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.