Real Life Examples – David Sparks

David and Dawn Sparks

David and Dawn Sparks

I want to share with you a private note I sent last year to someone you may not know. His name is David Sparks.

I’m sharing this with you for three reasons. I’ll give the first reason here––the second two after the note.

First – we learn a lot from seeing other people’s examples. I want you to learn from David’s example.

To give some background to this note, David was my middle school youth minister. Several years later, when I became a youth minister myself, he was one of the first calls––calling to tell me I was the perfect person for the job, to tell me he’d do anything he could to support me, and to invite me to a weekly youth ministers’ breakfast at Bob Evans (which he started and kept going until he moved away from Lexington).

Here’s what I wrote to him last year…


I’ve thought of you a number of times over the past several months. I think getting my head above the day-to-day workings of the church has given me a chance to see the bigger picture and especially to be thankful, and I wanted to send a quick note. 

You have been one of my most consistent supporters and encouragers for nearly 20 years now. You gave me some of my first real encouragement as a leader early on in middle school. You were probably my most consistent support throughout my first few years in youth ministry. Bob Evans breakfasts were a highlight in my week. And then as you took your conference position, you gave me opportunities to get involved at the conference level. Looking back, I know you went out of your way to accommodate me in some of my early learning, and even when I was stubborn or cynical. And you’ve continued to send random texts, tweets, etc. of encouragement….

I’m glad you’ve always considered yourself a youth pastor, regardless of the official role. I’d imagine there are many others that you got to know in youth ministry and then have continued to encourage. I’m sure they’re getting much of the same at Bethany [his current church] now. So thank you!

Oh – and thanks for twisting my arm to keep playing Fantasy Football when I wanted to quit. I’ve got a feeling this is my year. [It wasn’t.]


You see a lot there about support and encouragement. David believes in people. Sometimes that’s all we need. Just someone to believe in us––to tell us we can do something, to challenge us to do it, to keep rooting us on. I think that will be David’s greatest legacy.

Why has he done that? I think it has to do with how David believes in God––that God has created each of us with incredible promise and potential, that God can use us beyond what we would imagine, that God doesn’t give up on us despite all our past failures. That makes me recognize just how ungodly are any of my cynical attitudes, when I fail to trust people or give up on them too quickly.

So I’m sharing this with the hope that the rest of us might follow David’s example. Who will be able to send me a note twenty years from now and say, “You never stopped encouraging me”?

The second reason I share this – I sent this note last year because I kept thinking about David’s influence on my life and started wondering whether I had ever expressed my gratitude to him. For someone who had been such a consistent support, I wasn’t sure he knew how much I valued it.

Is there anyone in your life who might fit that description? Can I urge you to jot them a short note before the end of this week?

The third reason I share this is to ask for your help. A month after I sent that note, David was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. Since then, he and his wife, Dawn, have been a model of hope and perseverance. Even the most discouraging bits of news have come laced with hope, often with a smiling picture of David (or even a joking video). See their Facebook Page –– “Dave and Dawn’s Army of Hope.”

Just today, they announced that David will be entering Hospice care.

I know that many of you don’t know David, but would you please consider doing two things?

1 - Would you pray for David and Dawn? I’ve made it my habit every time I receive a health update just to place my fingers on their heads on my screen––the closest I can come to laying on hands––and to pray for them. Would you do that, too?

2 – Would you consider making a donation? I hate that along with everything else, cancer can leave a family with an enormous stack of bills. Some friends have begun a YouCaring fundraiser for David and Dawn here.

That’s David Sparks. Real life example. May you follow that example. And thanks for your prayers and financial support for David and his family.

Dori Hundley Deitrich — 1986-2014

This morning I had the honor and the dismay to preside over Dori Deitrich’s funeral. I met Dori when I became her youth minister at Trinity Hill UMC. Though they weren’t together yet, her husband, Matt, was also in that youth group. We’re not supposed to play favorites in ministry, but theirs were the two pictures that hung on our refrigerator for ten years. Over that time, they went from being special youth to dear friends.

I’m using this space to share my sermon from Dori’s funeral, especially as I know so many people wished they could make it and weren’t able. To Dori’s family and friends––may the God of peace comfort you, bless you, and keep you.

Matt and Dori celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary last Friday and re-watched their wedding video. Matt asked that we use the same passages in today’s ceremony that they used five years ago –– Philippians 2:1-5 and Colossians 3:12-17.


Five years ago, as we were preparing for a wedding, Matt and Dori sent me those passages you just heard from Philippians and Colossians. Listen to some of those words again: “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience … Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts… Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit…” 

I sent a message back and said, “Well these are interesting. Not the typical wedding passages. It’s not, ‘Love is patient, love is kind.’ It’s not, ‘Husbands, love your wives; wives respect your husbands.’ Why’d you pick these?”

And their response was, “Yeah, we weren’t looking for something about marriage, specifically. We picked these because they’re how we want to live our lives. This is the beginning of doing that together.”

For us who knew Dori, I think we can celebrate just how much those passages fit—that they weren’t just nice things to have read at a wedding. They were a real description of the kind of person God gave us in Dori—clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

I want to share with you three specific memories I’ll always hold dear about Dori.

The first is just her smile…

Over these last few days, I’ve started to realize just how much there is in a smile. If you haven’t yet, you should scroll through Dori’s Facebook page to see all the pictures people have posted. And you’ll just keep noticing her smile. I think that constant smile represented so much about Dori. Can I show you my favorite of the pictures I’ve seen?

