“Foggy First Day: Starting a New Semester” by Andy Stearns

Today was quite foggy. Iowa isn’t known for fog like some more pacific and northwestern locations. We might have fog once or twice. But today it was really foggy. Looking across the campus was a challenge. One new student even got turned around in the fog and new surroundings, and was slightly late to class. Nevertheless, it looked like a bigger obstacle than it really was. Sure it was hard to see. But following well-marked paths on campus was the sure way to find your class. And by the end of the first hour, most of the fog had lifted.

As I reflect on the fog this morning, I can’t help but think about it as a metaphor for a new school year. For the incoming freshman class, most of this semester is unknown. Not having the experiences of the upperclassmen means that everything is new and different. But even for upperclassman, a new year of classes is still just that, new. Fog captures the experience of the unknown-but-not-totally-unknown of our lives. Seeing a few feet ahead, but not seeing the final destination, can be a bit fearful. The new school year is filled with these kinds of unknowns. What kind of friends will I make? How difficult will my classes be? What will the team be like? How will I find a job? A church? And of course the major question on every college student’s mind, what will I do when I grow up?

Thankfully, just as there are people on a college campus who know where all the buildings are because they have worked there for years, so the Lord knows the future of our lives. He’s perfectly knowledgable and aware of all that has not yet been, but will be. He knows what will happen in your today and your tomorrow. Nothing takes Him by surprise, even though we are surprised all the time. And just like there are well-marked paths on college campuses that direct you to your next class, so the Word of God always directs us to what God wants for our life.

Whether you’re beginning a new semester, or just walking into something unknown in life, remember that God already knows. He’s been aware of that unknown since eternity past. He loves His children. And we can always trust in Him. His Word is the sure and certain path that we are wise to follow if we want to live a life that pleases Him. Even when that life is filled with unknowns.

Have a great semester. Study and learn so that you can grow in the Lord and serve Him all your days.

Proverbs 3:5-6,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths

Proverbs 20:24,
24 Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord,
How then can man understand his way?

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24,
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

It’s Been One Month Since My Parents Moved To Iowa…

One month ago, my parents moved from sunny Florida to beautiful (and better) Iowa. Life circumstances, in the form of an unexpected job loss, initiated their move. Personally, I’m loving the fact that I’m only 108 miles from my parents, instead of 953 miles. How wonderful it will be to grow my relationship with my parents as they are much, much closer.

You know, when I first got word that my Dad had lost his job, I took it as bad news. But was it really? In fact, not to get too deep or philosophical, but what makes loss “bad”? At first blush, losing a job, or a house, or a relationship, etc. is viewed as a negative or bad thing. But what makes it bad? Is it really? I don’t think we can really label something “bad” till the story unfolds a bit further. Certainly, a job loss or relationship loss is painful, irritating, discouraging, etc., but is it a bad thing? Let the story unfold…

Perhaps that loss will lead to something new and better. Perhaps losing that job that barely got you by, opens up a new opportunity to do something that the Lord really wants you to do. Perhaps losing that relationship (perhaps a bit toxic in nature?) will lead to a strengthening of your inner person and open you up to a wonderful and healthy relationship down the road. Perhaps loss isn’t a bad thing…Painful? Yes. Irritating? Yes. Discouraging? Yes. But bad? Let the story unfold…

It’s still a bit early in my parent’s job loss story, but take note of my Father’s testimony below. He recently sent this testimony, in the form of a text message, to my brothers and I…

“So, today is one month since we closed on our house in Pensacola. All of the proceeds from our house sale are in savings. We have a great apartment that is cheaper than our house in Florida. We both have jobs making more than we did in Florida. We both really love being here in Iowa! The bottom line is that we are living where we have wanted to live for a long time. We are making more money than we have ever made in our lives. Our expenses are lower than before. And, we have thousands more in savings than we have ever had. Only God could make an outcome like this from a job loss. My encouragement to you is to always trust God, always follow His commands, and always remain obedient even when you don’t understand.”

What a powerful and encouraging testimony! And, I agree with my Dad…In the end (no matter the outcome of our different losses), God is worthy of our faith and trust, His commands are good and wise, and obeying Him yields peace and joy even in the fog of this fallen world. I love you, Dad. Thanks for allowing me to share a snippet of your current testimony. Praying for you…May God continue to bless you…And I’ll see you when I see you…Take care.

From the Desk of the Associate: Fight Club, a Story of the Flesh vs the Spirit

A few weeks ago I counseled our Sr High youth at Iowa Regular Baptist Camp as I do every year. This year however, was going to be special. This would be the first year that the brand new gym would be open for summer camp. I’ve been looking forward to this for years and now the time had come. As one of our members at church says, “Sr. High camp is the pinnacle of the summer camp experience and I happen to agree with this. One of the reasons I would give such a hearty amen to that statement is because I love basketball. Even at the ripe old age of 31, I still like to think that I give the younger guys a run for their money. Sr. High brings lots of good basketball players who get to test out their skills against other campers and counselors. Needless to say, its a good time.

