From the Desk of the Associate: Summer Nights of Prayer

Spring is almost over and summer will soon be here in full swing. It seems that summer almost always brings a new schedule and a new rhythm. Being in rural Iowa, spring is nothing if not busy. There’s always planting season to contend with, not to mention the school year wrapping up and the early summer sports schedule heating up. Soon many of us will be traveling on summer vacations and summer camp. With all this busyness its easy to let prayer go by the wayside. In generations past, Wednesday night prayer meeting was a staple for almost all local churches. It seems now that for most of us, prayer sounds like a good idea but we mostly fill our evenings with everything under the sun. I get it, you’re busy. I’m busy too. We’re all busy. Many of us with good things. However, I think that prayer, and in particular, corporate prayer is more necessary now than it has ever been.

For as long as I have been alive, it seems that I have heard from my parents and other older Christians that our country and world are headed down hill fast. In fact, the older I get the more I find myself being that older Christian who tells the same thing to the younger generation. It seems though like we spend far more time and energy complaining and bemoaning a bygone era when we were a Christian nation then we do lifting our country and world up to the One who can truly do anything about it. What happened to Paul’s command in 1 Timothy 2:1-3? “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. That is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” It seems that most of us, me included, probably do a very bad job at fulfilling this command.

With all the things that need to be fixed in the world today, how can we not strive to discipline ourselves to the practice of prayer? Corporate prayer is one of the most important things a church does. One reason it is so vital is that it helps us to fulfill the command from Hebrews 3:13, “But exhort one another every day as long as it is called today, lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” When we come together as a body it both implicitly and explicitly encourages one another to be mindful of the danger of sin and our dependance on God for deliverance.

So, for these, and so many other reasons, we will be having Summer Nights of Prayer on the following dates: June 29th, July 27th, and August 31st. Please mark these dates on your calendar so you are able to come and pray with your church family this summer!

From the Desk of the Associate: What’s in a Name?

This week I am preparing to preach on Genesis chapter 11. I am planning to focus on the first 9 verses which detail an interesting account of the famed Tower of Babel. On the surface a modern reader may wonder what the problem with this account is. After all, what is so wrong about being unified around a tower and a city. Wasn’t mankind supposed to take dominion of the earth? And isn’t part of taking dominion and displaying God’s image using the intellect and resources at our disposal to build amazing things? And wouldn’t so many of our problems be solved if we could all just understand one another better?

Well, you don’t have to dig very deep to learn that the people who built this tower and city were not simply trying to find their way in a hostile environment. They were actively trying to throw off the shackles of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and to spread out and “teem” on the earth. These people were hell bent on doing things their own way. This is signaled to us in what they built, a tower, and what they wanted to create, a name for themselves.

First the tower in the ancient world was likely a ziggurat. These were temples whereby humanity believed themselves to be accessing the realm of the gods. In building this tower to reach to the heaven mankind was trying to access and control God on their terms. They not only disregarded his commands to spread out and fill the earth, they thought that through their own strength they could access God and perhaps even storm the gates of heaven. This really was an echo of the original fall. In that fall Adam and Eve grasped at the ability to define good and evil on their terms. In this tower account, mankind grasped at the ability to be gods again by trying to access God’s throne. God decided that the unity of mankind in this case would only lead him to more and more rebellion and therefore more and more ruin. Not that God was threatened by such puny creatures, God just knew that they would spiral into all sorts of evil if they remained united in their rebellion. So, even in God’s judgment, we see that God was really showing these rebels mercy. Instead of destruction all they receive is dispersal.

And second, we see in the people’s desire to “make a name for ourselves,” another rejection of their creator and His ways. You see, this concept of a name was very significant. It meant glory, honor, and fame. All things that belong to God but things that we seem to always be attempting to get on our own terms. The ultimate name, the name that is above every name has been given to Jesus because at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God. We see right after the tower of Babel narrative another account that includes a name. When God called Abram, a no name from Ur, God promised him many things but not least of this was the promise to make his name great. God would grant Abram a name that Abram did not earn but one that God gave him because He is a gracious God. Oh, and what name did the men of the tower attain? Babel, a name that means confusion because it never fails that when man exalts himself, God will bring him low.

So what’s in a name? Everything!

