Demons, Death, Disease, Demo, & Difficulty: A Trip Down Memory Lane On My Associate Pastor’s 2-Year Anniversary

I can hardly believe it, but this Saturday, May 1 is my Associate Pastor’s 2-Year Anniversary out here on the prairie. It has been a great two years working and leading beside this great pastor. His love for the Lord, his family, and our church family is evident to all who know him. I am privileged to serve beside him.

As I was contemplating life and ministry with Pastor Tim, my mind took a trip down memory lane. I’ve alliterated the items below because (you know) that’s what Baptist preachers do… 😉 But, no joke, Pastor Tim and I have experienced these five things below and the experiences have been exhilarating and educational…

Demons – One of my first pastoral experiences with Pastor Tim regarded a demon possessed man. I can’t get into all the details on this blog, but this experience was completely supernatural. We tag-teamed the situation with prayer and Scripture. In fact, I remember, as the demoniac was experiencing voice changes and begging us to kill him, that Pastor Tim just began quoting (from memory) a ton of Scripture on the grace, mercy, and power of God. We still keep in contact with this individual and regularly pray for his salvation, but wow, that was an incredible moment of pastoral ministry with my right-hand man…

Death – This is a mega-theme in pastoral ministry. From witnessing the death of beloved church members to witnessing the tragic death of various relationships in the church body, death is a constant theme in pastoral ministry. But I remember Pastor Tim and I navigating the challenges of a very unique and severe suicide attempt. The individual who tried to commit suicide was not directly connected to our church family, but the situation was truly heart-breaking. It was such a privilege to minister beside Pastor Tim as he and I tag-teamed ministering and praying with various family members and friends at the hospital in the hours after the suicide attempt. It was an incredibly long day, but it was so good to work side by side with Pastor Tim in that moment and to see his heart for people as he cared for them. Thankfully, the young lady who tried to end her life survived and we still pray for her as she comes to mind…

Disease – Then as I think through my time working with Pastor Tim, 2020 came in like a wrecking ball. Wow. What a year! From navigating the challenges of mask-wearing, to figuring out how to keep people socially distanced in our sanctuary, to learning how to record and livestream services, 2020 was an incredible year of uncomfortable growth. It was such a joy to work with Pastor Tim during this period because he (unlike me) rolls with the punches and has a natural entrepreneurial spirit that is helpful when you are in uncharted waters, like the dumpster fire of 2020…

Demo – Then there’s Demo Day 2020. Oh, yeah! I remember starting this project – the Sanctuary Renovation Project. We started and ended this project in the midst of a global pandemic, and it was awesome. We were able to totally renovate our sanctuary with new chairs, carpet, a bigger sound booth, and more space for worshippers. Our new worship space turned out really beautiful and functional. I am truly grateful for Pastor Tim’s leadership and administration of this project. This project, because of Pastor Tim, turned out so well…

Difficulty – I can’t get into specific details, but man alive, the different counseling experiences we have had over these last two years would blow your mind. Pastoral ministry may be many things, but it is certainly not boring. We have encountered situations that have made us laugh, cry, and just shake our heads in disbelief. It has been great to tag-team many different counseling situations together…

Well, Pastor Tim, congrats on making it through Round #2 out here on the prairie. You’re doing all right. I appreciate working with you. And thank you for allowing me to be the boss. I know I’m not the best boss out there, but you are a privilege to boss around…Love you, man…

The Summer of 2008…

War is difficult to describe. The first thing one realizes upon arrival in a combat zone is that war is nothing like the movies or television shows in America. There is no background music, and the story is not over in 120 minutes.

War is marked by days of extreme boredom with moments of extreme excitement. Those moments elevate the human emotions to levels hardly experienced in civilian life. Happiness becomes pure delight, anger turns to rage, and sadness becomes sorrow. On July 15, 2008, I experienced the full spectrum of human emotions. On that day, our unit received word that one of our men had been injured in a vehicle accident, as a result of a firefight, in Mosul, Iraq. A few hours later, we learned that Staff Sergeant David W. Textor had died from his injuries. In that moment, war became so very real to me. For the first time, I realized that this was no training exercise – this was no game! Indeed, the summer of 2008 changed my life in a big, big way…

I remember being so angry after this man’s death. Why did God allow such a soldier (a green beret), with a wife and five kids, to leave this earth so far from home? Even with the passage of time, I still do not have all the answers. I do not know why some things happen. Life is so cruel sometimes, and the Iraq War did a great job of slapping this fact in my face.

During the Iraq War, I served as an Army Intelligence Analyst and was charged with the task to “find, know, and never lose the enemy.” I became obsessed with “the hunt” and wanted to know the “why” of everything. When Staff Sergeant Textor died, I realized that for all my efforts, knowledge, and ability, there are just some things that I can never prevent, namely, good soldiers dying so far from home.

