From the Desk of the Associate: Fight Club, a Story of the Flesh vs the Spirit

A few weeks ago I counseled our Sr High youth at Iowa Regular Baptist Camp as I do every year. This year however, was going to be special. This would be the first year that the brand new gym would be open for summer camp. I’ve been looking forward to this for years and now the time had come. As one of our members at church says, “Sr. High camp is the pinnacle of the summer camp experience and I happen to agree with this. One of the reasons I would give such a hearty amen to that statement is because I love basketball. Even at the ripe old age of 31, I still like to think that I give the younger guys a run for their money. Sr. High brings lots of good basketball players who get to test out their skills against other campers and counselors. Needless to say, its a good time.

Well, on Tuesday morning of Sr High camp I got to test out the new gym for the first time during pickup basketball. At 31 many guys I used to play with have hung it up already but I was still feeling great like I could do this for another 10 years. In fact my goal has always been to play at a decent level until my boys are old enough to play along with me. God has blessed me with a lot of health and for that I’ve been thankful. Though I’ve had several fairly minor ankle injuries, I’ve had healthy knees all through high school, college and post-college playing. I have always feared the knee injury but knew that it would likely come for me one day and knee injuries to heal like most ankle injuries. Well that day finally came on Tuesday morning of Sr. High camp. As I dribbled the ball up the court on a fast break, I veered to the side to avoid the defender who had stopped in front of me to slow me down. As I cut to my right, out of my peripheral vision I see another defender who was chasing me from behind. In that split second, he collided with me and his knee hit straight into the side of my knee as I was attempting my side step. This caused my knee to buckle in and I crumpled to the ground.

It’s really crazy how fast your mind moves in those instances because I felt the sharp and shooting pain immediately in my knee and my mind filled with fear and anger. Fear because I knew that the dreaded knee injury had finally caught up to me. Fear because I had no idea how bad it was. Fear because I had imagined a future where I could still run with my teenage sons instead of having to just watch them. Anger because I didn’t want to deal with all the pain and inconvenience that a knee injury would bring me. In that moment I hit the ground all these thoughts had already gone through my mind and I immediately slapped the floor and yelled “frick!” at the top of my lungs. I’m not defending my use of this euphonism, in fact I’d condemn it. (Largely because it sounds far to similar to another curse word.) This was just the outward sign of my flesh reacting. I think we can all understand this response. However, within half a second, in my mind I said “thank you Lord.” Just like the anger was an involuntary response, so this inner show of gratitude was involuntary. I asked myself why I was saying “thank you?” It was because God had given me 31 years of healthy knees and that is far more than what many others get, and second, because God is sovereign and He is good and He has promised to make even this work out for my good and His glory.

You see, the first response of fear and anger was my flesh and immediately the Spirit comes to correct and fight my flesh. What were the means the Spirit used? It was the truth of His Word that had been ingrained in me. The truth that all good gifts come from above and even the gift of good health, something that I don’t deserve had been given to me for so long and God was good. And the truth that even in the suffering I was going through He would be good. And the truth that however this injury would affect my future God would not only make it good, but that He had planned this in his perfect will to work out for my highest good and His glory. These are the truths that the Spirit flashed before my mind in just a few seconds. It was as if He simply said, “trust me.”

Does that mean that I was immediately over the pain and loss? No, I still had many moments of failure where I let my fleshly anger have the victory. However, throughout the week of limping around the camp, I was constantly reminded of the goodness of God despite my circumstances. Of course I realize that so many reading this have gone through such things and even things that are far worse. I do not tell this story as if this is the worst thing that could ever happen to me. I know that it is not. The truth is I’ve had a really good life. An easy life. But even in the little suffering and the big suffering, God is good. And our biggest suffering is not the pain and loss that we experience during this life. Our biggest suffering is that which is brought by the reaction our sinful hearts of flesh. We are far to often unable or unwilling to say like the Apostle Paul in Romans 8 that “I consider the sufferings of this present time are unworthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.” It is so hard for us to lift our eyes and set our mind on things above and not on things on this earth.

Though this is often true, it is the Spirit who uses the truth of His Word to cause us to embrace the promises of God. Promises that the pain we are experiencing doesn’t compare to the joy and pleasure we will experience with God. Promises that the joy and pleasures that we can experience on earth don’t provide the ultimate joy and satisfaction that will be experienced when the believer sees Him face to face. So please use my telling of my experience with the battle of flesh vs Spirit to cause you to prepare for your own battles by walking in the Spirit and filling yourself with truth and surrounding yourself with people who will point you to the Spirit.

