“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.”

From the Desk of the Associate: Summer Nights of Prayer

Spring is almost over and summer will soon be here in full swing. It seems that summer almost always brings a new schedule and a new rhythm. Being in rural Iowa, spring is nothing if not busy. There’s always planting season to contend with, not to mention the school year wrapping up and the early summer sports schedule heating up. Soon many of us will be traveling on summer vacations and summer camp. With all this busyness its easy to let prayer go by the wayside. In generations past, Wednesday night prayer meeting was a staple for almost all local churches. It seems now that for most of us, prayer sounds like a good idea but we mostly fill our evenings with everything under the sun. I get it, you’re busy. I’m busy too. We’re all busy. Many of us with good things. However, I think that prayer, and in particular, corporate prayer is more necessary now than it has ever been.

For as long as I have been alive, it seems that I have heard from my parents and other older Christians that our country and world are headed down hill fast. In fact, the older I get the more I find myself being that older Christian who tells the same thing to the younger generation. It seems though like we spend far more time and energy complaining and bemoaning a bygone era when we were a Christian nation then we do lifting our country and world up to the One who can truly do anything about it. What happened to Paul’s command in 1 Timothy 2:1-3? “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. That is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” It seems that most of us, me included, probably do a very bad job at fulfilling this command.

With all the things that need to be fixed in the world today, how can we not strive to discipline ourselves to the practice of prayer? Corporate prayer is one of the most important things a church does. One reason it is so vital is that it helps us to fulfill the command from Hebrews 3:13, “But exhort one another every day as long as it is called today, lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” When we come together as a body it both implicitly and explicitly encourages one another to be mindful of the danger of sin and our dependance on God for deliverance.

So, for these, and so many other reasons, we will be having Summer Nights of Prayer on the following dates: June 29th, July 27th, and August 31st. Please mark these dates on your calendar so you are able to come and pray with your church family this summer!

From the Desk of the Associate: What’s in a Name?

This week I am preparing to preach on Genesis chapter 11. I am planning to focus on the first 9 verses which detail an interesting account of the famed Tower of Babel. On the surface a modern reader may wonder what the problem with this account is. After all, what is so wrong about being unified around a tower and a city. Wasn’t mankind supposed to take dominion of the earth? And isn’t part of taking dominion and displaying God’s image using the intellect and resources at our disposal to build amazing things? And wouldn’t so many of our problems be solved if we could all just understand one another better?

Well, you don’t have to dig very deep to learn that the people who built this tower and city were not simply trying to find their way in a hostile environment. They were actively trying to throw off the shackles of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and to spread out and “teem” on the earth. These people were hell bent on doing things their own way. This is signaled to us in what they built, a tower, and what they wanted to create, a name for themselves.

First the tower in the ancient world was likely a ziggurat. These were temples whereby humanity believed themselves to be accessing the realm of the gods. In building this tower to reach to the heaven mankind was trying to access and control God on their terms. They not only disregarded his commands to spread out and fill the earth, they thought that through their own strength they could access God and perhaps even storm the gates of heaven. This really was an echo of the original fall. In that fall Adam and Eve grasped at the ability to define good and evil on their terms. In this tower account, mankind grasped at the ability to be gods again by trying to access God’s throne. God decided that the unity of mankind in this case would only lead him to more and more rebellion and therefore more and more ruin. Not that God was threatened by such puny creatures, God just knew that they would spiral into all sorts of evil if they remained united in their rebellion. So, even in God’s judgment, we see that God was really showing these rebels mercy. Instead of destruction all they receive is dispersal.

And second, we see in the people’s desire to “make a name for ourselves,” another rejection of their creator and His ways. You see, this concept of a name was very significant. It meant glory, honor, and fame. All things that belong to God but things that we seem to always be attempting to get on our own terms. The ultimate name, the name that is above every name has been given to Jesus because at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God. We see right after the tower of Babel narrative another account that includes a name. When God called Abram, a no name from Ur, God promised him many things but not least of this was the promise to make his name great. God would grant Abram a name that Abram did not earn but one that God gave him because He is a gracious God. Oh, and what name did the men of the tower attain? Babel, a name that means confusion because it never fails that when man exalts himself, God will bring him low.

So what’s in a name? Everything!

A Birthday, Wedding, & Funeral…

If you spend any amount of time with me, inevitably, you’ll hear these words: Pastoring may be many things, but it’s certainly not boring. It’s true. Shepherding is often a chaotic mix of joy and sorrow as one interacts in the lives of the different members of his flock. I love this about pastoral ministry! You never know what a day may bring forth…

Take today for instance…Yes, today was already slotted to be a busy day with sermon prep, blogging 🙂 and general administrative work. I also had two other exciting items on my to-do list: celebrate my wife’s birthday AND finalize details for my brother’s wedding next week in Florida. A birthday to celebrate and a wedding to finalize…How exciting!

But then, in the sovereignty of God, my phone buzzed me awake a little before 6am. Through tears, a precious daughter told me that her father had suddenly and unexpectedly entered into the arms of Jesus earlier this morning. Yes, as the sun was rising over the prairie, God added another item to my to-do list: prepare for the burial of a friend, fellow veteran, and loyal church member – Mr. Ron Gates.

