“Light to Dispel Darkness” by George Grant

Time after time mankind is driven against the rocks of the horrid reality of a fallen creation.  And time after time mankind must learn the hard lessons of history—the lessons that for some dangerous and awful reason we cant seem to keep in our collective memory.” Hilaire Belloc

Day dawned on March 27th in Middle Tennessee with the redbuds blooming, the songbirds trilling, and the gentle breeze blowing under crystalline springtime skies. There was little portent of what the unfolding of the day might bring. Several committees had gathered and were diligently working on preparations for the upcoming stated meeting of the Nashville Presbytery. The senior pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Chad Scruggs, was in one room, and several of his elders were in the next room over.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, our deliberations were interrupted by a flurry of calls and texts: there was an active shooter at Covenant’s school facility. We emptied into the hallway, stricken, eyes clouded with unbelief, horror, and grief. Spontaneous cries of supplication and intercession went up. The Covenant men hurried on their way back to the church. The rest of us began frenzied monitoring of the news while contacting our own flocks and families to mobilize prayer.

Our worst fears were realized. A disturbed young woman armed with assault weapons and seething hate shot her way into the well-secured building and proceeded to take the lives of three 9-year-old students and three adults before the Nashville Metro Police were forced to stop the assailant with lethal force. One of the victims was the daughter of Pastor Scruggs.

Grief gripped the entire Nashville community. In shock, as pundits and politicians attempted to make sense of the senseless, across our presbytery men and women gathered in their homes, schools, and churches to pray. We did not need to ask, “Why did this have to happen? Why did this have to happen to us?” We know why. It was for precisely this sort of calamity that Jesus came in the first place. He came to deliver us from our sin and the corruption of this valley of tears. Moreover, He comforts us in our pain and sorrow.

Just hours after the shooting, Pastor Scruggs spoke of his beloved daughter Hallie, expressing both the hope and the comfort of the Gospel, “Through tears we trust that she is in the arms of Jesus who will raise her to life once again.”

As the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully declares, this is indeed our “only comfort in life and death.” It is simply that, “I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”

And so, we are able to affirm with the Apostle Paul, “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

We need not lean on platitudes or empty phrases. For ours is the sure and certain promise that He will turn “our mourning into dancing,” He will “loose our sackcloth and clothe us with gladness” (Psalm 30:11-12). Ours is the promise of light and life dispelling darkness and death.

All of us in the Gospel Reformation Network are heartsick over the horror our brothers and sisters at Covenant and throughout Middle Tennessee are enduring. All of us are praying for comforts and consolation that can only come from the treasure house of God’s grace. All of us find ourselves laying hold of the “very great and precious promises” of the Gospel, for them and for ourselves. And so, together, we repeat the refrain of Psalmist,

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever! Let those who fear the Lord say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. Oh, give thanks to the Lord for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1,4, 29).

Respond To Every Impulse…

Prairie Flower, let me encourage you with something. This encouragement is both pastoral and biblical in nature. Here’s your encouragement: This next week, respond to every impulse to pray and to serve. If the Spirit of God leads you to pray for someone, do it! Pray for them and then text them: “Hey, I just prayed for you. Hope you’re doing well. Love you!” Pray to encourage. Encourage by praying. Also, if the Spirit of God leads you to serve someone, do it! Bake that pie. Write that card. Go over with a shovel and clear out their driveway. Serve to encourage. Encourage by serving.

Prairie Flower, let’s not simply play church on Sunday, let’s be the church in the Monday-Saturday of our real lives. Let’s pray and serve others with joy-filled gladness. As we do, we will love one another well. As Jesus stated, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” And get this…Love isn’t merely a sentimental feeling, its practical action demonstrated towards others as we pray for them and serve them.

Prairie Flower, respond to every impulse to pray and to serve. This is good. This is right. This is biblical. And as the Mandalorian would say, “This is the way.” So…Go, and do likewise.

