The Highway of Sand and Stars

sand and stars highway

This is a blog post that I wrote back in April 2018 (perhaps one of the most difficult months of my entire life), but it’s worth reposting again (with some slight revisions) and perhaps reading again…

Like Sand Through Our Fingers

My wife and I are originally from Pensacola, Florida. When we have time and opportunity, we like to visit our hometown and stroll through the downtown area and walk on the very famous Pensacola Beach. The sand there is white. Indeed, if you’re originally from up north, the very first time you encounter white sand, your mind interprets such an oddity as snow…at least that’s what my brain did. But this sand is white, beautiful, and on a hot Florida day, will scorch your feet.

When I encounter such white sand, I always do the same thing…I’ll bend down and pick up the biggest handful I can muster. Do you know what happens when I do this? Inevitably, the sand will begin to run through the cracks of my fist; and as I slowly release this clump of sand, the rest of it will quickly and decisively throw itself back to the ground.

You know, I’m convinced that our attempts at finding ultimate joy, beauty, and satisfaction in this world are a lot like my attempts to hold this white Florida sand. Inevitably, all that we try to grab in this life for ultimate satisfaction runs through the cracks of our fist and leaves us empty and dry. Do you know what I mean? Perhaps this describes you right now. Are you desperately clinging to this life (family, work, money, land, education, travel) hoping for ultimate happiness? Like sand through your fingers, such attempts will leave you with nothing.

Stars In the Night Sky

So, like fools starring in our own parade, we look for bigger and bigger thrills. Indeed, I am convinced that mankind is in an unending pursuit of one powerful drug…wonder! We want to be amazed, inspired, and wowed by something that is so far beyond us, yet easily obtainable by us. We are creatures desperate for wonder…for amazement. We look to the stars on a chilly, clear evening and we make our wishes for happiness, treasure, or love. But even if we got these dreams to come true, would it ever be enough? I think not…

Satan’s Stunning Offer of Everything

One of the most amazing events recorded in the Sacred Text centers around the person and offer of Satan. You’ll remember the story… “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil” (Matthew 4:1). Remember the three temptations of Satan towards Jesus? The third and final temptation blows my mind the most… “Again, the Devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me'” (Matthew 4:8-9).

Do you realize what Satan was offering Jesus?! One word: Everything. Jesus was offered “all the kingdoms of the world AND their glory.” Jesus was offered it all…Jesus was offered all that this world has to offer in terms of joy, beauty, and satisfaction. And how did Jesus respond… “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” What? Why? How would you have responded if Satan legitimately offered you everything your heart so desperately craves?

Jesus and His Humble Forfeiture

Jesus once said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” It’s a fair question. But think about the direct implication of this question. Jesus was and is forcing people to choose: This world OR me? Jesus is essentially asking, “Do you want ‘all the kingdoms of this world and their glory’ OR do you want me?”

“Isn’t this a false dichotomy?” “Can’t I have both?” “Can’t I have sand, stars, and all the happiness that this world has to offer AND my Jesus too?” “Do I really have to choose?”

Yes, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” You can’t have this world and Jesus too. You just can’t. You must make a decision. Unfair? Too much pressure to decide? Maybe, but that’s the reality we all face.

The Curious Case of Solomon

The wisest and wealthiest man to ever live on planet earth can also vouch for the need to choose between this world (and its glory) and God (and His glory). In his book entitled, Ecclesiastes, Solomon describes his pursuit of joy, beauty, and satisfaction via the Highway of Sand and Stars. He said, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after the wind…” (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11).

What is Solomon saying here? Simply put, at the end of the Highway of Sand and Stars is mere emptiness that will leave you thirsty for more. Oh, you’ll have fun and enjoy yourself, but (in the end) you’ll remain empty. Laughter, wine, houses, gardens, cattle, sex, and song were not enough to satisfy the longing and aching of Solomon’s heart. Indeed, he had it all…and it still wasn’t enough…

Our Schizophrenic Pursuit of Satisfaction

As a local church pastor, I meet so many people who are on this quest for ultimate satisfaction. They try to fill a Gospel-sized hole with anything and everything except Jesus. But it’s Jesus alone that will satisfy. Do you believe that? Will you choose to believe it again?

Friend, I know it sounds cliché, and perhaps some nut jobs out there have tainted this message with their presentation of it, but the truth remains, Jesus (and a dynamic, deep relationship with Him) is the ONLY thing that will satisfy the cravings of your heart. Nothing else will satisfy. Not food, drink, pills, sex, education, children, houses, vacations, chocolate, movies, songs, power, fame, money, or any other experience this world has to offer will satisfy your longings.

