River City Days Wrap Up

I want to say a big “thank you” to everyone who helped us make River City Days a great weekend for The River.  We had a booth on Friday and Saturday and lots of people from The River came by to help out.  Over the course of Friday evening and Saturday we gave away over 1,000 balloon animals and we had 12 winners in our gift card giveaway.  Thank you also to everyone who came by our booth to get a balloon, or to sign up for our drawing or to just talk and get information about the church.  We made a lot of new friends and had a great time being in the community.

For those of you who are wondering about the drawing, here is a list of the winners: Jayd Laurentz, Nichelle Schwarts, Kerry Larson, Gary Sauber, Kim Lane, Tricia Brkovich, Barb Horel, Mary Lou Bullerman, Nancy Skoglund, Karen Scullin, Travis Ristow, and Sandy Lewis.  If you see your name here, please feel free to contact us about getting your prize, or we will be sending it in the mail. 

We gave away Dunn Bros. and Rex Cinema gift cards as prizes this year.  The reason is very simple.  We gave away Rex Cinema cards because that is where we meet on Sunday mornings for our worship services.  And we gave away Dunn Bros. because that is where Pastor Rob hangs out most of the time since he has no office. 

Then on Sunday, we moved our entire worship time out to City Square Park to join in a praise and worship time featuring 7 different churches.  We were asked to provide sound for the entire event and then to also stick around and provide sound for a talent competition later in the day.  Again it was a big committment, but we said yes.  The main reason we were involved is because this fits in so well with who we are as a church.  We believe very strongly that we need to come together as one Church in the community, and we also believe that as a church we are called to be in the community, so this event fit perfectly with those two core values.  The event ended up being a great time of worship and it was wonderful to experience the different worship styles of the churches in our community.

Overall, River City Days weekend was a great success and there are so many people who helped make that happen, but most of all we want to thank God for providing in such a great way.  We specifically said, in the weeks leading up to this weekend, that taking on all that we had to do was definitely bigger than ourselves and that we needed to trust God to come through in a big way.  Well, He did!

The Shortcut

I read a great article in Sports Illustrated today.  It is from the July 19 issue and it is called “Measure of a Champion” by Phil Taylor.  The author talks about LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland and go to Miami.  He says that LeBron basically made this move because he is trying to shortcut his way to a championship.  LeBron himself even said that he doesn’t want to get to the age of 31 and find himself with bad knees and no championship.  The author was critical of how LeBron took the easy way out, but he also laid part of the blame on the emphasis that we put on championships to define the greatness of our sports stars. 

He wrote, “But let’s not pretend that we can’t understand how James got the wrong impression about championships, how he got the idea that it’s all about the destination, and that the journey–the struggles along the way that bring winners to tears when the goal is finally achieved–is irrelevant.  We’ve become so demanding, so impatient for stars to win titles that it shouldn’t be a total shock when someone like James tries to engineer a shortcut to one.”

I thought that was a good point.  We have focused so much on the idea of a superstar needing to win a championship that it should come as no surprise when one finally decides to try and take a shortcut to get there.  But we need to realize that shortcuts are also a compromise.  You see, it is not just about the destination, but also about the journey.

In our lives, we can be so impatient with what is happening that we look to God for shortcuts.  How often do we pray and ask God to give us patience, or peace, or joy, or whatever other characteristic we are missing in our lives?  We pary for Him to take us out of bad situations and put us in good ones.  We pray for tough times to go away and good times to abound.  All of that is understandable, but we need to remember that as we journey through the difficult times of life, we learn and we grow, and we become all that God created us to be.

James writes in James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

It is not just about the destination, but about the journey.  When we seek shortcuts, we are shortcircuiting God’s will in our lives.  We are trying to bypass the very things that God is using to develop in us the maturity He wants us to have so that we will be complete.  Remember, He wants us to be great.  But getting to that greatness requires going through the path of perseverance.

I don’t know what is going to happen with LeBron.  He may very well win many championships with his new buddies in Miami and maybe everyone will forget the way he left Cleveland behind and jumped on the bandwagon heading for a championship.  But we need to remember that while shortcuts can make things easier and quicker, in life those shortcuts keep us from developing the character that is going to help us become great. 