Man alive, I’m going to miss Ron. His family knew him as a great husband and father, kids thought he looked like Santa Claus, but I’ll remember him as the man who always kept me on my toes in the ministry. Often, he would come up to me after a sermon and say, “Your message was ok. You did alright. Thank you for that.” He never laid on the compliments too thick or too light, but always just right. Indeed, I’ll miss his humility-inducing compliments and his big, big smile!

Yes, a birthday to celebrate. A wedding to finalize. And a funeral to plan. And all in one day! Again, this is the joyful sobriety of pastoral ministry. You are called upon to enter into people’s highs and lows, always reminding them that this life is not all there is, there’s an eternity that awaits us…

You know, it has been said, “Today matters because tomorrow can’t be assumed.” A birthday party, as great as it might be, points us forward to the day when there won’t be a birthday to celebrate anymore. A wedding, as exciting and momentous as it might be, points us to the inevitable finish line – “till death do us part”. Yes, it’s amazing how the very end of life (i.e., a funeral) helps us prioritize and cherish the very beginning parts of life, like births and weddings.

Ron’s sudden homegoing is yet another reminder to live life now, to laugh now, to love now, and to lead now! Why? “Because tomorrow can’t be assumed.” Certainly, for those who die in Jesus, “it is not death to die.” There’s an eternity that awaits us! But before we get to the other side, before we experience fullness of joy, before we sink our eyes into our Savior’s face, we live in the here and now…So, let’s cut the birthday cake and the wedding cake, relishing each special moment, taking it all in, realizing that the end is coming; and (I think) when we finally step into the great beyond, we’ll realize that this life really did matter, and that every little joy and every little smile was merely the prelude – a shadow – an appetizer – the precursor for something that all of our hearts yearn for – perfect satisfaction…

Ron, till we meet again, God bless you up there, I do love you, and I’ll see you when I see you.

A Mother’s Day Tribute To My Mom…

I don’t know about you, but I rarely stop to think about the impact of my mother on my present life. It’s not that I’m not grateful, but I just get busy with life, family, and ministry. But none of my present realities would be possible without my mother…

She gave me life…Though some advised her to seek other options, saying, “You’re too young for this!” She chose life and gave me life.

She raised me in life…Leaving her own family in Korea, she followed my Dad to America and raised four of us kids here. Yes, she raised me and my siblings far from her own home over there, so that we might be totally at home over here.

She pointed me to life…That is to say, she pointed me to Jesus, who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Yes, she pointed me to life – to true life!

From my mother, I learned the value of hard work and the wisdom of always double checking my work. From my mother, I learned the value of cleanliness in the home and the wisdom of occasionally decluttering my home. From my mother, I learned the value of quietness in life and the wisdom of sometimes choosing quietness, especially when things get painfully loud in life.

Then there’s all the fun things that I acquired from my mom…My love for spicy food has a direct connection to my mother. Indeed, some of the best memories I have of my mom is of the two of us quietly sharing a Korean snack of rice and kimchi in the kitchen…We would hide out in the kitchen and munch away from the rest of the family…Just the two of us, and no one else. My love for scary movies also has a direct connection to my mother…As well as my love for beautiful, but abstract art.

So, to my mother, thank you for being my mother. Thank you for your love, sacrifice, and loyalty. Thank you for always being there. I love you. Happy Mother’s Day! I can’t wait to see your smile in just a couple of weeks…

A Bible Project Video: Psalm 8

This Sunday, May 1, we will have Baptist Mid-Missions Appointee, Trevor Galbraith, with us for Sunday School and our Morning Service. Trevor is currently raising support to return to Great Britian as a church planting missionary. During Sunday School (9am), he’ll explain his vision for missions and describe the mission field of Great Britian. Then, during our Morning Service (10:15am), he’ll preach the Word to us. To do that, he’ll take us to Psalm 8 and unpack marvelous truths about the image of God, the dominion mandate, and the storyline of Jesus. In preparation for this message, check out this video on Psalm 8 from our friends at the Bible Project…

My Favorite Sermons From T4G!

Pastor Tim and I had the privilege of going to our first (and last) Together For The Gospel (T4G) Conference in Louisville, Kentucky this past week. It was a great blessing to rub shoulders with nearly 12,000 pastors and church leaders from all over the world. We were reminded of the centrality of the Gospel message, the importance of proclaiming the Word (and only the Word) in our pastoral ministry, and the need to always cling to Jesus for our righteousness, hope, and worth. It was a great conference! Of all the great messages preached this past week, here are the three that spoke to my heart the most. I commend them to you for your own personal edification and joy…

  1. Christian Lwanda – Submit to the Bible In Your Pastoral Ministry – https://youtu.be/fnVyEDAJ6FE
  2. Kevin DeYoung – Preach the Good News of Guilt and Justification – https://youtu.be/e1gEpZjkP_g
  3. Shai Linne – Remember Jesus Christ – https://youtu.be/-aAjuhV2pog

Bonus Message (For Anyone Contemplating Pastoral Ministry, Watch This One)…Sinclair Ferguson – Shepherd in View of Heaven – https://youtu.be/4p3THVdEsmA