In A GIF World, Don’t Lose Your Voice…

I love GIFs!

Don’t you? They seem to capture our emotions and feelings in a way that mere words simply cannot. In fact, my siblings and I (along with my wife) are all part of a text messaging group through WhatsApp. We could literally go all day sending each other nothing but different GIFs. Sometimes our “GIF battles” get pretty hilarious, and crazy, but I love it!

But let me encourage all of us…In a GIF world, don’t lose your voice. That is to say, don’t lose the power and precision of your words. Yes, it’s true that most of our communication comes from our non-verbal expressions, but words are important and can give direction and clarity to our non-verbal expressions. Our friends and family need to not only know what we’re feeling (this is where emojis and GIFs are incredibly helpful), but they also need to know what we’re thinking (this is why our words matter)…For instance, you may send a sad GIF to your buddy like this one…

Which is super helpful in describing what you’re feeling, but it doesn’t explain why you’re feeling that way. So, here is where words are incredibly useful…

You get it, right? GIFs help us communicate feelings, but words help us communicate the thinking behind the feelings. Yes, words are still very important in our GIF world. So use them! And let’s be sure to use our words carefully, confidently, and with Christlikeness…Okay?

From the Associate Pastor’s Desk: The Impact of Ravi Zacharias On My Ministry

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“We have in the universities, the search for unity and diversity. That’s what university means. We have got unity and diversity in the effect of this universe. The only way to explain unity and diversity in the effect is if you’ve got unity and diversity in the first cause and the only way, we can truly find unity and diversity in the first place, is in the unity, and the diversity, and the community of the trinity.”

This quote by Ravi Zacharias was spoken by him at many speeches throughout the years of his ministry. As a young high school student, I received a recording of this speech. To this day, I do not know where the speech was given. I had the recording on a CD that someone had given my parents. Out of curiosity, I played that speech and was hooked. I was fascinated by the intelligence of what I was hearing from this godly teacher.

That moment had a profound impact on my life for what I believe are two reasons. One, I found someone who not only taught on the Word of God, but was able to answer skeptics in a way that was so intelligent and eloquent. He often used big words in combination with one another to such a point that I found it hard to keep up. This forced me to listen to the same teaching over and over again so as to absorb the point being made. This created a love in me for understanding the deep truths of God’s Word. This is so important for Christians. There are far too many tough questions that arise throughout our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, for us to casually accept simple, incomplete answers that do not measure up to the full council of God’s Word. God used Ravi to answer those tough questions in such profound ways.

Second, Ravi had such a gentle spirit whenever he taught. You could tell just by listening and observing him, that he deeply held these convictions, but was also deeply concerned with the souls of those he was speaking to. He was not concerned with “owning” somebody during a debate. He was concerned with reasoning his audience to the truth. While he always used such intelligent and articulate arguments, he understood that his words were not the solutions to the unbeliever or skeptic’s problem. He understood that he was only a tool God would use to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

We as Christians need to follow the example of this great man of God. It is not enough for us to give simple, unintelligent answers, nor will it win the day to argue someone into the kingdom. We must demonstrate a deep and practical understanding of the issues, but more than that, we need to demonstrate the same love our Savior displayed for us. We can certainly look to the example Ravi left for us.

In Ephesians chapter 4, the Apostle Paul says that God has gifted the church with certain people for the evangelism, teaching, and the building up of the body of Christ. Just a few verses later, he will exhort us to speak the truth in love and grow until we attain to maturity in Christ. My prayer is that I would be just one of the many faithful men who carry the baton of faith to the next generation. God gifted Ravi to the church for a time, but has now taken him home. Would God raise up many more men who, like Ravi, demonstrate the love and complexity of the truth once delivered to the saints.

When Death Comes Calling, Here Are Some Songs That Help Me Grieve…

The past couple of weeks have been emotionally hard for me…

Last week, a well-known and well-loved mega-church pastor, Darrin Patrick, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound…God surely used this man’s ministry in a powerful way in my life. I will miss Darrin, but I’m forever grateful for the impact he had on my life.