You know, war has a way of proving that we are not in control of anything. Listen to the words of Nick Swarthout (one of my best friends and fellow Iraq War Veteran) as he recounts one of the most sobering events of his life: “While sleeping on the second floor of one of Saddam’s mother-in-law’s mansions, a rocket landed in the front yard. Never in my life have I experienced such a feeling of hopelessness and insecurity. There I lay in my boxers, all of my equipment and weapons downstairs, its 6:00 in the morning, and I am tucked safely in a bed completely surrounded by ¾ inch plywood walls as the only thing that stood between me and the corridor of glass windows in front of me. All I could think about was how much closer to me than the front yard are the other 36 rockets going to land? And which one is going to be the one to land in my ready-made coffin of a bedroom? Fortunately, that rocket was flying solo into our front yard that morning, and again, by the grace of God, I am here to type these stories for you.”

Dr. Jeff Newman (one of my former professors at Faith Baptist Bible College) once stated, “There are no accidental moments.” Yes, nothing in our life happens by accident. God has a plan for our lives, and He is working all things for our good. It was not by accident that Staff Sergeant Textor died in the war, while my friend, Nick, survived. In both cases, God remained good and sovereign. I simply have to trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God no matter what. The Bible states in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

In the end, God is able to use all of the events in our lives to bring us into a new and better relationship with Himself. God used the Iraq War to show me His tremendous goodness and sovereignty despite the tragedies of this life. My life is to be lived for Him because He alone is God, and I am not…Nick Swarthout states it best when he says, “I have been shot at, scared, bombed, terrified, intimidated, stressed, lonely, and anxious, depressed, blown up, attacked, and broken down, all of which have led me to my life’s purpose that I have found in Him, to bring Him honor, glory, and praise through my worship to Him and my service for Him and His people.” Yes, in life and death, and in war and peace, everything is about God, loving Him and serving Him – or hating Him and rejecting Him…The choice is yours…

From Such A Dark World, Came Our Son…

The first time I met my adopted son, Derrick, it was love at first sight. Every bone in my body ached to hold him, to cradle him, to position him in my arms as if to say, “You’re mine now. You’re my son. You’re home now, and I’m never letting you go.” It was a powerful moment filled with tears, a pounding heart, and immense gratefulness to the God who led us to our little boy.

Derrick is now three months old, and he is such a beautiful child. I am literally blown away by all of his handsome, adorable features…And that smile of his, oh my! It will literally melt you. In fact, I have never met such a happy, smiley baby in my entire life.

But as I stare into that picture-perfect smiling face, I wonder, “Where does that smile come from? And will he always smile like this?” Forgive me for being a little dark and twisty, but this world is such a difficult place and the amount of pain and suffering out there can be overwhelming, even to the brightest of personalities.

I often think of Derrick’s birthparents. We’ve seen pictures of them. They are beautiful people. Derrick’s birthfather is tall with an athletic build, and Derrick’s birthmother has exotic features that are striking. But as beautiful as Derrick’s birthparents are, they are broken. They live in a world of darkness. They are people torn apart by homelessness and drug addiction. From such a dark world, came our son…

You know, it’s a weird feeling being so intimately connected to people I’ve never met before. I long to meet Derrick’s birthparents, to become their friend (like a real friend – a true friend), and to share the hope and light of the Gospel with them. For weeks now, just before I get up to preach, my imagination is captivated by the thought of them wandering into our little church and sitting in the back row…Maybe one day. I pray for them. I love them. How can I not? They gave to me my son. No matter their struggles, addictions, and demons, I will forever be grateful to them.

Derrick will grow to know the brokenness of his birthparents and the darkness of this world. I hope none of that extinguishes that smile of his. But Derrick is a fighter. He’s been fighting since the womb, battling drugs of every kind. He then fought in the NICU during the detox process. Derrick is a fighter. As his father, I hope that one day Derrick not only understands the brokenness and darkness of this world, but I pray that he comes to understand and embrace the hope and light of the Gospel. From there, I pray that he will be a Gospel fighter, battling the darkness of this difficult world with faith, hope, and love, “these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

From the Desk of the Associate: What Changed?


Coming off the Easter season, I think it’s important for us not to gloss over or move past the idea of the Resurrection too quickly. You see, it can be argued that the Resurrection validates everything in Scripture, not least of which are Jesus’ claims about Himself, namely, that He is God. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we have no reason to believe any other claims in the Bible. This is not just me making this claim. The Apostle Paul states the same in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says that “if Christ has not been raised from the dead then our preaching is worthless, and your faith is worthless.” So that being said, why do we actually hold to this crazy idea that someone could come back from the dead?

