Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Snowfall Record

When the local Bismarck TV weatherman says that we've had so much snow this month that we might as well get a little more and go for a new record, you know there's been a lot! And worse yet, winter only officially started last Sunday! But that's exactly what he said Monday night and by Tuesday morning, Bismarck had reached a new record for snowfall in December. Officially Bismarck (50 miles south of Underwood) has had over 24" of snow this month! Not only did this smash the old record by nearly 3" but we're likely to get another couple inches before the new year. And before you chalk this up to North Dakota always getting lots of snow, realize the previous record for December snowfall had stood for over 90 years (1916)!

I remarked to my wife the other day after shoveling for the nth number of days in a row that whenever I move to a colder climate, I seem to get one nice year before the "real" winter hits. My first year in the Chicago area (winter of '97-'98) was an El Nino year and I can only remember it snowing a couple times. Then this past winter (our first in ND) we had a mild winter (by North Dakota standards). It was cold but I don't think we had 24" of snow the whole winter (let alone in one month). Apparently my "honeymoon" period is over!

Sunday night Underwood has its annual Community Christmas Concert. About 20 members of the community formed a choir and the kids dance teams in town also performed. Afterward one of the local churches hosted a meal with the proceeds going to the McClean County Resource Center. It still amazes me to live in a place where a large portion of the community would gather together at the local public school for an event celebrating the "reason for the season." One whole side of the stands in the school gym were full and no doubt more would have attended had it not been so snowy and windy this weekend.

Saturday afternoon my wife and I were invited out to the senior center (age not grade) for their Christmas potluck. I had been meaning to check out the senior center as a number of the members of our congregation are actively involved there. Although we were the youngest people there by about 30 years, we had fun interacting with other members of the community and had plenty (some might say too much) to eat.

Please pray for the elders to be able to meet soon (the weather has forced us to cancel a couple of meetings now), for our Christmas Eve service tonight, for wisdom in leading the congregation and in us growing in love for the church and community. Merry Christmas!

By God's Grace, Jeff

I Do's Aren't Meant to be Undone

This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 19:1-12 (the sermon I was planning on preaching the Sunday before but due to the snow storm had to postpone). In this passage Jesus answers questions from the Pharisees and His disciples regarding marriage and divorce. The main point of this passage as it relates to us is that "I do's aren't meant to be undone." If you'd like to listen to the sermon, click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Friday, December 19, 2008

Limited Reconciliation but Unlimited Forgiveness

Two Sundays ago (the last time the church met!) I preached on Matthew 18:15-35 and the sermon was entitled "Limited reconciliation but unlimited forgiveness." If you'd like to listen to the sermon audio, click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Worship Service Cancelled

For the first time in my Christian life (and pastoral ministry) I experienced having to cancel the Sunday morning worship service. The entire state of North Dakota underwent a severe blizzard with over a half-foot of snow, sustained winds in excess of 25 mph and a wind-chill reaching -40! Since this all started Saturday afternoon and was scheduled to continue until Sunday evening, after consulting the elder board, we made the difficult decision to cancel our corporate worship service this past Sunday. We have a number of families that live out of town on farms who would have had a very treacherous (if not impossible) time making it to town Sunday morning and we have a number of elderly families who already feel uncomfortable venturing outside during the winter months. Many if not most churches in ND likewise cancelled their services and events for this past weekend. Although I believe it was the right thing to do given the circumstances, it was certainly a strange feeling to wake up Sunday morning and not have the ability to attend a worship service.

Suffice it to say, it has been cold in our neck of the woods. I think yesterday (Wednesday) was the first day since Saturday that anywhere in the state has had a high of above zero. We drove down to Bismarck on Monday (the main roads were cleared and the wind had died down) and we might have reached single digits below zero as a high. On the way down in the morning the car thermometer had a reading of as low as -19! Fortunately, we were able to safely travel there and back and were finally able to get some much needed shopping done. Although it wasn't as cold the previous weekend, we had been unable to travel due to icy roads.

Given the unpredictable weather, we decided to pick up an artificial tree instead of chancing it every year of being able to get down to Bismarck to get a fresh-cut one. Having spent seven years of my childhood in Virginia, we'd anually drive out to a Christmas Tree farm and chop down our own fresh-cut tree. We'd tromp through the dense rows of trees until we found the "perfect" one. Then Dad would slid underneath and cut it down with a saw. We'd drag it to the main road and wait for the tractor to drive by and give us a ride back to the parking lot. Of course my favorite part was getting hot apple cider once we got back to the car. Apparently those memories are not going to be able to be repeated in the Northern Plaines.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Snow Days

We'd planned to go to Bismarck for some shopping and to see a movie Friday afternoon...then Sunday afternoon...then Monday afternoon, but it looks like we'll now have to wait until at least next weekend! We've had some pretty nasty weather here this past weekend. Just about everyday it snowed and with the weather hovering around freezing (for at least part of the day) it made the roads kind of hairy. In fact, yesterday afternoon we set out to go to Bismarck only to turn around about halfway between Washburn and Wilton (less than halfway!). Our Target and Sam's Club lists are growing by the day and we still haven't purchased a Christmas tree! I would rather the temprature be well below freezing so that the roads would at least be dry. Hopefully next weekend we'll be able to travel safely though there may be another storm coming. Ah, the benefits of living in North Dakota! We've got plenty of jobs, affordable housing and a state budget surplus...anyone want to move out here and join us in the cold?

By God's Grace, Jeff

Friday, December 5, 2008

God's Values Mark the Path to True Greatness

What makes someone "great" in the world's eyes is not what makes someone "great" in God's eyes? This is the confusion that prompts the disciples question to Jesus about who will be the greatest in His kingdom in Matthew 18:1-14. Jesus responds by describing a series of counter-cultural values that will mark those who have kingdom character. If you'd like to listen to my sermon on this passage from last Sunday, click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Top Ten Christmas Movies

Now many of you will wonder where all of the older Christmas movies are. If you don't know me very well then you may not understand that I typically only like movies that have been produced in my lifetime. I don't mean to slight the traditional Christmas favorites but since this is my top ten Christmas movies, they don't make the cut. Enjoy!

10. The Santa Clause 3
9. The Nativity Story (Overall good job of being biblically accurate)
8. Four Christmases (Haven't seen it but it has Vince and Reese!)
7. The Santa Clause 2
6. Fred Clause (Vince Vaughan & Paul Giamatti, nuff said)
5. Elf (Will Ferell & James Caan, nuff said)
4. A Charlie Brown Christmas (exception to the rule with Linus' speech)
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the Jim Carrey edition)
2. The Santa Clause
1. Home Alone (The classic of my generation..."Kevin!")

Selling Turkey Legs after Thanksgiving

You might think that it would be tough to sell turkey legs the weekend after Thanksgiving but not so for at least one food vendor at the Garrison, ND Dickens Festival. For a few weekends every winter, starting with the one after Thanksgiving, the small town of Garrison, ND (20 miles north of us) turns into a Victorian English town circa the Charles Dickens era. The store owners on main street dress in period garb, Christmas gifts and decorations abound, a vintage double-decker bus takes visitors on a tour of the area, a horse-drawn carriage whisks families around town, Christmas carols ringout all around, the local theatre turns into a playhouse for that year's rendition of "A Christmas Carol," and food vendors line the streets (including the aforementioned one selling turkey legs which sold out on the Saturday after Thanksgiving!). My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our brief visit this past Saturday (although we both chose soups over turkey legs which we'd had our fill of already!)

On Monday I attend a theological symposium in Bismarck hosted by the Northern Plains District of the EFCA. Dr. Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary gave talks on "Inerrancy," "The New World of the Under 30s," and "The Extra-Biblical Gospels." I appreciated his distinction between percision and accuracy when it comes to understanding the inerrancy of Scripture (that the bible is without error in the original manuscripts). Inerrancy has to do with the accuracy of information presented and the author's intent, not precision. The statements "it is cold today" and "the temprature reached a high of 18 degrees" are both accurate statements about the weather but not equally precise. However, no one would accuse the former of being in error. This distinction helps when it comes to understanding how difficult passages in Scripture can be said to be inerrant.

