A Roll Of The Dice

So I have been in the book of Proverbs recently in my devotions.  If you have never read through the book of Proverbs, it is a list of wise sayings.  There are so many great instructions in that book that it can become overwhelming as you read, because it seems like there is so much to learn.  But the point is not for us to be overwhelmed, but rather for us all to learn that true wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.

As I have been reading through the book I have noticed several wonderful wise proverbs that I had never really noticed before.  Some of them are very practical, while others caused me to pause and ponder them in greater depth.  One of my favorites that I came across today was Proverbs 16:33, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.”

That is such a profound thought.  So often we tend to think that we are in control of most everything in our lives, and that whatever we are not in control of is left up to chance.  But this proverb reminds us that ultimately it is God, not us, and not even chance, who is really in control.

It is really a powerful image of the roll of the dice.  We can picture a guy at a crap’s table in Las Vegas deciding whether or not to keep rolling the dice and then blowing on them and rolling them down the table hoping for a lucky number seven to come up.  When you think about it, that is often a picture of the way we live our lives.  We make decisions based on what we think or hope will happen, then we roll the dice, hoping that everything will come out the way we want.

But if we really understand this proverb, then we know that God is the one in control.  So a better process would be for us to be connecting with Him to find out what His will is for us and then trusting ourselves into His hands, instead of relying on chance.

I think we have the problem fixed

I still don’t really know what was going on, but I think the blogs are back to working again.  I am sorry for all those who have tried to follow us over the last few months, but hopefully we will have some smoother sailing from here on out.  Thanks.

Why No Blogs?

Over the last month and a half I have not been able to post new blogs.  I have been trying to figure out what the problem was and kept hitting a brick wall.  Every solution that I came up with proved to be no solution at all.  I actually wrote three separate blogs thinking that everything was working fine, only to find that when I went to post the blogs they simply disappeared and all my work went down the drain. Believe it or not, I actually thought for a moment that maybe it was God not wanting me to blog about a particular topic, but after the problem persisted I quickly ruled that out.  I thought it was a problem with the WordPress software or our hosting site, but after checking with our site administrator, he assured me that things were working fine for him.  He suggested that I check my firewall settings, because I had recently purchased a new computer and that is when the problem started.  I tried every firewall and internet setting that I could think of and nothing allowed me to fix the problem.  It was very frustrating.  Finally today I found out that it was simply a problem with the way Internet Explorer version 9 was handling the blogging site and so I switched back to the IE 8 interface and everything went back to normal. 

For those of you who check back regularly at The River website for new blogs, I am sorry if you have been frustrated over the last month or so.  I plan to get back to my regularly scheduled blogging practices moving forward.  Thanks for your patience!

Get In The Boat!

We had a great time this past Sunday in church talking about leaving our comfort zones to follow Christ in a whole new way.  We looked at Matthew 14, where we see Jesus walking on the water and then Peter joining Him.  The main point was that while we tend to identify with the guys who stayed in the boat instead of walking on the water, in reality we probably are not even in the boat.  We are more like the crowd of people who followed Jesus enough to be fed (the feeding of the 5,000 is the passage right before this one), but who did not leave everything behind and get in the boat like the disciples did.  So in reality, the challenge is not for us to get out of the boat and walk on the water, it is for us to get into the boat so that eventually maybe we can get out of the boat and walk on the water.

That opens up a great discussion on what does “getting into the boat” represent in our lives?  In what way is God calling us to a more radical following of Him than we are currently doing.  And once we establish what that is, are we going to be willing to go beyond simply being fed by Jesus and take that step of faith to follow Him in a radical way?   

You know the Bible is filled with wonderful stories of men and women that followed God in an unusual way.  They stepped out of their comfort zone in faith and experienced God in incredible ways.  Men and women like David, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Ruth, Peter, Paul, Timothy and others.  Of course throughout the history of the Bible, there are men and women who followed God enough to be fed by Him and never took that extra step of faith to experience Him in a radical way.  Those people are mentioned only as part of the crowd.  They are not the people we look to as examples.  We don’t hear many sermons preached on them.  But most of us are content with simply living our lives as part of a crowd who are following God enough to be fed.  The question is, do we want more?  Do we dare to step out in faith and get in the boat with Jesus, leaving behind our comfortable lives to follow Him in a radical way?

I challenge all of us to consider this question: What does, “getting into the boat” mean for me?  What does it look like for me to leave behind my comfortable life and follow Christ?  How is He calling me to follow Him?

You can listen to the “Get In The Boat!” sermon from April 3 by going to our online sermon page (https://riveralliance.com/?page_id=70).  I received so many comments from people after the sermon that I will be following up this Sunday with a closer look at how these guys got in the boat in the first place.  So if you are nearby, please come out and join us this Sunday.  And feel free to comment on this post to start a dialogue about what “getting in the boat” means for each of us.