Let’s stop looking for shortcuts, and let God build us into winners.

Garden of God’s

So my family and I recently got back from vacation in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  We were out there for about 10 days visiting family.  If you have never been to Colorado Springs, it is one of the most beautiful places in the country.  It is nestled right at the base of Pikes Peak in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  One of the main attractions in the area is Garden of the Gods Park.  It is a registered National Natural Landmark and is known for it’s breathtaking red rock formations.  You can check it out at http://www.gardenofgods.com/home/index.cfm

Colorado Springs is the city where my wife and I were married and since my family still live there we get back to visit every couple of years.  One of the traditions that my son and I have established is that every time we get back for a visit, we go for a hike at Garden of the Gods. 

Now if you have ever been to Garden of the Gods you know that there are several rock formations that are tourist favorites like “The Kissing Camels”, or “Balanced Rock.”  But for Jacob and I, our favorite place to visit is the “Siamese Twins.”  It is a little bit off the beaten path, and if you didn’t know it was there  you might easily miss it.  But each time we visit, that is one of the places we like to go.  I believe it offers the most wonderful view in the park.  There are two giant rock towers that are connected together in such a way as to form a window right in the middle that allows you to look through the formation and see Pike’s Peak off in the distance.  It is an amazing view that I marvel at everytime I visit the “Twins.”

This year Jacob and I took the entire family back to our special place.  It is not a long hike and not too difficult.  Our 2-year old, Makenna, even made the hike holding on to my hand.  But while it is not a hard hike it is still not a place that is visited by many.  Actually I have never been there when there have been more than 2 or three other families visiting it at the same time.  And many times Jacob and I have been there all by ourselves.  Maybe that is part of the reason I like it so much.  It is quiter and less distracting than some of the other overcrowded areas in the park.  Which gives you an opportunity to stop and really enjoy the beauty that surrounds you.

I love this park, and I look forward to visiting everytime we get back to Colorado Springs, but one thing that I have always struggled with is the name.  You see, I know that there are not many gods, but only One.  And this park is not a playground for man-made gods to roam, it is a testament to the One True God, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.

We are reminded in Deuteronomy 4:39, “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below.  There is no other.”

Garden of the Gods Park should more accurately be called Garden of God’s, because there is only One God and He made that amazing park with all of it’s breathtaking views as well as the rest of this incredible universe in which we live. 

If you ever get out to visit Colorado Springs I encourage you to visit this Garden of God’s and hike back up to the Siamese Twins, take a moment and gaze through the window of the towers at the beautiful Peak in the background and I trust that you, like me, will be reminded of the awesome, amazing, infinite power of our Creator!

That’s My Boy!

So I wanted to take just a moment and brag on my son.   Jacob played baseball this year for the first time since his kindergarten year.  He has focused on basketball and soccer lately, but decided to try baseball again.  His team this year was The Ironbirds in the 9-10 year-old Chaska League. 

Jacob had a decent season in which he learned and grew a lot.  His team showed a lot of promise throughout the season, but kept coming up short and managed to only win one game all season long.  On Tuesday we started the season-ending playoff tournament.  It is a double-elimination tournament, so we were guaranteed at least 2 games.  We kicked things off on Tuesday with a one-run loss, which put us in the loser’s portion of the bracket with a need for a win on Thursday to move on to Saturday’s games. 

The Thursday game was back and forth, but we came into the bottom of the 6th inning down by only 1.  Our first guy got on  base and then eventually made it home when the next hitter also got on base.  That left us tied with the winning run on third.  Our next two batters struck out, leaving us tied with 2 outs and my son Jacob coming up to the plate, and the winning run still on third.  As a father I had some mixed emotions at this point.  I was excited for my son to have a chance to win the game, but also a little nervous for him to be up to bat with such a crucial game situation on the line.  An out would mean the end of the season for the Ironbirds, and a hit would mean a run and a win and the opportunity to keep playing in the playoffs.

