From the Desk of the Associate: The Spirit of Fear

We live in a day of fear. We all know it. We all experience it. I am not talking about acute fear like when you almost step on a snake, or when you see your toddler fall in a pool, or when you have to slam on your brakes to avoid an accident. All these things are what we call “healthy fear”, and it helps us react quickly and properly to an immediate danger. No, the sort of fear I am talking about is a fear of a potential future that is very unpleasant.

The kind of fear that is permeating the culture around us, and is being pushed by our media and politicians, is basically this kind of fear. There is a virus that has a high likelihood of killing you or someone you love; therefore, you must submit to all sorts of measures that we (the government) could never get you to submit to if you were not terrified. This fear has led people, who would have been completely normal and reasonable just two short years ago and changed them into people who fear to be in public, people who fear their neighbors, and people who fear that their death from the virus is imminent. I expect many of the people who read this article will agree with me that the response of these people has been largely overblown. To be clear, I know that this virus has killed a large number of people, but I also believe that the response and the fear that has been triggered has largely outpaced the actual danger of this pandemic to the average person…

You see, many of you reading this little blog post probably look at the double and triple maskers and scorn and roll your eyes at their level of fear. You can correctly see that these people have succumbed to the message of the mainstream media and politicians. What you cannot see as clearly is the spirit of fear that has snuck its way into your own heart and mind. Many on the right (from which I am writing) see that the left has overblown this pandemic in many ways to push their agenda. What they miss is that they themselves are driven and controlled by a different fear. For instance, I believe that most conservative Christians are influenced by the same fear that drives me…The fear of government overreach, the fear that churches will be persecuted, the fear that Critical Race Theory and the radical sexual agenda will be crammed down on society and on our children, and the fear that our country will be lost. Now from my point of view, all of these fears are completely legitimate. In fact, I myself struggle with thoughts of all of these things, but I think when we look around us and identify all the challenges and dangers that confront us, I think that our fear has blinded us to the response that God would desire from us.

Christian, in these times of fear and doubt, remember, God has not called us to spend our life in comfort and luxury. I think in America we have taken for granted that we have basic human comforts and freedoms that have not been the norm for God’s people for the vast majority of history. So much of the theology in the American church is so weak and shallow because it has not been tested in the fire of persecution. Only in America could the idea be born that “God wants you to have your best life now.” Or that “we are David, and our boss is Goliath and God will give us victory to get that big promotion.” And only in America could it be said that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” means that I can win this football game. By the way, that verse was about Paul being able to withstand suffering through Christ who strengthens him, not winning a football game!

Christian, you have forgotten in these times of fear and doubt that God gave us a spirit “not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Just for context, when Paul wrote this, he was in prison and about to be executed. Over and over again God commands his people not to fear. Is this because he promises that there is never any danger or discomfort? No, it’s because that for the Christian, “all things work together for good.” Bad things work together for good. Persecution works together for good. Covid-19 works together for good. Critical Race Theory works together for good. Cancer works together for good. Why? Because all of these things that the Evil One means for bad, God twists them around and turns them for good. How frustrating it must be for Satan to do all he does only for God to thwart his plans!

Christian, so what should our response be to God’s command not to fear, and his promise to turn all things to good for those who belong to him? Read Deuteronomy 4. Moses was reiterating God’s law and promises to the people before they faced the biggest challenge of their lives. He says this in Deuteronomy 4:9, “Only take care and keep your soul diligently, lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.” We are commanded to take care that we not forget God’s Word or cease to believe it. How do we do that? We keep reading it and studying it with a heart of belief so that we constantly remember to do it. What else should we do? Look at the second part of verse 9, “Make them known to your children and your children’s children…” The world and the Evil One are not neglecting to teach our children and grandchildren. Christian, how can you neglect to actively teach and remind your young people about the commands and the goodness of God? How about instead of wringing your hands and bemoaning the fact that our children are going to face hard times and suffering, we begin to intentionally teach, model, and equip them to live out their faith in the midst of a lost and dying generation. And lastly, how about we get down on our knees and lift these fears to our Father in Heaven who has promised to walk through the floods and the fires with us…

