Membership Sunday: The Vogels!

This Sunday, March 13, we will bring into membership Greg & Marsha Vogel! The Vogels have been attending our church for several years and are now making the plunge into full-blown church membership. We’re so excited to have Greg & Marsha as an official part of our church family! Below are their testimonies of salvation and baptism…

Greg Vogel’s Testimony of Salvation & Baptism…

Don’t always like to tell my testimony as it involves a girl, but not the girl I married…Not supposed to talk about other women you know…

I was not raised in a Christian/church going family. Not bad people, just had our own ways.

I never even went to a church until I was 19. The young lady I was seeing at that time was a believer. Probably the first Christian I had any real dealings with. After a few months of going to church with her and talking with people there, I was sitting in my room at home reading the Bible (and other papers about Jesus) and I decided that this was right. I prayed right there, just God and me, agreeing that His way was the right way, that I was a sinner, and I asked for His forgiveness and to show me the way to live.

For various reasons, I stopped dating that young lady but got in with some other believing friends at another church and was baptized there about 18 months later.

This life since has not always been what one would call an easy or straight path, have had my adventures, but through everything God is still God and Jesus is still risen from the grave. And that is reason enough to follow Him.

Marsha Vogel’s Testimony of Salvation & Baptism…

Growing up in a Christian home, we were at church any time the doors were open, and they were open a lot. We also did devotions every evening and/or morning. If Billy Graham was on TV, we were watching. It was after watching one of these crusades on TV, that I snuck out of bed and went out to my Mom and said I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart. She made sure I understood what I was doing and helped me pray. Shortly after that I went through a membership class and was baptized, along with my older sister.

As we grew, we didn’t get to do many extra-curricular activities at school, but my dad made sure we were able to attend all the church activities, including summer camp and retreats. As we got older, we had to help earn these events, teaching us a good work ethic. As we didn’t move and attended the same church for 25 years, I was very comfortable and participated in most of the events/activities in the church.

We are on our 10th move since I married Greg. I love the fact that I have seen a lot of the country and met so many people. It has made it a bit harder to start to feel at home in a church though. We have tried to contribute of our time and talents wherever we are. We love the friendliness of Prairie Flower Baptist Church and their strong desire to spread the Gospel and preach the Bible. I look forward to growing and serving with you.

“They Found Hope”: An Article From Baptist Mid-Missions on John & Bev Leonard

More disabled people live in São Paulo than in any other city of Brazil. The reason is not surprising. This megacity of 22 million offers Brazil’s best healthcare, accessibility, and transportation—essential services for people managing conditions like paralysis, blindness, deafness, or mental disabilities. Families of disabled people move to São Paulo from all parts of Brazil for these burden-lifting services.

For the same reasons, missionaries John and Beverly Leonard uprooted themselves from northeast Brazil to São Paulo State in 2007. Two years earlier, on July 3, 2005, everything in their lives changed. John had finished preaching the evening service at the mission church he and Bev planted in Coqueiro Seco. In this drug-scarred community on Brazil’s coast, the Lord gave the Leonards marked success in leading addicts to salvation and to Christ-transformed lives. This didn’t escape the local drug lord’s attention. Threatened at his loss of territory, he sent assailants who waited outside the church. Their intention was murder, but instead their gunshot left John a quadriplegic.

Through tears, John and Bev knew that God makes no mistakes and that the only way to overcome evil is with good (Romans 12:21). From his hospital bed in Des Moines, Iowa, where he was flown, John sent a statement to the local newspaper in Brazil, declaring forgiveness for his attackers and concern for their souls. He also prayed each day that God would give him grace to not ask…

“Why?”

Spr22 TFH Bev Food Distribution

Instead, the question John and Bev focused on was “How?”

Deep down, they knew God had not released them from His call to Brazil, a call tracing back to John’s childhood as the son of Brazil missionaries Jerry and Frances Leonard. But how could they serve with this unexpected derailment of what they previously could do as missionaries?

After extensive physical therapy, the Leonards returned to Brazil in 2007, trusting God to show them what missions would now look like. They moved to São Paulo State, close to good medical care. Each day, Bev cared for John’s needs and loaded him into their adapted van. Although their work was now harder, they let God use them to help start four churches and to conduct ministry among Brazil’s Guarani Indians.