Virtual Reality Worship…

The world around us is changing fast. This is most apparent in the world of technology. Even at age 35 (which I consider young), I find it difficult to keep up with all of the technological changes in our world. Enter my pastor-friend, Jason Poling, into this mix of our ever-changing world and technology…

Instead of being apathetic or scared of our fast-paced world and the technology changes around us, he has embraced these changes by entering the Metaverse. “The Meta, what?” you ask. The Metaverse is the world of virtual reality and my friend, Jason, is harnessing this strange new world to facilitate digital worship…

I was pretty skeptical myself when I first heard Jason promote this on his social media feed several years ago, but recently NBC’s The Today Show interviewed my pastor-friend to discuss his adventure into this new territory of relationship building and communication in the Metaverse. Check out this interesting and well-executed five-minute video below…

Disclaimer: I have not thoroughly thought through the implications of virtual reality worship, especially in terms of virtual reality communion and virtual reality baptism. I also have no current plans of entering the Metaverse. I simply find my pastor-friend’s ingenuity and his desire to reach more people with the Gospel to be inspiring…

“Eleven Signs You Are Becoming a Church Consumer Instead of a Committed Church Member” By Thom Rainer

I am a church member. I teach a small group in my church. I occasionally preach when my pastor is out. I give to the church faithfully. I have been involved in other ministries in the church over the years.

But I sometimes start acting like a church consumer instead of a committed church member. Instead of focusing on others as 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 clearly demonstrate, I start acting like the church is supposed to serve me. I want to get my needs met. I want things a certain way for my family and me. My unholy trinity is me, myself, and I.

Tracking My Own Attitude and Behavior

Recently, I’ve started tracking my own attitude by going through a series of signs that my commitment to my church is not what it should be. Here are eleven signs that I am becoming a church consumer instead of a committed church member.

You know you are becoming a church consumer when:

  1. Your worship attendance becomes optional.
  2. You replace in-person attendance with digital attendance (though I fully understand that some people are unable to attend in-person).
  3. Your attendance to a small group is declining, or you stop attending completely.
  4. Your attitude toward your church is more critical.
  5. Your giving declines or stops.
  6. You critique sermons instead of listening prayerfully.
  7. You see church as a place to meet your needs instead of your meeting the needs of others.
  8. You move readily to another church when your needs are not met.
  9. You get frustrated at what other church members aren’t doing.
  10. You don’t pray for your church regularly.
  11. You don’t share the gospel.

Church Consumers Are Not Biblical

The local church is the dominant topic in the Bible after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Indeed, the entirety of the New Testament, from Acts 2 to Revelation 3, is either about the local church or written in the context of the local church.

The local church is God’s plan A, and he didn’t leave us a plan B.

I am a church member.

Sometimes I need to be reminded to act and think like one.

Motivational Speakers & Cult Leaders: What’s The Recipe of Their Success?

I was recently listening to a world-famous motivational speaker. Indeed, listening to him was as entertaining as watching late night television. He mounted the platform with all the charisma and energy of a rock star. His speaking capabilities? Flawless. Eloquent. Tantalizing. As I sat there immersed in a sea of 10,000 people, I hung onto his every word. He was incredibly pleasing to listen to…

But as I listened to this man’s speech on the four universal desires of every human being, I began to think – to analyze. I thought to myself, “What makes this man so incredibly successful at motivational speaking? Why am I so intrigued by his words?” So, not as a jerk, but as a polite observer of culture, I began to take some personal notes…The results of my analysis somewhat shocked me…Indeed, to state it bluntly, these observations are what make for an incredible motivational speaker (in the world at large) and a great cult leader (in the church world)…I know, I know, that was an ouchy thing to say, but notice my observations below…

