Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pheasants, Pheasants Everywhere

Yesterday I had the opportunity to ride along in a combine harvesting corn. For you city-folk, a combine is a large (and very expensive) piece of farm equipment used in harvesting. It's large enough to harvest ten or so rows of corn at a time at a speed of 7 mph. It makes harvesting a section take no time at all. In fact, the slow part is waiting to unload the corn into trucks to take back to the silos at the farm. It was a great first-hand experience for me in farm life.

As the combine harvested the corn rows, pheasants were flying out of the field all over the place. This time of year is pheasant hunting season and many of them seek refuge from hunters in the fields. Unfortunately they can't hide from a combine. Apparently you can also come across deer and even mooseswhile combining (also avoiding hunters). Hunting is the big past-time around here this time of year. So far I haven't gotten invovled (you need a license...and a gun) but...

Last Wednesday I attended a pastors' appreciation at the local nursing home. I got to meet a number of the employees and residents. I also signed up to preach once a month on a Sunday afternoon. I figure this will give me the opportunity to meet more people in town and serve the community as well. I will have to make some changes since their services last only 30 minutes and my sermons usually go that long (this week even longer!). Please pray for me to find ways to get to know more people in the community. Harmony and I are prepared for trick-or-treaters tonight, so hopefully we'll meet some families that way.

One of the amazing aspects of small town life that we've been picking up on is how people know and care for one another. Whenever someone in town is suffering, the community as a whole rallies around them. One of the members of our church has been having some medical problems and therefore incurring some medical bills. On Sunday there was a pancake benefit to raise money to help with the bills. 500 people attended (pretty good for a town of only 800!).

I was reading a sermon about the Holy Spirit by Charles Spurgeon yesterday in which he made a point I had never considered before. In connecting the roles of Father, Son and Spirit in creation ("Let us create man...") to salvation, he said, "It is a source of sweet comfort, to think that it is not one person of the Trinity that is engaged for my salvation; it is not simply one person of the Godhead who vows that he will redeem me; but it is a glorious trio of Godlike ones, and the three declare, unitedly, 'We will save man.'" What an amazing thought that it isn't just the Father or just the Son who desired to save us but all three members of the Trinity are equally as passionate about our salvation.

This week's sermon was on 1 Peter 3:13-22 entitled "Righteous Suffering." I learned a lot about how to face suffering in a way that please God through this passage. If you would like to listen to it you can by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Band of Brothers...Watch it sometime!"

Harmony and I have been watching (for the second time) the "Band of Brothers" dvd series about Easy Company in the 101st Airborne during WWII. It's a very enjoyable series (even for Harmony who normally doesn't like war movies). Netflix is a very valuable resource to have especially when you live 50 miles from the nearest Blockbuster!

On Saturday we went down to Bismarck (our every other weekend trip) specifically for a "Pastor's appreciation night" at the local Christian bookstore. In addition to everything being 25% off for local pastors, they had drawings, snacks and freebies. We even ran into another pastor from Underwood (remember there are 6 churches for a town of 800!). I picked up a couple books and Harmony got a book and the new Caedmon's Call CD. The reference section of the bookstore was pretty much picked cleaned to which I remarked, "that's what you get with a bunch of pastors." Although I was glad for the discount and that there is a Christian bookstore in Bismarck, the state of Christian bookstores these days is pretty sad. For example, their self-help section is larger than their reference section, they have just about as many "Christian" fiction books as non-fiction, and although the have sections for men, women, family, children, teens, and prophecy, they don't have one specifically for theology! That is why I end up buying most of my books online.

I am currently working with the Elders in updating our worship songs. The church has been using an older hymnal and songbook up until now. I am trying to convince them to update their praise songs and possibly even invest in newer hymnals. I value hymns but also realize that there are just as many quality modern praise songs and we should seek a healthy balance. On a related note, I am becoming more and more thankful for the fact that we have two ladies who can play the piano/organ and one of our Elders is willing to lead the congregational singing. I took it for granted coming from a city church in which we had many talented musicians and singers. Apparently in small town churches, if you have even one piano player you're doing well.