Christian, stop pointing to the people who are controlled by the spirit of fear of this pandemic without realizing that you too are being influenced and controlled (often times) by your own spirit of fear. Start sowing to the Holy Spirit and walking in his power by prayer, and by the Word, and by his Church. I will leave you with this thought from Hebrews 10:23-25 as we face these dark days in our nation, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

To Live & Lead: My Personal Leadership Principles…

Over the years, I’ve exercised leadership in a variety of different settings…I’ve been an Officer in the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program, a Grocery Manager at Winn-Dixie, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, a Student Officer at Faith Baptist Bible College, and (now, currently) a Lead Pastor here at Prairie Flower Baptist Church…I say all that to say this: For the last 20 years, since the time I was 14 years old, I’ve been fascinated and immersed in pursuing and perfecting (or at least attempting to perfect) the art of leadership.

So much could be said about the art of leadership. Indeed, I believe leadership is more of an art than a science, but that’s a topic for another day. But below are some of the leadership axioms – my personal leadership principles – that I’ve picked up over the years. These are the principles by which I try to live and lead. To be sure, none of these statements are unique with me, but (over the years) they were repeated over and over and over again (by those in leadership over me) to the point that I adopted these principles and made them my very own…Yes, these statements encapsulate my pursuit of excellence for the glory of God…

  1. Don’t Be A Slow Poke: “Move with a purpose.” -Learned In The Civil Air Patrol
  2. Don’t Be Messy Or Disorganized: “Pick it up. Don’t pass it up.” -Learned In The Grocery Store, Winn-Dixie
  3. Don’t Make Changes Quickly: “Slow is smooth. And smooth is fast.” -Learned In The U.S. Army
  4. Don’t Be A Simpleton Or Generalist About Life: “It’s complex. Learn to appreciate nuance.” -Learned In College
  5. Don’t Assume Everyone Knows: “Communicate early and often.” -Learned In Pastoral Ministry
  6. Don’t Be Satisfied With Just Being Ok Or Average: “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” -Learned Over The Years From Excellent Leaders In Business & Ministry

Yes, no one is perfect. Yes, there is always room for grace. Yes, we need to be kind and considerate to those who can’t keep up. But these are good leadership principles to bind yourself to…At least I think so…But what would you add to this list?

A Chicken With Its’ Head Cut Off…

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “So-and-so is running around like a chicken with its’ head cut off.” Kind of a disturbing idiom, but it carries the idea of a person who is haphazard with their schedule, aimless in their organization, or frantically reacting to life instead of proactively planning and responding to life. Does the chicken with no head expression describe you?

I’ve been in leadership long enough to realize that far too many people struggle with scheduling, organization, and general life planning. In fact, I am deeply disturbed at how many Christian leaders struggle with these basic leadership skills. It seems to me that far too many of us are flying by the seat of our pants, overstressing ourselves and frustrating the people around us, when we could carefully and smoothly get our work done.

In fact, let me talk directly to those of you in leadership positions. Maybe you own your own business or lead in a non-profit, let me speak to you very plainly. If you fail to schedule, organize, and plan your business or non-profit, you might find yourself very busy (and reasonably productive) as you constantly react to situations and people, but you will fail to achieve what you originally set out to achieve and your long-term goals won’t get met in good time (if ever)…Make sense?

I first became keenly aware of the importance of proper scheduling, organization, and planning while deployed in Iraq with the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). I served as one of their Intel Analysts. Our plan/objective was simple: Kill and capture high value Al-Qaeda targets in Iraq. But here was our constant challenge/chaos: Angry villagers and tribal leaders who wanted clean water…I mean, there were constant riots. “Clean water! Clean water! Clean water!” Now imagine if our operators only focused on the chaos in front of them without ever addressing the underlying chaos enablers (i.e. the terrorists)…No good to dig new wells in these Iraqi villages if they’ll just get poisoned or blown up by insurgents. Gotta stay on task…Gotta stay on mission…Gotta stay on plan/objective…Kill and capture high value Al-Qaeda targets in Iraq and (in time) the clean water will come!