  1. He spoke as an authority unto himself. In his incredibly thought-through, four-point outline of the four universal desires of every human being (i.e., aliveness, connection, meaningful pursuits, and growth), he never once referenced a source, book, quote, or statistic. Not. One. Time. He simply, confidently, and enthusiastically stated each one of his main points, relying on no source material, except himself. To be sure, his own personal success and fame made him a functional authority to the 10,000 people in the stadium, but still, he referenced no source material. Yes, he spoke as an authority unto himself.
  2. He weaved “believe in yourself” throughout his speech. Now, this is not a new cultural message/mantra; I get that. But up until this speaker, I had never (not one time) heard someone in culture define exactly what “believe in yourself” means. This guy did; and it blew me away. He defined “believe in yourself” as encompassing two primary ingredients (i.e., worthiness + capability). He encouraged, with great gusto, 10,000 of us in the stadium to think and identify ourselves as both worthy (of everything we want and desire) and capable (of getting everything we want and desire). Wow…”Believe in yourself” = “Worthiness + Capability”. Do you know what he just defined/explained…WORSHIP! Biblically and theologically, we promote the worship of Jesus (who is God) because we attribute to Him (and Him only) ultimate worthiness and capability. So, when you hear that common phrase in wider culture – “Believe in yourself” – understand what some people are advocating for when they say that…”Worship yourself because you are worthy and capable of everything your heart desires.” Am I overreacting? Reading too much into this statement? Maybe. But just think about it…
  3. He unified cultural desires and religious thoughts. In other words, he would mix in religious (even biblical terms) throughout his talk. His speech was littered with words like “joy”, “relationships”, and “service”. He went on to make the statement that every religion promotes as “the highest form of enlightenment” the concept of “unity”. Possibly the only cringe moment for me in his entire speech. Why? Well, because Jesus actually promoted something far different than the concept of “unity” as “the highest form of enlightenment”. In fact, he promoted division…”Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34)…”I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). But this man’s thoughts resonate within wider culture…Our culture desperately wants “unity” to be “the highest form of enlightenment”…I wonder what the ramifications of this thought process for true Christians would be…Hmmm…
  4. He kept his speech simple and used alliteration. A fairly simple observation, but it plays a part in this man’s success as a motivational speaker. He had four simple points that were easily rememberable and he even used alliteration (i.e., doubt, division, and delay) to describe the greatest hindrances to the four universal desires of mankind (i.e., aliveness, connection, meaningful pursuits, and growth). Indeed, his overall presentation was engaging and easy to follow. Easy. Breezy. Beautiful. Now, unlike the three points above, I’m not saying that simplicity and alliteration are bad things, but coupled with the above three points, it makes for a tantalizing…but dangerous concoction.

So, there you have it. Just some personal observations on a popular motivational speaker that might give you some insight into the inner workings of our wider culture. Indeed, as much as I am a student of the Word, I try to be a student of culture, understanding that our ultimate enemy is not culture itself, but the Evil One behind culture…Be aware. Stay alert. Stay strong.

From the Desk of the Associate: Grasping for the Knowledge of Good and Evil

How did we get here? This place of a seemingly alternate reality where up is down and down is up. Where reality seems to be completely subjective and where my truth and your truth may disagree and both be true at the same time. Nowhere is this more obvious in our world today then in the so called gender revolution.

Many people have written extensively on this issue but I want to give some brief thoughts of my own and point out how this is the logical outflowing of humanity’s attempt to snatch the power to define good and evil, beginning way back in the opening chapters of Genesis. Even with a fallen human nature it still is a big jump to enable us to deny basic reality about man and woman but the starting point for such a radical fall is the denial of the authority and existence of the one who made everything and therefore gets to define everything.

This is what I mean, when we misunderstand the nature of mankind, and misunderstand the source of morality, we quickly will veer off any sane path and into the worst kind of ditches. Carl Trueman writes a very helpful book called “Strange New World” where he provides a helpful review of the writers and philosophers who moved our society in this direction. I want to discuss two of the basic stepping stones that our culture has used to take us from where most everyone had an accurate understanding of the basics of life to where we don’t know what a woman is. The first stepping stone was that of the natural condition of man.

During the enlightenment it became in vogue to believe that mankind was born basically good and that any corruption that was exhibited in ones character could be blamed on society at large. This idea was greatly advanced by writers like David Hume but was perhaps most famously articulated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He believed that good was most clearly seen in that which was most closely tied to nature. He wrote often of the “noble savage” who did not have the corrupting constraints of society and could therefore most act on his natural self. Put basically, people are born good and it is society and institutions that corrupt them. Therefore we need to tear down the institutions so that people are free to express the good that comes from within them. Mankind is the basic source of good.