The Life You Want VS The Life You’ve Been Given…

Is your life perfectly on track? Are you currently where you envisioned yourself 10 years ago? I have yet to meet anyone in this life whose life is perfectly on point with their original plan. Indeed, it seems that a big part of growing up in this life is accepting the life you’ve been given, not enjoying the life you want. Does that make sense? I think if you’re over the age of 12, you get this – you feel this – you truly understand this.

You know, it seems to me that far too many people envision a life for themselves with very little sorrow, pain, or grief. They enter into a new relationship with absolutely no budget for forgiving the person they’ve entered into a relationship with…As if this person will never sin against them! They start off a workout program with absolutely no thought of sickness or injury…As if any workout program ever goes according to plan! They begin a new job with absolutely no strategy for how to overcome the inevitable frustrations of the new job…As if this will be the perfect job with zero struggles!

So, they run. They run from the new relationship, labeling the other person “deficient”. They quit their new workout program, offering excuses for why they can’t adapt and overcome. They resign from their new job, convincing themselves that they deserve so much better.

May I cut it to you straight? This life will not go according to your plans. This life isn’t interested in your plans. This life will eat your plans for lunch. The reality is, you will experience more sorrow, more pain, and more grief than you think you are capable of handling. You will often find yourself overwhelmed, overstressed, and overtired. Can I get a witness? Yes, this life has true beauty and joy in it, but it will often not operate according to your wishes and desires.

Projects cost more and take more time than you initially envisioned. Cars break down at the most inconvenient of times. Toilets overflow. Loved ones get sick – sometimes very sick. Tires go flat. Children become rebellious. Friends leave us. And the list goes on and on and on.

So, what do we do when we finally wake up to the reality that our lives aren’t what we initially envisioned? What do we do when we stare at our reflection in the mirror and realize that we are far behind all of our hopes and dreams?

Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Yes, we trust the One who knows us, loves us, and truly has a better plan for our lives than we have for our lives. And His plan always includes a healthy dose of sorrow, pain, and grief. Indeed, perhaps the thing that we are fighting so hard against, and praying that the Lord will take from us, will be used by the Lord to bring us to where we need to be, but cannot be, without the uncomfortable grace of sorrow, pain, and grief in our lives.

In the end, choose to trust the Lord with your not-according-to-the-plan life. As you do, He will straighten your path in life, not according to your grand design, but for your good and His glory. Indeed, remember that this life is not all there is, there is an eternity that awaits us…

Hebrews 11:16, “But as it is, they [those who live by faith, trusting in the Lord] desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

Genesis From 30,000 Feet…

We are currently in a sermon series through the book of Genesis. This marvelous book teaches us many things about man, sin, and a faithful God who overwhelms us with His grace and mercy. But in teaching through this book (chapter by chapter and verse by verse) sometimes we can mistake the trees for the forest. The video below gives to us a 30,000-foot overview of the entire book of Genesis, helping us to appreciate the grandeur of the Genesis forest…Enjoy!

Lessons From Prunes…

Yesterday evening, I received an unexpected life lesson from a bag of prunes. While drying dishes, I began to mindlessly eat from my wife’s bag of prunes. You see, my wife eats prunes from time to time, and I honestly thought she ate them for pleasure. Looking back, communication is key. I should have asked my wife over our 12 years of marriage why she buys and eats prunes, but, alas, that conversation piece never came up in our marriage. Anyways, never having tried a prune before, and feeling mighty adventurous, I decided to try one yesterday. They’re tasty! They really are. It’s like a small goblet of light sweetness! So, I had another, and another, and another, and another…You get the idea. I had a whole mess load of prunes. Come to find out, my wife does indeed eat these little tasty fruits, but not for pleasure’s sake. She has a definite end state in mind when she carefully selects a few to eat.