Indeed, think about it, the Highway of Sand and Stars was never meant to satisfy the deepest longings of your soul. Perhaps this highway was just meant to stir your soul toward greater and deeper affections? Perhaps, by the grace of God, at the end of the Highway of Sand and Stars is Jesus Himself wooing you to something better? I mean, just ask the Wise Men. What was at the end of their literal Highway of Sand and Stars?

I beg of you, quit the schizophrenic pursuit of satisfaction by looking to the “kingdoms of this world and their glory.” Look instead to your Savior, Jesus Christ, and with bold faith say to Him, “I can’t see you now. I can’t hold you now. But I’ll worship you and serve you with love and passion.” And in the end, such a life won’t be sand running through your fingers, or some shooting star in the night sky, no, it will be life, joy, blessing, and glory forevermore.

My Fifth Year as Pastor

shepherd_sheep

In just a couple of days, I finish my fifth year (and will enter my sixth year) as the Lead Pastor of Prairie Flower Baptist Church. I can hardly believe how fast time has seemingly zipped by. Indeed, “swift fly the years.” Can I get a witness?

I was barely 26 years old when I took on the joyful burden of being one of the pastors at Prairie Flower. I am now 31 (almost 32 come January 2019) and over the years I have grown and learned so much. This is not an exaggeration. I knew barely anything about pastoral ministry when I began five years ago, but I’ve gleaned so much experience over the years. Yes, I have a lot more to learn, but by the grace of God, here’s some lessons I’ve learned along the way…

  1. Pastoral ministry has many periods, fewer exclamation points, and more question marks then I initially realized. Check out my Facebook post from five years ago…”Preparing for the weekend! For those of you who don’t know, I am candidating for the position of Pastor at Prairie Flower Baptist Church in Washington, IA! I’m super excited! Please pray for me and my family…we need grace, strength, energy, and wisdom from above! And as always…I love you Heather and Ann-Marie…you two are my greatest earthly treasures!” Not necessarily a bad post, but did you notice that every one of my sentences ended in an exclamation point? There are a total of five exclamation points in this one post. I almost wish I could go back in time and coach myself with the wisdom that ministry has moments of excitement, but pastoral ministry is mostly made up with good old-fashioned (sometimes boring) periods, and way more question marks then anyone truly cares for.
  2. Pastoral ministry is slow progression in a fast-paced world. In other words, there is nothing really fast-paced about pastoral ministry. Indeed, sanctification is slow (for the pastor and his people). Change, in the church, is slow (especially for the pastor). Growth (whether spiritual or numerical) is mostly slow. Yes, pastoral ministry is slow progression in a fast-paced world. In fact, if you want to thrive in pastoral ministry you must embrace the slowness of life and ministry, not buck against it.
  3. Pastoral ministry (at times) will tear your emotional guts out while simultaneously reminding you that God is always good. I have said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but I have never cried so much in my entire life as I have in pastoral ministry. The ministry is so emotionally exhausting at times! Yes, I know I used an exclamation point there, but it is definitely warranted. As a pastor, you minister to people who are both perpetrators of pain, and victims of pain, and all of that causes deep pain within your own life. I have gone to my garage many a time and simply wept over people, their sin, and their pain. My heart hurts for the evil and sin in this world. Indeed, if I’m not careful I can find myself in a carnival of despair and depression. But just as soon as the dark becomes really dark, God (time and time again) rushes in and reminds me of His goodness. How? All kinds of ways…from people, to nature, to an intrusive, but beautiful thought…Yes, God reminds me (especially in the darkest night of soul) that He is near, and He cares, and He is good.
  4. Pastoral ministry is done by sinners for sinners. There is no getting around it. I am a pastor and I am a sinner. No amount of pastoring will ever obliterate my sin nature. I still get angry, prideful, and gluttonous. Does that list disturb you? It shouldn’t…and it could be longer. Indeed, if you’re reading this, you have the same heart I do and, according to Jeremiah the prophet, it’s so sick and deceitful, who can know it?! But by the grace of God, I am saying “no” to my sinful flesh more today than I did five years ago, and God still chooses to use me despite all that I am (i.e. a sinner) and all that I am not (i.e. fully sanctified). The same is true with you. Aren’t you glad?
  5. Pastoral ministry (specifically at Prairie Flower Baptist Church) is a joy. I was recently reading in my personal devotions through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He says this in the fourth chapter, “Therefore, my brothers (and sisters), whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” Wow. I read those words and just stopped for a moment. I thought to myself, “Could I really say this about the people of Prairie Flower and actually mean it?” Then I began to think of all the people that make up this precious church…So many names, so many precious people…And I concluded, you know, I’m no Apostle Paul, but I love the people of Prairie Flower. They took a risk on me, bringing me as their pastor at barely 26 years of age, with no prior experience at all…Yes, they took a risk on me, and gave me grace upon grace upon grace as I made many mistakes. Simply put, they have loved me these past five years. How could I not love them in return? Indeed, I love the people of Prairie Flower and pray that I grow in my love and admiration for them.