My family loves March Madness.  For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, each year at this time the college basketball season comes to a close with a 68 team tournament.  The 68 teams are put into a bracket that will decide the eventual champion.  That bracket is then posted online and people all across the country fill it in to show who they think will win. 

My wife and I and our 4 children fill out the bracket each year to have a little family fun.  Whoever ends up with the most points at the end of our tournament gets to be “king” or “queen” for an evening at our home.  This provides some great entertainment as we keep track of the winners and losers over the course of the 3 week tournament. 

Each and every year I watch the games and find myself amazed at how unexpected the outcomes are.  Each year there are teams that I am sure will be unbeatable, only to find them get upset in the early rounds.  And each year there are underdog teams that I am sure have no chance of winning, only to find them pulling off upset after upset and wreaking havoc on my bracket. 

For instance, last year I spent some time carefully choosing my bracket winners based on my understanding of basketball, my observations from games that I had watched during the season, and advice from several basketball analysts from ESPN and other sources.  On the flip side, my 6 year old daughter chose to base her bracket winners on teams that came from places where she or her family and friends have lived over the years.  For that reason she chose Butler, an underdog team from a small school in Indiana, to beat some much more highly regarded opponents.  Obviously, she turned out to be right and my family and I found ourselves watching Cinderella and having a “ball” in our living room because Kalyn was “queen for a night.”

This year I once again used my head and came up with what I thought would be a very solid bracket.  But all of my final four teams wound up losing in earlier rounds and my wife and 8 year-old daughter are now in position to win this year.  Once again, Butler proved to be my downfall.  I chose Butler to lose in the 2nd round, while my wife chose Butler to make it to the final four.  She was right, and I was wrong.

But surprisingly Butler is not the biggest underdog team this year.  Virginia Commonwealth University deserves that title.  When the bracket was first announced several analysts ripped the selection committee for including VCU in the tourament.  They believed that VCU didn’t belong.  One analyst even called the inclusion of VCU “indefensible.”  VCU did not have a great season.  They finished 4th in the weak Colonial Athletic Association conference.  That’s one spot lower than Hofstra.  They lost 11 games during the season including losses to Georgia State, James Madison and Drexel.  Many analysts did not even expect them to make the tournament, much less win a game. 

But they didn’t just win a game, they have made an unbelievable run, beating Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas on their way to the Final Four.  They were the underdog in each game and yet wound up beating 4 teams from bigger conferences who were all expected to win.  VCU is this year’s biggest underdog story.

Basketball analysts refer to games like these as “David vs Goliath” kind of matchups.  In each game they played, VCU has been like David facing Goliath.  That’s a great reference, because David was the biggest underdog ever.  No one gave him a chance.  He defines what we think of when we call someone an underdog. 

Consider this, David wasn’t even big enough yet to go to war.  His brothers were part of the Saul’s army, but not David.  He was keeping watch over the sheep and running errands for his father.  He was just a boy.  Goliath was a man.  A seasoned warrior.  He was battle tested and an impressive physical presence.  He stood over 9 feet tall.  His armor and weapons probably weighed as much as David.  And yet David came at him with just a sling and a stone, and won!

That is probably the biggest underdog story in the history of the world.  It was so big of an upset that to this day we still talk about upset matchups in sports as David vs Goliath.  But there is one verse in that story that I just love and that is I Samuel 17:48 where it talks about how David ran to meet Goliath.  David didn’t think of himself as an underdog, he simply faced the enemy in front of him with a courage born of his trust in God.

Maybe in your life today you feel like an underdog.  Maybe it feels like the problems you face are bigger than you are.  I want to encourage you to remember the example of David.  Don’t listen what others might say about your chances.  Don’t consider yourself an underdog.  Run to face the obstacle in front of you with courage born from a trust in God.

The Investor

My Uncle Bob passed away about a week ago.  I wasn’t able to make it to the funeral, but I will miss him dearly.  He had a major impact on my life and I thought it would be worthwile for me to share why. 

For much of my life we lived within 45 minutes of Uncle Bob and his family.  So we were pretty close with him and Aunt Jan and their daughters: Karen, Erica, and Judy.  Through his life, Uncle Bob has been a missionary, a pastor, a journalist, editor, writer, and professor.  He has been the special assistant to the President of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, has written several books, and has even ghost written articles for Dr. Billy Graham, and President Ronald Reagan.  But I will always remember him as an investor.

Now when I say “investor,” I don’t mean that in the traditional sense of the word, but my Uncle Bob did invest in me in many ways over the years.  We had a lot in common.  He had a background in communication and design and enjoyed photography and art as well as writing.  Throughout my years growing up he was always supportive of me and nurtured my creative side.  He gave me some of his old cameras when I showed an interest in photography.  He always wanted to see my artwork and encouraged me in my pursuits as a graphic designer and then in web design.