Photo courtesy of Nina & West photography:

Photo courtesy of Nina & Wes photography:

Somehow, that simple picture captures so much—so much about what I keep hearing about Dori from so many of you—about the way she just took in each moment, about how she always wanted to be sure everyone was happy and having a good time and getting along. About that magnetic, joyful personality. I’ve asked several of you already what you’ll remember, and I keep hearing you say you’ll remember her smile. I don’t think that’s just about the smile. I think you’ve said that because you saw a bit of her heart in it. You saw some of the character of God in it—a genuine compassion and joy.

Now, I’ve been told we’re not supposed to make instant saints out of people at their funerals. We don’t need to paint overly rosy pictures of people. And Claire, Dori’s mom, was reminding me yesterday that it took some time and growth. There was a time Dori was really questioning whether she was cut out to be a “pastor’s wife.” But then Claire talked about how Dori just flourished—how she kept growing into this wonderful woman of God. She attributed a lot of that to Matt. And she noted that a lot of it was by the grace of God––the way you could see that God’s grace transformed Dori over time.

The second memory I’ll always keep about Dori is about her with kids. Dori and Matt were our go-to babysitters for years. I still remember the first times they baby-sat when there were three, and then when there were four. Matt came in wide-eyed, and Dori would come in and say, “We can do this!” I’ll remember our words on our adoption recommendation for them: “There is no other couple we have wanted to see become parents as much as these two.” And I’ll remember the sudden, shocking messages Dori sent us: “We’re on our way to Alabama to get our new baby boy.” We couldn’t believe how quickly it all happened. Later, Dori would call it a miracle—an act of God to allow them to get Carter before her cancer was discovered.

And that’s the third memory I know I’ll keep—is about how Dori handled her sickness…

That passage about letting the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, and about having gratitude in your hearts, seems so fitting. Matt was remarking the other day about how her concern, even in sickness, was never about herself. There was plenty of opportunity for “why me, why now,” and it never came. Even when some of the rest of us weren’t ready to concede that we could lose her, she was saying, “Why are we so afraid of dying? Don’t we believe we’re with Jesus when we die?” Even when things were looking progressively worse, she was still posting Scriptures like, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” All the way to the end, the peace of Christ seemed to rule in her heart. Even as her body got weaker, it just seemed like her spirit got stronger.

As I’ve heard several of you talk about Dori for the last few days, I’ve realized that we all saw different sides, we all got different glimpses. But we all seemed to know the same Dori. I’m thankful for that.

And so we come here and we give thanks to God. We thank God that in each person we catch a glimpse of the image of God—and we’ve seen at least a glimpse of God’s joy and delight through Dori. We thank God that the gospel isn’t just about what happens after we die. It’s about what happens while we live, too. It’s about how, by the grace of God, he turns us into compassionate, humble, gentle people. People of peace. People who persevere in difficult times.

We thank God, too, that the gospel is about what happens after we die. For those who receive Christ, for those who believe in his name, he gives us the right to become children of God. We hate death, but it doesn’t have the final word. We thank God because Jesus says, “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me… Because I live, you will live too… Don’t be troubled or afraid.” Claire told me last night that Dori had said to her, “I’m not going to live afraid.” And she didn’t. She didn’t need to. We have a God who tells us not to be troubled or afraid, and she trusted him.

This is why, even though we come and mourn today, we can go from here in hope, too. Because we come knowing that we entrust Dori into the hands of God, who can be trusted.

One Invitation.

Two people who became some of my closest friends in high school were invited to a youth camp one summer and decided to come. They thought it would be fun but weren’t into the religious stuff––so they made a deal before coming: “We’re not going to ‘get saved.'” Well, on the last night, they “got saved.” Sometimes those last-night camp commitments don’t travel back home well. These did. Those friends went from ordinary teenagers to extraordinary models of virtue and grace. God’s work in them was clear. 17 years later, it still is.

One of the most important mentors in my life––the one who was bold enough to tell me when I was 16 that I was doing the wrong thing if I didn’t go into pastoral ministry––recently chronicled his “conversion chain.” It lists 23 people/groups. None of them are pastors. They’re mostly friends, colleagues, and others he respected. I wonder where would be if it weren’t for those 23.

I had a college roommate who became a Christian after a friend sent him one of those Christian chain emails (yes, you read that right) and asked him to consider it. God changed his life, and he was a model of devout faith to me through college.

Another dear friend was invited to a Young Life camp and came to faith during that week. He is one of the most thoughtful, sincere, and talented people I know, and God is using him in some pretty spectacular ways (as in––he writes a pastoral column with a readership of a quarter million on a slow week).

Several other friends––too many to count––have less exact and profound stories. For many, they already called themselves Christians, but it didn’t mean much. Then someone invited them into a setting that helped them experience the depth and richness of the Christian faith. They stopped being Christians in name only and became real, full-fledged, transformed followers of Christ.

These are just a few that stand out in the moment. God’s grace has transformed them. And what a celebration to know they’ll be there at that great heavenly banquet!

I hear an occasional story about someone who hit rock bottom, or just sensed that something was missing, and began to consider Christianity on their own. But the much more common story begins with someone who wasn’t really looking––they were just invited and accepted the invitation. Sometimes it was the first invitation, sometimes it was the 23rd.

Is there someone you could call, or email, or text message today and give a simple invitation? That person doesn’t have to be a staunch atheist, or the most immoral person you know. Most of my friends above wouldn’t have fit that.

What if you invited that person to come to a church service with you on Sunday?

What if that simple invitation marked a turning point in someone’s life? What if it changed eternity?

One person. One invitation. When I think about the people above, I wonder why I so rarely extend an invitation.