So I was a nervous wreck, but Jacob was smooth and calm.  He went up to the plate and hit a line drive up the middle past the pitcher and the 2nd baseman for a single, the game-winning RBI, and a walk off hit!  The entire team and all the parents erupted with wild cheers.  It was the most exciting game of the season and I was jumping up and down and cheering like a little kid. 

That game proved to be the impetus we needed to continue on.  We turned around and played inspired baseball on Saturday, winning the next two games by large margins.  We finally lost in the championship game, after playing 3 straight games on Saturday.  It was an exciting finish to a difficult season.  After winning only 1 game all season long, we finished on a high note and came away with 2nd place for the year.  And my son was one of the heroes of the playoffs.

I told him after the game that he will always remember that hit.  And it should provide extra confidence for him the next time he gets in an important situation like that.  He can always know that he came through in the clutch.  Needless to say I was very proud of him.  Of course, I always love my son, not because of what he does, but just because he is my son.  But I am also watching his life, and there are times, like this past Thursday, when he does something special and while it doesn’t make me love him more, it does cause me to take a moment and point to him and say, “that’s my boy!”

And that got me started thinking.  I can imagine God watching my life like I watch my son.  He always loves me, not because of what I do, but simply because I am His son.  But I would imagine there are those times in life, when I do something special, something that brings Him glory, and He points at me and says, “that’s my boy!”  I hope there are plenty of times like that for Him.

World Cup (unfair and me screaming at the TV)

So I am sitting here watching the World Cup match between USA and Algeria as I write this blog.  For those of you who are not familiar with World Cup, it is possibly the biggest sporting event in the world.  Here in the U.S. it is not a big deal, but many countries live and breathe this soccer (futbol as it is called everywhere else) tournament every 4 years.  For instance, France was just recently eliminated and the headline back home was “The End of the World.”

Anyway, there are 32 teams in this tournament, and they are divided into 8 different groups.  Each country will play the other 3 teams in their group and receive 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie and 0 for a loss.  The 2 teams with the most points from each group advance to the next round. 

The United States tied their first two matches (in soccer they call them matches, not games) and so now they need a win against Algeria to advance to the next round.  In the first half the United States came up with a big goal to take the lead, but it was called back because of offsides.  I am not even going to try and describe offsides to you here, but in replay it was obvious that the U.S. player was not offsides and the goal should have been allowed. 

The game continued on and the U.S. had some great opportunties.  They had many great plays and hit a couple of shots off the posts and goalie, but never quite got the ball into the back of the net.   It was a difficult and frustrating game to watch, but the most frustrating thing was knowing that the U.S. should have been playing from ahead for the whole game after their early goal was disallowed. 

I don’t know about you, but one of the things that I find most frustrating is unfairness.  I always have.  I can’t stand seeing someone wrongly accused or someone treated unfairly.   If you were with me while watching this match you would have heard me screaming at the television quite often.   Nothing inappropriate, but I was definitely quite vocal about the unfairness I was watching.

But that got me thinking about Jesus.  I know that watching soccer may not usually cause you to think about Jesus, but let me explain.  You see, Jesus endured the most unfair event ever.  He was wrongfully accused, arrested, tried, beaten and murdered on a cross.  But Jesus didn’t yell or scream, he endured it all in silence.  Isaiah 53:7 prophesied about this event saying, “he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”  Jesus endured all of that outrage, humility, pain and suffering and death for us, and he did it without every raising His voice in His own defense. 

There is something that I should learn from that.  I can get pretty worked up about unfair things that are miniscule in comparison to what Jesus endured.  Jesus’ example is excellent for me to remember when I am faced with something that I consider to be unfair.

But beyond that, because of His silent sacrifice, we receive a great victory.  Eternity with Him in Heaven.  What an amazing outcome out of what was a terribly unfair event.  Jesus silently endured a terribly unfair event and turned it into the greatest  victory of all time.   A victory that I should celebrate everyday of my life.

