From the Associate Pastor’s Desk: New Year’s Goals…

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Another year down and another year to go. The new year is always great because, for many of us, it means a fresh start. Most years, I just use the beginning of the new year to simply reset many things I should be doing better. I hate being cliché, so I do not normally do any official New Year’s resolutions. Although, this year my wife and I were spending some time together in the car, on our way back from Des Moines, and decided to make some official resolutions! Well, I guess I didn’t call them “resolutions”; I called them “goals.” Anyways, here are some of my goals for 2019…

1) Limit my phone time – This is difficult for many, but needed for most. Phones are great, and they make us so efficient; but I fear they often rob us of many small things we take for granted. I don’t have any science to back this claim up, just personal experience. So, this year my wife and I put password protected time limits on our entertainment apps so we can only check them a certain amount of times in a day. I hope that instead of flipping through news or sports at night, I can have better conversation with my wife; or instead of getting distracted with my phone, I can stay focused on the task at hand; or instead of pulling it out anytime I feel like I have five minutes of down time, I can use that time to reflect, start a conversation with someone near me, or pray.

2) Read a chapter of a book before any TV time – I used to hate reading, but now I love it! Reading can be very hard though after I have been in an office all day. It is much easier to “veg out” and pop on a TV show when I have free night. I don’t think that is wrong, but I fear I am missing out on some good opportunities. Reading is a skill that everyone should learn to love, because it helps our brains and imaginations stay sharp.

3) Enjoy one sweet treat a day – I used to try to limit myself to one sweet treat a week; but that would never last long, and then I would end up eating waaaaaay too much when I had a chance. So, this year I am choosing moderation instead of starvation!

4) Journal each time we go on a date – My wife and I always say we are going to start journaling, but never find the time. We love the idea of it, because there are so many good memories and lessons we want to remember. Journaling helps us to be reflective about the things we do and allows us to look at what we’ve done as well. It can be daunting to do every day, but we figured on a date night, while waiting for our food, would be a great time to journal.

5) Have one family in our home a month – I am always out doing things and spending time with people. In fact, I probably only get one or two free nights a week because I am always doing stuff with people. It’s different though to have someone in your home. There is a sense of vulnerability and intimacy that comes along with having someone in your home. My wife and I have not been as good this last year as we have been in the past, so we would just like to be more intentional about our hospitality this year.

Well, those are my goals! Nothing crazy, but some things that I think can make a big difference in the life of my family. What are yours?

New Year’s Resolutions Worth Keeping…

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A brand-new year full of possibilities, hope, and (for many of us) resolutions is just around the corner! For me, I have but one very important New Year’s Resolution. Get ready for this…Drum roll, please…In a given day, I am resolving to not eat anything (especially snacks) after 8 PM. That’s it. Indeed, if I can stick to this resolution, I might make some serious headway with my desire to lose some unwanted love handles around my stomach area. Can I get a witness?

The new year is a time for making such bold resolutions. Indeed, many will be made this January 1, 2019, but many will also be broken in the weeks after. What are some of your New Year’s Resolutions? How will you stay accountable this brand-new year? Below are some New Year’s Resolutions Worth Keeping…

  1. Listen Intently – You seriously can’t go wrong with this New Year’s Resolution. But endeavoring to become an active listener takes practice and hard work. In other words, it doesn’t just happen. Our minds, especially in the age in which we live, is so cluttered with thoughts and ideas that it takes some serious effort to really listen to the words of another human being. This new year, resolve to listen intently to the words of others. In doing so, you will discover deeper friendships, beauty, and the heartbeat of the people around you.
  2. Learn Carefully – One should never stop learning. The world is too big, and people are too complex, to buy into the delusion that you have it all figured out. No matter your age, never stop learning! This brand-new year, let’s all resolve to learn some things carefully. Notice I said learn some things carefully. I’m not talking about asking your smart phone some random question, getting the answer, and then dumping those facts out of your mind. There’s a place for such “dumpable knowledge,” but the learning I’m talking about requires careful study to the point that you are better and wiser.
  3. Lead Wisely – Speaking of wisdom, resolving to lead wisely is a great New Year’s Resolution. In fact, notice how all of these resolutions build on one another. That is to say, to listen intently leads to learning carefully; and learning carefully enables you to lead wisely. Yes, I know, there are so many books out there on leadership. Indeed, there are so many books out there on the topic of wisdom. But what is needed most in our homes, workplaces, churches, and communities is the marriage of these two concepts, namely, wise leadership. Again, this can only happen when leaders choose…resolve…to listen intently and learn carefully.
  4. Live Passionately – In the end, a life worth living is a life of passion. Will you resolve to live 2019 with more fervent passion? We need a little bit more drive…passion…in our martial relationships, parental relationships, church relationships, work relationships, and community relationships. See a pattern here? The best type of passion is the passion that is devoted to relationships. I urge you to make this resolution. Making this resolution, and keeping this resolution, has untold rewards. Don’t believe me? Just look to the life of Jesus and notice His life, death, and resurrection…It could all be summed up in just one word, passion.

