36 Random Thoughts For A Brand-New Year

In two days, it will be 2023. In six days, I will be 36. Yes, we’re about to enter a brand-new year and I’m about to be a year older. So, in anticipation of the brand-new year in front of us (and in pre-celebration of my upcoming birthday), I give to you 36 observations (in no particular order) about myself, life, and the Lord…

  1. I love Ramen noodles; and one package of Ramen is best cooked with a reduced amount of water (2 cups max). Add a raw egg over the noodles, and boil for 30 seconds, and you’re asking for a perfect sensation of Asian goodness in a bowl.
  2. Life is certainly hard, it’s harder if you’re stupid. Don’t be stupid.
  3. God is a joyful God who loves to give joy to His people. Indeed, “the joy of the LORD is [my] strength.”
  4. My favorite color is maroon (the color of fire and fury), but my favorite color combination is black and gold (the color combination of the U.S. Army and the Iowa Hawkeyes).
  5. Before I preach, I have at least two cups of coffee (pitch black, nothing added to it) and I listen to the song, “Well Done” by The Afters. Why this song? I always want to keep the finish line in view before I proclaim the finish line to my people at Prairie Flower Baptist Church.
  6. As my Dad frequently reminds me (and my other siblings), God is always good, there are no accidents, and pain has a purpose.
  7. I love to write. Writing allows me to clear my head, sort through my thoughts, and refine patches in my thinking.
  8. My wife is amazing. She cares for me, prays for me, and is loyal to the very end. Indeed, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” I found a good thing in Heather Cotner.
  9. The grand purpose of life is to glorify the Lord and to enjoy Him now and forever.
  10. I’ve only been stung by a bee once. I was a kid and had swatted a bee in the garage. I was curious and decided to go and pick it up to take a closer look at the flying menace. When I tried to pick it up, the bee’s stinger bit my finger and got lodged in-between my nail and finger. Don’t try to pick up dead bees with your fingers.
  11. Life is filled with both dark and bright strokes of color. Learning to paint with both colors is truly an artform.
  12. God has been better to me than I deserve. The longer I live, and the more mistakes I rack up, the more grateful I am that God has been (and will continue to be) merciful and gracious to me.
  13. I love to wear hats, but they have to fit just right. I don’t like boxy hats. The perfect hat (for me) fits snuggly on my head with no bumps or ridges.
  14. When I watch my daughter, Ann-Marie, perform her ballet, I’m literally moved to tears. She is naturally pretty clumsy, but when she dances, she is remarkably elegant and graceful. It’s beautiful to watch my daughter dance.
  15. God called me into the Gospel ministry when I was a young teenager. I’m now 9 years into my first pastorate. What a joy to be called by God, and Prairie Flower Baptist Church, into pastoral ministry.
  16. I am, by nature, a very serious, sad, and somber person, but my wife has the unique ability to bring out the fun, happy, and spontaneous side of me. It’s hard to get these vibes out of me, but she’s a pro at getting me to simply chill.
  17. Brothers are the best. I have two brothers, Steven & Samuel, and they’re literally my best friends. We text every day and when we’re together, we laugh, we talk, and give each other a hard time, but all in the best ways.
  18. Adopting Derrick was one of the greatest adrenaline experiences of my life. Flying out to Arizona, holding him for the first time…Wow…I don’t believe in magic, but meeting my adopted son was as close to magic in this life that I’ve ever experienced.
  19. My daughter Aurora is crazy…Crazy fun…She lives in the moment and is a hurricane of emotions, but she adds that spiciness to our family that keeps things interesting – very interesting.
  20. My oldest son, David, is David Paul Cotner IV. I have a not-so-secret desire that if he has a boy in the future that he will name him David Paul Cotner V. Wouldn’t that be cool?
  21. I love sushi. My favorite restaurant is Three Samurai in Coralville, IA. Check them out!
  22. On my bucket list are several items, to include writing a novel.
  23. My favorite outdoor chore is mowing grass. My least favorite? Shoveling snow.
  24. God is a holy God. That is, He is completely separated from sin and sinners. I can’t even begin to imagine a life without sin. What a day it will be when we hear the angels sing out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!”
  25. The Bible is far from boring. Those preachers who bore people with the Bible need to either up their game or get out of the game. The Bible is fascinating. Preach like it’s fascinating!
  26. I don’t understand Maid-Rite sandwiches. The loose meat is weird to me.
  27. Coke is better than Pepsi.
  28. I don’t think I’ve actually ever experienced loneliness. I’m introverted by nature and like to be alone, but people are always wanting to be around me.
  29. Iraq was life changing for me. Indeed, combat zones will change you forever.
  30. Everyone has a unique story to tell, filled with pain and pleasure. Though introverted by nature, I love to hear people’s stories.
  31. Loyalty, coupled with humility, are traits I value most in other people.
  32. Life is like a box of chocolates. So, you can always expect a nasty salted caramel or two in the batch.
  33. God is a giver of good gifts, and He has given me so many rich gifts. Thank you, Lord!
  34. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
  35. Teamwork is best accomplished with everyone striving for the same standard of excellence.
  36. Jesus is coming back. May He come back soon! Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come in 2023…