In 2020, with John facing increased health challenges, the Leonards moved from the outlying areas of São Paulo State into the city of São Paulo itself. In the late 1980s, BMM missionaries Marv and Diane Fray were the lead church-planting missionaries for Igreja Batista Esperança (Hope Baptist Church), located in the heart of São Paulo. This urban church seating 1,000 people has missions outreach in its DNA. The Frays’ burden was to reach ALL the lost souls of São Paulo, including those with special needs. A ministry to the disabled was initiated. This work has been organized and is currently under the direction of a Brazilian missionary, Lidia Costa. The Leonards had previously participated in the ministry from time to time. In 2020, John and Bev were invited to lead the ministry’s evangelism/outreach branch.

Esperança’s ministry to disabled people functions similarly to any other, with special get-togethers and outings to build relationships. The group has its own Sunday School, and those able to do so are invited to attend church services or join the church’s other Sunday School classes. Disabled believers go through discipleship classes to be baptized, and several made their public profession in last August’s baptismal service.

One of the group’s evangelistic outreaches is camp. In October 2021, 100 disabled people and their caregivers boarded São Paulo’s handicapped-accessible vans for a weekend retreat. Before the final message, the crowd chatted among themselves until John wheeled up to the front. The room became dead silent, and all eyes fixed on John. Here was someone just like them, and they hung on every word. Among the people making decisions afterward was a blind woman named Cintia, who received the Savior. Other group leaders were shocked. Formerly, she was antagonistic toward the gospel, but hearing it from someone who understood physical loss gave her hope that Jesus cared about her and that He could give her new life.

Spr22 TFH Cintia

The ministry had made initial contact with Cintia through food distributions during COVID-19 lockdowns. It was a particularly difficult time for disabled people, when São Paulo temporarily halted its accessible van transportation. During that year, Esperança’s ministry regularly distributed food to 250+ disabled people and their caregivers. During each package distribution, they prayed with the recipients and counseled them. Many new families began coming to evangelistic meetings held specifically for them. Several people received the Lord and are being discipled.

Bev has been surprised at the number of opportunities to pray with and counsel caregivers, some of whom have accepted Christ. One of these is Nena. She and her husband took in their niece, Nicole, after her mother (high on drugs) slammed her into the wall repeatedly and left her brain damaged and quadriplegic. After delivering food and medications to them last July, John and Bev shared the gospel, and Nena found eternal hope in Christ.

John lives with daily pain due to his neurological damage, but he made the decision long ago to forego pain meds. In the early days of his recovery, doctors prescribed narcotics that left him with a mind too foggy to think and, even worse, a difficult addiction to overcome. He often thinks about the addicts he worked with in Coqueiro Seco. Back then, John couldn’t fully understand what they were experiencing, but now he can say, “I’ve been there, and with the help of the Lord, I’ve overcome.”

When families of the disabled see John in his wheelchair and Bev with her caregiving challenges, the Leonards have a unique platform for the gospel that comes only through deeply identifying with people’s hurts: “We’ve been there – and are still there – and with the Lord as your Savior, He can help you overcome too.”

War in Ukraine…

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has got my American blood boiling. As an Army Veteran, I hate to see the advance of evil in our world. Indeed, I’m praying for the country of Ukraine, its’ political leaders, and military soldiers. Specifically, I’m praying that the Ukrainians would be brave as they attempt to beat back the thick darkness that has descended upon them from land, sea, and air.

As I think about the War in Ukraine, I am reminded of my time of service during the War in Iraq. I served in the U.S. Army as an Intel Analyst/Paratrooper from 2006-2010 and deployed twice to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I served as a Targeting Analyst during my first deployment and as a Political Analyst during my second deployment. Here are some basic lessons I learned during the War in Iraq that surely apply now to the War in Ukraine…