A Christmas to Reflect

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I just sat down and listened to Pastor Jon’s Christmas message entitled, “A Christmas to Reflect.” He preached this sermon last Sunday (12-16-18) while I was gone on vacation. I highly recommend that you take 30 minutes and listen to this message (I will post a link to this message at the bottom of this blog). I was certainly blessed and refreshed as I listened; and I’m sure you will be as well.

In his message, based on Matthew 1:18-25, Pastor Jon emphasized that we must properly reflect on the Characters, Divine Conception, and the Bigger Picture of Christmas, or else, the following could happen:

  1. We can get bored with the Characters and start adding to their storyline, resulting in heresy (at worst) or inaccuracy (at best).
  2. The truths of Christmas can just become random facts instead of foundational, life-altering concepts.
  3. We can get caught up in the traditions of the season and lose sight of what really matters most (i.e. the Gospel and the Cross).

I also truly appreciated Pastor Jon’s big idea in this message, namely, “The nativity of Jesus is great, but only in light of the cross of Jesus.” Can I get a witness? Wow. For this being Pastor Jon’s first Christmas message, I would say that he did a pretty fantastic job relaying to us these truths. Indeed, let’s all reflect on these old, but always fresh truths of the Christmas season.

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Results of the 2019 Annual Election of Officers

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Last Sunday (12-9-18), our church held it’s Annual Election of Officers. During this important election, the following people were voted in as Officers for the 2019 year:

Zach Shepherd – Deacon

Mike York – Clerk

Steve Donnolly – Financial Secretary

Duane Davis – Treasurer

Brian Wilson – Sunday School Superintendent

Concerning the full Leadership Team, the 2019 Team looks like so: David Cotner (Lead Pastor), Jon Rocha (Associate Pastor – Leaving May 2019), Steve Bohn (Deacon), Will Luers (Deacon), Zach Shepherd (Deacon), Willie Van Der Molen (Deacon), and Eldon Yoder (Deacon). Please be in prayer for all these individuals serving this coming year.

Also, during this important election, we were able to vote on two other items. Concerning the Glen Galbraith Initiative, this item passed with an 89% approval rating. What a blessing to be a blessing to our missionaries! And concerning moving the Annual Meeting by one week, this item passed with 100% approval.

Three Reminders to Millennials From a Millennial…

 

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As a local church pastor, the number one question that I receive from people is not theological or philosophical in nature. Indeed, it’s just one of sheer exasperation, with perhaps a touch of humor. And it goes something like this: “What in the world is wrong with the Millennial Generation?!” Indeed, the generations previous to ours (though not perfect by any stretch of the imagination) have some real deal concerns about our generation’s poor work ethic, emotional patterns of thinking, and the perceived flightiness that seems to characterize our generation. And as a Millennial, I don’t know if I have any good answers to the questions that plague our generation, but to all my fellow Millennials out there (i.e. those of you born from 1981-1996), let me offer to all of us three friendly and needed reminders:

  1. True Loyalty Matters. For all of us in the Millennial Generation, we grew up in a culture and society with a ton of options. I mean just go to the grocery store and walk down the bread aisle. Think about it. We have a whole aisle simply devoted to bread…all kinds of bread…white or wheat or multi-grain…this brand or that brand…this size vs. that size. Indeed, our plethora of options span every conceivable product and business out there. We have options galore when it comes to grocery stores, barber shops, gas stations, internet providers, etc. And though I’m glad for these options, and grateful for these options, and not against these options, I wonder if all of these options have contributed to our perceived flightiness and lack of loyalty as a generation. That is to say, if we don’t like one brand of bread, we switch to another. If we don’t like how this barber cut our hair, we simply cut him loose (pun intended) and try another barber shop. Or if we don’t like prices at this gas station, we simply go to another gas station. Get my drift? Again, I’m not against having options, or being a smart shopper, nor am I against the American capitalistic system, but perhaps this type of thinking bleeds into how we treat our families, jobs, and churches? Yeah, it’s one thing to just pack up house and switch bread brands or internet providers, but it seems like us Millennials are doing the same type of thing with the things that really matter. You know, my fellow Millennials, there is something to be said about loyalty and sticking with your family, job, and church even when the newness fades. I wonder, have we been chasing after ethereal perfection in our families, jobs, and churches simply out of a bad habit that we’ve developed in other areas of life? In the end, I believe that we need to redevelop ourselves and become a Generation of Loyalty – even when it’s hard, even when it’s not fun, even when the itch to try something new invades – we need to be loyal. Because things like devotion, faithfulness, and loyalty really do matter.
  2. Thinking Accurately Matters. Notice I say thinking ACCURATELY matters. Because one thing is for sure, us Millennials do a lot of thinking, but it seems to be so emotionally based. It is nearly ridiculous how angry (or depressed) we can get at the drop of a hat. Sure, I’m not anti-emotions, or anti-passion, or anti-feelings, but for goodness sake, perhaps we are a bit emotionally extreme? Perhaps we’ve substituted accurate thinking for heart passion? Maybe we need both accurate thinking and passionate hearts? Perhaps we need to read the whole news article instead of just looking at the headline and picture and then shooting off our thoughts? Perhaps we need to research for ourselves, instead of having things spoon-fed to us through talking heads? Perhaps we need to reign in our emotions and ask more questions instead of making dogmatic statements all the time? Perhaps we’ve traded in our minds, and healthy thinking patterns, just so we can feel something deeper and stronger and longer? In the end, I think we need to rebrand ourselves and become a Generation of Thinkers – people who think with our heads, as well as our hearts.
  3. Hard Work Matters. Man alive, just talk with any employer who is part of the previous generations, and they will first laugh, and then shake their heads at our work ethic as a generation. We just can’t seem to stomach hard work anymore. We’re clock watches, and as soon as it’s 4:45 PM, we have our bags packed and we’re ready to hit the door. Now, I know, that doesn’t describe every single person in this generation, but for many of us, this is true. Why do we have such a strange aversion to working hard? You know, hard work never really killed anyone, but we sure act like it will! Yes, there is such a thing as balance. Surely, we want to work hard and rest hard. Yes, we want to put in our time, but not at the expense of our families. But, hear me, I fear that for a vast majority of us Millennials, we’re just a little bit lazy. Fellow Millennials, let’s not crash all of the hard work of previous generations, just because we crave a little bit more time off and relaxation. Yes, work hard and play hard, but my goodness, work hard – give a little more – and don’t expect a high five and smiley emoji every time you do the right thing. Because, in the end, perhaps we need to redefine ourselves and become a Generation of Workers – hard workers who build on the hard work of the past.

So, there you have it. Just a few thoughts to Millennials from a Millennial. Think through these items. Throw out the bad and incorporate the good. I’m definitely not trying to stir the pot as I write this blog; I’m just throwing out some thoughts…

Jesus In The Manuscript of Matthew

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This Sunday (12-2-18), we will launch our brand new sermon series through the Gospel According to Matthew. This grand expedition through the narrative of the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of JESUS will take us all the way into 2020. I am beyond excited at all that the Lord has in store for us (i.e. knowledge, growth, revival, etc.) as we focus on JESUS as a man, JESUS and His men, JESUS and His message, JESUS and His methods, and (ultimately) JESUS and His mission. In the end, in case I’ve been unclear, this new sermon series is all about JESUS! Check out the video below to get a taste of what’s in store for us, starting this very Sunday…

Your 2019 Officer Nominees

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After a thorough and prayer-filled nominating process, we are pleased to announce your 2019 Officer Nominees:

For the Position of Deacon (Elect 1):

Darwin Carroll

Zach Shepherd

For the Position of Clerk:

Mike York

For the Position of Financial Secretary:

Steve Donnolly

For the Position of Treasurer:

Duane Davis

For the Position of Sunday School Superintendent:

Brian Wilson

The Annual Election of Officers will be held on Sunday, December 9, immediately following the Morning Worship Service. The vote will be held by secret ballot. All elected officers will then take office on January 1, 2019. Also, please bear in mind, that during the Annual Election of Officers, we will vote on the Glen Galbraith Initiative and we’ll vote to move the Annual Meeting from January 6, 2019 to January 13, 2019. Please be in prayer over these voting items.

The Highway of Sand and Stars

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This is a blog post that I wrote back in April 2018 (perhaps one of the most difficult months of my entire life), but it’s worth reposting again (with some slight revisions) and perhaps reading again…

Like Sand Through Our Fingers

My wife and I are originally from Pensacola, Florida. When we have time and opportunity, we like to visit our hometown and stroll through the downtown area and walk on the very famous Pensacola Beach. The sand there is white. Indeed, if you’re originally from up north, the very first time you encounter white sand, your mind interprets such an oddity as snow…at least that’s what my brain did. But this sand is white, beautiful, and on a hot Florida day, will scorch your feet.