Advent Through Adversity

Too much weight upon the festivities.

We hustle and bustle with great expectancies.

The day of brings disappointments, from overwhelmed to underwhelmed, we feel slightly under the weather.

What was the point of the tree, the lights, the planning, the preparing, the food, the baking, the gifts, the get togethers?

Too much weight upon the festivities.

We hustle and bustle with great expectancies.

The day of should point us back, to a manger lowly, and it points us forward, to a crown most holy – King Jesus has come and is coming again!

So despite the pain, the rain, the insane, the drain, the hurricane, the stain, the chains, and the refrain…

We can advent through adversity, hoping not in the present getting better, but the future being forever.

Too much weight upon your festivities.

You hustle and bustle with great expectancies.

Instead, advent through adversity, focusing on the grace of the past and the joy of forever…

My Thoughts On Beautiful & Ghetto South Africa…

It’s been 3 days since my arrival back to the States from beautiful and ghetto South Africa. I say “beautiful South Africa” because, well, the country was simply breathtaking from its’ majestic mountain ranges, giving me “flashbacks” to The Lion King movie, to its’ exotic animals out on the Savanna. I say “ghetto South Africa” because the country is such a dramatic dichotomy of old and new, 1st world and 3rd world, American vibes and Iraq vibes…You can literally be in an area littered with pure trash, with people living in tin shacks, and then a couple miles later viewing houses and businesses of luxury. Yes, I’m fresh back from beautiful and ghetto South Africa.

Overall, the South Africa Missions’ Trip was wonderful. I mean that. The team, comprised of people from Welkom Baptist, Prairie Flower, and Lakeside Fellowship, clicked and jived so well. The character, competency, and chemistry of the team was thick with excellence. Everyone got along so well. There was no drama, ego matches, or petty arguments. Everyone on the team had a role to play and each played it well. Indeed, the chemistry between each team member was great. I’ve been on highly competent teams before with absolutely no chemistry, where people are vying for power or influence, and the work suffers. I would rather be on a team of low competency with high chemistry instead of the other way around where people’s egos are so inflated that the balloon of Gospel mission is about to burst. Praise the Lord for a Missions’ Team of high character, competency, and chemistry!

Our Missions’ Trip was mainly focused on organizing and executing a Youth Camp in the North West Province of South Africa. Probably the best aspect of this camp was what God accomplished at this camp. A young lady professed faith in Christ. God did that. Several young people made serious decisions for Christ, turning from various sins and addictions. God did that. A young man answered the call to full-time pastoral ministry. Again, God did that. Sure, I preached some sermons while others led in music, games, and counseling. But ultimately, God did the best work of saving a soul, changing lives, and calling a young man into the ministry. As King Solomon phrased it in Psalm 127:1a, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” The Lord truly built a great house on this Missions’ Trip and our labor with the Lord was not in vain.