My wife and I had a very nice Thanksgiving with just the two of us at home. We continued our family tradition of having cinnamon roles for breakfast while watching the Macy's Day Parade. I was able to get most of our Christmas lights up over the weekend, although the ground was too hard for the candy cane path lights that we wanted to put along the walkway to our door. I've learned from my mistake last year that in ND you have to get the lights up early!

By God's Grace, Jeff

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Our California Vacation

My wife and I took a trip last week away from the growing cold of ND and to the warmth of southern California. Ironically when we landed in Long Beach there was more white stuff coming down there than when we left North Dakota. Although the wildfires weren't anywhere near where our parents live in CA, ash from the fires made it to our area. Fortunately it cleared up after about two days.

One of our big outings was to Disneyland. On Tuesday we went to "the happiest place on earth" with my in-laws and brother-in-law. Being before Thanksgiving and the Christmas season, Disneyland was empty! We only had to wait more than five minutes on a couple rides. As a result I think we were able to get on more rides than any other time that I've been to the park. One of the highlights was going on the new "Toy Story" shoot 'em up ride (twice!) at California Adventure. We had a very nice time being able to catch up with our families and friends. However, we were also happy about returning to ND.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Season's First Big Snow Storm

No, it's not currently snowing in ND (well, maybe somewhere but not in our area). This is actually old news. A week before we left to go on vacation, ND had its first big snow storm of the season. I meant to post this earlier but was waiting until I uploaded a picture of me shoveling the snow outside our house. We had about 8" over the period of around 36 hours. Because the temperature was still around freezing it was a wet, heavy snow that made it difficult to shovel. It took my wife and I about an hour to shovel our driveway. The main highway running between Bismarck and Minot (US-83) was completely shut down for a day and Interstate 94 was closed east of Bismarck and travel was discouraged on it to the west. Schools in the Bismarck area (including Underwood) were closed on that Friday, in some cases for the first time in a decade! This was the most snow that western North Dakota has received at one time since we've been here. Hopefully this isn't the start of a pattern!

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obedience: Right Response to Who Jesus Is

This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 17:1-13 (Jesus' transfiguration). Although this was certainly an important event in Jesus' own life and ministry (confirmation from His heavenly Father), it was even more significant for His three followers (Peter, James and John) who witnessed it. The main point I believe they were to take from this event is found in the Father's last words to the disciples about His Son, "Listen to Him!" A true understanding of Jesus leads to listening to Him or to put it another way, obedience is the right response to who Jesus is. If you'd like to listen to the sermon click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Couda', Shouda', Wouda'...

My wife and I took an early morning trip up to Minot on Saturday so that we could get back in time to attend Central McLean's quarterfinal football playoff game. Unfortunately, they lost. Our star running back injured his ankle before halftime when we were up 8-7. We ended up losing 26-8. Now not to take anything away from Williams County, who has a very good team and an excellent quarterback, the game may have been closer if not the outcome different had we remained healthy. In 9-man football, when you lose one guy, you're in trouble!

On Tuesday the economic development group in town that my wife and I are part of held our community-wide kick-off. We had almost 60 people attend the free meal, intro to the program and first of three small group discussion sessions about alleviating poverty. On Sunday afternoon the group I am co-leading had our second meeting. We had a few less people than at the kick-off but still had a very good time of discussion. My wife and I are enjoying being part of a community in which you can really make a difference.

Well, after my ranting and raving about how I should think about the election...I ended up voting this morning. I am still not completely sure how to think about voting as a Christian but I came to the conclusion that if I don't believe Christians should vote then that only leaves non-Christians deciding the future of our local, state and federal government. I am just glad that God is in control and thus no matter what happens there's no need to be concerned. God is not in danger of losing His throne!

This past Sunday we were in the fourth week of our adult Sunday School series on the attributes/character of God entitled "The Joy of Knowing God". This week we looked at what it means that God is Good and Loving. We learned that God's goodness means that all He does is worthy of approval and that in fact He is the ultimate standard of good. We also learned that God being love means that He gives Himself freely to others and as a result it enables us to give of ourselves back to God and to others. Next week we'll be looking at God's Grace, Mercy and Patience.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Reformation Day!

Most people think of the last day in October as a time to dress up in costumes and gather as much candy as possible in one night. However, something very significant occured on one particular October 31st. In 1517 a relatively unknown monk posted a document on the door of a church in Whittenberg, Germany listing a number of issues he wanted to have reviewed and discussed. Martin Luther's October 31st posting of his "95 Thesis" ended up sparking the Protestant Reformation.

So happy Reformation Day!

By Sola Gratia, Jeff

Spiritual Discernment is Essential to Saving Faith

This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 15:29-16:12. In this passage Jesus heals and provides a miraculous feeding to a gentile audience, rebukes some religious leaders for demanding a sign and criticizes His disciples for lack of faith in thinking about earthly realities instead of spiritual ones. The title of the sermon, and main point, is "Spiritual Discernment is Essential to Saving Faith." Spiritual discernment means thinking about things from a heavenly and not earthly perspective. If you would like to listen to the sermon click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tumbleweeds

On Saturday the Central McLean football team (co-op of Underwood and Turtle Lake) had its first play-off game. It was a windy and cool day and we had some problems hanging on to the ball early on but rallied from a 7-0 defict to win 36-7. The game was in Turtle Lake which is about 15 miles east of Underwood. Both on the way there and back we had to dodge tumbleweeds being blown across the road. Much of the land between Underwood and Turtle Lake is owned by the coal mine and therefore is not cultivated like most of the surrounding land which is used for farming. Our next game is this Saturday. Go Cougars!

On Friday we made our semi-weekly trip down to Bismarck. I like to joke with my wife about enjoying date night with her in the "big city". Which is all the more ironic since we both have only lived in metropolitan cities before coming to small town North Dakota. But I think because of this we've grown an appreciate for, rather than taking for granted, things like Target, Starbucks, movie theatres and fast food. When the nearest McDonalds is 50 miles away you begin to value it more than if it's just around the corner.

While in Bismarck we saw the movie "The Express". It's about Ernie Davis who was the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner. He also died of leukemia at 23, after being drafted by the Cleveland Browns but before ever playing a down in the pros. One of the scenes I really appreciated in the movie was the grandfather leading a devotional time in the Bible with all the kids and grandkids around the table after dinner. One of the skocking aspects of the movie that my wife and I noticed was the severe racial hatred that Davis and other African-American players faced. Some people long to return to the so-called "Christian" times of the 1950s but I'd encourage anyone who is tempted to think this way to consider the widespread racial hatred that existed. Sometimes it seems that we can identify the sins of our own times but have a revisionist history when it comes to the past.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Monday, October 20, 2008

There's a little Cowboy in Everyone


Knock, knock...yah...see there's a little cowboy in everyone (If you did it right you should have said "yah who"). This was just one of the fun moments we had on Friday afternoon as we helped a family from church vaccinate and weigh their calves. Harmony filled syringes while I worked the gate. They picked a great day to work cattle as it was sunny and in the mid-50s. We had a great time but were certainly exhausted afterwards.


Saturday we had a really nice day (for this time of year in ND) and so I took advantage by getting in what may have been my last 18-holes until May (though I may get in some golf when we visit our family in LA). Then on Saturday night my wife hosted a teen night at the library. About 20 junior and senior high kids showed up for a night of video games and volleyball (among other activities). They seemed to have a great time and certainly want to do it again. I even rehashed my coffee-making skills by using our expresso machine to make decaf mochas. But I think the highlight was my singing of "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi (a.k.a. the theme song for the TV show "Deadliest Catch") on Playstation's "Rockstar" game.