Well, on Tuesday morning of Sr High camp I got to test out the new gym for the first time during pickup basketball. At 31 many guys I used to play with have hung it up already but I was still feeling great like I could do this for another 10 years. In fact my goal has always been to play at a decent level until my boys are old enough to play along with me. God has blessed me with a lot of health and for that I’ve been thankful. Though I’ve had several fairly minor ankle injuries, I’ve had healthy knees all through high school, college and post-college playing. I have always feared the knee injury but knew that it would likely come for me one day and knee injuries to heal like most ankle injuries. Well that day finally came on Tuesday morning of Sr. High camp. As I dribbled the ball up the court on a fast break, I veered to the side to avoid the defender who had stopped in front of me to slow me down. As I cut to my right, out of my peripheral vision I see another defender who was chasing me from behind. In that split second, he collided with me and his knee hit straight into the side of my knee as I was attempting my side step. This caused my knee to buckle in and I crumpled to the ground.

It’s really crazy how fast your mind moves in those instances because I felt the sharp and shooting pain immediately in my knee and my mind filled with fear and anger. Fear because I knew that the dreaded knee injury had finally caught up to me. Fear because I had no idea how bad it was. Fear because I had imagined a future where I could still run with my teenage sons instead of having to just watch them. Anger because I didn’t want to deal with all the pain and inconvenience that a knee injury would bring me. In that moment I hit the ground all these thoughts had already gone through my mind and I immediately slapped the floor and yelled “frick!” at the top of my lungs. I’m not defending my use of this euphonism, in fact I’d condemn it. (Largely because it sounds far to similar to another curse word.) This was just the outward sign of my flesh reacting. I think we can all understand this response. However, within half a second, in my mind I said “thank you Lord.” Just like the anger was an involuntary response, so this inner show of gratitude was involuntary. I asked myself why I was saying “thank you?” It was because God had given me 31 years of healthy knees and that is far more than what many others get, and second, because God is sovereign and He is good and He has promised to make even this work out for my good and His glory.

You see, the first response of fear and anger was my flesh and immediately the Spirit comes to correct and fight my flesh. What were the means the Spirit used? It was the truth of His Word that had been ingrained in me. The truth that all good gifts come from above and even the gift of good health, something that I don’t deserve had been given to me for so long and God was good. And the truth that even in the suffering I was going through He would be good. And the truth that however this injury would affect my future God would not only make it good, but that He had planned this in his perfect will to work out for my highest good and His glory. These are the truths that the Spirit flashed before my mind in just a few seconds. It was as if He simply said, “trust me.”

Does that mean that I was immediately over the pain and loss? No, I still had many moments of failure where I let my fleshly anger have the victory. However, throughout the week of limping around the camp, I was constantly reminded of the goodness of God despite my circumstances. Of course I realize that so many reading this have gone through such things and even things that are far worse. I do not tell this story as if this is the worst thing that could ever happen to me. I know that it is not. The truth is I’ve had a really good life. An easy life. But even in the little suffering and the big suffering, God is good. And our biggest suffering is not the pain and loss that we experience during this life. Our biggest suffering is that which is brought by the reaction our sinful hearts of flesh. We are far to often unable or unwilling to say like the Apostle Paul in Romans 8 that “I consider the sufferings of this present time are unworthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.” It is so hard for us to lift our eyes and set our mind on things above and not on things on this earth.

Though this is often true, it is the Spirit who uses the truth of His Word to cause us to embrace the promises of God. Promises that the pain we are experiencing doesn’t compare to the joy and pleasure we will experience with God. Promises that the joy and pleasures that we can experience on earth don’t provide the ultimate joy and satisfaction that will be experienced when the believer sees Him face to face. So please use my telling of my experience with the battle of flesh vs Spirit to cause you to prepare for your own battles by walking in the Spirit and filling yourself with truth and surrounding yourself with people who will point you to the Spirit.

Virtual Reality Worship…

The world around us is changing fast. This is most apparent in the world of technology. Even at age 35 (which I consider young), I find it difficult to keep up with all of the technological changes in our world. Enter my pastor-friend, Jason Poling, into this mix of our ever-changing world and technology…

Instead of being apathetic or scared of our fast-paced world and the technology changes around us, he has embraced these changes by entering the Metaverse. “The Meta, what?” you ask. The Metaverse is the world of virtual reality and my friend, Jason, is harnessing this strange new world to facilitate digital worship…

I was pretty skeptical myself when I first heard Jason promote this on his social media feed several years ago, but recently NBC’s The Today Show interviewed my pastor-friend to discuss his adventure into this new territory of relationship building and communication in the Metaverse. Check out this interesting and well-executed five-minute video below…

Disclaimer: I have not thoroughly thought through the implications of virtual reality worship, especially in terms of virtual reality communion and virtual reality baptism. I also have no current plans of entering the Metaverse. I simply find my pastor-friend’s ingenuity and his desire to reach more people with the Gospel to be inspiring…