The trip from Atlanta, Georgia to Johannesburg, South Africa is 8,434 miles (the 9th longest flight in the world). This gargantuan trip across the Atlantic Ocean takes 15 1/2 hours. And, I must confess, I had some real hesitancy in going on this Missions’ Trip…Is leaving my pregnant wife a good idea? Would the Missions’ Team get along? Would we see any spiritual fruit? What if something really awful happens to me or my family while on this trip? But in the end, God was faithful and was better to me, my family, and the Missions’ Team than we deserve. On this trip, there was great food, fun, and fellowship (the all-important Baptist Triple F). But more than that, on this trip, the Gospel was declared and people responded. And that right there (the Gospel preached and responded to in faith) is what matters most and makes a trip like this not just profitable for this life, but also for the life to come…

From the Desk of the Associate: The Fulfilled Promise of the Messiah, a Guarantee of the Return of the Messiah

Do you ever have a hard time waiting for something? If you are like most people the answer is yes. However, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, God calls us to patience. My kids are the perfect example of impatience. It seems that the younger we are, the harder it is to wait for our expectations to become reality. Maybe that’s why the timeless Creator seems to be so patient to fulfill his plan of redemption when to us time bound creatures it seems so long. Consider the first promise that God made to our original ancestors, Adam and Eve. God promised to send a Savior who would crush the head of the Serpent. Yet Adam and Eve never lived to see that promise fulfilled. God promised Abraham to send a Seed, through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Abraham never lived to see the promise fulfilled. In fact, he had to wait twenty-five years before he and Sarah would even have a son of their own. Consider that God promised to send David an offspring who would sit on his throne forever. David certainly did not live to see the promise fulfilled. And we could keep going into the lives of the prophets and the people who were carried away into Babylon. God promised to send the Messiah yet so many faithful men and women who trusted that promise of God lived and died without ever seeing that promise fulfilled.

Now, like Abraham and Sarah we come to another old couple who longed for children. Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for so long that God would give them a child. It would also seem that they prayed for the “consolation of Israel.” That is the fulfillment of God’s long awaited Messiah. Yet when the Angel Gabriel finally showed up to Zechariah to inform him that God had heard and was about to answer his prayer, he acted in disbelief. Maybe it was disbelief that God would finally act in his day. Maybe it was disbelief that God would use the means of an old man and an old woman having a baby. Either way Zechariah had the same response that many of us would have after such a long time waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. Yet in God’s time and in God’s power, this is a very small thing.

Zechariah temporarily lost his ability to speak but when his tongue was finally loosed after the naming of his son, we see that his response was to immediately praise God for his goodness, mercy and power in how he chose to act. He did not rebuke God or act indignant that God took so long. He only praised God because though it seems so long when we have to wait for the fulfillment of a promise, when it is finally here, it seems that two thousand years was no time at all when compared to such a blessing.

As we consider the lessons of all the faithful people of God who lived and died throughout the many generations leading up to the advent of Christ, let us us remember that though they did not see the promise of God fulfilled in their day, they were blessed for their faith in the promises of God. In fact, we are told that the faith in the promises of God was the very basis by which they were justified. In Romans 4 we are told that Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Just like Abraham and so many others, God commands us to believe his promises and not grow weary. In fact we too are justified on the basis of faith in the promises of God. Specifically, we are justified by belief that God will save us if we confess our sins to him and declare him as Lord.