By the way, while I was writing this blog, the U.S. game came down to the final minutes.  Actually, regulation time had run out and the game was into it’s final 4 minutes of what is called “stoppage” time.  And with less than 4 minutes left, the U.S. made a great charge down the field and scored the winning goal.  With that outcome, combined with the result of the other game in their group (between England and Slovenia), the U.S. not only advanced to the next round, but won their group.  After enduring an unfair event (with me screaming at the television), the U.S. team came away with a wonderful victory.  Obviously nothing compared to what Jesus accomplished, but still I was jumping up and down and screaming at the television once again, only this time in a much different way than I had before.  Go U.S.A.!

Open Wide Your Mouth

Today in my devotions I came across Psalm 81:10, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”  That is a beautiful and powerful verse.  When I think of it, I get the picture of a nest of baby birds with their mouths wide open toward the sky waiting for their mother to feed them.  They have their mouths so wide open that you can’t even see their face.  They are hungry and they know that food is coming.  So they are straining with every ounce of muscle they have to be ready to receive that food.

Today I had a conversation with a woman whose husband has been out of work for several months and they are not able to pay for this month’s rent.  She has been trusting God and knowing that He has a plan, but she is tired.  She is ready for this to be over.  She is ready for God to come swooping in and give them what they need.  She is waiting and wondering where God is in the midst of this.

And I don’t blame her.  I understand how she feels.  How do those two pictures go together?  God says “open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”  So what’s the deal?  Is her mouth not wide open enough?  Where is the filling?

Have you ever felt like that?  Have you ever wondered where God is in the midst of what you are going through?  Have you ever wondered what God is doing and when He is going to come along and provide what you are hungry for and in need of?  Those are tough times, are they not?  So how do we wait for feeding time?  How do we hang on for God?

Let’s consider this verse from Psalm 81 a little closer.  Notice that first we see a reminder of who God is.  That God is faithful and more than capable of providing for our every need.  We have seen God at work over and over again and we can know that He is able to care for our needs today just like He did for the Israelites so many years ago.

So the first place we need to start is with trust.  We need to trust God.  He knows our needs and actually knows even better than we do what is best for us.  And He is fully capable of meeting those needs.  He has proved Himself faithful time and again and we can trust in Him.  But I believe the second part of that verse carries this concept to a whole new level.  Opening wide our mouths is an action for us to take.  It is us saying that we know that God is powerful, and faithful, and that He will provide, and us actively putting ourselves in the position for God to pour out whatever we need from Him.

Now along with that goes an understanding that we are vulnerable in that position.  Think of the birds for a moment.  They opened their mouths so wide that they couldn’t possibly see what was coming.  They trusted their mother to not only feed them, but to give them what would be good for them.  The mother bird could put anything into their mouths at that moment and they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.  Opening our mouths wide in expectation puts us in a position of vulnerability before the Lord.  And I believe that vulnerability is key.

When we are in that position we are saying to God, fill me Lord, I trust in you to give me whatever you choose to give me.  When we get to that position we are abandoning our plans and putting ourselves completely in His hands, trusting that whatever He gives us will be exactly what we need. 

Many times we want God to feed us or help us, but only as long as His plan comes into line with what we want for ourselves.  We want Him to feed us, but we want to choose the menu.  But God wants us in this position we see in Psalm 81:10, with our mouths so far wide open that we are completely trusting Him to give us what we need.

I know some of you out there are hurting and hungry.  I want to invite you to open wide your mouths to the Lord.  Remember His faithfulness and power, and trust Him to give you exactly what you need.  Open wide your mouth to the Lord and let Him fill it.

The Gift of the Willing Heart

So yes it has been several weeks since my last blog.  Actually it has been just over a month.  Sorry about that to all of you out there who have been checking back to see what’s new. I will try to do better.   Things have been a little swamped lately at The River and all my extra free time has gone to getting us transitioned out of our ministry center and into my garage.  We have been in this process for several months, but things finally came to a head over the last month or so and we are finally out.  Praise the Lord!  We will now be saving about $1,300/month.  That is money that we really didn’t have to begin with, so it will be really nice to have that off the books.  God has really provided in getting things taken care of and we are very grateful.

So what has kept me so busy was working on the ministry center to get it back to its original condition and moving out all of our stuff.  For those of you who know me, you know that I am not the most qualified handyman, so that was some experience.  

