really started to try to define what echo exactly stands for; what it communicates; what it looks like. I didn't just want to have a cool name that only had a movie quote standing behind it - I wanted it to have an idea, a message.

Obviously (or not), the first thing that I started to work on was a logo (and yes, I tried to somehow include an oval or a swoosh). I probably went through about 8 or 9 different ideas (and lots of different fonts) before I found one that I think I want to settle with. Keep in mind, it's still early, so things might change.

If only you could see the evolution of this thing, and what I went through to come up with it. Anyway, once I had a base idea, I started to think about what the logo and the word echo communicates. Influence, character, ongoing, representation, confidence - those were just the first couple things that came to mind. I tried to kick into "acronym mode", but "h" is a really hard letter to come up with a word for - at least in this context. I still haven't nailed anything down yet, but when I do, I'll be sure to post it. So then I moved onto finding a good definition for echo. An echo is: a call to mind; to repeat or imitate; an imitative reproduction (that one just sounds cool); reflect. It's basically a reflection or copy of a sound - a product that is created because of the influence of a source, that carries the same characteristics of the original influence.

The most obvious spiritual application is that Jesus Christ (the inlfuence) came from the Father (the source), as an example, to teach us how to live a godly life. The goal of our lives as Christians is to be Christ-like, or to be echoes of Christ - imitative reproductions. Epehsians 5:1-2 says that we are to "Follow God's example in everything you do, because you are His dear children. Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ." or in another version, "Be imitators of God..." So basically, we should be echoing Jesus through everything that we do. Sounds cool, right?

Yes, but I want to take it a step further. Not only should we be echoes of Christ in this world, but I believe we should also be creating echoes of our own - echoes that will influence those around us. We need to leave an influence on the world that will outlive us. Titus 2:7 says, "And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good deeds of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching." The Apostle Paul is telling us that we should be setting an example by the lives that we live, and those examples need to reflect what we say we believe. As one influential person once put it, we need to turn our theology into our biography. Not only are we being examples of the Savior that we serve, but we are also passing on that example to the world around us. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul also says, "Follow me as I follow Christ." He is not just following the example of Another, but he is calling others to follow that example as well.

So we need to reflect Christ in our lives, and set that example before others for them to follow as well. But there is still one more thing that needs to be clarified. Primarily echoes are repeats of a sound that is made; in other words, they are something that you can actually hear. If you recall, Titus 2:7 tells us to be an example by doing good deeds, not by talking about them or telling others to be an example. If actions speak louder than words, then I believe our lives send out a message that is much louder than anything we could ever say. The message that our life communicates, that doesn't come from our words, is what creates our real echo...a silent echo. The questions we all need to ask ourselves are, "What is my life really saying?" and "Is it worth echoing?"

So finally I come to the end of all of this, which is actually the beginning of something new. If you will notice, the address for this blog is Silent echo for the unheard message of our lives, and 27 for Titus 2:7. So there it is - what God has been saying to me lately, and I think where He is taking me...I'm just not sure exactly what it's going to look like.

All of us have a silent echo, what is your's saying?