What does a Pastor do all week especially if he doesn't have to preach on Sunday? Well, I found out this week as Troy Shirley who works with Campus Crusade in North Dakota visited our church and gave the morning message. It gave me extra time this past week to do some other things in ministry that I'm not usually able to get to, including planning for our upcoming elder board vision retreats. Also on Sunday the congregation thanked my wife and I for our service to the church and gave us a gift as October is Pastor appreciation month. We feel very appreciated here! And if you haven't thanked your pastor yet, it's not too late.


By God's Grace, Jeff

Friday, October 17, 2008

Your Heart Exposes Your Home

Last Sunday I preached on Matthew 15:1-28 which includes Jesus' confrontation with religious leaders from Jerusalem about human tradition vs. God's commands and His interaction with a Gentile woman. The title of the sermon is "Your Heart Exposes Your Home." This is a variation of the cliche "home is where the heart it" and explains that the main point of this passage as it relates to us is that what comes out of our hearts is what really matters because it shows what we really value and desire. If you'd like to listen to the sermon click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Top Ten List for Husbands and Wives

In light of having recently seen the movie "Fireproof" (and if you haven't see it yet, start by doing that), I wanted to share some thoughts that my wife and I have had with regard to fostering a healthy marriage. So here's my top ten list for husbands and wives. Enjoy!

10. Have only joint checking/savings accounts and credit cards. You don't need seperate accounts and having them will deter you from discussing finances, making purchasing decisions together and will increase the risk of using money sinfully.

9. Go to bed together. Unless you have jobs that start at radically different times it is a good practice to go to bed at the same time. In addition to protecting against sin there's also something to your spouse being the last one you see when you close your eyes and first one you see when you wake-up.

8. Be intentional about doing things together. This could include having a regular date night, working out, doing chores around the house (e.g. dishes) or running errands (e.g. grocery shopping). Obviously this is complicated when you have kids but even then it seems like a good practice to carve out regular time to spend doing something together.

7. Make it a regular pratice of telling your spouse "I love you" before you go to sleep and before departing for work or other activities. This will both remind you of your commitment to the covenant of marriage and be an encouragement that you are loved.

6. Eat meals together regularly (and not in front of the TV). Make it a habit to eat as many meals as possible together on a regular basis. This provides a great opportunity to talk about your day and anything else that might be on your mind.

5. Sit next to/cuddle with your spouse while you're watching movies or TV shows. We've made it a point to have a couch rather than recliners in front of our TV so that we can be close to each other while we watch shows.

4. Try to regularly contact each other once a day to see how things are going. Call your spouse at work or home to check-in, say hi, and see if he/she needs anything.

3. Know the best time for you and your spouse to be intimate and then set aside that time regularly.

2. Learn each other's quirks and then respect them. If your wife wants the toilet seat down, work on making that a regular practice instead of complaining about it or purposely leaving it up. This expresses love and care for your spouse.

1. Spend time regularly reading Scripture and praying together. This can be ackward at first but persevere in it. Ask your spouse once a week how you can pray for him/her and then do it.

This list is certainly not exhaustive but I believe it contains helpful suggestions for building and maintaining a healthy marriage. Also, none of this can replace the centrality of Jesus Christ in a healthy marriage but these can be practical ways that the gospel shines forth in the covenant commitment of marriage. If you have other suggestions I'd love to hear them.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is your Marriage Fireproof?

On Saturday my wife and I made our bi-monthly/semi-weekly trip to Bismarck. Besides picking up some items that we can't purchase locally and eating some comfort fast-food (that we also can't get locally), we also had the opportunity to see the movie "Fireproof." I strongly recommend that every married couple and anyone who might possibly consider pursuing marriage at some point in their life go and see this movie! This is the third movie produced and directed by Alex and Stephen Kendrick ("Flywheel" and "Facing the Giants"). I really appreciate how they are able to create high quality films and interweave the gospel in everyday life. This is a great exmaple of Christians redeeming culture.

Friday night we attended the second to last regular season football game for the Central McLean Cougars (Underwood and Turtle Lake co-op). They are still undefeated and looking really good. This week they play Wilton and then it's off to the 9-man playoffs for CMC.

The weather is starting to cool off. In fact, this weekend some communities in southwestern North Dakota, in addition to Montana, received double digit inches of snow. Fortunately by the time the weather system reached us it only produced rain. Although, yesterday we had flurries for quite awhile even though it was well-above freezing (mid-forties). I guess it's an early reminder of what's coming!

By God's Grace, Jeff

Friday, October 10, 2008

Trust the One in Complete Control

This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 14:13-36 and the sermon was entitled "Trust the One in Complete Control." Through the accounts of Jesus' feeding of the 5000 and walking on water, Matthew desires his readers (us!) to understand that because Jesus is both the promised OT Messiah as well as God-in-the-flesh we can trust that He is in total control of all things including the minute details of our lives. And knowing this should lead to us trusting in Him; including believing that what He has called us to do He will enable us to accomplish. If you'd like to listen to the sermon click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

My Dream Chair!!!


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Busy Week

The past week or so has been pretty full for both Harmony and I. Harmony substituted in the sch0ol library twice in the past week and once in first grade. Having been a high school teacher she wasn't sure how she'd do with first graders but it went well (some last minute advice from my Mom, an elementary teacher for over 40 years, helped). Substituting periodically been a good chance for her to make connections with teachers, staff and kids in the community.

Last Wednesday was a really busy day for me. For most of the day I attended a training event for a program that our community is participating in. The Horizon's program seeks to help small towns lower poverty and grow in leadership. Harmony and I have both signed up to help Underwood implement this program. For my part I will be facilitating a study group (focus group) consisting of asking people in the community for their insights into poverty and the resources we have and need to fight it. On Wednesday I was trained to lead this group.

Then in the afternoon we had the first "Kid's Club" event of the year. Harmony has taken on a larger role putting on the monthly bible study for elementary kids at school this year. Even though it took a lot of planning and exhausted us, we had over 50 kids attend! We'll be meeting the first Wednesday of every month through April so please be praying for us to be able to reach the kids in the community with the gospel.

Then on Friday Pastor Dean and I were asked to MC the homecoming parade. So at 1:15 we met at the school and lined up the floats and then at 1:45 MC'd the parade down main street. I provided the play-by-play and Dean added the color commentary (i.e. jokes). We had great weather and a lot of people from the community came out in support. That night Harmony and I attended the homecoming game, which Central McLean won (they're undefeated so far).

Fortunately we were able to bum around Saturday and get some things done around the house. So all-in-all it was a tiring but very good week. Please pray for the church as we begin a new adult Sunday School series this week on God's attributes. Pray also that I would be intentional about seeing my time as God's time, especially in using my "free" time wisely.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Top Ten Benefits of Growing up in ND

Here are the top ten benefits of growing up in small town North Dakota. Enjoy!

10. Snow Days actually occur
9. You can leave your bike unlocked outside
8. The school year is over before Memorial Day
7. Smaller classes mean better chance to be Homecoming King/Queen
6. Youths are actually encouraged to shoot guns (i.e. hunt)
5. No school activities on Wednesday evenings or on Sundays
4. There's no school on the first day of Deer Season
3. During the summer it's light out until 11pm
2. Smaller classes mean no cuts for sports teams
1. You can get your driver's license at 14!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Misunderstanding Leads to Rejection

This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 13:53-14:12 (Jesus' unwelcomed homecoming and John's beheading by Herod). The title and main point of the passage as I saw in how it relates to us is "misunderstanding leads to rejection." Jesus was willfuly misunderstood by the citizens of Narareth who didn't want to believe that someone they grew up with could have become greater than them. Jesus and John were both willfuly misunderstood by Herod Antipas who preferred pleasing people than acting like a "king". We do the same thing today when we hold on to our misconceptions and doubts about Jesus and the Bible instead of considering if the problem might actually lie with us and being willing to accept the truth in spite of our questions or concerns. If you'd like to listen to the sermon, click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why Should I Vote?

Okay, so here's an issue that I have been wrestling with for some time. As a Christian living in the USA, where I'm given the freedom to vote, am I under obligation to vote? Or to put it another way, is it a sin to abstain from voting in political elections?