What’s my point? Well, as leaders in your field, you gotta become Masters of Chaos…Controlling the chaos or (inevitably) the chaos will control you. If you allow chaos to control you, then as a leader, you’ll be nothing more than a chicken with no head…And you’re the leader! So if you have no head, guess what happens to the people following you?

Well, what’s the why behind the what of this issue? Here are five of the hidden culprits of improper leadership administration (i.e. scheduling, organization, and planning)…

  • Lack of Passion – You won’t find any motivation to administrate well if you hate what you do. Do you LOVE what you do?
  • Lack of Focus – You won’t administrate well if you have developed poor habits of distracting yourself with entertainment, vices of various kinds, etc. Are you willingly A.D.D.?
  • Lack of Planning – You won’t administrate well if you don’t plan to administrate. Indeed, “Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance” (Army phrase). Can’t administrate something you don’t know needs to be administrated…Write it down…Plan to administrate…Plan to plan!
  • Lack of Discipline – You won’t administrate well if you don’t discipline yourself to keep on keeping on even when the going gets tough. You gotta be CONSISTENT with your administrative system. Get this…Administration is the essential, but unattractive oil of a properly functioning business or organization. You have to discipline yourself to stay on task, on target, and on time. Yeah, it’s boring. Yeah, it’s not fun. But, yeah, “administration won’t make your business, but it can certainly break your business!”
  • Lack of Gratefulness – You won’t administrate well if you aren’t grateful for the limited time you have here on earth. I am utterly convinced that so many people struggle with administrative skills because they lack basic understanding of, and respect for, time…You don’t have much time left on planet earth, and some of you are living (and working) like you have all the time in the world…A healthy understanding of your incredibly short life and a healthy fear of your impending death are strong motivators to get your junk together and administrate well…

And just to be clear, poor administration has nothing to do with a deficit of intellect, vision, or charm…In fact, some of the smartest, most visionary, and charming people I’ve ever met are just plain bad at administration because they lacked either passion, or focus, or planning, or discipline, or gratefulness, or some combination of these hidden culprits…

So, do you struggle with administrating your life and work? Are you just plain bad at scheduling, organization, and planning? Do you allow the chaos of your life and work to control you too much? Here’s two practical tips to be a better person and leader…1) Buy and use a paper planner…“A paper brain never forgets!” And 2) Buy and read the book, Mastering Life by Robert J. Morgan…Excellent book and easy to read!

The Fall of Afghanistan…

Like many of you, my heart has been a tad bit overwhelmed by all of the bad news in our world today. From the coronavirus spike to the fall of Afghanistan, it just seems to be one bad news piece after another. I tell myself not to watch or read the news, but the pull towards all of the quickly developing stories is just too enticing at times.

The fall of Afghanistan was particularly hard for me to read about. I’m still in frazzled awe that the Taliban (an extremist terrorist organization) could overtake the country of Afghanistan in just a few weeks. I mean, after two decades of war, thousands of lives killed and injured, and trillions of dollars being invested over there, all of our efforts at nation building seemingly went up in a puff of smoke.

You know, it’s funny how history repeats itself. From the fall of Saigon to the fall of Afghanistan, the similarities are eerily similar. In fact, after hearing of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, I immediately texted many of my Afghanistan War buddies – the new Vietnam War veterans…

Their thoughts, as you can imagine, are all over the map. From low-grade sadness to complete rage…Many of my friends who fought and bled over there are just simply upset and confused by the Afghan military’s cowardice, the speed of the Taliban, and the seeming incompetence of our nation’s leaders to respond.

You know, like many of my Afghanistan War buddies, I know the pain and challenges of war. But I served in the Iraq War, not Afghanistan, and I’m just at a point where all I can do is deeply empathize with my fellow brothers-in-arms and pray for them. I wish I could do more.

Then, there was yesterday, August 26, 2021. The bloodiest day of conflict in Afghanistan since 2011…13 U.S. service members from the Marine Corps, Army, and Navy were killed near the Kabul airport. How my heart hurts for these brave service members and their families. Indeed, their sacrifice is not in vain, but try telling that to the rest of the Afghanistan veterans right now…

As a former Army intelligence analyst, I truly fear that a great and new “Axis of Evil” is rising in our world today. And as a red-blooded American, I am truly hurt and angry at our foreign enemies and our domestic leaders who are responding to these foreign threats. But (long pause), as a believer in Jesus Christ, I must rest in God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and love. I mean, what else can I do? Where else can I go? He (that is Jesus Christ) holds the words of eternal life (John 6:68). In these difficult and dark days, I choose to look up and trust my God…He’s got this. We certainly don’t. But He does.