Just some thoughts as I get ready to exit year five of pastoral ministry and enter year six. Nothing mind-blowing or earth-shattering here…and that’s ok. Why? Well, I still have much to learn in the years to come…thanks for reading.

Annual Election of Officers

Elections

Just a reminder that our Annual Election of Officers is fast approaching! All church members, who are 14 years of age or older, are kindly invited to prayerfully nominate and then vote for individuals in the following categories: Deacon, Clerk, Financial Secretary, Treasurer, and Sunday School Superintendent. Indeed, just this week, we sent out a letter to all church members, outlining this year’s nomination and election process. Here are some of the main details to be aware of…

Sunday, October 28 – Nomination of Officers Commences…Our nomination ballot box is located in the church foyer… 

Sunday, November 11 – Nomination of Officers Closes…Our Nomination and Election Committee will meet on this Sunday to contemplate the official ballot…

Monday, November 12 – Wednesday, November 21 – The Nomination and Election Committee will contact nominees to see if they’re interested in serving…These individuals must reply by the close of business (5 PM) on Wednesday, November 21…

Sunday, November 25 – We will post the official ballot of our 2019 Officer Nominees…Posting of nominees will be done on the church bulletin board and via our church app…

Sunday, December 9 – Annual Election of Officers…Election will be held by secret ballot…

All elected officers will take office on January 1, 2019. Please be in prayer concerning who you would have serve and if God is leading you to serve at Prairie Flower Baptist Church! 

2018 Midterm Elections: Prayer Guide…

Election Day

The 2018 midterm elections are upon us! Yes, I know, this time of year can awaken our fleshly desires to complain, worry, and become angry, but God calls on us to simply pray “for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:2a). To help you pray, below is a wonderful Prayer Guide provided by our friends at the Family Leader. Indeed, be sure to pray for these items and when the time is right (i.e. November 6th), get out there and vote!

October 11 – Zechariah 4:6, “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Pray a mighty move of the Holy Spirit across this land will bring about genuine repentance by all.

October 12 – “Lord, have mercy on our country which ‘calls evil good and good evil’ (Isaiah 5:20); raise up leaders who will not compromise with evil, but will stand on the Word of God.”

October 13 – Pray the governing authorities take their established place as a servant of God. May they govern to do good toward their citizens and to discipline the wrongdoer (Romans 13:1-5).

October 14 – As citizens of the U.S.A., give thanks for the opportunity to vote in the election process. May our votes advance God’s kingdom purposes.

October 15 – Pray for voters to have a hunger for truth, a determination to learn truth, and courage to stand for truth.

October 16 – “In the midst of political, racial, and church division, we pray God’s people will bring the message of peace in Christ Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace.”

October 17 – “May our citizens understand that our government should be rooted on biblical values with the intent to submit to God’s divine order.”

October 18 – “May the Church of Christ humble herself before God and be reconciled with each brother/sister in Christ, so that restoration can begin across any racial, economic, or political divides.”

October 19 – 1 Samuel 2:30, “Those who honor me I will honor.” Pray our elected men and women will choose to honor God and commit to live by His principles.

October 20 – “Father, we ask that you will place leaders in office who uphold the divine institutions of marriage and family” (Psalm 127:1).

October 21 – Pray elected officials are capable of discerning good from evil, and therefore able to provide a peaceable land for its citizens to live (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

October 22 – Matthew 6:13, “Lead us not into temptation.” Pray that God reveals in our hearts the tendencies we have in this volatile political process to compromise our kingdom values and seek our own political agendas.

October 23 – Pray for those Christian leaders who are in office to be a strong voice of truth and able to take up the shield of faith in defense of religious liberty.

October 24 – Pray God will work through his Body of Believers to transform culture. “Enable your servants to boldly speak the Word and perform wonders in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:23-31).

October 25 – “Our hope is in the Lord, and as a Body of Believers we do have a responsibility to contend for the faith. May God’s people stand firm.”

October 26 – “May the people of our nation hear the Gospel message, repent, and turn to God so that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

October 27 – Pray the Christian voting bloc would cease complaining about the political process, and seek the Lord’s direction in how to engage in the process and be a light in the world.