When I was a graphic designer for the National Office of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, he worked there as a special assistant to the President and as the Director of Communications.  He had input on much of my work and helped me grow and mature both as a designer and as a person. 

I don’t know if he ever realized it or not, but I considered him one of my mentors.  But not only was he supportive of my artistic pursuits, he was also one of my biggest supporters when I felt God’s call on my life to enter the ministry.  He even committed to providing me with a subscription to Christianity Today every year that I have been a pastor. 

But one of the biggest investments he made in my life is one that he didn’t even make specfically for me personally.  This investment came through a book that he wrote 25 years ago.  That book is called, “All for Jesus.”  It is about the history of the Alliance, and was mandatory reading for my ordination when I became a pastor.  But to me that book is not just a historical book.  It helped shape my philosophy of ministry.  I have more notes in that book than any book I have ever read.  I have highlighted passages, notes in the margin, sticky tabs and paperclips marking pages, and other notes that I have written out and inserted.  I have quoted from the book repeatedly and I would put it among the top 5 most influential books in my life.  It is one more way that Uncle Bob has invested in my life.

That is why I think of Uncle Bob as an investor.  I hope that God is using me as an investor in the lives of others, because I have seen the benefit that I have received from those who have invested in me.  And I write this as a challenge to all of us, that we should remember to thank those who have invested in us and look for ways to be used by God as investors in the lives of those around us.

In case you are interested I am including Uncle Bob’s obituary below…

Rev. Robert L. Niklaus, Jr., age 77, of Deland Florida, died March 13, 2011. He was the husband of Janet M. (McIllwaine) Niklaus for the past 52 years.

Born and raised in Williamsport, PA, he was a son of the late Robert L. Niklaus, Sr. and Harriet (Sims) Niklaus. He lived in Nyack, NY for many years- before and after spending 12 years doing missionary work in Belgian, Congo- he then lived in Colorado Springs from 1989-2003 moving to Lakeville, Ma until 2009 and retiring to Florida. He was a graduate of Nyack Missionary Institute-now Nyack College, Class of 1955. He received his masters in journalism Syracuse University, 1968. While residing in Nyack, he was an adjunct professor at King’s College (Briarcliff Manor NY) and Nyack College.

In 1972 he became Assoc. Editor of the Christian Missionary Alliance’s (C&MA) monthly magazine and also worked for National Religious Broadcasting writing numerous articles for religious magazines, including being a ghost writer for Dr. Billy Graham when he featured as the cover of TV Guide Magazine and President Ronald Reagan for a convention. He had the gift of words and was a model wordsmith. From 1987-1996, he was Asst to the President and later Director of Communications. He authored several books penning the history of Alliance worldwide and traveled with a video team recording missionaries at work to show churches how their support was being manifested. Retired from the C&MA in 2000, he became Pastor of Mullein Baptist Church in Lakeville, MA serving with his wife from 2003 – 2009. Surviving In addition to his wife: 3 daughters: Karen Corinha of Marshfield, MA, Erica Butler of Overland Park, KA and Judy Poferl of Bartlett, IL; sister Mary L. Mapstone of Colorado Springs, CO; 6 nieces, 8 nephews and the “jewels of his crown”. He was “button poppin’ proud” of his 9 grandchildren! He also leaves his adopted children: David Trinn of Vietnam, Lan and Sophy Kong of Cambodia and he was the brother of the late William Niklaus.

How Good Is This Book?

I recently read the book, “How Good is Good Enough,” by Andy Stanley.  It is a short, easy read, but contains a powerful message.  The focus of the book is that no matter how hard we try, we can never be good enough to earn our way to Heaven.  Andy Stanley takes a look at the problem with trying to be good enough.  For instance, even if we believe we have been good, how do we know if we have been good enough to make it to Heaven?

In this book the author quotes a recent survey where people were asked if they believed in Heaven and Hell.  “Almost 90 percent of Americans said they believe there is a Heaven, while only 30 percent believed in hell as a real place.  And almost nobody who believed in hell thought they were going there.”  (Stanley, pp.20-21)  If that’s true then does that mean that just about everybody is really going to make it to Heaven?  And if not, then how can we know for sure that we are one of those that will? 

Andy Stanley points out other problems with simply hoping that we have been good enough and then lays out an alternative.  He says that instead of trying to be good enough, we need to be forgiven and points to Jesus Christ as the way to receive that forgiveness. 

This book provides some much needed answers for those who are striving to be good enough to earn their way to Heaven or for those who are not sure if they will go to Heaven when they die.  It is not a deep theological book and is not really for mature Christians who are looking for spiritual formation, but would be a great book to give to those who are searching for answers.  For that reason, I recommend this book.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.  I signed up for their “Blogging for Books” program and will occassionally be posting reviews of the books I receive.