Now, I know what you might be thinking…”You’re 36 years old and you are just now realizing the dangerous effects of overeating prunes?” Yes, my dear reader, you are correct. I, David Paul Cotner III, was 36 years old when I discovered that only morons eat half a bag of prunes while drying dishes. But in my defense, I never had “the talk” about prunes. No one ever sat me down and said, “David, there are many fruits in this world. Most of them are mighty delicious, but be warned (dun, dun, duuun) about the prune…” Never got that talk. Apparently, all my friends have received that talk, but not me. I’m not looking for your sympathy here, just your understanding. Also, as a sidenote, a warning label should really be attached to every bag of prunes…Something to the effect of: “Eat responsibly. Overeating prunes could result in…”

So, I ate far too many prunes last night and paid a hefty price. It was by no means a medical emergency or anything, but I spent some quality time in my home’s bathroom last night. In the end, I got all cleared out AND I learned some valuable lessons from that deceitful bag of prunes…Sidenote: The “fruit of the Spirit” should never be depicted as a prune as I’m fairly certain that the fruit from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was a prune…Anyways, let me share some of my insights with you…

  1. Knowledge is key. A prune is a fruit that is eaten purposefully and strategically. I know this now, but I did not know it then (i.e., last night). Knowledge is key. Indeed, knowledge is key to all of life. Knowing who, what, where, when, why, and how is crucial as you walk through life. Therefore, ask good questions, read good books, and always pursue the knowledge of God. Yes, knowing who God is and what He expects from you will save you from a thousand sorrows and prevent you from wasting valuable time in this life.
  2. Moderation is wise. Prunes aren’t bad because I overate them. No, prunes are good and should be treated with respect. That is to say, prunes are a good fruit that should be eaten in moderation. The same is true with so many other areas of life. They say, “Everything in moderation.” I say, “Everything good in moderation.” No need to pig out on your prunes. Savor one or two and move on.
  3. Experience is good. I have learned a valuable lesson. To be sure, I’ve learned a valuable lesson the hard way, but I’ve still learned a valuable lesson. Experience is such a great teacher. It tells you what to do again. And perhaps more importantly, what not to do again. Yes, experience is a wise teacher that should be listened to and remembered. Indeed, we all make mistakes. But we don’t all learn from our mistakes. Let’s learn from our mistakes and turn mistakes into experiences that drive us further down the pathway of wisdom.

So, there you have it. Some life lessons from a bag of prunes. I’m grateful for some lessons learned. Also, my wife got a good laugh last night; and it’s nice to hear her laugh, even if it’s at my expense.

“God’s Mercy In Messed Up Families” by Jon Bloom

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to find an example of what we would call a “healthy family” in the Bible? It’s a lot easier to find families with a lot of sin and a lot of pain than to find families with a lot of harmony. For example, here’s just a sampling from Genesis:

  • The first recorded husband and wife calamitously disobey God (Genesis 3).
  • Their firstborn commits fratricide (Genesis 4).
  • Sarah’s grief over infertility moves her to give her servant, Hagar, to Abraham as a concubine to bear a surrogate child (Genesis 16). When it happens, Sarah abuses Hagar in jealous anger. Abraham is passive in the whole affair.
  • Lot, reluctant to leave sexually perverse Sodom, his home, has to be dragged out by angels and then weeks later his daughters seduce him into drunken incest (Genesis 19).
  • Isaac and Rebecca play favorites with their twin boys, whose sibling rivalry becomes one of the worst in history (Genesis 25).
  • Esau has no discernment. He sells his birthright for soup (Genesis 25), grieves his parents by marrying Canaanite women (Genesis 26), and nurses a 20-year murderous grudge against his conniving younger brother.
  • Jacob (said conniver) manipulates and deceives his brother out of his birthright (Genesis 25) and blessing (Genesis 27).
  • Uncle Laban deceives nephew Jacob by somehow smuggling Leah in as Jacob’s bride instead of Rachel (Genesis 29). This results in Jacob marrying sisters — a horrible situation (see Leviticus 18:18). This births another nasty sibling rivalry where the sisters’ competition for children (including giving their servants to Jacob as concubines) produce the twelve patriarchs of Israel (Genesis 30).
  • Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is raped by the pagan, Shechem, who then wants to marry her. Simeon and Levi respond by massacring all the men of Shechem’s town (Genesis 34).
  • Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, can’t resist his incestuous desires and sleeps with one of his father’s concubines, the mother of some of his brothers (Genesis 35).
  • Ten of Jacob’s sons contemplate fratricide, but sell brother Joseph into slavery instead. Then they lie about it to their father for 22 years until Joseph exposes them (Genesis 37, 45).
  • Judah, as a widower, frequented prostitutes. This occurred frequently enough that his daughter-in-law, Tamar, whom he had dishonored, knew that if she disguised herself as one, he’d sleep with her. He did and got her pregnant (Genesis 38).