Before becoming a pastor, I never realized all the different things that I would spend my time doing in that role.  But one of the great things that I have learnedsince becoming a pastor is the imporatnce of saying “yes” to opportunities to serve.  I am not saying that we need to say “yes” to everything, but I believe we have become too good at saying “no.”  One of my least favorite phrases is, “that’s not my gift.” 

Now please understand, I do think it is important for us to be operating in our areas of giftedness and I don’t want to see people overextended and getting burned out because they are trying to do things that they are simply not supposed to be doing.  But we also need to realize that there are some things that just need to be done, and if you are available, then maybe God is wanting you to do it.  Sometimes all God wants is a willing heart.  He is fully capable of helping you do whatever needs to be done.

For instance, I have found myself over the last few months: fixing drywall, painting walls and ceilings, vacuuming, tossing junk, moving office furniture and boxes from one location to another, putting together shelving units, adding a floor to my attic for storage, making phone calls to cancel different services, and all kinds of other administrative and constructive jobs.  None of those things are areas where I am gifted, passionate about, talented in, or even vaguely interested in at all.  But all of it had to be done. 

I am not writing this to complain.  God has been very faithful in helping us get out of the ministry center and He has provided a variety of people over the last few months to help in different ways.  And I am thankful for each and every one of you and I know that many of you were operating outside of your giftedness as well.  But I am writing this to talk about what I have learned over these last few months.  What I have learned is that sometimes things just need to be done and God wants someone who is willing to do it.  Not because they are gifted or passionate or anything else, simply because it needs to be done.  Sometimes the greatest gift is the gift of the willing heart. 

We have a lot of work to do at The River and we need everyone’s help.   My prayer is that both you and I would have a willing heart for whatever God has for us to do.

Noah’s Ark?

You may have heard the reports that  a group, called Noah’s Ark Ministries International, are claiming that they have found Noah’s Ark.  This combined Turkish/Chinese group have stated that they believe with 99.9% accuracy, that they have found the remnants of the ark encased in a glacier on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey.  They claim to have carbon dated some of the wood at 4,800 years old. 

If you are interested in finding out more about this story, you can check out the news article from the perspective of ABC News at http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/finding-noahs-ark-filmmaker-found-pieces-biblical-treausure/story?id=10495740

I don’t know if what they found is really the ark that we read about in the Bible, or not, but when it comes right down to it, it really doesn’t matter.  Our faith does not rest on what is found or not found by archaeologists, geologists, anthropologists, and other scientists.  Our faith is not based on what we can and can’t prove.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  That doesn’t mean that as Christians we have to turn our brains off, but ultimately our faith is not based on what scientists prove, it is based on God as He reveals Himself to us in His Word.

There are some great scientists out there who are pursuing their fields of study from a Biblical perspective and I greatly appreciate their work.  One of my favorite museums is The Creation Museum, which is located just outside of Cincinatti. A good portion of the museum is dedicated to the great flood and Noah’s ark and how the impact of a worldwide cataclysmic event, like the flood, would have changed the earth’s landscape and could account for the reason scientists claim that the earth is billions of years old.  You can find out more about The Creation Museum at, http://creationmuseum.org/

I enjoy The Creation Museum, I have taken several classes in geology and physical geography, I even had a subscription to Biblical Archaeology for awhile, so I enjoy the intellectual pursuit of answers about how this earth came to be and how we can understand it better.  But ultimately I begin with the Bible and everything else must be interpreted by what I read there.  And what is found or not found by archaeologists over the years is not going to dictate what I believe.  Hebrews 11 goes on to say in verse 3, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” 

As we walk through this world and examine the universe around us we need to start with faith.

Tebow or not Tebow, That Is The Question!

So this weekend was the NFL Draft.  I am a Redskins fan and I also root for the Colts and the Vikings (based on where I used to live and where I live now).  So I followed all three of those teams along with some of my favorite college players to see what happened.

If you are unfamliar with the NFL Draft, here is how it works.  Each NFL team gets assigned a draft number based on how they did in the previous season.  The worst teams pick first and the better teams pick later.  Then the draft is divided into rounds and each team, one at a time, selects a player from the college ranks to join their team. 