October 28 – Our God is the giver of divine wisdom. Pray for present and future judges to make decisions in line with God’s decrees. Pray His Word be the standard for our judicial branch.

October 29 – “Raise up a Body of Believers, a remnant, who are brought to complete unity to let the world know of God’s love for people in Christ Jesus” (cf. John 17).

October 30 – “May racial harmony begin in the Body of Christ, so that our oneness in Jesus Christ would positively influence our communities, schools, and businesses (Philippians 2:1-3). Father, help us to hear above the political chatter, your voice of wisdom and truth.”

October 31 – Today, renew your commitment to pray for our authorities: President, Congress, Justices, Law Enforcement, Diplomats, Governors, and Mayors (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

November 1 – Pray each believer will be an equipped and informed citizen. May they research trustworthy sources of information, seek the Lord, and vote.

November 2 – Pray for protection of each candidate seeking an elected office, and pray for their families to be guarded and strengthened in the Lord.

November 3 – “Father, raise up leaders at all levels of government who value the dignity of every human life.”

November 4 – “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 3:3). Pray our country and world will hear the Gospel truth this election.

November 5 – Let us put our hope in the sovereign power of our LORD God who alone can deliver. The strength of man’s army or worldly knowledge cannot save (Psalm 33:12-19).

November 6 – In the days to follow the election, “Show respect for everyone. Love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God. Show respect for the king” (1 Peter 2:17). To God be the glory!

To My Younger Brother Before He Heads Into the Army…

Band of Brothers

As some of you may or may not know, my younger brother, Steven (Age 20), has just joined the U.S. Army. He heads off for Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia in just four days. Words fail to fully explain just how proud I am of my brother. Indeed, we’ve become brothers three times over with his recent enlistment. That is to say, we are blood brothers, spiritual brothers, and now military brothers…and that type of threefold brotherhood is incredibly strong.

In fact, just last week, I spent the weekend with Steven in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville was a good half-way point for us as he lives in Florida and I live in Iowa. We rented a cabin in the woods and spent some quality time bonding, exploring some cool sites, and (of course) I gave to him a ton of brotherly advice about life in the military. It was so good to spend some time with my brother. Indeed, I shall cherish the memories of that weekend for a long time to come.

Well, Steven, just in case I forgot to say it last weekend. Here are my top seven pieces of advice (in no particular order) as you head into the Army…

  1. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Don’t be half-hearted in any of your tasks. From mopping the floor to leading the formation, mop and lead with passion.
  2. Never forget who you really are. You are not simply a United States Army Soldier; you’re a Born-Again United States Army Soldier. You belong to Jesus Christ! Never forget that.
  3. Being a man is so much more than speaking loudly and lifting heavy stuff. Being a man entails things like graciousness and gentleness. Approach manhood with this balanced approach and you’ll find yourself successful both in the field and in the ballroom.
  4. The day you find a young lady that makes you understand God better, marry that girl. Yes, buy a ring (a nice one), get down on one knee, and wax eloquent concerning your undying love for her. I promise you, you’ll not regret this.
  5. Speaking of regret, the longer you live, the more regrets you’ll accumulate. I know there are people out there who say that you can live with no regrets (and to a point I understand what they mean), but to be a fallen human is to live with some degree of regret. Just remember, as Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
  6. Life in the military will take you many places. Indeed, some of those places will quite literally be “the valley of the shadow of death.” But remember, you don’t have to be overcome by fear in this valley because God Himself is always with you. So, when the darkness is very dark and the way seems difficult, cry out to Him, He’s always there.
  7. I don’t care what the news reports say, we live in the absolute best country on the planet. I love being an American. I know you do as well. So, serve your country with honor. Remember to read your Bible and pray often. Volunteer to do hard things. And if need be, die like a man…die like a solider…because, in the end, this world (and even our precious American way of life) is not the end, there is eternity that awaits us.

I love you, Steven. I am so very proud of you. I’ve told you plenty of my own stories, it’s now time for you to live your own story. I can’t wait to hear of all your adventures. Stay safe. I’ll see you when I see you…

 

From The Associate Pastor’s Desk: The Gospel and Weddings

close up of wedding rings on floor

Photo by Megapixelstock on Pexels.com

This may come as a surprise to some, but on Saturday I will be officiating my third wedding! The reason many do not know about these weddings is because all three of them have been for unsaved, military couples that live well outside of Washington, Iowa. It has been a surprising ministry opportunity to say the least. I never would have thought that I would be able to minister to fellow soldiers in this way. The reason I have chosen to officiate for my comrades is because weddings are a great way to plant seeds of the Gospel!