Then, just this week, our beloved Kenny Schipper slipped into Glory after decades of battling infection and disease…Oh, how I’ll miss this man’s larger than life personality, his big smile, and his warm heart. Yes, I will miss Kenny, but I’m forever grateful that God allowed my life to intersect with Kenny’s life at the exact moment that it did.

It certainly has been a hard couple of weeks…

And you know, death (in all of its’ ugly forms) is such a present and gut-wrenching reality for all of us. The Apostle Paul would go so far as to label death as our greatest enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). But, praise be to God, our evil enemy, death, does not have the final say. Yeah, you read that right. Death does NOT have the final say. Why? Because of Jesus! Because of Jesus and his perfect life, and his perfect death (in our place and for our sins), and his perfect resurrection, there is true hope and a sure future. Yes, for those who truly know Jesus, by grace through faith, we have hope of a perfect, peaceful future in the “great beyond.” Isn’t that a wonderful truth to marinate in?

But as we wait for that incredible future, our present reality is marked by death and all the pain and suffering that it inflicts upon the living. So, it’s important that we don’t stunt our humanity by failing to grieve and grieve well. Indeed, our bright future causes us to grieve with hope (1 Thess. 4:13)…Here are some songs that I personally listen to as I seek to grieve in the present while hoping for the future…I pray these songs bless you as they have me over and over and over again…

Prairie Flower Seeks To Improve Online Presence…

Online Presence #1

The turbulence of COVID-19 has afforded Prairie Flower Baptist Church some unique opportunities. One of those opportunities has come in the form of improving our online presence. For instance, our church app continues to be used to produce strong biblical content in the form of blogs, podcasts, and audio sermons. Indeed, our app just recently crossed 1,000+ downloads across iPhone and Android devices…Not bad for a church located in the middle of a cornfield! May God receive all the glory.

We also continue to use our website to communicate with our community and just recently gave our homepage a slight overhaul. As for social media, we have expanded our outreach, impact, and influence by posting more content than ever before, to include more videos throughout the week and Facebook Live on Sunday mornings. In addition to all these venues, we also jumped into the world of publishing content through our YouTube channel. We are still learning, growing, and developing in our capabilities (a big shout out to Pastor Tim and Will Luers who are leading in this initiative), but we have made some neat improvements in our ability to produce, not just strong biblical content, but well done videos.

Yes, COVID-19 certainly produced some turbulence, wrecking lots of our plans and programs, but (in the end) it birthed some unique opportunities for us to be innovative, experimental, and (hopefully) move to the next level of life and ministry. It’s been so neat to track our little improvements. Indeed, please know that we will always seek to keep improving in our ability to communicate the Gospel, whether it be in person or through the plethora of online platforms that are out there…Yes, we will always seek to improve. For example, check out the two videos below…See the difference in audio quality?

 

In Praise Of My Associate Pastor On His One-Year Anniversary!

Today is my Associate Pastor’s one-year anniversary out here on the prairie. And it certainly has been one wild year for him and his family. From selling and buying houses, moving from Altoona, IA to Kalona, IA, having their second child, getting acclimated to a new community and church, and (no big deal) learning to navigate the challenges of a global pandemic while seeking to minister to folks in creative ways, this certainly has been one interesting and crazy year for the Tim O’Tool family.

Indeed, Pastor Tim has survived one year of faithful ministry at Prairie Flower Baptist Church. I am so grateful for his ministry partnership and personal friendship. At Prairie Flower, he is my primary prayer partner, chief advisor, and my right hand man. I am so thankful for all that he does for our church family. From managing the Outfitters Student Ministry, to organizing Growth Groups, to doing plenty of “other duties as assigned”, I can always count on Pastor Tim to do an excellent and thorough job.

