As I Head Out On Vacation…

vacation 2016

At the time of this writing, it is t-minus 63 hours till my family and I leave for our vacation to Branson, Missouri. We are very excited! It will be so nice to get away for a couple of weeks to recharge, rejuvenate, and reconnect with one another as a family. When you think of us, pray for us…and thank you for allowing us to take some time off. We certainly appreciate it.

As I get ready to close up shop here, and hang up the microphone (so to speak), let me give you a few parting thoughts:

  1. You’re in good, competent hands while I’m gone. That is to say, Pastor Jon will be taking very good care of you while I’m on vacation. I’ve also left him 3 1/2 pages of things to remember and do while I’m gone…so pray for him…he’ll be a busy pastor over these next two weeks! Also, be sure to pray for Pastor Jon as he gears up to preach the next two installments in our Proverbs mini-series entitled, “Dear Solomon”. He’ll be preaching on Time Management on May 22nd and Money Matters on May 29th.
  2. To those of you who’ve stepped up to the plate to serve – THANK YOU!  Our church has exploded with so many ministry opportunities since the start of 2016 and we are beyond grateful for those who are ministering and serving in a variety of different ways. To those of you serving in Nursery, Sunday School, Children’s Church, the Praise Team, Cleaning Operations, Friendship Bible Study, AWANA, Youth Group, and the list goes on and on…THANK YOU! We are truly grateful for all of your enthusiasm, hard work, and volunteer spirit. Because of you, we continue to experience people getting saved, baptized, and added to the membership of Prairie Flower Baptist Church. We’ve also seen rising numbers of new people attending our church, more app downloads and sermon listens, and have had an increase in exposure on social media and other media outlets such as the Baptist Bulletin, the GARBC website, and the Ottumwa Courier. We have so much going on…and the oil that keeps things running smoothly is our awesome volunteer force – THANK YOU!
  3. We have a very busy summer in front of us. Currently, Pastor Jon is in the process of organizing and leading two major missions’ trips: The Creation Trip (June 5-11) and The Ukraine Trip (June 29 – July 11). We also have another team from our church leaving for Grenada in early July. As for me, I’ll be speaking at Camp Fairwood in Wisconsin on Aug. 1-6 as the Family Camp Speaker. I’ll be preaching 9 times in six days…your prayers are certainly appreciated. All you have to do then is sprinkle in some youth camps and VBS this summer and you come to the conclusion that we truly have a very busy summer in front of us. Thus, we covet your prayers for safety and ministry effectiveness.

Finally, let me just encourage you to continue to stay relational and missional for the glory of God as we enter the Summer of 2016. Also, be sure to catalog your #PrairieMiles this summer (this will make more sense after Pastor Jon’s sermon this Sunday). And always remember that your strength comes from the Lord and not from your own ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Well, as always, let me say what I typically say (but I mean it every time): God bless you guys. I do love you guys. And I’ll see you when I see you. Blessings.

Who Cares If America Falls?

American Flag

On Tuesday, May 3, 2016, Senator Ted Cruz suspended his presidential campaign. Seeing no viable path to the presidency, he bowed out with dignity and grace. Then, without skipping a beat, my Facebook feed exploded with status updates and tweets ranging from sadness to anger over Cruz dropping out and the inevitable Trump VS. Clinton showdown this fall. There were dramatic posts about the end of our country as we know it, cries concerning the fact that moral conservatism is dead, etc. And then, there were the usual posts articulating the moral degradation of our society, #NeverTrump, etc., etc.

The overall vibe on my social media feed from my own intelligent, conservative, and Christian friends (both unknown and well known): The sky is falling. America is doomed! My response: Who cares if America falls? America is not ultimate and Jesus still reigns supreme.