The second stepping stone that has lead us to our confused moment in history is that of who decides what good is? Before the enlightenment very few public thinkers would have questioned, much less denied the existence of God. It would have been taken for granted that there was a God and that he is the moral law giver. During and after the enlightenment critics and sceptics were granted powerful voices to shout down and scorn the existence of God. With the rise of Darwinism, many felt like they were no longer required to believe in an external creator because they had an adequate natural explanation. This led a man like Karl Marx to believe that the moral laws that are articulated in the Bible and were promulgated by the societies and governments of his day were simply tools of oppression. Religion was only a means of power. In this view there was no ultimate lawgiver and therefore man had to rethink all of right and wrong.

I know that these are very basic and crude summaries of these very powerful cultural voices but when you boil it all down, in order to get to where we are at today, mankind first had to deny original sin and affirm internal goodness. Additionally, mankind also had to deny an external law giver. If we are born good and if we are the source of good, then whatever I feel on the inside is what is moral and right. The only transgression in this society is to deny someone’s feeling of self. That is why culture demands that we affirm everyone’s belief about themselves, because if you deny what someone else is feeling about themselves, you are denying their personhood.

This worldview only leads to despair because it is constantly running up against the reality that mankind indeed has an innate and internal evil that manifests in hurtful and self-destructive behavior. It also leads to the hurt and destruction of those around us as we constantly act in our own perceived self interest. Ultimately, this is the outflow of mankind rejecting the Creator’s good design and His good law for us. God made us in the beginning in the image of God as male and female to glorify and enjoy him forever. What we see played out around us is the radical rejection of God’s good design and the headlong plunge into delusion and self destruction.

We need a Savior. Not just a Savior who pays for our sins, but one who sheds the light of the Gospel into our hearts causing us to reject the lies of the world and allowing us to receive His truth. We need the Spirit to open our eyes from the natural blindness that we inherit from our first ancestor and his rebellion. True change for good in our culture won’t come from electing the right politicians but through changed hearts and lives that come through the Spirit by means of prayer and the preaching of the Word. May we be individuals who do just that.

Round #1: Summer Nights of Prayer…

Yesterday evening, we had our first round of what we call “Summer Nights of Prayer”. It was a good time to gather together as the people of the prairie and pray. As we ended our time of prayer, I encouraged our people to continue to pray, using our Associate Pastor’s “Prayer Priority List”. I found this list helpful. Maybe you’ll find it useful as well…

Pastor Tim writes, “As you have opportunity, consider praying for the following in order:

  1. Pray for your own walk with Christ. This may include confessing sin and seeking His guidance to walk obediently.
  2. Pray that your family would love and follow Christ. You may find yourself needing to confess sins to your family members whom you have wronged.
  3. Pray that your fellow church members would remain faithful and be on mission. Consider even praying for specific individuals that come to your mind.
  4. Pray for individuals that you are trying to witness to. Pray that God would work in them and work through you.
  5. Pray for our country and its’ leaders. Pray that we would live peaceable and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way.”

Many of you profess the necessity and power of prayer, but do you actually pray? Do you actually carve out intentional time to talk to God? The list above can help you as you do what you know you need to do, namely, pray…

“Wisely and Well” – A Sermon by Ray Ortlund From the Book of Ecclesiastes…

Below is one of the most encouraging messages I’ve ever heard from the book of Ecclesiastes. Indeed, at surface level, the book of Ecclesiastes seems to inspire depression, not delight. But, as Ray Ortlund explains in this message, this book inspires us to see life as God sees it, and when we see life (and embrace life) as God sees it, we begin to accept life in all of its’ complexities – the good, the bad, and the ugly…

“Out of the Depths”

Life can be so cruel sometimes. Things seemingly happen at random and without reason. Life (at times) seems to dole out incessant waves of depressing news – disease, divorce, death. In the end, I don’t know why some things happen, but I know that there is a God who is above it all and will see us through it all. For anyone going through some sort of difficulty or disaster right now, the song posted below (based on Psalm 130) is for you. I pray that it might be a real encouragement to you as it stirs your heart, despite the depths of your pain, to look up and wait on the Lord…

Father’s Day Reflections…

I’ve been a father now for 10 years. So, in no particular order, here are 10 reflections on being a father…