In recent weeks, the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic has certainly made our working relationship and friendship stronger than ever. Learning to “Pastor During a Pandemic” continues to be such a fun, wonky adventure! I wonder why they never offered us such a class in Bible College? 😉 Anyways, I have come to learn and appreciate many things about Pastor Tim over this past year, but especially these last six weeks. So, in praise of my Associate Pastor on his one-year anniversary, here are three things that Pastor Tim is absolutely awesome at…

1. He is a risk-taking optimist. Never afraid of the next challenge, Pastor Tim, though aware of the risk of any new endeavor, chooses to focus instead on the sweet rewards of whatever mission lies before him. You will often hear him say, “I can do that!” or “I’ll figure it out and get right on that.” He’s a risk-taker. But not just a risk-taker, he’s an optimist…a joyful optimist. You will often hear him whistling or humming throughout the church building. Frankly, such a joyful spirit annoyed me at first. “Why can’t he keep his whistling to himself,” I thought. But I’ve come to appreciate this risk-taking optimist, whistling and all. Lord knows we need such people in this crazy COVID-19 world we’re living in.

2. He is a Scripture-wielding prayer warrior. I love to pray with Pastor Tim. Almost every Wednesday morning you will find us in my study as we pray for our precious church family. And let me tell ya, listening to Pastor Tim talk to God is a treat. Scripture just oozes from him as he uses God’s own words as his own personal words to God. Yes, he is a Scripture-wielding prayer warrior! I have been challenged by him to not just read God’s Word, but to meditate and memorize it to the point that Scripture just leaks out of me.

3. He is a multi-tasking pro. For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I am a very focused do-one-task-at-a-time type of guy. That’s why I am so grateful for the multi-taskers in my life, not the least of which is Pastor Tim. He is a multi-tasking pro. Give him a task and he’ll just take the ball and run with it. From helping me think through a theological point for Sunday’s sermon, to doing research on how to best improve our lighting for our video sermons, to managing the details of our pavilion project, Pastor Tim can multi-task and get the job done.

Pastor Tim, it’s been a great year. Congratulations on your one-year anniversary. Don’t expect a blog post from me every year. Who knows, you might just get on my last nerve during your second year. Indeed, I expect more from you during your second round out here on the prairie. And as you know, I’m a hard boss to please with perfectionistic tendencies. So, good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

From The Associate Pastor’s Desk: COVID-19 & When Should We Reopen The Economy?

A couple nights ago, we had our first virtual youth group meeting over Zoom. Since it was a new concept to me and my students, I opened the floor to any questions. Now, I really meant for them to ask some Bible or theology questions since that is where my education and studies reside. Instead, I got the question, “Why don’t we open the economy?”

Well, that seems to be the question on everyone’s mind, right? Now I try to educate myself, to a certain degree, in a wide array of topics, but how was I qualified to answer this question? I imagine many people reading this have strong opinions one way or another, but I would like to discuss this for a little bit…

Since I am certainly no public health or economy expert, I will not be able to resolve this issue fully, nor would anyone listen even if I could. But let me reframe this issue and give you some thoughts…In reframing the issue, let’s ask, “What should we be considering, as Christians, when we ponder and discuss the idea of reopening the country?”

Let us first consider why the economy was closed in the first place. We were told by the politicians, health experts, and media that we needed to “flatten the curve.” Basically, the idea is that if too many people get COVID-19 at one time then the health care system would be overwhelmed and many people would die. Staying home was thought to help slow the spread of the disease to allow our hospitals to keep up. A secondary benefit is that health researchers could have more time to develop treatments and vaccines to help the infected, and allow hospitals time to ramp up supplies of life saving equipment. The cost of all these stay at home orders is that the economy has taken an unprecedented hit and tens of millions of people have lost their jobs.

So, that’s where we are now. We have two problems…One, a global pandemic that threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. And two, an economic catastrophe that could leave many jobless, homeless, and hopeless. To top it all off, there seems to be an extreme divide in how to proceed. Should we send everyone back to work and risk the rapid spread of the virus, or keep people home and risk the loss of human flourishing that will come from a sunk economy? This dilemma has led to some very uncivil discourse on the topic, as I’m sure you have all seen to one degree or another. So, I ask again, how can we, as Christians, approach this discussion?

To put it simply, just like anything else we do, we need to react in love. So, what does that look like in this context? It looks like us demonstrating to people that we value both life and human flourishing. More than that though, we value the souls of people. Let me ask you this, those of you who are pushing for the economy to be immediately reopened, is it obvious in your discourse that you recognize the consequences of the actions you are advocating? Is it obvious that you do want to protect human life? Or how about you who would say we need to keep everyone quarantined and “you are selfish and don’t care about others” if you think its OK to open the economy and go back to work, do you make it clear that you understand the consequences of the people trapped at home and without work?