Some of you may be wondering what the weather has been like lately in ND. Well, over the past couple weeks it has mainly been in the mid-to-upper fifties or low sixties (although tomorrow is supposed to get back into the seventies!). We haven't had any snow yet, although I'm sure it's around the corner. Harmony and I have enjoyed watching the nightly news and espeically on the weekends where they have the younger reports fill-in (the weekend weather guy on the CBS affiliate out of Minot is the age of Harmony's younger brother!). I call it, "when kids do the news."

Pray for wisdom for me as I seek to lead the church as I have been realizing more and more that if God is not at work then nothing I do will be of any real value. If you'd like to listen to this week's sermon on 1 Peter 3:8-12 entitled "Called to Righteous Living" click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Who wants to give the cows shots?

Harmony and I were invited by a family at church to help them on Saturday with their cows. They have over 100 cows and needed to weigh and vaccinate the calves and spray all the cows with medicine to prevent ring worm and the like. My job was to open and shut a heavy gate that led from where the calves got their shots to the scale. Harmony operated the manuel scale and took down the weights. The gate I was lifting was on a pulley and the rope snapped three times, sending me almost tumbling backward once. It was a pretty cool day (50s) but at least there wasn't any wind. We had a good time getting to see first-hand what it looks like to be a rancher. If I remember I'll post a picture I took w/ my phone when I can download it.

That brings me to another problem Harmony and I have encountered living in a small town and some of you who've tried to contact us via our cell phones understand what I mean. We barely get any cell phone reception with Verizon and are actively thinking about switching to Alltel which others in the cummunity use and it seems to work just fine.

On Thursday I drove down to Beulah (50 miles southwest) and met up with another EFCA pastor there and then we drove another hour and a half south to Dickinson to meet up with a few other EFCA pastors for lunch and discussion of theology and church issues. It was a great opportunity to meet some of the other "local" Free Church pastors. Having to travel a good two and a half hours to get together with a group of pastors from your denomination is a big change for me. In Evanston, we could have gotten probably a dozen EFCA pastors together within a twenty miles radius. In ND, the next closest EFCA church to Underwood is 30 miles south with maybe three others within fifty miles! Even w/ the travel it was a good experience and I look forward to building those relationships more in future meetings. Also, driving to and from Beulah I crossed over the Missouri River which separates Central from Mountain time so that going there I arrived about when I left but coming back it took twice as long!

On Sunday after the worship service and Sunday School we had a fellowship dinner (lunch for those of you not living in a farming community) followed by Harmony and the ladies meeting and me meeting with the Elders. Harmony talked to the other ladies in the church about starting up an evangelistic women's Bible study in town and they seemed very supportive. Please keep Harmony and the church in your prayers about getting this going in the next few months (things around here move a bit slower). I had a very productive monthly meeting with the other Elders in which we discussed a number of imporant church-related issues and even on those that we did not come to a decision, certainly made headway. Please continue to pray for my leadership of the Elders and the church in general.

In addition to those prayer requests, please pray for the upcoming lauch of our youth ministry. I received some material in the mail yesterday that we're going to use and am very excited. I'm not sure whether we'll start up in the beginning of Nov. or wait until the new year but pray for wisdom w/r/t this either way. Also, I've been battling a slight cold over the past few days so please pray that I would not get anymore sick and that I would recover quickly. Thanks.

This week was the last sermon in the mini-series "Respecting Authority Glorifies God" in 1 Peter and dealt with authority w/in the household. It is a very challenging passage for both husbands and wives. If you'd like to listen to it the audio is posted here.

By God's Grace, Jeff Higbie.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Facing the Giants

Harmony and I watched "Facing the Giants" this weekend. It's a movie about a football coach at a Christian school. I am usually suspect of "Christian" movies but it was actually quite good and I'd recommend it especially to families with teens as it deals with some important issues such as, what is the most important goal in sports/life. The one noticably missing piece (as is the case with most "Christian" media in my experience) is explicit teaching on sin. Although the theology in the movie was solid and repentance was clearly displayed, the scenes of revival were not clearly connected to people dealing with sin but merely "following God."