  1. Evil exists. So many of us are quick to reduce evil to a mere concept, but mark my words, evil has a face. There are evil people in this world, and they intentionally unleash evil deeds upon people and places. Evil people aren’t simply misunderstood or lacking in hugs, they are evil by choice. Evil people tenaciously seek to steal, kill, and destroy. Yes, evil exists.
  2. Good exists. Despite the advance of evil in our world, there is good in this world “and it’s worth fighting for.” Indeed, goodness has a face. There are good people in this world who are willing to hold the line and beat back the darkness. I had the privilege of serving with such people during the Iraq War. They come from all walks of life but are willing to stand up against tyranny and oppression. I thank God for such people.
  3. Life is fleeting. Here is the sad reality of the War in Ukraine: People will die. There is nothing that can prevent this sad reality. Both soldiers and civilians, adults and children, young and old, will perish in this war. Blood will be spilt. War is such a stark reminder that life is precious, but fleeting.
  4. Eternity is forever. All of the people who perish in this bloody conflict will be ushered into one of two eternities: Heaven or Hell…This is the ultimate binary reality of life. For those who perish inside of Jesus, they go to Heaven. For those who perish outside of Jesus, they go to Hell. This is why I left the Army to pursue pastoral ministry. People need to know, during wartime and peacetime, that this world is not all there is, there’s an eternity that awaits us. Are you prepared for eternity?

Pray for the country of Ukraine. Pray that Ukraine experiences victory over Russia. Pray that the Gospel advances despite evil…

My Wife’s Question…

As we sat at our little round table in the kitchen, sipping our morning coffee, my wife said to me, “So, I was reading in Leviticus 21 earlier this morning, and I have a question.” Leviticus 21? A question? I was intrigued. “What’s your question?”, I asked her excitedly. “Well, I was rather disturbed by God’s qualifications for the priesthood. He says that no one with a blemish or defect may officiate the offerings as a priest. I mean, didn’t God make these people with such defects (i.e., blind, lame, etc.), why would He make them this way and then disqualify them from the priesthood?” Wow! A deep question…And I hadn’t even finished my first cup of coffee yet!

So, we examined the text together. The Scripture text in question reads like so…

“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries, for I am the Lord who sanctifies them.’ So Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel.” – Leviticus 21:16-24

How should we take God’s prohibition against certain Levites with blemishes and mutations? A few thoughts surface in my mind, and I would like to present three of those thoughts in this blog post. In fact, I will unpack this prohibition using three lenses: the harsh lens of sovereignty, the gentle lens of grace, and the ultimate lens of holiness…

The Harsh Lens of Sovereignty – Simply put, God is sovereign. He is in perfect and loving control over all peoples, places, and procedures. If He says that a disfigured man is disqualified from certain priestly duties, then that’s the way it is. Psalm 115:3 is clear, “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.” Furthermore, the Apostle Paul, in unpacking God’s sovereignty in salvation, states in Romans 9:20-21, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” Certainly, if God is sovereign over our salvation, He is sovereign over who will serve Him in certain roles and who will not serve Him in certain roles. So, why did God give a prohibition against certain disabled men serving in priestly roles? Well, simply put (and perhaps harshly stated), God is sovereign, and He does whatever He pleases.

The Gentle Lens of Grace – There’s another way to look at this Leviticus 21 prohibition and it’s through the gentle lens of grace. Yes, God sovereignly chose for some of these men to be born into a handicapped situation. So, He graciously limits them from certain activities. Think about it. How cruel would it be for God to allow a Levitical priest to be born blind and then require him to offer sacrifices for the people of Israel. How’s he going to see what he’s doing?! Or how mean would it be for God to sovereignly make a man lame and then require him to offer the daily sacrifices. How’s he going to get to the altar in his lame condition?! God sovereignly allowed these men to be born with, or develop through an accident, a defective condition, but in His grace He limited what they could do in serving Him in the tabernacle.

The Ultimate Lens of Holiness – Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Why did God set a boundary upon who could serve as priests and who could not? Because God is holy and He required pictures of holiness through animals and people of wholeness. No defective or spotted lamb could be offered as a sacrifice to God. Only the best lambs could be offered in sacrifice. Why? Because God is holy and He demanded pictures of holiness through animals of wholeness. In the same way, no defective or spotted man could serve as a priest. Only the best men of the tribe of Levi could serve in the priestly role. Why? Because God is holy and He demanded pictures of holiness through men of wholeness.

Man alive, my wife’s question was a good one. I trust my threefold answer was equally as good. Now, to finish my coffee!