A Birthday, Wedding, & Funeral…

If you spend any amount of time with me, inevitably, you’ll hear these words: Pastoring may be many things, but it’s certainly not boring. It’s true. Shepherding is often a chaotic mix of joy and sorrow as one interacts in the lives of the different members of his flock. I love this about pastoral ministry! You never know what a day may bring forth…

Take today for instance…Yes, today was already slotted to be a busy day with sermon prep, blogging 🙂 and general administrative work. I also had two other exciting items on my to-do list: celebrate my wife’s birthday AND finalize details for my brother’s wedding next week in Florida. A birthday to celebrate and a wedding to finalize…How exciting!

But then, in the sovereignty of God, my phone buzzed me awake a little before 6am. Through tears, a precious daughter told me that her father had suddenly and unexpectedly entered into the arms of Jesus earlier this morning. Yes, as the sun was rising over the prairie, God added another item to my to-do list: prepare for the burial of a friend, fellow veteran, and loyal church member – Mr. Ron Gates.

Man alive, I’m going to miss Ron. His family knew him as a great husband and father, kids thought he looked like Santa Claus, but I’ll remember him as the man who always kept me on my toes in the ministry. Often, he would come up to me after a sermon and say, “Your message was ok. You did alright. Thank you for that.” He never laid on the compliments too thick or too light, but always just right. Indeed, I’ll miss his humility-inducing compliments and his big, big smile!

Yes, a birthday to celebrate. A wedding to finalize. And a funeral to plan. And all in one day! Again, this is the joyful sobriety of pastoral ministry. You are called upon to enter into people’s highs and lows, always reminding them that this life is not all there is, there’s an eternity that awaits us…

You know, it has been said, “Today matters because tomorrow can’t be assumed.” A birthday party, as great as it might be, points us forward to the day when there won’t be a birthday to celebrate anymore. A wedding, as exciting and momentous as it might be, points us to the inevitable finish line – “till death do us part”. Yes, it’s amazing how the very end of life (i.e., a funeral) helps us prioritize and cherish the very beginning parts of life, like births and weddings.

Ron’s sudden homegoing is yet another reminder to live life now, to laugh now, to love now, and to lead now! Why? “Because tomorrow can’t be assumed.” Certainly, for those who die in Jesus, “it is not death to die.” There’s an eternity that awaits us! But before we get to the other side, before we experience fullness of joy, before we sink our eyes into our Savior’s face, we live in the here and now…So, let’s cut the birthday cake and the wedding cake, relishing each special moment, taking it all in, realizing that the end is coming; and (I think) when we finally step into the great beyond, we’ll realize that this life really did matter, and that every little joy and every little smile was merely the prelude – a shadow – an appetizer – the precursor for something that all of our hearts yearn for – perfect satisfaction…

Ron, till we meet again, God bless you up there, I do love you, and I’ll see you when I see you.

A Mother’s Day Tribute To My Mom…

I don’t know about you, but I rarely stop to think about the impact of my mother on my present life. It’s not that I’m not grateful, but I just get busy with life, family, and ministry. But none of my present realities would be possible without my mother…

She gave me life…Though some advised her to seek other options, saying, “You’re too young for this!” She chose life and gave me life.

She raised me in life…Leaving her own family in Korea, she followed my Dad to America and raised four of us kids here. Yes, she raised me and my siblings far from her own home over there, so that we might be totally at home over here.

She pointed me to life…That is to say, she pointed me to Jesus, who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Yes, she pointed me to life – to true life!

From my mother, I learned the value of hard work and the wisdom of always double checking my work. From my mother, I learned the value of cleanliness in the home and the wisdom of occasionally decluttering my home. From my mother, I learned the value of quietness in life and the wisdom of sometimes choosing quietness, especially when things get painfully loud in life.

Then there’s all the fun things that I acquired from my mom…My love for spicy food has a direct connection to my mother. Indeed, some of the best memories I have of my mom is of the two of us quietly sharing a Korean snack of rice and kimchi in the kitchen…We would hide out in the kitchen and munch away from the rest of the family…Just the two of us, and no one else. My love for scary movies also has a direct connection to my mother…As well as my love for beautiful, but abstract art.

So, to my mother, thank you for being my mother. Thank you for your love, sacrifice, and loyalty. Thank you for always being there. I love you. Happy Mother’s Day! I can’t wait to see your smile in just a couple of weeks…