In our day we still wait for a long awaited return of the Messiah Jesus Christ. As I grow older I look around and realize that I have very little ability to change the world into the utopia that seems to be in the heart of every human in one form or another. This makes me longs for the Savior, the One who can usher in the new heaven and new earth. The One who can put an end to all sin and suffering. It seems like so long to wait. Indeed, many have waited with great expectation for the last two thousand years and yet we are still waiting. If we are honest, most likely we will all pass away without ever seeing the return of our Lord. However, we can use the lessons learned from those who waited for his first advent to carry us and perhaps many future generations through our lives and help us continue to believe the promise of his return. Come thou long expected Jesus!

From the Desk of the Associate: Dominion and Dynasty, a summary of the promises of God

A couple years ago I was at a men’s retreat and I overheard a couple of other pastors talking about a book that they had read for a seminary assignment. The contents of this book intrigued me so I did what any other pastor would do, I bought the book and placed it on my “to read list.” The book was Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster. Well as I have slowly begun to make my way through this book I was amazed to see some of the main themes of the Bible laid out in the first chapters of Genesis and repeated many times after. Those two themes are these, first, God has prepared and promised a dominion for his people. That is, God has planned to give his people a place to rule. The second theme is this, God has designed his people to have a dynasty through the act of reproduction.

I’ll try to show you from Scripture that this is the case by opening to the book of Genesis. In chapter 1 we see that God creates the world and that He creates it for some very special inhabitants. God says in Genesis 1:26-28 “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” We can clearly see that God has created a place for his people to rule over. Where is that place? Initially it was the whole earth. God designed man to have rule over the earth and He designed earth to be ruled over by His image bearers. But what about the second promise? That is only slightly less obvious but if we look close we can see it. God commands His image bearers to reproduce and He has placed within their bodies the ability to reproduce more image bearers.

Any observer of the Bible knows that quickly after God’s initial act of creation and His commands to have dominion over the earth and have a dynasty by reproducing, humanity fell into sin. By rights they should have had their dominion and dynasty revoked because of their rebellion. In fact, something else happened, though they were kicked out of the garden of paradise, God promised to redeem them through their offspring or you could say through their dynasty. That is God promised to send the seed of the woman who would save and fix humanity.

Do we see these promises of Dominion and Dynasty repeated anywhere else? One of the most obvious instances of these promises being repeated is when God calls Abraham out of the pagan land of Ur and calls him to go to a new land that God would show him. This promise is laid out in chapter 12 of Genesis. “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse, and I you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'” God says to Abraham that he will replace his natural land that he would have inherited in his homeland with a different inheritance. God also seems to be saying that He will replace the natural descendants he would have expected in the land of his birth with a different kind of offspring and legacy. His land and offspring would be blessed supernaturally by God.

The rest of Abraham’s life is the playing out of these promises of God and in fact we see these same promises repeatedly in play through the rest of the Old Testament. Would God keep His promise to His people to give them the promised land and the promised offspring. Ultimately these promises, like all the promises of God will find their fulfillment in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God sent the ultimate offspring of Abraham and David to be born in a manger and to be the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He would die on a cross and secure all the blessings of the promised inheritance in the resurrection from the dead. Paul will later say in Galatians 3 that Christ is the ultimate offspring of Abraham. God promised to give the inheritance to the Offspring of Abraham, not to the many “offsprings” but to the singular offspring. So does God win back the inheritance He gave to humans and keep it for Himself? No. God says that in Christ we are inheritors of all the promises of God. In Hebrews 3:6 it says that we (believers in Christ) are God’s house. That is we are God’s offspring and we will inherit along with Christ. John 1 says that to all who believe in His Name we have been given the right to become children of God.

What does all this mean for us. Simply this, God gives his people a spiritual dominion and a spiritual dynasty. That is, we have dynasty through the making of disciples who are being conformed into the image of God or more precisely the image of the Son of God. And we will one day receive a very real and literal dominion in the new heavens and the new earth when we rule alongside our Savior as was always the intent of God in creating a people for Himself. That is our great hope, that one day we will receive that perfect dominion and dynasty.