2022 IARBC Annual Conference

We are excited to try something new for our IARBC Annual Conference.  We are headed to our camp at IRBC for three days of challenge and encouragement from the Word with our theme, As For Me and My House – Discipleship at Home.  

Pastor Samuel Choi and Dr. Kraig Keck are our keynote speakers for the conference. They both have a passion for the family and ministry.  

The conference has something for the whole family!  We have workshops planned for both men and women.  Faith Baptist Bible College Students will help with children & teen classes.  We will have great food and fellowship in The Cove and opportunity for activities in The ROCK and on the campground.  

There are affordable options to register and stay on the grounds or at area hotels.  

Plan on joining us!

Tim Capon
IARBC State Representative

Phil Betz
IRBC Director

Register Here: http://irbc.org/retreats-events/iarbc-annual-conference

Pay Attention To Detail…

The longer I serve in leadership, the less enamored I am with people who have a big vision for the future. Vision. It’s such a buzzword in modern-day culture (both in business and in church). Now, don’t get me wrong, good leadership certainly has a big vision for the future. But how does a vision go from a mere dream to a reality? It’s all in the details…

Indeed, the longer I serve in leadership, the more enamored I am with people who pay attention to detail. I think that such a person is who King Solomon had in mind when he penned these words in Proverbs 22:29, “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” The idea here is of a painter, sculptor, or woodworker, who, with passion, focuses his energy on each and every brush stroke, chisel, or cut. The vision of what could be and should be is there, but it comes together with a godly obsession and zeal for each and every detail.

When I served in the military, I would often interact with Captains and Majors. Most of these men were highly intelligent and skilled in combat. They would outline the mission with stunning precision and then rely upon guys like me to execute the mission by obsessing over the details that they laid out. But every now and then, I would encounter a military officer who had so many good ideas, but with no concept of the details. Indeed, we would call these officers “the good idea fairy.” These officers had great and grandiose ideas for the future, but no real pathway to get these ideas up off the ground. Alas, many of these good ideas died in infancy. Why? Because a vision of the future, without a detailed plan to get there, is, well, useless…and annoying. Vision demands details. Yes, vision demands that we pay attention to each and every detail.

The mantra of many today seems to be the following: “Well, at least it’s done.” OR “At least no one died!” OR “Done is better than perfect.” Sometimes, especially in a crisis, these are words to live by. But in the regular rhythms of life and leadership such statements are possibly indicative of a lazy spirit who prizes a task being done over a task being done well. Let me say it straight up: Anything worth doing is worth doing well. From mopping a floor to preaching a sermon, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Or to phrase it another way, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth paying attention to each and every detail…

2022 Church Committees

Many of you know and appreciate the pastors and deacons of PFBC. But did you know that we have so many other incredible servants out here on the prairie? Below are the PFBC Committee Members, serving you and our church family this year. Please be in prayer for these folks as they serve…

Audit Committee:

Darwin Carroll

Klint Gingerich

Decorating Committee:

Cheryl Bohn

Kendra Gingerich

Worship Music Committee:

Darwin Carroll

Lori Carroll

Will Luers

Lisa Van Der Molen

Constitution Review Team:

Braden Carroll

Jess Caster

Jackie Morgan

Phil Parsons

Aline Schipper

Pastor Tim or Willie Van Der Molen

Some Miscellaneous Positions:

Nursery/Child Care Coordinator – Heather Cotner

Head Usher/Director of Security – Jerry Dunbar

Church Librarian – Aline Schipper & Pat Rouse

IRBC Messenger – Pastor Tim

Food Fellowship Coordinator – Nancy Wilson

What To Do With A Big Decision…

Perhaps you are grappling with some big decisions. Maybe you’ve been offered a promotion at work, a chance to expand your business, or an opportunity to do something really big. How exciting! But, as a Christian, how should you approach a big, exciting opportunity? What should you do with the big decision in front of you?