So, what am I calling for right now? Just this, educate yourself to the best of your ability. That is your responsibility as a citizen of this great country. Then, have a civil discussion and count the cost of your actions, or the collective action, because, to be sure, there will be a cost. And lastly, value people’s eternal destiny more than anything else. As Christians, we are called to nothing less than to show the love of Christ in anything we do or say. So, have your educated opinion. Speak respectfully. And most of all, show the love of Christ in anything you do or say.

An Overview on the Book of Psalms

Psalms

We’re currently in a special COVID-19 mini-series entitled, “Timeless Truths In Turbulent Times.” This series is taking us through select psalms in the book of Psalms. So far we have examined three psalms in this series (Psalm 102, 77, and 23). This Sunday, we’ll be diving into a fourth psalm – Psalm 90! But let’s not mistake the trees for the forest…Below is a video that gives to us a 30,000 Foot Overview on the book of Psalms and helps us to see the whole forest in all of its’ magnificent glory…Enjoy!

Prairie Flower to Publish Good Friday Message Online!

Good Friday

In the midst of all the COVID-19 turbulence, Prairie Flower Baptist Church seeks to publish quality and timely biblical content. To that end, Prairie Flower will be publishing a Good Friday message on Friday, April 10. In this message, Pastor Dave will dissect the phrase “Christ Died For Us” from Romans Chapter 5. He will challenge all of us to reflect deeply on the ramifications of Christ’s death for us; and then motivate us to rejoice well over this life-changing Gospel fact. This message will graphically articulate the crucifixion of Jesus and will also include a special reading from Prairie Flower’s Associate Pastor, Tim O’Tool, as he recites (from memory) Isaiah 53. Please plan now to tune into this message via our app, website, YouTube channel, or on Facebook. And be sure to share it with your family and friends!

Romans 5:6-8

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

From the Desk of the Associate: Hope in a Time of Fear

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How do you think people will talk about the year 2020 in 50 years? How about 100 or a 1000 years? What about in 2750 years? Isaiah the prophet wrote about an event that took place that long ago. The event he talked about was a time of great doubt and fear, you could even say panic. The kingdom of Judah and its king, Ahaz, were facing a very serious threat to their very existence. Their neighbors all around them had decided to declare war on them. Not only that but in the early battles of the war, Judah had experienced defeat on a massive scale. They had basically been pushed back all the way to their capital and had lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers and many more civilians as slaves. It is hard for us to understand something like this in our day. It’s as if our greatest enemies had invaded the U.S. and conquered almost all our people and territory. Isaiah describes the hearts of the people of Judah like trees shaking in the forest on a windy day.

Can you imagine how you would feel when faced with such an existential threat? While the threat of the COVID-19 virus is serious, I think we can be thankful that at least, at the time of this writing, it is not as serious as the threat that faced the nation of Judah. That said, there are lessons I think we can take from that time period and apply them to our current situation.

It’s easy in times like these for Christians to immediately assume this is a judgement from God on sinful humanity. That might be the case here, but it would be arrogant and irresponsible to jump to that conclusion. But with that said, let us assume for a minute, for sake of argument, that this is a judgment from God. Can we think of any reasons why God would be judging our world? For Christians the answer is easily yes. From abortion, to sexual deviancy, perverted justice, and the oppression of the poor and afflicted. Every country is guilty of these things to one degree or another so there is ample reason for God to be judging our world. The same could be said of the nation of Judah and its king, Ahaz. You see, Ahaz had led the nation away from serving their rightful God, Yahweh, to serve the gods of their neighbors. Ahaz had set up altars and images to Baal and not only worshiped this false god but also lead the nation to serve this false god as well. An essential worship rite of this religion involved infanticide. That’s right, offering your own children to the fires of these demon gods.