A Prayer For Prairie Flower Baptist Church…

Loving Father,

We bow in your presence and worship you for who you are…You are the great I AM. You are faithful in every season. You are perfect in all of your ways. Who among the “gods” is like you? Indeed, there is no one who comes close to your greatness, splendor, and holiness. O great God, our God, you are good and do good, teach us your ways!

As we ponder your many attributes (your divine perfections), we confess that we are nothing like you. We are sinners by birth and sinners by choice. We willingly ignore you and pursue our own idolatrous pleasures. All we like sheep have gone astray! Indeed, prone to wander, Lord, we feel it! Prone to leave the God we love. Forgive us for our willful wanderings and sinful choices.

Thank you. Thank you for your forgiveness and grace. Thank you for saving our souls. Thank you for giving to us your Word and your Truth. Indeed, all who are on the side of Truth, listen to your voice! Thank you for sharing your voice with us. Thank you for being our God!

As a church family out here on the prairie, we ask that you would continue to help us and bless us. Yes, despite all that we are (a sinful people) and all that we are not (a completely sanctified people), please help us and bless us. Help us to be bold with the Gospel. Help us to love you with all of our being and our neighbors as ourselves. Bless our endeavors to serve and minister to our community. And please continue to bless the preaching and singing of your Holy Word. Yes, help us and bless us to be a strong church that makes disciples for your great glory!

In Jesus’ Name – Our Savior and King’s Name – We Pray All These Things (Humbly & With A Desire For Your Will To Be Done) – Amen!

From The Desk Of The Associate: The Church – Who Needs It Anyway?

In recent years and decades there has been an alarming decline in church attendance. Leaving the unconverted aside, why do we see so many professing believers rejecting the idea that regular church attendance is God’s will for the believer? There are probably a few different categories of Christians who do not prioritize regular church participation, but lets tackle a couple of them.

First, let’s look at the “Someday Individual,” I mean that person who thinks that someday they will get involved in a church. When they reach a certain milestone then they will start taking their responsibility to the body seriously. Young people are notorious for this. There seems to be some sort of fumble during the hand off between youth group participation and participation in the church at large. Maybe this is the problem with the way many of us do youth ministry. Also I suspect that this is just human nature. How many of you are planning to start that diet, or to get into shape, or to start reading that book, or you name it. Many of us have good intentions, but never actually get started beyond one or two half hearted attempts. When it comes to church commitment and participation I believe it looks like this for many young people: “I need to focus on schooling, I’ll take church seriously when I graduate.” Then they graduate and this is what they tell themselves: “I’ll take church seriously when I settle down and get married.” After marriage: “When we have kids we’ll find a church and bring our kids.” The dirty little secret is that just like your diet or workout plan, you will unlikely ever find it high enough on your priority list to actually make a meaningful commitment. Worse yet are the older folks who should know better, but they tell themselves the same lies and go through the same cycle. These are the “Someday Individuals.”

Second, lets look at the “Lone Ranger Christian.” This person believes that they really do not need the church. They maybe have been burned by a church in their past. Maybe they have experienced real hurt at the failure of their church. Maybe they used to be a “Someday Individual” and now they simply see no need for the church at all. After all, they have a relationship with God and know how to read their Bible and pray. Why do they need the rest of the church at all? Even if we take this person at their word, and they are indeed some kind of super Christian who is not really dependent on others for growth in godliness, wouldn’t you think that it is possible that God gifted this person with extra Christian fortitude to bless other Christians? The Bible gives many answers to both these ways of thinking, but I believe any individual who neglects to make a serious commitment to a local body of believers has a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s will concerning the growth of a Christian.