  1. Be Thankful – You’ve obviously been offered this opportunity because you’ve worked hard, and now you’ve been recognized for your efforts. Don’t allow the sinister disease of pride to infest your heart. Stay humble and be thankful. Continue to work hard in your current station (don’t fluff an inch) but thank God for this big opportunity in front of you. The Apostle Paul is clear in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
  2. Start Praying & Fasting – You need wisdom. Thankfully, we have a promise from our great God in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom (and you do), let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Pray. Pray. Pray. You need God’s wisdom. Yes, you need that wisdom from above that is “pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). Pray, but also fast. Abstain from food at certain intervals, over a period of time, and devote yourself instead to prayer, specifically on the big decision in front of you. Why fast? Because Jesus modeled this discipline for us in places like Matthew 4 and commanded us to practice this discipline in places like Matthew 6.
  3. Get Godly, Wise Counsel – “In an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14b). Start talking to the godly people in your life. Talk with your pastors. Talk with your Christian friends. Talk to your mom and dad. Surround yourself with people who love you and will speak truth to you. Get their insight. Get their perspective. Ask them for their godly, wise counsel. Weigh their words carefully, paying special attention to any Scripture passages that they present to you. In general, there is no such thing as too much godly, wise counsel.
  4. If Married, Strive For Unity If you’re married, you are in a one-flesh relationship (Genesis 2:24). Your spouse was uniquely gifted to you to help you with many things, not the least of which is sorting through big, exciting opportunities. Strive to lovingly get on the same page. Resist the urge to coerce your spouse. If this big opportunity is from God, there is no good reason to sell this opportunity to your spouse. Talk it out. Pray it out. Pray and fast together on the issue. Strive for unity in your big decision.
  5. Actually Make The Big, Big Decision – At the end of the day, you have to make the big decision. Certainly, you should pray and fast, get godly and wise counsel, and think through the decision very carefully. But do not overthink the decision to death. Make the big, big decision and thank God for the clarity and peace that He provides to you in what you decide to do. Philippians 4:7 states, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

From the Desk of the Associate: The Thriving Tree

When I was just a poor college student, I worked my summer and off hours for a lawncare company. We did the typical mowing and weed control for commercial and residential properties. There is something so satisfying about mowing a lush green lawn and looking back at your very precise cross-stripped mowing pattern and just think “wow! what beauty.” Now with some lawns it was impossible to get to this perfectly lush and green standard. Many of our customers were working under a certain budget that did not include room for the type of measures that such a lawn requires. There were some customers who wanted that luscious lawn but who did not invest in the fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and watering that were required. I remember thinking one day of a customer who had commented that her property was looking as sharp as some others but then she refused my boss’s offer to apply fertilizer and pesticides. I remember thinking that this customer was like many of us. We want lush and green spiritual lives but we refuse to invest the time and energy into making this happen. It’s not that it isn’t possible, we just don’t do the things that we know we should.

Over and over in Scripture, God uses tree metaphors for the Christian life. Just think of Jesus’ statement in John 15, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…. Abide in me, and I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” Jesus is clearly stating here that if we want to have a fruitful life we must abide in him. Consider also, Galatians 5. Paul states that we will either bear fruits of the flesh or we will bear fruits of the Spirit. Many of us learn the verses about the fruit of the Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” But though many of us learn what the fruits of the Spirit are, we take them to be imperatives and not indicatives. In other words, Paul is simply describing what someone who is led by the Spirit looks like, he is not commanding us here to be loving, joyful, peaceful, etc. but he is saying that someone who is led by the Spirit exhibits these things. Does that mean this is just something that passively happens to us? Or to go back to John 15, do we just passively abide in Jesus the vine?

Jesus and Paul are very helpful because they don’t leave us guessing. Jesus goes on to state in verse 7 of John 15, that “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Jesus will go on to say in this same dialogue, that He would be sending the Holy Spirit who we know enables the follower of Jesus to bear fruit. Back to Paul in Galatians 6, he says that in order for us to bear certain fruit we must plant certain fruit. Galatians 6:7-10 “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. The interesting thing about Galatians 6 is that it is all in the context of living our Christian life in community of other Christians. In other words, we sow to the Spirit by abiding with other Christians.

It’s not just the New Testament that uses trees and fruit metaphors for the godly person. Look at Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” David is describing what it takes to be a fruitful person. It seems that the distinguishing feature of a thriving person is their delight in God’s Word. Can’t you hear the echo in Jesus’ words when he said “if my words abide in you”? We will bear fruit if we delight in God’s Word frequently. But there is another more subtle aspect about Psalm 1 that we should not miss. David contrasts the thriving person with the wicked person as someone who surrounds himself by the wicked, sinful, and scoffers. What’s the application here? Well it’s the same as Paul’s application in Galatians 6. We are to surround ourselves with others who are seeking to be fruit bearing Christians, we also call this the Church.