So where did this come from? When I was in high school I was a very outspoken Republican. In fact, when I recently reconnected with an old high school "sparing" mate on Facebook, she asked if I still listened to Rush Limbaugh. As a Christian who doesn't want anything to hinder my testimony about the good news of Jesus, my response was ouch! You see in college I realized that not only aren't political issues black and white but they also unnecessarily take away from my Christian testimony. So I went from politically conservative to apathetic.

As I have thought about this issue over the years I have come to the conclusion that being a Christian isn't about being a Republican, Democrat or any other political party for that matter. Being a Christian is about having a saving relationship with Jesus Christ by grace through faith. However, this doesn't help me address the issue of how to vote.

Voting seems to come down to moral issues and the obvious number one being abortion. Should Christians be one issue voters? Aren't there other political issues that are also moral? If there are, how should these affect a Christian's vote? Is there one that trumps all the rest? If not, how do you decide when none of the few political options available uphold all the issues?

Another related question is, should you decide the same way for all elections? Should I think about my vote for president the same way as for local city council? Does it matter what views the local city council have on abortion or war?

And for that matter, should a Christian vote at all? (Now I know I am going to ruffle some feathers) If there is no candidate that completely upholds all relevant moral issues then wouldn't a vote for any candidate be sinful in that you'd be supporting some immorality?

It seems there are two Christian camps these days. On the one hand you have the pro-life camp which votes based solely on the abortion issue. On the other hand you have those who argue that there are other moral issues to consider (e.g. war, poverty and the environment).

Maybe the whole voting issue for Christian falls under the category of Christian freedom. That if it's a sin for you to vote one way or the other (or at all) then it's a sin to you (Rom 14:23).

What are you thoughts? I am eager to hear biblical wisdom on this issue. Also, if you know of resources that address these concerns I'd be interested in those as well. Thanks.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Overdue

No I'm not talking about a library book (my wife is the town librarian so I never have to pay late fees). Rather, I'm talking about my complete lack of blog posts over the past couple weeks. I could make excuses, like that I had family in town, but it mainly boils down to not having anything pressing to blog about and not trying hard enough to come up with something.

With that said I wanted to start out this posting with the mentioning of a perculiar college sport in North Dakota: rodeo! Yes that's right, at some of the colleges in ND (and I presume in other similar states) you can actually letter in rodeo. Here I thought it was bad that I could letter in speech and debate in high school (and yes I did have a BMOC letterman jacket!). I wonder if colleges give out rodeo scholarships to promising high school seniors. It reminds me of a funny Brian Regan joke (if you've never heard him before check him out!) in which he considers if doctors ever go about procedures like rodeo cowboys. That's 4.5 seconds on the belly button tie, a new state record!

Last Friday I had my licensing council. In the Evangelical Free Church pastors are first licensed and then within a couple years go through the ordination process. I think of licensing as a probationary ordination. Basically I had to submit a 20 page paper outlining my theological agreement with the EFCA statement of faith. Then I met with two others pastors from the area who asked me questions about my paper. Although there were some areas that came up in which I could devote some more time thinking through, they approved me for licensing. So my info was forwarded on to the national office for final approval.

To round out this post I thought I'd mention a few books that I've read recently. A friend recommended the book "Moneyball" which is a look at the Oakland A's front office and especially in how their GM, Billy Bean, has developed a new way of looking at baseball that helps smaller market teams compete with the big boys. Instead of going after the free agents with tons of homeruns and runs batted in, Beane prefers guys with high on-base percentage. Instead of drafting expensive and risky high school ballplayers, Beans goes after lesser scouted college players with a high obp who he can acquire at a fraction of the price.

I also re-read John Grisham's "Playing for Pizza". It's about Italian football and in particular an aging back-up NFL QB who has one last chance for glory...playing for Parma, Italy. Of the redeeming qualities in this book is the concept of loyalty. The main character has received very little loyalty from NFL teams during his career and so while playing in Italy and an opportunity for a better position comes available, will he remain loyal or bolt for the door?

Finally, I recently picked up Collin Hansen's book "Young, Restless and Reformed." Collin was a journalism student at Northwestern and after college began working for Christianity Today. During his time at CT he wrote one of the most talked about articles in a long time on the resurgence of reformed theology among a younger generation of Christians. And no doubt because of its large success, he was asked to turn it into a book. Collin's writing has a very similar feel to Lee Strobel's journalistic writings "Case for Faith" and "Case for Christ". He does a great job painting a well-rounded picture of where this resurgence has come from and how far reaching it has gone. I find it interesting that the two major streams right now among 20-30 something Christians seem to be reformed theology and the emergent church.

Please pray for Harmony as she's at a library conference in Bismarck this week. Please pray for me to get over a cold that I've had for the last couple days before Sunday.

By God's Grace, Jeff

God's Kingdom: Powerful, Priceless & Permanent

On Sunday I preached on Matthew 13:24-52 in which Jesus uses three pairs of parables to teach about God's kingdom. The title for the sermon is "God's kingdom: Powerful, Priceless and Permanent." If you'd like to listen to the sermon audio, click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

What you DO with what you HEAR is what MATTERS

For some reason this sermon didn't upload the first time I tried so sorry for the delay in getting this posted on the blog. Two Sundays ago I preached on Matthew 13:1-23 and the sermon was entitled "what you do with what you hear is what matters." This is the passage where Jesus gives the parable of the sower and also explains why He teaches in parables. If you'd like to listen to the sermon you can do so by clicking here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not Your Will but God's

This Sunday I preached on Matthew 12:38-50 in which a group of Pharisees and Teachers of the Law demand Jesus to perform a miraculous wonder in their presence and Jesus' family demands His attention. The title and main point of the sermon was "Not Your Will but God's". Too often we demand that our will be done instead of humbly submitting to God's perfect will for us. If you'd like to listen to the sermon in its entirety, click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Words Reveal the Heart

What's the differeence between "think before you speak" and "consider what your words say about your heart?" The first line, which many of us no doubt heard numerous times from our parents growing up doesn't get at the source of our words. What we say doesn't come out of nowhere but reflects the condition of our hearts. So instead of encouraging people to repress their sinful words we should instead encourage them to think about what the words they do speak say about where they're at with God. This was the gist of my sermon this Sunday from Matthew 12:22-37 entitled "Words Reveal the Heart." If you'd like to hear more, click here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Movie about Small Town Challenges

If you'd like to see a movie about what small farming towns like ours have been going through with the dramatic changes in farming and the economy over the last 20+ years, check out "The Final Season". It stars Sean Astin and is based on a true story about a small farming community in Iowa with a great baseball tradition who puts together one last season before being merged into a larger town nearby. This seems to happen every year in North Dakota. Once a town's school is shut down it's only a matter of time until the town itself is wiped off the map. The question is posed of whether it really is in the best interest of a town to merge. Check out the movie and let me know what you think.

By God's Grace, Jeff

A Reminder not to wait until Tomorrow

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that one of the authors of "100 Things to Do Before You Die," Dave Freeman, passed away at the age of 47 and after only having accomplised about half of his list (click here for the story).

What a great reminder to not leave for tomorrow what you know you should do today! You never know what tomorrow will bring so instead seek to do what you need to today.

"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." - James 4:13-15

By God's Grace, Jeff

Top 5 Worst Summer Olympic "Sports"

Here's my list of the 5 "sports" that should not be a part of future Summer Games:

5. BMX Racing - Fun to watch...in the X-games

4. Equestrian - The athlete is the horse, not the rider!

3. Trampoline - Something done in the backyard can't be in the Olympics

2. Rhythmic Gyumnastics - Dancing with ribbons/hula-hoops...come on!

1. Syncronized Swimming - Enough Said!

Let me know what you think.