There have been many solid arguments made for the historicity of the Resurrection. One of my personal favorites is the change wrought in Jesus’ disciples. Let us consider these guys before and after they witnessed Jesus alive after being dead. We have their own testimony over and over again in the Gospels, how Jesus claimed that He was going to give himself as a sacrifice for the sins of His people, but that they did not understand or accept Jesus’ claims about this reality. We also see them squabbling over positions of prominence in the kingdom that they believed Jesus was just about to bring about. They mistakenly believed that Jesus was simply going to institute a physical kingdom by overthrowing the Romans and their political and religious puppets. So, the very ones who are testifying to the remarkable event of Jesus rising from the dead are the very ones who paint themselves in a negative light. I do not know about you but if I were going to try to convince people to follow my religion and I was able to play fast and loose with the facts, I would certainly attempt to air brush my own involvement in these events. I would hide my negative words and actions and highlight my admirable characteristics. This is not what we get at all. The Apostles were willing to include even the most shameful words and deeds in their telling of the story. This to me indicates the truthfulness of their testimony.

Let’s approach this another way. Take the Apostle Peter. This man was known to be brash and confident. When Jesus asked His disciples questions, Peter seemed to be the first to step up and take a swing at the answer. Sometimes Peter would hit it out of the park and sometimes he would fall flat on his face. Take the time when Jesus asked the disciples about His identity. Peter very quickly declared that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Immediately after this Jesus declares that He would be killed. Peter again takes a wild swing and declares that this would never happen. Jesus then said, “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter, who would be the leader of the Apostles and the early church was not a paragon of virtue during Jesus’ earthly ministry. During the Last Supper, Peter declared that he would be willing to go with Jesus to the end, but later that night he was unable to even stay up and pray with Jesus during His hour of temptation. Later he fulfilled the Lord’s promise that he would deny Jesus three times. This denial happened to the very intimidating figure of a young servant girl. So that makes us ask the question…How did Peter go from someone who ran away from and denied the Lord, to someone who would, just a few weeks later, preach boldly to the very group who condemned Jesus and put Him on trial? The obvious answer is the fact that Peter saw his risen Lord. Not only did he see Jesus risen, but he interacted with Him several times. In addition, Peter received the promised Holy Spirit.

So, the fact that these weak, squabbling, and dense group of disciples would then go on to change the world with the message of a risen Savior seems to be very strong evidence indeed that they believed the message that they preached. How else can we explain these men being willing to give everything without anything to show for it in human terms? Peter and the rest of the disciples gave it all for the sake of their risen Savior. It has been said that “many people have died for a lie, but few people willingly die for what they know to be a lie.” This is all extraordinarily strong evidence that the Resurrection really took place. This is great news because it is the very thing that secures the future Resurrection of all believers. I guess that is what changed everything and why we call this “The Gospel.”

He Is Risen Indeed!

Baptism Sunday 2021 – Testimonies of Salvation

This Sunday is Easter Sunday (a.k.a. Resurrection Sunday)! On this day, we have an opportunity to celebrate the victorious, glorious resurrection of our God, King, and Savior – the Lord Jesus Christ. We will also mark this special day with the baptisms of an incredible couple, Sam & Mariah Johnson. Check out their testimonies of salvation below…

Hi! My name is Sam and I’m 28 years old. I was born in Texas but raised in Kansas. I joined the Army at 17 and I was stationed in Kentucky. While in Kentucky, I began to go to church regularly at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. While attending this church, I encountered a man named Butch, who was one of the deacons. I believe Jesus put Butch into my life in order to lead me to salvation. I later moved to Kansas where I didn’t attend a church and fell into a sinful life. After a brief suicidal thought, I got out of the Army and moved to Iowa, where I met Mariah. Mariah and I got married in the summer of 2020. We currently have a dog and a puppy. Jesus used Mariah (like He used Butch) to point me towards being saved and to live a better life. I have since come to understand and believe that I am a sinner and Jesus died for my sins. In the future, Mariah and I plan to start a family and continue to live a life together for the Lord.

My name is Mariah Johnson. Growing up, I went to Sunday School while my grandmother attended church. Then, in 4th grade, I began to attend a Wednesday Youth Group, but the focus seemed to be more on games and team building. So, in 7th grade, I began to attend Youth Group at a different church with a friend. This is when I understood the need for a Savior and began my walk with Christ. I later met Sam while volunteering at a camp for individuals with disabilities, and we got married three years later. We look forward to starting a family and raising our kids in the church while continuing to serve the Lord.