The Carmelo Contractual Blues

If you are not a sports fan, then the headline for this post probably made no sense to you.  Actually, even if you are sports fan it might not have made any sense.  So let me explain.  Carmelo Anthony is a professional basketball player who was traded from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks this morning.  And that got me singing the “Carmelo Contractual Blues…”


Carmelo don’t like us…


Says he likes the Knick’s more


And now he is gone…


And I feel abandoned, betrayed, and unwanted right down to my core!

I got those “Carmelo Contractual Blues”


Well, I guess that I am not the best blues ballad writer either, but you are probably wondering why I am writing about this NBA deal at all?  Well, at least to some extent it’s probably because it’s cathartic for me.  You see, I am a Nuggets fan and I was extremely excited when Denver selected Carmelo with the 3rd pick of the 2003 NBA Draft.  The Nuggets had languished in relative obscurity for several years before Carmelo’s arrival, and he brought them back to relevance.  But Carmelo didn’t want to play in Denver anymore.  He and his wife wanted the bright lights of New York City.  So I am sad to see him leave.  And I guess writing about it helps me process it.

But I do have a point that I want to make as well.  Thinking about the Carmelo trade has me thinking about contracts.  A contract is basically a decision between 2 parties with each side having specific things that they are to do or not do.  Denver made a contract offer to Carmelo when they drafted him and he chose to accept that contract and for the last 7 and a half seasons he has been a Denver Nugget.  He has lived up to his end of the contract.  He did everything he said he would do and then some.  He has averaged 20 points or more per game each year.  He was a 4-time all star.  He led them to the playoffs every season since joining the team and led them to 2 division titles and one western conference final.  So nobody can say that he didn’t fulfill his end of the contract. 

The problem is that after fulfilling that contract, he is now deciding to play for someone else.  You see, today’s trade came about because Carmelo’s contract was going to run out at the end of the season.  Which means that this summer he would have become a free agent.  And that means that he could have signed a new contract with whoever he wanted to sign with.  Cleveland Cavaliers fans went through that last summer with Lebron James taking his talents to South Beach.  Carmelo at least gave the Denver Nuggets a heads up to let them know that he did not want to play for them anymore.  So they became proactive and started the process of trying to trade him before he left. 

I guess that I should be happy that the Nuggets at least got something for Carmelo.  I am sure that Cavaliers fans would have preferred to have Lebron leave in that way.  But I still would have preferred to have Carmelo stay in Denver.  Speaking as a fan it is easy to feel betrayed, abandoned, and unwanted.  After all, Carmelo decided that he would rather play for someone else instead of us.  That’s what has me singing the “Carmelo Contractual Blues.”

But that also got me thinking about contracts in general and specifically the contract or covenant that my Heavenly Father has with me.  He has chosen to make me a part of His team.  He has given me an amazing deal.  He has forgiven me of all of my sins, cleansed me from all of my unrighteousness, and made a place for me to be with Him for all eternity in Heaven.  And the amazing thing is that it is not because of anything that I bring to the table.  It is not because I am perfect or awesome.  Actually, it is in spite of who I am and what I have done.  He makes this convenant with me based on the sacrifice of His Son and has me accept the deal through faith. 

But the thing that has me so thankful today is that I know He will never change His mind.  He will never choose to pass me over for someone else.  He will never decide that there is a better option out there for Him.  This covenant is everlasting and fully guaranteed.  I am His and He is mine!  Forever.  So the feelings of abandonment and betrayal that I have because Carmelo has chosen to go somewhere else, I will never have with my Lord who has chosen me forever.  Praise the Lord.  And “Go Nuggets!”

Kitchen Essentials

This past Sunday we unveiled a new ministry at The River.  We are calling it Kitchen Essentials.  It is a partnership with Love INC (Love In the Name of Christ) for Eastern Carver County.  Love INC is an organization that exists as a resource to pull the churches in the area together and help them meet the needs of the community.

In their ministry they have noticed a need for basic kitchen utensils like plates, cups, silverware and pots and pans.  In talking with Doug Petersen, the director of Love INC for Eastern Carver County, this need became known and seemed to be a good fit for our church.  Basically, we will begin to develop a storehouse of these kitchen essentials and have them available to deliver to families in need as those needs become known. 

We are trusting that God is going to use this ministry as a way for us to be a blessing in our community.  We look forward to all that He is going to do as we are faithful in following Him and giving to those in need. 

If you are interested in being involved in this ministry or have some kitchen essentials that you would like to donate, please contact Pastor Rob at office@riveralliance.com or call us at 952-448-1755.  If you are in need of being helped by this kind of ministry, please contact Love INC at 952-448-3261.