That’s just the beginning. Time would fail me to talk of:

  • Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10),
  • Gideon’s murderous son, Abimelech (Judges 9),
  • Samson’s un-Nazirite immorality (Judges 14–16),
  • Eli’s worthless sons (1 Samuel –2-4),
  • Samuel’s worthless sons (1 Samuel 8),
  • David’s sordid family (2 Samuel 11–18),
  • Wise Solomon who unwisely married 1,000 women, turned from God, and whose proverbial instruction went essentially unheeded by most of his heirs (1 Kings 11–12),
  • Etc., etc.

Why is the Bible loud on sinfully dysfunctional families and quiet on harmonious families?

Well, for one thing, most families aren’t harmonious. Humanity is not harmonious. We are alienated — alienated from God and each other. So put alienated, selfish sinners together in a home, sharing possessions and the most intimate aspects of life, having different personalities and interests, and a disparate distribution of power, abilities, and opportunities, and you have a recipe for a sin-mess.

But there’s a deeper purpose at work in this mess. The Bible’s main theme is God’s gracious plan to redeem needy sinners. It teaches us that what God wants most for us is that we 1) become aware of our sinfulness and 2) our powerlessness to save ourselves, as we 3) believe and love his Son and the gospel he preached, and 4) graciously love one another. And it turns out that the family is an ideal place for all of these to occur.

But what we often fail to remember is that the mess is usually required for these things to occur. Sin must be seen and powerlessness must be experienced before we really turn to Jesus and embrace his gospel. And offenses must be committed if gracious love is to be demonstrated. So if we’re praying for our family members to experience these things, we should expect trouble.

Family harmony is a good desire and something to work toward. But in God’s plan, it may not be what is most needed. What may be most needed is for our family to be a crucible of grace, a place where the heat of pressure forces sin to surface providing opportunities for the gospel to be understood and applied. And when this happens the messes become mercies.

My point is this: if your family is not the epitome of harmony, take heart. God specializes in redeeming messes. See yours as an opportunity for God’s grace to become visible to your loved ones and pray hard that God will make it happen.

Video: “The Last Will Be First”

In our journey through Genesis, we have discovered a mini theme, namely, sibling rivalry. From Cain & Abel to Isaac & Ishmael to Jacob & Esau, siblings at war with each other is a constant theme. Indeed, as we continue to journey through this incredible book, we will discover that this pattern of sibling rivalry continues with Leah & Rachel and, eventually, Joseph & his brothers. Certainly, this sibling rivalry highlights the continuing consequences of sin, but is there a deeper lesson to gain from all these siblings at odds with each other? Yes, in almost every instance of sibling rivalry in the book of Genesis, the younger is favored over the older. The first becomes last and the last becomes first. The video below explains further…

Hurry Up & Wait

U.S. Army culture could be summarized in one sentence: Hurry up and wait. As a former Army Sergeant with two tours to Iraq, I can confidently tell you that this is truly an Army way of life. There is an expectation that you will quickly get to the right place, at the right time, and in the right uniform. And then…you wait.

Formation for physical training might be at 5am, but you won’t actually start running till 6am. You hurry up and wait. Formation for airborne ops might be at 6am, but you won’t actually fly and jump till 9am. You hurry up and wait. Formation for a briefing might be at 5pm, but you won’t actually get your briefing till 6pm or later. You hurry up and wait. You get the idea.

Who among us likes to wait? Not me. Waiting is hard. We want our lives to move with the quickness and adrenaline rush of a good 2-hour action movie. Alas, our lives aren’t a cinematic thrill. There is so much hurry and waiting in our lives.