The teams make their picks based on a number of criteria.  Obviously, they have watched how those players did in their college careers.  They also have an event, called the NFL Combine, each year before the draft where the players get measured and weighed and then perform a number of drills that are meant to measure their speed and strength and other physical factors.  There are also other criteria like IQ tests and personal interviews that go into the mix and eventually each team ranks the players available based on how they have interpreted all those criteria.

Going into the draft the player that caused the most debate was QB Tim Tebow from Florida.  First of all let me just say that I have always liked Tebow.  He is a strong Christian man with excellent character.  There was a phenomenal interview with him in ESPN the magazine back in the fall of 2009, where he basically shared the plan of salvation and they included it in the article.  

The reason there was so much debate about Tebow before the draft was because although he is considered one of the greatest college football players to have ever played the game, some question whether or not he will be able to transfer that success into the NFL.  His detractors question his size, his physical ability, his throwing style, and the offense that he played in during college.

The highlight of the NFL Draft this weekend was the selection of Tim Tebow by the Denver Broncos with the 25th pick of the first round.  Immediately the debate raged on by the announcers who said that he didn’t have what it takes to be a great NFL quarterback.  But the Broncos chose not to focus on his physical qualities, and his throwing motion and instead focused on his leadership ability, his strong work ethic, his character, and his passion and commitment for the game.  And for that reason, they chose him earlier than most experts had him going.

It remains to be seen as to whether Tebow ends up having a great NFL career or not, but this got me thinking about something the Bible tells us about how God looks at man.  In the book of I Samuel, chapter 16, we see that God has told Samuel to go and annoint a new king for Israel.  He sends him to Bethlehem to the home of Jesse.  When Samuel arrives Jesse has his sons parade in front of him one at a time.  The first son comes up and he is a great physical specimen, and Samuel assumes that this is who the Lord wants him to anoint, but God tells Samuel this in verse 7, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

God then leads Samuel to pass on all of Jesse’s sons until he arrives at David, who is the youngest brother and God chooses him to be the king of Israel.  And of course David turns out to be, “a man after God’s own heart” and a great king of Israel. 

I am not saying that the Broncos measured Tebow the way that God measured David, but I do appreciate they way they focused more on his heart and character, than on his physical characteristics.  Maybe if we had more teams focusing on heart and character when drafting players we might have less issues like what we see happening with Ben Roethlisburger, and so many other professional athletes these days.

The Happy Ending

I like to read.  I read non-fiction books to help with my ministry, leadership, spiritual development, and other things and then in my spare time I also enjoy reading fiction.  Lately I have been enjoying some of Clive Cussler’s novels. 

Today as I was reading, I was getting drawn into the suspense and intrigue of the story and I was wondering how it was all going to work out.  There were a lot of twists and turns and a few times the story began heading in a direction that seemed to lead to an outcome I would not be pleased with.  But then I realized that regardless of what new development came up in the story, everything was eventually going to work out in the end.  

In Cussler’s novels the good guys always win, the storyline always gets resolved, everything eventually works out for the best.  Actually, most fiction is like that.  Not all, but the majority of fiction novels eventually wind up with things working out in the end.  That is one of the nice things about reading.  It means that you can enjoy reading the book, you can experience the adventure and the intrigue and yet all the while you can know that everything will work out in the end. 

As I was thinking about that, I realized that in reality that is true with our life in Christ as well.  Life is filled with ups and downs.  Things don’t always go our way.  We have our share of hardships and difficulties along with our joys and triumphs.  Life is an adventure, it is filled with intriguing possibilities.  We may not enjoy everything that happens along the way, but ultimately, if we are in Christ, we can be assured that everything will work out in the end. 

We already know how things are going to turn out.  One day the Lord will return to usher in His Kingdom. Life as we know it will come to an end, but there will be a new Heaven and a new earth and we will spend eternity with our Lord.  We can be assured of that good ending if we are in Christ. 

That amazing fact allows us to look at life here on earth in a different way.  We can approach this life with peace, knowing that no matter what happens, God’s victory is secure.  Everything will come together at the end of the story.  So I encourage you with those words.