Mercy Takes Priority

This Sunday I continued our church's preaching series through the Gospel of Matthew by preaching on 12:1-21. The sermon was entitled "Mercy Takes Priority" and in this passage we see the emphasis on doing good and seeking mercy through Jesus' interaction with the Parisees regarding the Sabbath and Matthew's application of Isaiah 42:1-14 to Jesus' own life and ministry. If you'd like to listen to the entire message (including the issue of whether or not Christians should "keep the Sabbath") click here.

Please pray for me as I've been having some issues with my lower back recently and will be going to my second visit with the chiropractor in town today.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Olympic Company

This past weekend (actually Thursday through Monday) my wife was in LA visiting family and friends but specifically to attend the wedding of a close friend. Thanks for all your prayers as God kept her safe during her time in LA as well as her travel there and back and she was able to have some good times with both family and friends.

I, on the other hand, did not realize how quiet it was going to be around the house without her present! Fortunately I had the Olympics to keep me company this weekend. And what a Summer Games it has been! From Phelps' eight gold metals to USA gymnastics to surprises in water polo and dominance (so far) in volleyball. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the 29th Olympiad (although it's made me want to visit China and pet a panda even more).

On Sunday I preached on Matthew 11:20-30 and the sermon was entitled "Jesus Afflicts the Comfortabe and Comforts the Afflicted." If you'd like to listen to it click here. Last Thursday the ministerial organization in town hosted an appreciation luncheon for the teachers and staff at school. We served burgers, brats, salads and bars (cookies) and were able to encourage and thank them for all they do, as they prepare for the new school year (started 8/20).

Please continue to pray for my growth as a leader, knowing when and how to speak, and for Harmony as she trains the woman she hired to help in the library over the next two weeks.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm MCd Out!

This past Saturday was the Underwood Harvest Fest. Thanks for everyone who prayed for our church's booth in which we gave away bottles of water and freeze pops. We actually ran out of water bottles and I think I saw every kid in town with a freeze pop! We also had some very good conversations with people who stopped by the booth and picked up some of our free literature about having a relationship with Jesus, growing as a Christian and about the church. However, I was so busy doing other things during the Harvest Fest that I didn't even get to man the booth! I co-MCd the parade with one of the other pastors (he did the play-by-play and I added the color commentary). I participated in the horse-shoe tournament for the second straight year...and didn't do much better but had a good time and met some new people. Then I was asked to also MC the Corn Pageant in the afternoon. By about 4:30, I was exhausted!

The beginning of August also marked us having been in Underwood for a year! It certainly hasn't seemed that long. We are still very much enjoying life in small town North Dakota and the church and community have continued to be warm and welcoming. Praise God!

On Sunday afternoon I played in a "backwards" golf tournament. We played the course in reverse teeing off on one hole and shooting to the green from the previous hole. We had a fun time and our team (myself, Pastor Dean, and another couple) ended up taking fourth!

On Sunday I preached on Matthew 11:1-19 as part of our year-long series through the Gospel. The main point of the sermon was the questions of whether we will believe our doubts or Jesus. We all have quetsions or desires for answers from God but will we allow those to derial our faith or will we persevere in trusting Christ in spite of our doubts and concerns. If you'd like to listen to this sermon, click here.

Thanks for everyone who has been praying for my growing as a leader. At our Elder meeting this past Sunday evening I certainly felt your prayers. Please continue to pray for me in this. Also pray for Harmony's trip back to CA this weekend and for me as she is away.

By God's Grace, Jeff.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Late Night and Early Morning Wake-up Calls

Twice this week the tornado siren went off. And not at convenient times either - Wednesday night, just after we'd gone to bed, and early Sunday morning (before the alarm!). No tornados actually materialized during either of the storms but when either the wind associated with a thunderstorm reaches a certain level or if it seems that the clouds are forming into a funnel, the alarm sounds. Our house is only one story but has a large fully finished basement that include a bedroom, bathroom and den. So when the alarm sounded, we crawled out of bed and went downstairs into the basement, turned on the news and waited for the all-clear.


We had a very busy Saturday. We got down to Bismarck at about nine and went to a monthly flee market in Mandan (just across the river). It was smaller than we had hoped and didn't really have much we were interested in. Then we went to the Bismarck AKC dog show at the convention center. Again, it was smaller than what we were used to having been to the Chicago dog show a number of times and there were no PBGVs being shown so the question arises if it can truly be called a dog show without arguably the best dog being present! We had a good time walking around and seeing some different breeds being shown. After that we went to the Bismarck capitol grounds for a nice sized art fair. They had an area for food vendors so we grabbed lunch and then spent an hour or so waking around the fair. By the time we got home late Saturday afternoon, we were spent!

Sunday I preached on Matthew 10:16-42 and the sermon was entitled "Discipleship is Costly but Priceless". If you'd like to listen to the sermon audio, click here. Sunday night I thought it would be a good idea to participate in the open gym with the high school basketball team. The last two days my legs have been regretting my decision. It was good to reconnect with the kids and show them that their coach still has some moves.

Please pray for our church this Saturday as we host a booth at the town harvest fest. We'll be passing out free waterbottles and freeze pops. Pray for our conversations with people. Also, pray for our Bible study this week as we are changing from studying a separate book of the Bible to studying the passage from the previous week's sermon. Finally, pray for my leadership of the church, that I would grow esepcially in leading older Christians and in particular for our monthly Elder meeting this Sunday evening.

By God's Grace, Jeff.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Top 10 War Movies '98-'08

I am a sucker for war movies. Whenever my wife and I see a preview for an upcoming war movie based on a true story or at least a historical setting, I pull out my wallet and say "they might as well take my $6.50 right now" (we usually try to catch a matinee). I must admit though that I have a hard time getting into "older" war movies. I've tried to watch "The Longest Day" (1962) and "A Bridge over the River Kwai" (1957) but prefer the technological advancement of today's war epics. So here is my top ten list of war movies based on true events or historical settings released in the past ten years:

1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

2. The Great Raid (2005)

3. We Were Soldiers (2002)

4. Windtalkers (2002)

5. Black Hawk Down (2001)

6. Letters From Iwo Jima (2007)

7. Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

8. Flyboys (2006)

9. Saints and Soldiers (2004)

10. The Thin Red Line (1998)

Honorable mention for "Band of Brothers," a series not a movie, but would be number one if it were and one you should own! Now, go to your nearest Blockbuster or get Netflix and enjoy all the action!

I Love Funnel Cakes

On Friday my wife and I attended the North Dakota State Fair held at the fairgrounds in Minot. It was pretty much your typical fair including carnvial rides, 4H clubs, nightly musical acts and fair food! My wife got her corn dog and I got my funnel cake. If for some reason you don't know what a funnel cake is (and if so you're missing out!), essentially it is fried dough usually topped with powdered sugar that you eat by tearing off strips. Anytime I'm at a fair or carnival I always make a point of getting one...it's my main reason for going!

Yesterday we realized that it was exactly a year ago (7/29/07) that we had loaded up the moving van and were heading from Evanston, IL to Underwood, ND. In celebration we went to the Burger Stop outside of Pick City for supper (dinner) and followed that up with an ice-cream cone at The Crab Apple. Both of these dining establishments are only open during the summer months. Pick City is near Lake Sakakawea and so their population really picks up from the end of May to the beginning of September as families visit to camp, boat and fish.

You probably heard about the "small" earthquake that hit the LA area yesterday. Both of our families still live in LA County and growing up I remember the Northridge Quake. Two friends and I were camping in one of their backyards when all of a sudden at about 5am it seemed like a train was steaming by right outside our tent. We weren't near the epicenter and didn't sustain any real damage but it was an unforgettable experience. The south has hurricanes, the midwest has tornados and the west coast has earthquakes.

Sunday I preached on Matthew 9:35-10:15 as part of our year-long series through the Gospel. The title of the sermon and main idea of this section of Matthew was "Disciples Become Disciplers." If you'd like to listen to the sermon click here.

Please pray for me in growing in wisdom for leading the church especially in how I approach those who are older and more experienced Christians with potential changes. Also pray for me in growing a love for the people of Faith Evangelical Church and Underwood. You can pray for Harmony to have wisdom in hiring someone to help out in the library.