  1. Nothing can truly prepare you for fatherhood. Read all the books and take all the classes. That’s all well and good, but fatherhood (like a combat zone) is something to be experienced on an individual basis.
  2. Fatherhood is humbling. It’s both a blessing and a burden. Like a teabag steeped in hot water, fatherhood teaches you a lot about your strengths and weaknesses as a man and as a leader.
  3. Sons are great, but girls are precious gifts from God. Yes, I know, technically (and biblically) both boys and girls are precious gifts/blessings from God, but here’s my point: Girls teach their dads so much about life – how to be gentle, how to truly comfort, how to be sensitive…Girls gift their dads with so much practical knowledge about life and relationships.
  4. Fatherhood is incomplete and lopsided without motherhood. Children need to learn how to lead and how to follow, how to work and how to play, how to speak and how to listen, etc. The binary complexities of life demand the beautiful (and biblical) binary design of a father and a mother in the home.
  5. I have high hopes and big dreams for my two sons. One was born in our bedroom (not the plan), the other was born on the sidewalk outside of a Chase bank in Mesa, Arizona (also not the plan). My boys and their unconventional births make me hope and pray that they grow up to become unconventional leaders in this messy, complicated world that they’re growing up in.
  6. Fatherhood requires wisdom…God’s wisdom, not man’s wisdom. I must look to the Lord in the Scriptures and in prayer if I’m to be the father that my children need me to be…Which leads to my seventh reflection…
  7. I may not be the best father out there, but I’m the best father my four children have. I mean, I know that I’m not getting everything right in how I parent my children, but I’m doing my best (usually – most of the time). This is why I apologize to my children when I mess up and why I’m always pointing them to their perfect Father in Heaven.
  8. Fatherhood provides intense joys. My kids have made me genuinely laugh so many times. From the things that they have said to the things that they have done, I am so grateful for these mini-comedians that God has given to me.
  9. My kids are still young (10, 8, 4, and 1). That means I have yet to experience the teenage years. Help me by praying for me.
  10. Fatherhood is both forever and momentary. Forever in that I will always be my kids’ father, but momentary in that I only have my kids in the home for a set period of time before they launch off into the world. Therefore, I must cherish each moment, knowing that one day I’m going to turn around and wish that I could have put time in a bottle and experience these days all over again…

“The Good Old Days…”

I think the older I get, the more nostalgic I get. Granted, I’m only 35 years old, but with the ever-increasing weight of changes in our society, I find myself longing for “the good old days”. Do you know what I mean?

I guess a very real part of me just hates change. And we’ve seen a massive amount of change since 2020, right? I mean, from the way we view and talk about race to the rising fuel at our gas pumps, change is all around us, and (in my opinion) mostly negative. Can’t we just go back to simpler times?

In fact, I was recently listening to the radio and heard the following song lyrics that really encapsulate what I’m feeling…

Ain’t it funny how life changes?
You wake up ain’t nothin’ the same, and life changes.
You can’t stop it; just hop on the train.
You never know what’s gonna happen.
You make your plans, and you hear God laughin’.
Life changes…

But those are just my feelings. What does God’s Word say? Listen to the gentle rebuke of Ecclesiastes 7:10…”Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” I like what Al Mohler has to say on this verse, “Life does not always present us with only one obviously right path to take. Instead, we must deeply discern which path is ‘better’ than the others…But we are certainly not helped along our way by yielding to this world’s corruption, impatience, touchiness, or nostalgia.”

Wow. Don’t you just love the clarity of God’s Word? Yeah, we might be deep “into our feels”, but God’s Word gives us the right interpretive grid to discern our very funny, fickle, fleeting emotions. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with reminiscing and appreciating certain aspects of the past, but there is an unhealthy obsession with the way things used to be. Indeed, obsessing over the past, to the point that you’re resistant to change, prevents you from growth. This is not wisdom. This is, in fact, foolishness.

I guess here’s the bottom line…Yes, life changes. Things are not the same as they were. Indeed, in some ways, life is better than it used to be, and, clearly, it’s worse in some ways as well. But as a believer in Jesus Christ, my ultimate hope is not in the way things used to be in the past (i.e., “the good old days”). No, my hope is in the future. I like how the Apostle Paul phrases it in Philippians 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will [in the glorious future] transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

So, if you’re anything like me, and you find yourself craving the simpler time period of the past, then let the Word of God rebuke you, like it did me…”Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?'” Look to the future, not the past. Look to the heavens, not to the earth. Look to the Word, not to your feelings. Look to Christ, not to yourself. As the Mandalorian would say, “This is the way.”