When I encounter such white sand, I always do the same thing…I’ll bend down and pick up the biggest handful I can muster. Do you know what happens when I do this? Inevitably, the sand will begin to run through the cracks of my fist; and as I slowly release this clump of sand, the rest of it will quickly and decisively throw itself back to the ground.

You know, I’m convinced that our attempts at finding ultimate joy, beauty, and satisfaction in this world are a lot like my attempts to hold this white Florida sand. Inevitably, all that we try to grab in this life for ultimate satisfaction runs through the cracks of our fist and leaves us empty and dry. Do you know what I mean? Perhaps this describes you right now. Are you desperately clinging to this life (family, work, money, land, education, travel) hoping for ultimate happiness? Like sand through your fingers, such attempts will leave you with nothing.

Stars In the Night Sky

So, like fools starring in our own parade, we look for bigger and bigger thrills. Indeed, I am convinced that mankind is in an unending pursuit of one powerful drug…wonder! We want to be amazed, inspired, and wowed by something that is so far beyond us, yet easily obtainable by us. We are creatures desperate for wonder…for amazement. We look to the stars on a chilly, clear evening and we make our wishes for happiness, treasure, or love. But even if we got these dreams to come true, would it ever be enough? I think not…

Satan’s Stunning Offer of Everything

One of the most amazing events recorded in the Sacred Text centers around the person and offer of Satan. You’ll remember the story… “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil” (Matthew 4:1). Remember the three temptations of Satan towards Jesus? The third and final temptation blows my mind the most… “Again, the Devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me'” (Matthew 4:8-9).

Do you realize what Satan was offering Jesus?! One word: Everything. Jesus was offered “all the kingdoms of the world AND their glory.” Jesus was offered it all…Jesus was offered all that this world has to offer in terms of joy, beauty, and satisfaction. And how did Jesus respond… “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” What? Why? How would you have responded if Satan legitimately offered you everything your heart so desperately craves?

Jesus and His Humble Forfeiture

Jesus once said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” It’s a fair question. But think about the direct implication of this question. Jesus was and is forcing people to choose: This world OR me? Jesus is essentially asking, “Do you want ‘all the kingdoms of this world and their glory’ OR do you want me?”

“Isn’t this a false dichotomy?” “Can’t I have both?” “Can’t I have sand, stars, and all the happiness that this world has to offer AND my Jesus too?” “Do I really have to choose?”

Yes, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” You can’t have this world and Jesus too. You just can’t. You must make a decision. Unfair? Too much pressure to decide? Maybe, but that’s the reality we all face.

The Curious Case of Solomon

The wisest and wealthiest man to ever live on planet earth can also vouch for the need to choose between this world (and its glory) and God (and His glory). In his book entitled, Ecclesiastes, Solomon describes his pursuit of joy, beauty, and satisfaction via the Highway of Sand and Stars. He said, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after the wind…” (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11).

What is Solomon saying here? Simply put, at the end of the Highway of Sand and Stars is mere emptiness that will leave you thirsty for more. Oh, you’ll have fun and enjoy yourself, but (in the end) you’ll remain empty. Laughter, wine, houses, gardens, cattle, sex, and song were not enough to satisfy the longing and aching of Solomon’s heart. Indeed, he had it all…and it still wasn’t enough…

Our Schizophrenic Pursuit of Satisfaction

As a local church pastor, I meet so many people who are on this quest for ultimate satisfaction. They try to fill a Gospel-sized hole with anything and everything except Jesus. But it’s Jesus alone that will satisfy. Do you believe that? Will you choose to believe it again?

Friend, I know it sounds cliché, and perhaps some nut jobs out there have tainted this message with their presentation of it, but the truth remains, Jesus (and a dynamic, deep relationship with Him) is the ONLY thing that will satisfy the cravings of your heart. Nothing else will satisfy. Not food, drink, pills, sex, education, children, houses, vacations, chocolate, movies, songs, power, fame, money, or any other experience this world has to offer will satisfy your longings.

Indeed, think about it, the Highway of Sand and Stars was never meant to satisfy the deepest longings of your soul. Perhaps this highway was just meant to stir your soul toward greater and deeper affections? Perhaps, by the grace of God, at the end of the Highway of Sand and Stars is Jesus Himself wooing you to something better? I mean, just ask the Wise Men. What was at the end of their literal Highway of Sand and Stars?

I beg of you, quit the schizophrenic pursuit of satisfaction by looking to the “kingdoms of this world and their glory.” Look instead to your Savior, Jesus Christ, and with bold faith say to Him, “I can’t see you now. I can’t hold you now. But I’ll worship you and serve you with love and passion.” And in the end, such a life won’t be sand running through your fingers, or some shooting star in the night sky, no, it will be life, joy, blessing, and glory forevermore.