By God's Grace, Jeff.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Top 10 John Grisham Novels

I was asked to post more top ten lists, so here's one I've been thinking about for awhile. As some of you may know, I am a huge John Grisham fan. In fact, he's pretty much the only fiction author I read these days. He has published 21 books including one non-fiction work and four non-lawyer books. Eliminating those here's my ranking of Grisham's best works:

10. The Runaway Jury
9. The King of Torts - Having worked for a mass-tort lawyer this one hits home
8. The Street Lawyer - Money is not everything
7. The Summons
6. The Brethren
5. The Broker - Makes me want to visit Italy!
4. The Partner
3. The Testament - Redemptive theme
2. The Pelican Brief - Also a very good movie with a stellar cast
1. The Firm - A classic!

Let me know what you think.

By God's Grace, Jeff

A Vegas Review

My wife and I were on vacation this past week. We flew from Bismarck to LA via Las Vegas (least expensive flight). We spent five days in the LA area visting family and friends. We attended the wedding of my wife's counsin and my wife attended a baby shower that I was able to get out of in order to spend time with my side of the family (i.e. golf with my Dad).

One of the highlights of our vacation was spending Sunday evening worshipping with the Evangelical Free Church in Redondo Beach. When my wife and I were involved in high school youth ministry growing up in the LA area, our youth group would use this church's facilities during the summer (close to the beach). Since we've been in the Free Church for the past ten years or so, we've always wanted to visit this congregation (one of the closest EFCA churches to where we grew up). We finally had the chance this past Sunday. We had a great time worshipping with them and were very encouraged by their warmth and friendliness and the message by the pastor. If you're looking for a bible-believing church with a loving community in the South Bay area, check out Redondo Beach EFCA.

After our time in LA we spent a couple days in Las Vegas (before flying back early Wednesday morning). We stayed at Excalibur and took advantage of their four pools! We also caught a Las Vegas 51s baseball game (Dodger's minor league team). The home team got pounded but we had a fun time anyway. It was a nice relaxing end to a fun-filled vacation.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

County Fair Recap

Thanks for your prayers over this past weekend during our outreach at the McLean County Fair. We set up a table for the Thursday-Saturday event and passed out bottles of water and had resources available (e.g. tracts, devotionals, bibles). Attendance was down quite a bit this year, probably due to the weather (windy) and concurrent events in nearby towns. But we were still able to give away 120 water bottles. Our congregation stepped up so that I wasn't forced to man the booth the whole weekend but was actually able to finish the sermon. I had hoped for a better turn out (we have a 100 or so water bottles left) and more opportunities to interact with people but I trust that God will use this for His good purposes.

If our weekend wasn't busy enough, on Sunday afternoon we had the youth families over to our home for a BBQ and games (bocce ball and croquet). We had a great time re-connecting with them (since we haven't had regular youth events this summer). On Sunday morning I preached on Matthew 9:9-34 and the sermon was entitled "Redefining Discipleship." If you like to listen to it you can by clicking here.

Last night my wife and I watched the MLB home run derby. If you haven't heard yet about what Josh hamilton did, you're missing out! He hit a record 28 homers in the first round of the derby (the next highest was like 8). Unfortunately he wore himself out and ended up losing in the finals to Justin Morneau of the Twins. But the reason I mention this is not merely because he broke a record but because of who he is and what he's been through.

Josh Hamilton was the number one overall draft pick by Tampa Bay a number of years ago but because of his addiction to drugs didn't end up making it to the big leagues until last year with the Reds (now he's with Texas). The only reason he was even competing in the homer run derby last night was due to God's grace. His wife prayed for him all the time as he was struggling with drugs and it was a result of him coming to faith in Jesus that he was finally able to break his addiction, change his lifestyle and make it back into baseball. Just making it to the big leagues after so much time off would have been amazing but he is a very talented player who has a reak shot at winning the triple crown this year!

When they interviewed him at the end of the derby last night he gave thanks to His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Now, most of the time when I hear an athlete say that I cringe and await the backlash due to their lives not reflecting their claim to follow Jesus. However in Josh's case, I was glad to hear him express His faith in Jesus and I'm sure that no matter what people who heard him say that think about Christianity, they have to be amazed at the fact that Josh at least believes that the only reason he was even able to compete in the home run derby last night was because of what Christ has done in his life.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Fireworks Across the Street

There are some big fireworks shows in Bismarck and Mandan but we didn't need to drive an hour for something we could see across the street! We thought about heading to Bismarck but decided to stay home. We had another family from the church over for a night of board games and when it finally got dark (10:30pm!!!) we saw quite a fireworks show put on by some neighbors through our kitchen window. Apparently you can purchase just about any fireworks around here and set them off on July 4-5 (expect for M80's). I don't know if I've ever lived in a place where you could legally purchase and set off legit fireworks (e.g. not just sparklers). It was a fun evening and best of all we hooked another family on Settlers of Catan!!!

I thought I was going to have the whole summer off from coaching basketball but I got a call Sunday night from the head coach of the varsity team asking if I could fill in coaching the summer league team on Monday night. So last night I drove the new school "mini-bus" to Hazen (45 minutes away but in Mountain time). The team won both games and since Hazen is a larger town (about 3000) they have a Subway and so we stopped on the way home for a "real" fast-food meal. It was a good time of reconnecting with the students.

This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 8:18-9:8 and the sermon was entitled "So, You Want to be a Disciple?" If you'd like to listen to the sermon click here. Please pray for our outreach at our county fair this Thursday-Saturday as our church will be hosting a booth, giving away free bottles of water and offering free resources about "The Living Water." Right now we don't have a lot of people signed up for shifts manning the table, so please pray that God would provide so I don't have to sit there all weekend with my laptop working on the sermon while handing out water bottles. Pray also for our conversations there.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Surprising Healer - Matthew 8:1-17

This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 8:1-17 and the sermon was entitled "Surprising Healer." In this section of Matthew, Jesus heals three people that would not have been considered prime candidates for a Jewish rabbi to help. In it we see that Jesus is more concerned with God's will than man's tradition and that He not only came to physically heal those living in first century palestine but to provide spiritual healing to people from all cutures and all times; to all who repent of theirs sins and trust in Him by faith.

If you'd like to listen to the sermon you can by clicking here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Monday, June 30, 2008

Facincating ND Facts

To give those of you who've never been to North Dakota a better sense of what life looks like in ND, here's a top ten list of interesting facts (North Dakota Agricultural Facts 2008):
  1. 1 in 4 workers are employed in farming/ranching
  2. ND grows enough corn to produce almost 750 million gallons of ethanol a year
  3. 90% of the state's land is made up of farms/ranches
  4. ND annually produces enough beef for 100 million burgers
  5. There are over 30,000 farms/ranches
  6. ND produces over 90% of America's flaxseed and canola
  7. In under 10 seconds, enough wheat can be harvested for 70 loaves of bread
  8. The state's farmland could cover 12 million city blocks
  9. Enough wheat is grown yearly to produce nearly 15 billion loaves of bread
  10. The soybean production annually is enough for over 200 billion crayons

I hope this gives you a better understanding of our landscape.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Friday, June 27, 2008

A North Dakota Luau

My in-laws have been in town this week and so we've been doing a lot of touristy stuff. Actually apparently there's not much touristy stuff in ND since it ranks dead last in vacation destinations among the fifty states. Anyway, we took them to the Lewis and Clark interpretive center in Washburn (built near where they wintered in 1804), the heritage center in Bismarck, the International Peace Garden (on the border with Canada) and the Knife River indian village.