On Friday, Harmony went to a "Steer" conference with a couple other ladies from the church. Steer is a very interesting ministry. It enables farmers and ranchers to support missionaries financially when they otherwise might not be able to. One of the ways Steer does this is by a rancher setting aside the calves from one of his cows to be sold and the money to go to a missionary of his choosing. It's a perpetual source of suport for a missionary since healthy cows have one calf a year and so each year around the same time the missionary can expect a sizeable check.

Harmony and I have begun volunteering with Child Evangelism's "Kid's Club" at the local school. This is a once a month activity for K-6th graders in which after school they gather in the cafeteria for snacks, games, songs and teaching from Scripture, including a clear Gospel presentation. The first session of the year was last Wednesday and Harmony and I see it as a good way to get to know the kids and families in the community.

For the first time this college football season, both of my teams won! Notre Dame got their first victory and Northwestern won in dramatic fashion against Michigan State. I believe this is the farthest into the season before both teams won that I can remember, since I've been rooting for ND and NU anyway (c. 1997).

Please continue to pray for wisdom w/r/t to starting up a ministry for the youth, for Harmony planning an outreach Bible study for women in the community and for my monthly meeting with the Elders on Sunday. Pray that we would lead this church to a more God-honoring place. If you'd like to listen to this week's sermon on 1 Peter 2:18-25 entitled, "Respecting Authority Glorifies God: Part 2 (workplace)," click here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bee on the pulpit

I had just invited everyone to spend some time in corporate prayer for the needs of the congregation when I noticed a large bee (or maybe it was a wasp...I didn't wait to find out) sitting twelve inches from me on the pulpit. Good thing that everyone had their eyes closed because I carefully picked up my one-inch thick leather-bound prayer journal and dropped it on the insect. It reminded me of being the best man at a buddy's wedding five years ago when a candle fell during a song and I froze not knowing whether to go for it and make a disruption or not. In that case the pastor calmly took care of the situation. Ah, the trials of pastoral ministry!

Harmony and I took the "river road" down to Bismarck on Saturday. It travels along the Missouri River and was full of beautiful scenery especially with the fall colors all around. Harmony took a few pictures that I will hopefully remember to post in the upcoming weeks. This part of North Dakota is very pretty even if it is still rather flat (though I believe there are a lot more rolling hills than in the eastern part).

The are lots of small towns all over the state that are all about the same size (600-1000). There are a lot of German, Norweigan and Dutch pockets throughout the state. In fact there's one section in south central North Dakota that's referred to as "The Iron Curtain" because it was settled predominantly by Germans (take a look at some of the town names to see what I mean). Unlike living in Chicago or LA where you have ethnic neighborhoods but other than that ethnic origin does not characterize most areas, here it seems that even today many towns are still very much dominanted by one ethnic origin (Underwood's is German). One of the benefits of this combined with small town life is there are many local ethnic events. A couple from the church took us to an all-you-could-eat turkey and meatball supper (dinner for you city-folk) in a neighboring community called Turtle Lake. It was very good and very filling!

Last night we had the families with youth and any others from the church over who wanted to give input and help brainstorm about starting a youth ministry. Some great ideas came up during our time. One of the benefits of being away from city life is that families are at least somewhat less busy and in particular schools are not allowed to have evening activities on Wednesday nights so that churches can have youth group Bible Studies then. It looks like we may start up a Junior and Senior High combined youth group meeting on Wed. during the adult Bible Study hour with a few couples rotating as leaders. In addition, the idea of beginning some sort of community youth center came up and it just so happens that we still own the old baptist church and have been unable to sell it (Faith Evangelical is a combination of PCA and Baptist churches and we use the old PCA building). We talked about teaming up with the other churches in town and offering to use that space for a youth center to give kids a safe place to go on weekend nights and/or weekdays after school. There's really nothing else in town for kids to do on Friday and Saturday nights after seven and when there are no sports playing at the high school so it would seem serve the community well. Please pray for wisdom in regard to this.

This week's sermon was on 1 Peter 2:13-17 and began a three part mini-series called "Respecting Authority Glorifies God". This week we looked at respecting societal authorities and in the next two weeks we'll cover the workplace and home. If you like to listen to the sermon click here.