My Fifth Year as Pastor

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In just a couple of days, I finish my fifth year (and will enter my sixth year) as the Lead Pastor of Prairie Flower Baptist Church. I can hardly believe how fast time has seemingly zipped by. Indeed, “swift fly the years.” Can I get a witness?

I was barely 26 years old when I took on the joyful burden of being one of the pastors at Prairie Flower. I am now 31 (almost 32 come January 2019) and over the years I have grown and learned so much. This is not an exaggeration. I knew barely anything about pastoral ministry when I began five years ago, but I’ve gleaned so much experience over the years. Yes, I have a lot more to learn, but by the grace of God, here’s some lessons I’ve learned along the way…

  1. Pastoral ministry has many periods, fewer exclamation points, and more question marks then I initially realized. Check out my Facebook post from five years ago…”Preparing for the weekend! For those of you who don’t know, I am candidating for the position of Pastor at Prairie Flower Baptist Church in Washington, IA! I’m super excited! Please pray for me and my family…we need grace, strength, energy, and wisdom from above! And as always…I love you Heather and Ann-Marie…you two are my greatest earthly treasures!” Not necessarily a bad post, but did you notice that every one of my sentences ended in an exclamation point? There are a total of five exclamation points in this one post. I almost wish I could go back in time and coach myself with the wisdom that ministry has moments of excitement, but pastoral ministry is mostly made up with good old-fashioned (sometimes boring) periods, and way more question marks then anyone truly cares for.
  2. Pastoral ministry is slow progression in a fast-paced world. In other words, there is nothing really fast-paced about pastoral ministry. Indeed, sanctification is slow (for the pastor and his people). Change, in the church, is slow (especially for the pastor). Growth (whether spiritual or numerical) is mostly slow. Yes, pastoral ministry is slow progression in a fast-paced world. In fact, if you want to thrive in pastoral ministry you must embrace the slowness of life and ministry, not buck against it.
  3. Pastoral ministry (at times) will tear your emotional guts out while simultaneously reminding you that God is always good. I have said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but I have never cried so much in my entire life as I have in pastoral ministry. The ministry is so emotionally exhausting at times! Yes, I know I used an exclamation point there, but it is definitely warranted. As a pastor, you minister to people who are both perpetrators of pain, and victims of pain, and all of that causes deep pain within your own life. I have gone to my garage many a time and simply wept over people, their sin, and their pain. My heart hurts for the evil and sin in this world. Indeed, if I’m not careful I can find myself in a carnival of despair and depression. But just as soon as the dark becomes really dark, God (time and time again) rushes in and reminds me of His goodness. How? All kinds of ways…from people, to nature, to an intrusive, but beautiful thought…Yes, God reminds me (especially in the darkest night of soul) that He is near, and He cares, and He is good.
  4. Pastoral ministry is done by sinners for sinners. There is no getting around it. I am a pastor and I am a sinner. No amount of pastoring will ever obliterate my sin nature. I still get angry, prideful, and gluttonous. Does that list disturb you? It shouldn’t…and it could be longer. Indeed, if you’re reading this, you have the same heart I do and, according to Jeremiah the prophet, it’s so sick and deceitful, who can know it?! But by the grace of God, I am saying “no” to my sinful flesh more today than I did five years ago, and God still chooses to use me despite all that I am (i.e. a sinner) and all that I am not (i.e. fully sanctified). The same is true with you. Aren’t you glad?
  5. Pastoral ministry (specifically at Prairie Flower Baptist Church) is a joy. I was recently reading in my personal devotions through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He says this in the fourth chapter, “Therefore, my brothers (and sisters), whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” Wow. I read those words and just stopped for a moment. I thought to myself, “Could I really say this about the people of Prairie Flower and actually mean it?” Then I began to think of all the people that make up this precious church…So many names, so many precious people…And I concluded, you know, I’m no Apostle Paul, but I love the people of Prairie Flower. They took a risk on me, bringing me as their pastor at barely 26 years of age, with no prior experience at all…Yes, they took a risk on me, and gave me grace upon grace upon grace as I made many mistakes. Simply put, they have loved me these past five years. How could I not love them in return? Indeed, I love the people of Prairie Flower and pray that I grow in my love and admiration for them.

Just some thoughts as I get ready to exit year five of pastoral ministry and enter year six. Nothing mind-blowing or earth-shattering here…and that’s ok. Why? Well, I still have much to learn in the years to come…thanks for reading.