So to boil it all down, what does it take to be a Spiritual fruit bearing person? We must abide in Jesus by delighting in his Word, and we must plant to the Spirit by living in community with those who are also abiding in Christ. I am probably not giving you some groundbreaking revelation, but many of us are like the customer that I described at the beginning. We want a lush and green life and we know what it will take to get that but we just don’t want to invest our time and energy in God’s Word and God’s people. I hope that will not describe me in the coming year and it is my prayer that it won’t describe you either.

Flirting With Death…

It was July of 2021 and I honestly thought I was going to die. I was so far from shore and the current underneath me was so strong. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was caught in a dangerous rip current off the Gulf Coast of Mexico. I was far from shore and the waves were high and pummeling my already tired body.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a strong swimmer. In any pool or body of water I only go as far as chest high. Indeed, I can swim, but I’m not proficient by any stretch of the imagination. The thought of drowning is perhaps one of my greatest fears in life, next to killer clowns and creepy basement crawlspaces. I respect the water. I fear the water. To die in a watery abyss is beyond scary to me.

Indeed, that day in July had started off with so much excitement. My brother, Steven, had just sworn into the Pensacola Police Department as a police officer. My heart swelled with pride as I witnessed my brother raise his right hand and take his solemn oath. My little brother had just become a cop! My other brother, Samuel, was also with me at the swearing in ceremony. It was a proud moment for the three of us brothers. We decided to celebrate by heading to Pensacola Beach…

We swam around and played around for hours. We wrestled in the water and cracked jokes that made us laugh till our bellies hurt. Man alive, it was such a good time! The sun was beginning to set, and we decided to take one last lap in the water. We were all tired, but happy, and wanted one last hurrah in the Gulf before heading to dinner.

Then it happened, I popped out of the water after seeing how long I could hold my breath, and I was so far from land. Indeed, the current was pulling me farther and farther from land. Fear and panic gripped my body. My life flashed before my eyes. Images of my wife and children (especially my new – always smiling – adopted son, Derrick) flashed before my eyes. I was so scared. “You can’t swim!”, my brain screamed at me with aggressive passion. After a few more seconds of panic, I made the decision, “It’s sink or swim; and I’m not going to die today – not today,” I told myself. So, I began to swim. The struggle was real and intense. Amazingly, I never took a gulp of water with all the waves crashing in around me. I swam hard. I swam ugly. I swam for my life. “Not. Going. To Die. Today. Keep going…Don’t quit…Don’t stinking quit…”, I told myself as my body chopped through the relentless waters. I was tired. Exhausted. I wanted to stop, to catch my breath, but to do so meant certain death – death by drowning.

By the grace of God, I survived that day. All three of us brothers were able to escape that strong rip current in the Gulf of Mexico. As we got to the beach, we flopped on the white sand in satisfied, nervous exhaustion. We were alive…by the grace of God.

You know, I’ve been close to death several times. From incoming mortars in Iraq to some scary car accidents, but that moment in the Gulf was intense. I’m grateful to be alive. Still breathing. Still moving forward. Still on mission.

Flirting with death is an uncomfortable grace that is filled with adrenaline and high stakes passion. Indeed, to escape death gives you new perspective and a renewed vigor for life. Ultimately, God is the giver of life, and He is sovereign over our lives and over our deaths. To Him be the glory both now and forever, amen.

As I exit 2021 and enter 2022, I’m still up and moving. Yes, and I intend to keep moving till my bones collapse and God says, “Come home.” Till then, the time to live, love, and lead is NOW, not later. You and I are not guaranteed any set amount of time here on Earth. James 4:14 clearly states, “What is your life? For you are a mist [a vapor; a puff of smoke] that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

So, resolve with me to live this quickly vanishing life with all the passion of a non-swimmer stuck in a rip current to the glory of God. Are you struggling right now? Scared right now? Uncertain right now? Keep going. Don’t quit. It’s sink or swim – choose to swim.