We know that it was because of this practice that God allowed Judah to be defeated. You can read of this in 2 Chronicles 28:9-11. Returning to Isaiah, we can see in chapter 7 that God was still wanting to be merciful. In fact, he sent Isaiah the prophet to Ahaz almost offering him the chance to repent and turn to God. Ahaz refused this opportunity to receive Yahweh’s mercy. God told Ahaz to ask for any sign he wanted that the Lord would be on the side of Judah and offer them mercy. Now at this point in the story, I want to pull my hair out and just tell Ahaz to humble himself and return to the Lord. If I had the chance to ask anything of the Lord, I would ask for an amazing miracle that would completely alter the situation. Instead, Ahaz would rather trust in his own wisdom and in the strength of the foreign superpower Assyria to fight his battle. This would not come without a cost because, though Assyria helped Judah defeat her enemies, they would later come and dominate and oppress the land of Judah. Worse than this, the alliance lead Ahaz further into idolatry.

Even though Ahaz had again spit in the face of Yahweh, the God of Israel, God would still be merciful to the nation. This mercy revealed itself in the fulfillment of this prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” That’s right! The ultimate hope in this dark situation that the nation found themselves in was that God would come and live among them. He would fight for them and deliver them from their enemies. What an awesome hope that is. And the best part for us today is that though the nation of Judah would have to wait 700 years for the fulfillment of that hope, we get to look back and see that God did indeed come to live among us. He also defeated our ultimate enemies, sin and death, in His body on the cross and the resurrection from the dead. And best part of all of this is that He still lives with us today and will live with us forever.

So, as the world reacts to the current situation with fear and doubt, with hearts shaking as trees in a forest on a windy day, we can instead react with confidence that God is on the throne. Our Lord will be merciful and indeed He already has been merciful. Let us point others to the hope found in our great God who will not let His anger burn forever nor will He leave us or forsake us. And as we celebrate the Resurrection this year, more than any other, let us remember the words from 1 Corinthians 15:19-20, “If we have placed our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more that anyone. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Brothers and sisters, our hope does not rest in finding a cure for this disease (though we pray for one), nor is it in the strength of our economy (though we pray for that too). No, our hope rests in the fact that Jesus achieved the cure to the disease of sin, and that we are heirs of the wealth of the King.

Leadership Is Hard: A Call To Respect, Decorum, & Prayer In An Uncivil Era

Hard Work

Leadership under the best circumstances is hard. Leading people to accomplish tasks and goals is easy to talk about in a classroom, but difficult to do in real life. Yes, leadership even in the best of times is hard, hard work.

But leadership becomes nearly overwhelming in a moment of crisis. In a crisis moment, the leader (who is very much human) is sometimes physically exhausted, mentally drained, and emotionally tapped out. There can be overwhelming pressure to make decisions with limited (even inconsistent) information. Providing leadership in a crisis can be beyond difficult.

Such is the case with many of our government leaders. The stress and uncertainty of COVID-19 is making leadership incredibly difficult. I see this with our Governor here in Iowa. Her name is Governor Reynolds and she is doing her absolute best to guide our state through these turbulent times. But there are some critics out there who think they know better and they’re all too eager to share their passionate opinions…

“You’re moving too slow!”

“You’re moving too fast!”

“Order the shelter in place!”

“It’s not that big of a deal so stop freaking people out!”

“You’re going to get us all killed!”

Listen…Here’s the thing with a crisis…Mistakes will be made. In hindsight, timing will (most likely) prove to be an issue in that we moved too slow or we moved too fast. Our Governor is having to make decisions, based upon facts and experts, under the enormous pressure of not only what the other state governors are doing, but also under the angry public opinion of some of her people.

I guess I just want to caution all of us, especially us out here on the prairie, to slow our roll with the criticisms of our government leaders. Certainly, you are entitled to your opinion, but leadership is hard even in the best of circumstances. What the Iowa Governor needs, and what all of our government leaders need, is not our nasty comments, but our respect…not our emotional opinions, but our decorum…and certainly they need not our disdain (“Oh, I could do it better!”), but our prayers…

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” – 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Just some thoughts as we all weather this storm together. And Prairie Flower, as always, God bless you guys…I do love you guys…And I’ll see you when I see you…Take care.