However, there has been one challenging aspect in sharing the Gospel during these weddings. Because the couples live so far away, it is very difficult to find multiple opportunities to share the Gospel with them

Despite this challenge, I still do my best to share God’s Word with them. Typically, I meet with them at least three times throughout the whole wedding process. During those times, I certainly do a lot of other things as well, such as get to know the spouse, help plan the ceremony, do some marriage counseling, conduct the rehearsal, interact with strange people in the wedding party, and then do the wedding itself. Nonetheless, using the event as a platform to share the Gospel is always my goal throughout the process!

This is normally how it is done:

During the first meeting, we all three get to know each other and plan the wedding ceremony. I don’t necessarily whip open my Bible the first chance I get in this meeting; but I do give them a glimpse of the Gospel by caring for them, getting to know them, sharing my testimony with them, and serving them throughout the whole planning process.

My second meeting gets a little more serious, and I always warn them of this in meeting number one. During this time, I try to fit probably 3-4 weeks of counseling into an hour or two… This can be a real challenge, but it has always been beneficial and a lot of fun! I first make clear that I want them to have great wedding; but more than that I want them to great marriage. My goal is to always hit home three biblical truths that can really lay a good foundation for any marriage whether you are saved or not!

  • “Love is a choice and not feeling” – This is hugely important to understand and is also easily misunderstood in today’s society. This is also a great place to insert the Gospel with John 3:16. God was not “in love” with mankind, therefore He sent Jesus; instead He chose to love mankind, therefore He sent Jesus.
  • “Marriage is a commitment to love and not a commitment because of love” – It is a commitment before God be unified to and to love only that other person for the rest of your life.
  • “Marriage is picture of Jesus and the Church and not just a piece of paper” – This is another great place to insert the Gospel by explaining the picture of husbands loving their wives and wives following their husbands as is laid out in Ephesians 5.

 

The last time I see the couple is at the rehearsal and on the wedding day itself. This is yet another opportunity to love on them, be a good testimony, and share the Gospel one last time with both them and everyone watching the ceremony. God has called His people to make disciples and to be proclaimers of the Gospel in everything we do–this is just one very practical and enjoyable way God has given me to share! Do people come sprinting down the aisle at the end of weddings to get saved? No, but the opening of God’s Word and picture of marriage does plant seeds, and it also opens the door for more conversation later.

Two weeks after this wedding, I have opportunity to officiate my first wedding with a saved couple. It has been and will be a whole new joyful experience; but I will have to share that with you another time!

An Interview With My Daughter…

Ann-Marie.jpg

Today is Take Your Daughter To Work Day! Yes, today I had the privilege of hanging out with my daughter, Ann-Marie (Age 6), while Heather took the two younger children to her MOPS Meeting (Mothers of Preschoolers). Time spent with my kids is always a precious time…even if it’s in the “boring office” (my daughter’s words, not mine). So, to liven things up for my daughter (and me), I decided to interview my daughter on her concepts of life, school, friendships, the church, and the Lord. Here’s what she had to say…

Me – “So, tell us a little bit about yourself.”

Ann-Marie – “Well, I like Caesar salads, and playing outside with my brother, and reading books during school.”

Me – “Ok. What would you say is the most important thing to remember in life?”

Ann-Marie – “That God is in control…”

Me – “Good answer! Next, tell us what you enjoy most about being homeschooled.”

Ann-Marie – “Well, Mom is the best teacher and it’s really fun being homeschooled.”

Me – “Alright. Tell us about your friends. How many friends do you have? And what’s the most important part about being a friend?”

Ann-Marie – “Well, I have three friends from camp and two from church; and the most important part of being a friend is that we should remember to help our friends when they’re hurt…or when they’ve lost their dog…”

Me – “Very good. Next, tell us what you like most about being a part of Prairie Flower Baptist Church.”

Ann-Marie – “Well, we have good teachers here that teach us the true Gospel.”

Me – “Ok. What else comes to your mind when you think about this church?”

Ann-Marie – “Well, when I think about this church, I think about a lot of things. But this is a good church and I really think that there’s good pastors and good teachers and good friends here…”

Me – “I like your answer. Final question…tell us about your relationship with the Lord. You just got saved last month, tell us about that.”

Ann-Marie – “Well, I got saved last month and my parents helped me and it was a very good moment because I really got to know the Lord. I’m glad I got saved because I knew something was wrong and I needed to really know the Lord…and my relationship with the Lord is good…it’s serious. I like to pray to Him and read the Bible…which you can always do, even if you’re busy…”

Some great answers, huh? I really enjoyed conducting this little interview with my daughter and I trust that some of her responses blessed and encouraged your heart. Have a good one!