Hurry isn’t actually a problem for many of us. It’s the waiting that is excruciatingly difficult. Hurry produces that dopamine rush. Waiting produces a dopamine crash. Hurry is exciting. Waiting is boring. Hurry is the high. Waiting is the low.

When analyzing the Christian life, waiting (more than hurrying) is commanded and encouraged. Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” Lamentations 3:25, “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” James 5:8, “You also, be patient [or wait]. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” From Old Testament to New Testament, the children of God are exhorted to wait on God – wait on His timing, His will, and His direction.

At the time of this writing, I am currently waiting on the birth of my 5th child who is currently 6 days past due. My wife and I are eager to meet our new son face-to-face. There has been so much hurry in preparation for this child, but (for now) we wait. And waiting is good…Hard, but good. As we wait, we will choose to be strong in the Lord by trusting the Lord. As we wait, we will choose to seek the Lord by spending time with the Lord in His Word and prayer. As we wait, we will choose to see the goodness of the Lord by praising the Lord. I trust you’ll do the same in your time of hurry up and wait…

When Leaders Fall…

Nearly every week, we are bombarded with news stories of some leader’s “fall from grace”. It seems that we’re living in an epidemic era of faulty and fallen leaders who leave the rest of us frustrated and frazzled. Yes, it seems that everywhere we look, leaders fall…Religious leaders fall. Political leaders fall. Business leaders fall. Military leaders fall. It would seem that leaders everywhere are ripe to fall.

What makes these leaders fall from their positions of prominence and power? That list is endless. But sexual sins, financial indiscretions, and poor decision making usually top the list of why leaders fall from their places of impact and influence. Sometimes we shed tears when a leader falls, but most of the time, we just shake our heads and move on with life, thinking, “Another one bites the dust…”

I’ve been in leadership positions long enough to know this much: I too can fall and fall hard. No one (and I mean no one) is exempt from leadership failure by means of a moral failure. The Bible is replete with warnings to leaders everywhere…Prov. 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” 1 Cor. 10:12, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” The Apostle Paul was especially cognizant of his own bent towards destruction and failure as a leader. He wrote in 1 Cor. 9:27, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” I am quite certain that the great Apostle Paul was ever mindful of the fact that he was just a half-step away from going full-stupid and destroying everything.

So, the next time you read of another great leader’s fall, consider doing the following:

  1. Pray. Pray for the leader who took a “fall from grace”. Pray for the leader’s family as they grapple with sin and shame. In the case of an ongoing investigation into a leader’s failure, pray that the truth would be exposed, that justice mingled with mercy would prevail, and that repentance would come about.
  2. Evaluate. Evaluate your own life and leadership. Look for loose ends and loopholes that you’ve developed to escape accountability. Take more seriously the role that you’ve been given and resolve to keep yourself in check by following proper protocol.
  3. Remember. Remember that there is one Leader who will never fail us. He left his crown of glory for a crown of thorns. He left his throne of splendor for a cross of suffering. When human leaders fall and fail us, it serves as a sobering reminder that our ultimate hope is in a Leader and King who came once to redeem us and is coming back to rule and reign without scandal, without disgrace, and without moral failure. Indeed, His rule and reign will be perfect. How I long for that day. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come!

2023 Committees

Many of you know and appreciate the pastors and deacons of PFBC. But did you know that we have so many other incredible servants out here on the prairie? Below are the PFBC Committee Members serving you and our church family this brand-new year. Please be in prayer for these folks as they serve our church family…

Audit Committee:

Darwin Carroll

Klint Gingerich

Decorating Committee:

Cheryl Bohn

Kendra Gingerich

Miscellaneous Positions:

Nursery/Child Care Coordinator – Heather Cotner

Church Librarian –Emma Diment & Marti Owen

Head Usher/Director of Security – Jerry Dunbar

IRBC Messenger – Pastor Tim

Food Fellowship Coordinator – Nancy Wilson