You know it seems to me that our true theology truly shines in moments of despair and disappointment. On Sundays, we’ll sing joyfully that Christ is our Redeemer and our gloriously returning King. But when Monday happens…or Tuesday rolls around and Cruz drops out of the race for the White House…our true theology shines with: “Jesus is our returning King! But oh, we need Cruz in the meantime. He dropped out?! Oh, what a mess we’re in!” Really?! Seems to me that a lot of our street level, everyday theology is failing us and leaving us, not with hope, but with despair. And side note…such theology of “Jesus on Sunday, But Cruz (or Whoever) Filling In Monday-Saturday” will always leave us in a state of disappointment, anger, and eventually bitter cynicism.

Again, who cares if America falls (morally or economically)? America is not ultimate and Jesus still reigns supreme. Now before you write me off, let me just state very clearly: I love America! I certainly bleed red, white, and blue. I served this country in the U.S. Army from 2006-2010, twice deploying to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I’m currently the Lead Pastor of Prairie Flower Baptist Church and led my church to call its first ever Associate Pastor, Jon Rocha, who (by the way) is currently a Staff Sergeant in the Army National Guard and has already deployed twice to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I love America. My Associate Pastor loves America. My family (both biological and church) loves America. We want her to succeed, to thrive, to return back to morality and repentance toward God. But I (and hopefully you reading) also understand that America might fall…it just might be the end of social conservatism in America as we know it (or maybe not…time will tell), but that’s ok. Because America (as much as I love her) is not ultimate. Jesus is ultimate. The Gospel is ultimate. Heaven and Hell are certainly ultimate. But America is not, and historically speaking, is but a blip on the radar of time.

I mean truly, these are exciting times for the true Church of God! It would seem, with everything happening in our world (not just Cruz’s recent announcement, but everything) that cultural Christianity is giving birth to true Christianity. That is to say, at the present moment, our churches are full (bloated really) with all kinds of people, professing to love Jesus and wanting to serve Jesus. But do they really? Well, if America is truly falling and our freedoms are truly being stripped away and persecution is truly coming…then we are to rejoice! Not only will our faith be tested, but the church will be purged, and what will be left is a more holy, passionate, and pure Church (just look to the book of Acts to see how suffering and persecution resulted in the true growth and purity of the Church and God’s great glory).

Also, if America falls and immortality and paganism run rampant, then what an opportunity to shine, evangelize, and glorify God! Think about it: It was Joseph who thrived, not in morally conservative Israel, but in the pagan Egyptian Empire. It was Jonah who thrived, not in morally safe Israel, but under the pagan Assyrian Empire. It was Jesus and His apostles who thrived, not under the loving conservatism of Israel, but under the pagan Roman Empire. Some of the greatest heroes of the faith and some of the greatest times of growth and blessing came, not under the Golden Age of Conservatism, but under the immorality and paganism of godless world empires.

But I think the bottom line is this: Christians have lost their focus. Things like staying missional (Matt. 28:19-20)…staying relational (John 13:34)…and staying strong (Eph. 6:10ff) are far from the average Christian’s gaze. We have bought into the Americanized version of Christianity that says the Great Commission is solidifying a true conservative Republican in the White House, not making disciples of Jesus Christ. We’ve bought into the false and egocentric notion that the heart of legalism has something to do with dress code, music styles, and Bible translations, instead of realizing that true legalism neglects the heart of the Law which is LOVE and MERCY. We’ve traded our source of strength from being “in the Lord” and bartered instead for cheap, temporal substitutes like Ted Cruz, or our favorite author, talk show host, pastor, etc. We’ve lost our focus. Our vision is too narrow. Our perspective too limited to the here and now.

My proposition: Let’s get back to 30,000 Feet Christianity and remind ourselves of some basic eternal realities: 1) What America needs is Jesus as Savior, not Ted Cruz or any other social/political conservative as Savior; 2) What the true Church needs is a renewed commitment to the Great Commission-which is “make disciples”, not “ensure a Republican is in the White House”; and 3) Eventually we who are conservative Christians need to stop fighting our culture with outlandish emotionalism, but instead engage our culture with bright intellectualism rooted in unwavering faith in a sovereign God. And at the end of the day…so what if America falls? America is not ultimate and Jesus (my King) is returning and reigns supreme!