But maybe the most fun we had was taking them to Medora. If ever there was a tourist trap in North Dakota, this is it. Medora is located by the Teddy Roosevelt National Park (TR spent quite a bit of time in ND before his years in the oval office), features a bunch of shops and restaurants, an outstanding golf course, the Chateau De Mores (a house built by a French aristocrat who owned started up a meat packing plant in the town), and most importantly the nationally renown "Medora Musical" (a country/western production that changes every year). Before attending the musical we ate at the "Pitchfork Fondue" (steaks are cooked in large vats of oil with the help of some pitchforks). As a couple people joked before we went, "Make sure you know what they used the pitchfork for before!" The location of the dinner and musical is in a beautiful setting on one of the numerous buffs in and around the national park. The best way I could describe this event is the North Dakota version of a Hawaiin luau.

This past Sunday we had our "Worship in the Park" service and it went exceptionally well. We had some families from the community join us as well as a number of relatives who happened to be in town. The weather was great and of course we had plenty of food at the BBQ. Thanks for all of your prayers regarding this event. From the feeback I've heard even from those in town who didn't attend, everyone was appreciative that a church would seek to serve the community that way. You can pray for two other outreaches we have scheduled for this summer: a booth at the county fair (July 10-12) and one at Undewood's harvest fest (Aug. 9).

By God's Grace, Jeff

The Choice We All Must Face

Here's the link to my sermon from this past Sunday on Matthew 7:13-29 entitled "The Choice We All must Face."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

57% Don't Understand Why Jesus Had to Die

According to the findings of a recent study, 57% of evangelical church attenders believe other religions can lead adherents to spend eternity in heaven. Now, I'm not sure about the methodology of this survey but the results are striking and despressing. This means nearly six out of ten congregants sitting in the pews of the average evangelical, bible-believing, gospel preaching church in America do not believe Jesus is the only way to eternal life.

This leads me to believe that it also means 57% of evangelicals do not understand the seriousness of their own sin before a holy God and why Jesus had to die. In no other religion does the one worshipped sacrifice himself for those His worshipers. Why Jesus? If there are many ways to heaven why did Jesus have to die? What did His death accomplish if we didn't need a subtitutionary sacrifice for our sin but could be made right with God in other ways?

As troubling as the result of this survey are, they are also a call for the continual need for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be preached in our churches...even among those who consider themsevles Christians. The truth is, we never move on from the gospel but only to a deeper understanding and applictaion of it in our lives.

I at least am thankful that Jesus died because I know there is no other way I could be saved.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sermon on Matthew 7:1-12

This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 7:1-12 and the sermon was entitled "You Just Need to Ask." The gist is, if you try to live out Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount by your own strength, not only will you be unsuccessful but you will likely end up judging others or becoming spiritually undiscerning. But by God's grace there is a way to receive the power necessary to live the way Jesus calls us to without falling into either of these pitfalls. If you'd like to hear more you can listen to the whole sermon by clicking here.

This Sunday our church is hosting a "Worship-in-the-Park" event followed by a community BBQ. Please pray for good weather, all of the details to come together and for this outreach.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Paul Washer

Check out this video sermon by Paul Washer on YouTube and let me know what you think. It's a sermon on Matthew 7:13-27 that he gave to a large gathering of youth at a baptist camp. This was brought to my attention during a meeting I had yesterday with some local EFCA pastors that I meet with regularly. He's speaking to youth but it is certainly not the typical youth message if you've been to as many youth camps as I have. Apparently his name and messages (this one in particular) are sweeping through some churches in my area (and so I'm guessing just about everywhere else too). Some concern was expressed over whether his message is tending toward legalism. I watched his sermon last night and it seems pretty solidly evangelical (even if his style is not what I would prefer). However there are a few questions I had that I'd appreciate any thoughts on as you watch it:


  • Is it significant that he doesn't mention "grace" once in the sermon?
  • Do you believe he's earnestly seeking humility given statements about how much preaching this sermon will cost him personally?
  • Do you find his "altar call" at the end interesting given his take on "praying a prayer"?
  • What do you make of his reference to "God's law" from Matthew 7:23 ("evildoers")?
  • Does his story of the boy who died for his faith (near the end) seem out-of-place given his stated intention of not using such stories to ellicit an emotional response?
  • Most importantly: Does he present a Christ-centered gospel or a form of legalism?

    By God's Grace, Jeff

Friday, June 13, 2008

Revelation...like you've never seen it before!

The editors of the English Standard Version Study Bible just release a pdf of the intro to the Book of Revelation...and what an introduction it is! It contains ten pages chaulked full of notes (and this is in addition to the study notes in the book itself). Included are discussions of author, date, genre and a outline of the entire book. Also, there is a great section on views of the end times that lays it out both in writing and diagrams. If you've ever been curious about how exactly the Historic post-trib Premillennial view differs from the Dispensational pre-trib Premillennial view, this material will provide you with the answers you seek. But don't take my word for it, check the intro out for yourself.

Altough the ESV Study Bible doesn't arrive in bookstores until October, they're offering a special 33% off the cover price if you pre-order it by Sunday June 15th (two days!). I already took advantage of an earlier offer and the great thing is, they won't bill you until they ship. It's a no-brainer!

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Going Green

No I haven't been sick and no I'm not planning on leaving pastoral ministry to join an environmental protection group but western North Dakota is becoming more green lately thanks to the rain we've had over the past couple weeks. We had very little snow this winter and almost no rain early in the spring but we're starting to make up for it in June. We've had rain at least every other day recently and it's starting to bring out the flowers and grass. I mentioned to my wife that we've had so much rain that it doesn't even look like I cut the grass a week and a half ago (or maybe it does and I just need to cut it more frequently). Either way I know it's the farmers and ranchers around here appreciate it.

This weekend we watched the movie "Bella" which is about a young waitress who becomes pregnant and a young chef who comes along side her during this difficult time in her life. I won't ruin anymore of it for you because it certainly is a movie worth seeing. We've also been getting hooked on the tv series "Lost." We never watched while it was on the air but have started renting the dvds of season one this summer and now see why it was such a big hit. One aspect of the show I really appreciate is how you see people's humanity and also God's common grace at work. All of the characters have their flaws and their redeeming qualities.

The sermon this past Sunday was on Matthew 6:19-34 and was entitled "Wholehearted Dependence." This is the section of the "Sermon on the Mount" in which Jesus talks about earthly treasure and anxiety being barriers to complete devotion to God. If you'd like to listen to the sermon click here.

Please pray for our "Worship in the park" service on Sunday June 22nd as we hope to reach the community with the love of Christ through an outdoor worship service, community BBQ and free swimming for kids. I have started to recommit myself to regular visitation to those in our church as part of my desire to grow in love for this congregation but you can pray that this would increase and God would give me wisdom in ministering during these visits. Finally, pray that I would not be seeking after both comfort and God but would be willing to forgo comfort in order to faithfully serve God in my marriage, ministry and life.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

An Odd Place for Seafood

My wife has remarked more than once since we've been in North Dakota that for some reason people around here seem to really like seafood. Now I'm not sure if people in western North Dakota enjoy shrimp and calamari on the whole more than those in other parts of the country (my parents go out for seafood about once a week) but it does seem like fishing is a popular hobby (along with other outside sports) and so maybe there's something to it. What I do know for sure though is that apparently at least people around Bismarck don't mind getting their seafood in an unusual way. I believe its once a week (and maybe only certain times of the year) but a semi-truck packed with seafood parks at one of the gas stations in Bismarck and people line up with their igloo coolers to purchase seafood! A while ago I had read about this in the paper but had not witnessed it in person until this past Sunday while we were in Bismarck. There was the semi and there was a sizeable line of people with their ice-chests waiting for the opportunity to buy up crab legs and salmon fillets...suffice it to say we didn't join them!

Also while we were in Bismarck we saw the new Narnia movie "Prince Caspian." I thought the movie stayed true to most of the storyline of the book (including important aspects like doubting Aslan and the pride of the mice). However, they also added in quite a bit that (as I remember) was not in the book (like the unecessary smooch). All-in-all we enjoyed it and would recommend it to families (though there's a bit of war violence). Definitely read the book or do what we did recently and get ahold of the CDs and listen to it during a road trip.