The Bible gives an outright command to Christians to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is, but to encourage and exhort one another and so much the more as we see the day approaching.” See God knows that we are fickle and frail individuals who need to rely on one another for strength and encouragement in the faith. As I said above, even if you are not someone who needs to draw a lot on others, do you not see that others may have a need to draw on you for encouragement? It is our duty to sometimes ask not what our church can do for us, but what we can do for the church. In another place the Bible says that we are to “let the peace of God rule in our hearts as we were called together in one body and to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” This is something that is clearly meant to be done primarily in the context of a local church. How can we fulfill these responsibilities if we do not know the people in the church and are not known by them? What we are really saying is, “God, we know more than you about our growth and sanctification.”

A lot more could be said on this issue, but one last response I would give to the person who does not see church commitment as a priority is this…In multiple passages, the New Testament likens the local church to a physical body. This means that God has given each individual believer a gifting and responsibility for the building up of the church. When you fail to fulfill your commitment, you are depriving the body of that part that God has given you to be for His church. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you need the church and the church needs you!

Guest Blogger – My Father – David P. Cotner II – “The Holiness of God”

What is Holiness?

God is absolutely holy. But what does this mean? The Bible says:

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8).

The holiness of God is His chief attribute. It regulates all other attributes: love, justice, mercy, etc.

Holiness contains two main ideas:

  1. Separateness – God is unique. There is none like Him. He is completely separate from creation; He is not a part of it.
  2. Sinlessness – God is completely without sin. He is perfect; nothing else is perfect.

What God’s holiness means to us:

  1. He cannot do wrong.
  2. He cannot do what is harmful.
  3. He cannot change.

Why God’s holiness matters:

  1. His word is right and can be trusted which gives us a solid foundation.
  2. His will is certain and cannot be altered which provides a sure future.
  3. His plan and purpose for us cannot be anything but good which helps strengthen faith.
  4. Holiness must be the regulating factor in our lives which will give us a steady focus.

“We praise You, Father, for Your holiness. May we ever live in awe of You. Give us this day the things we need to glorify You, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

The Patience of God

This week, my wife is out of town in Pennsylvania. She is enjoying some time with her Beachbody team. This incredible team of women encourages my wife to stay physically and spiritually fit. I am so glad that she gets some time away with her friends.

But since she is away, I am at home with our three oldest children. Thankfully, she took our youngest child, Derrick (just 6 months old), with her, but I get the joyful burden of watching our 9-year-old, 7-year-old, and crazy (truly crazy) 3-year-old. Heather has only been gone for a little over 24 hours, but I am already so grateful for all that she does for our kids!

I mean, it never ceases to amaze me at how much I have to repeat myself with my children. I’m always saying things like, “Now, what do you say?” Or “Aurora, your shoes are on the wrong feet. Switch them, please.” Or “Please stop running in the house!” Or “Don’t forget to give the dog food and water.” Or “Did you brush your teeth?” Or “Stop fighting”. Or “Stop whining.” Or “Stop talking back!” You get the idea, especially if you’re a parent. Wow. My kids (perhaps your kids too) hear these constant refrains.

I must admit that I often get easily irritated with my kids. I think, “Why don’t they listen? Are they deaf? I’ve told them these things a hundred billion times!” But as I was reminding my 3-year-old of something that I’ve told her a million times, it dawned on me…I’m not a very patient father, but God (my Father) is always patient with me.

I thought to myself, “How many times has God had to remind me of the simplest truths or commands? And yet, I am slow of mind and hard of heart to listen and remember…” God the Father often reminds me to trust Him, to love others, and to serve with pure motives, and yet I easily forget or (worse yet) I ignore Him and choose to sin. And still God is ever so patient with me, loving me, and blessing me despite all that I am (a hard-hearted sinner) and all that I am not (a fully sanctified saint).

So, today I am thankful for the patience of God. He lovingly reminds me (over and over and over again…a hundred billion times) that He is with me and for me. He doesn’t ever lash out in anger and is always ready to help me and forgive me. Indeed, the patience of God should be one of the primary motivators of my patience toward my own kids and the other people in my life. Yes, our God is a patient God, and I am in awe of His constant, never ceasing patience!

Hear now the words of Scripture in regard to the patience of our great God…

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” – Psalm 103:8

“But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” – 1 Timothy 1:16

Therefore…

“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” – James 5:8