Prairie Flower Baptist Church,
It was July of 2021 and I honestly thought I was going to die. I was so far from shore and the current underneath me was so strong. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was caught in a dangerous rip current off the Gulf Coast of Mexico. I was far from shore and the waves were high and pummeling my already tired body.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a strong swimmer. In any pool or body of water I only go as far as chest high. Indeed, I can swim, but I’m not proficient by any stretch of the imagination. The thought of drowning is perhaps one of my greatest fears in life, next to killer clowns and creepy basement crawlspaces. I respect the water. I fear the water. To die in a watery abyss is beyond scary to me.
Indeed, that day in July had started off with so much excitement. My brother, Steven, had just sworn into the Pensacola Police Department as a police officer. My heart swelled with pride as I witnessed my brother raise his right hand and take his solemn oath. My little brother had just become a cop! My other brother, Samuel, was also with me at the swearing in ceremony. It was a proud moment for the three of us brothers. We decided to celebrate by heading to Pensacola Beach…
We swam around and played around for hours. We wrestled in the water and cracked jokes that made us laugh till our bellies hurt. Man alive, it was such a good time! The sun was beginning to set, and we decided to take one last lap in the water. We were all tired, but happy, and wanted one last hurrah in the Gulf before heading to dinner.
Then it happened, I popped out of the water after seeing how long I could hold my breath, and I was so far from land. Indeed, the current was pulling me farther and farther from land. Fear and panic gripped my body. My life flashed before my eyes. Images of my wife and children (especially my new – always smiling – adopted son, Derrick) flashed before my eyes. I was so scared. “You can’t swim!”, my brain screamed at me with aggressive passion. After a few more seconds of panic, I made the decision, “It’s sink or swim; and I’m not going to die today – not today,” I told myself. So, I began to swim. The struggle was real and intense. Amazingly, I never took a gulp of water with all the waves crashing in around me. I swam hard. I swam ugly. I swam for my life. “Not. Going. To Die. Today. Keep going…Don’t quit…Don’t stinking quit…”, I told myself as my body chopped through the relentless waters. I was tired. Exhausted. I wanted to stop, to catch my breath, but to do so meant certain death – death by drowning.
By the grace of God, I survived that day. All three of us brothers were able to escape that strong rip current in the Gulf of Mexico. As we got to the beach, we flopped on the white sand in satisfied, nervous exhaustion. We were alive…by the grace of God.
You know, I’ve been close to death several times. From incoming mortars in Iraq to some scary car accidents, but that moment in the Gulf was intense. I’m grateful to be alive. Still breathing. Still moving forward. Still on mission.
Flirting with death is an uncomfortable grace that is filled with adrenaline and high stakes passion. Indeed, to escape death gives you new perspective and a renewed vigor for life. Ultimately, God is the giver of life, and He is sovereign over our lives and over our deaths. To Him be the glory both now and forever, amen.
As I exit 2021 and enter 2022, I’m still up and moving. Yes, and I intend to keep moving till my bones collapse and God says, “Come home.” Till then, the time to live, love, and lead is NOW, not later. You and I are not guaranteed any set amount of time here on Earth. James 4:14 clearly states, “What is your life? For you are a mist [a vapor; a puff of smoke] that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” So, resolve with me to live this quickly vanishing life with all the passion of a non-swimmer stuck in a rip current to the glory of God. Are you struggling right now? Scared right now? Uncertain right now? Keep going. Don’t quit. It’s sink or swim – choose to swim.
With these sobering thoughts in mind, here is my 2021 Lead Pastor’s Report divided into three streams of thought: personal things, prairie things, and priority things…
As many of you know, 2021 was truly an exciting year for me and my wife. The highlight for us this past year was meeting and adopting our son, Derrick. What an adrenaline rush it was to get word about our son (born on the sidewalk outside of a Chase bank) on Sunday, Jan. 17, fly out to Arizona on Monday, Jan. 18, and help him detox from a plethora of drugs for the weeks that followed. Finalizing Derrick’s adoption at the Washington County Courthouse (here in Washington, IA) on Tuesday, Aug. 17 was such a satisfying day for our family.
Please continue to pray with us for Derrick’s birthparents, Justin and Chelsea. They are beautiful people, but broken people. I dream of the day when they show up to our little church out here on the prairie. Perhaps they’ll sit quietly and timidly in the back row or perhaps boldly sit in the front row. No matter what, I long for the day when I can hug them, share the Gospel with them, and show off our son who smiles like life is truly worth living – to the max.
Yes, by the grace of God, we worked hard to find our son. By the grace of God, we found him. By the grace of God, we brought him home…and we’re never letting him go. Thank you, Prairie Flower, for loving me and my family through this adoption journey. Derrick doesn’t know it yet, but the day we adopted him, he was adopted into two families: the Cotner family and the Prairie Flower Baptist Church family. Yes, we’re family…and families stick together, for better or worse, no matter what. I love you, Prairie Flower – I love you more than you know. Don’t believe me? Well, we got a long way to go together, and a short time to get there, so hang on. I’ll prove it with time…
As far as our church is concerned, 2021 was a great year. By the goodness and mercy of God, we experienced the following:
- Salvations – 6
- Baptisms – 3
- Members – 5
Also, as a church family, we were able to host a Marriage Conference in February, celebrate Easter with a special service in April, conduct a spectacular VBS in August with special missionary speaker, Louis O’Tool, and host our 5th Annual Christmas Eve On The Prairie Service in December with 125 people in attendance! During this past year, we continued to host men’s and women’s prayer groups, Rooted Women, Kids4Truth, and Outfitters, all with great attendance and real growth in godliness. We were also able to install new A/C units, upgrade our Wi-Fi capabilities, improve our Livestream service, and install new siding for our church building. What a great year of ministry and improvements!
Also, with sorrow and joy, we promoted two members to Glory, Bill Brown and Milo Luers. Our loss is Heaven’s gain. These two men, after living a life to the glory of God, are now standing face to face with their Savior “and in His presence there is fullness of joy.” We who are left behind still struggle with sin and selfishness, difficulty and darkness, but these men are finally home where there are no more tears or pain “for the former things have passed away.” Bill and Milo, God bless you guys, I do love you guys, and I’ll see you when I see you – we got it from here.
In terms of goals and aspirations for this coming year, I hesitate, not out of laziness or lack of vision, but because God is sovereign and He can take our best laid out priorities and give to us new plans and priorities. Remember 2020? Well, with the sovereignty of God firmly in view and tightly embraced, here are two of my goals for 2022…
- Dive Into Genesis – Lord willing, we will get through at least half of Genesis in 2022. This exciting book tells us about the beginning of creation, mankind, sin, and God’s unfolding plan of redemption through the covenant He made with Abraham. It’s an exciting book that teaches us much about God, our purpose in life, and how to make sense of all the bad that takes place in our world today.
- Finalize Our Constitution – We’ve been talking about this for years. After successfully revising our Articles of Faith (2016) and our Biblical Principles of Church Membership (2018), it is time to finalize our revisions of our Church Constitution. Indeed, slow is smooth and smooth is fast; and may God’s timeline trump all; but I hope we’re able to vote upon this new document this year.
With Renewed Passion,
Lead Pastor, PFBC