Lately I have rediscovered the wonders of ebay. As a pastor with a limited book budget (but a much longer book list), I have found some very good deals on this popular auction site that has enabled me to stretch my book budget. But I have also found that it can be a big waste of time. I was convicted both by the wisdom of my wife as well as the words of D.A. Carson's mom in his book "Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor." She said "Work hard and play hard but don't confuse the two." Some struggle with workaholism, I don't. I tend to procrastinate knowing that I can get things done at the last minute (although not nearly as well as if I planned ahead). This includes being easily distracted when I should be concentrating on the work God's called me to. Please pray for me to strive to work hard, not procrastinate or succomb to distraction.

The sermon this week was on Matthew 6:1-18 and was entitled "An audience of One." The main point was that not only are we to pursue perfection in our lives (i.e. avoiding sin) but also in our service to God are we to pursue praising Him and not seeking to receive praise from man for ourselves. The audio is posted here. Please pray for an upcoming church outreach "Worship in the Park" service we're hosting on Sunday 6/22 and wisdom for me in leading a non-Christian couple through pre-marital counseling and then marrying them in October.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Perfection is the Goal (Matthew 5:17-48)

This week's sermon covered Matthew 5:17-48 and was entitled "Perfection is the Goal." This is the section of the "Sermon on the Mount" in which Jesus makes the bold statement that our righteousness must exceed the religious elite if we are to spend eternity in heaven and then proceeds with six case studies of the kind of righteousness required by God. The section concludes with Jesus commanding His disciples to pursue perfection in light of God's perfection. What does this passage teach about salvation? How is it related to Jesus' mission of fulfilling the Law and the Prophets (v. 17)? To find out, click here and listen to the sermon.

New Testaments Burned

Israeli police are investigating the burning of hundreds of copies of the New Testament (Click here for the whole story from CNN). Interestingly enough, there's an editorial in this month's Christianity Today magazine (which I received in the mail yesterday) regarding the impoving conditions for Messianic Jews (those who believe Jesus is the Messiah) living in Israel. Apparently there is still some work to be done.

How should Christians respond to this? Recently when a US soldier shot up a copy of the Quran, there was outrage within the Muslim community. Should Christians respond similarly to the New Testament being treated with disrespect? Why or why not?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Must Reads Before Becoming a Pastor

Here are 5 books everyone seeking to become a pastor should read (w/ links to Amazon.com):

Let me know what you think about this list and if there are any others that should be added.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Monday, May 26, 2008

If Chicago is the "Windy City," then...

...North Dakota is the "Windy State"! We were told before coming that North Dakota tended to be on the windy side. In fact one of the sayings people like to use around here is "If you don't like the weather just wait a few minutes and it will change." And it was pretty windy this winter...but then again I wasn't too interested in being outside for very long in February for the wind to really bother me all that much. That situation has changed now that we're well into spring and I have signed up for a membership at the local golf course. The wind has now become my arch-nemesis (move over Sergio Garcia)! My plan was to golf just about every Monday (my day off) and some Saturdays but three times in the last two weeks it has been way too windy to golf (unless you live in Scotland). We've had wind gusts of 40-50 mph and regular winds of 15-25 mph on those days (as well as a few others recently). I finally got in a round this past Tuesday (apparently eveyone else wanted to also as the course was packed!) and today (the wind was only blowing at 10-20 mph!). I'm sure I'll still get plenty of golf in this summer but I am starting to understand why we were warned about the wind...there's just nothing to stop the wind blowing over the northern plains (no trees, mountains, hills, tall buildings...)

On Sunday afternoon we experienced our first small town high school graduation. It was nice to be able to attend a graduation that you didn't have to have tickets for. Since there were only a dozen kids graduating, the ceremony was very personal (slide show of each student, announcement of parents) as well as short. Then after the ceremony itself, the students lined up outside the school gym in a reception line. I was able to congratulate the kids that I had the opportunity to get to know while coaching the basketball team this winter. It was quite different from what we experienced at our "city" high school and college graduations!

On Saturday we had hoped to visit the Bismarck zoo (even though there are no Giant Pandas) but a storm blew across western North Dakota and so we had to settle for going out to lunch and then going to see the new Indiana Jones movie (I still can't by the kid from "Even Stevens" as a Greaser). The storm followed us home and in fact there was a tornado warning for our county that night, which gave us the excuse to watch some tv downstairs in our basement. The tornado didn't materialize in our area though there were three elsewhere in ND. I guess that goes with the territory.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Kingdom Character Counts

This Sunday I preached on Matthew 5:1-16 with the sermon title being "Kingdom Character Counts." This section of Matthew's Gospel contains the beatitudes and the illustrations of being like salt and light in demonstaring what kind of character is acceptable to Jesus. It isn't that we are expected to earn a certain level of character quality but rather live up to these character traits as a result of receiving God's grace in our lives - they're blessings not commands. If you'd like to hear more you can listen to the sermon by clicking here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

10 Problems with Athiestic Evolution

Here are ten problems with Athiestic Evolution as identified by Pastor Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church - Seattle, WA) in a recent sermon entitled "Creation: God Makes":

1. It assumes that nothing made everything

2. It assumes that chaos created order

3. It assumes that no designer created what is designed

4. It assumes impersonal matter created personal beings

5. It assumes unintelligent made intelligent

6. It assumes a transition between species existed over a long period of time (no evidence)

7. It has been unable to replicate evolution

8. It assumes earth is eternal (contra "Big Bang" theory and second law of thermodynamics)

9. It leads to hopelessness and despair (you came from nothing and are going nowhere)

10. It's biased and based on bad science

By God's Grace, Jeff

Pancakes for supper...again

Another interesting aspect of small town life is that it's actually possible to throw a town-wide meal and include just about everybody (without it costing a fortune or requiring a volunteer staff the size of a small country). I think I've mentioned before about one of the blessings of small town life that we noticed even early on: that people organize benefits to raised money for those in the community who are suffering. However, this past Wednesday there was a benefit of another kind. The Underwood Civic Club (like a Chamber of Commerce) organized an Appeciation Supper on behalf of the companies in town. Basically the residents were treated to a free meal as a thanks for supporting the local businesses. These benefits meals are also fairly predictable (pancakes and sausage)...but free food nontheless. It's really neat to see the whole town come together for events like these...something that you'd almost never see in a larger community. I don't know about others, but I enjoy breakfast for dinner occasionally.

Tonight will be our last regular youth ministry Bible study before the summer. Next week we'll have an event to go out to eat in Bismarck and then to see "Prince Caspian." Please pray for wisdom in how we should proceed with the youth ministry in the future. On another youth note, I will be taking the high school Sunday School class this summer through the book "Do the Hard Things." Please pray for my time with the guys and that God would use this to challenge them to live up to His standards and not down to the world's.

Sunday I preached on Matthew 4:12-25 and the sermon was entitled "The Messiah's Ministry Takes Shape." In this passage Jesus' ministry begins and you see His ministry values: preaching, calling disciples, teaching and healing. If these are Jesus' ministry values, shouldn't they also characterize those who follow Him? Click here to listen to the sermon.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Everybody Should have a good Study Bible

I can't express in words how excited I am about the upcoming ESV Study Bible...and I've only seen bits and pieces! I have been using the English Standard Version for my personal and family devotions for the past few years and appreciate its desire to be literal (although sometime I think they go overboard - see Jonah 1:6). In addition to the ESV being a quality translation, here are some of the highights (as I see them) of the upcoming Study Bible:

1. 19,500+ study notes (an average of nearly 300 per book of the Bible!)
2. 200 full-color maps (most Bibles I own only have about 10!)
3. 100+ articles and introductions (Check out the Intro to Luke...it's like a commentary!)
4. General Editor - Wayne Grudem (you might own his other work - "Systematic Theology")
5. Theological Editor - J.I. Packer (Knowing God, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, etc.)

All this to say that if you don't have a study Bible, the cover is falling off of the one you use or you're simply looking for some good insights during your time in God's Word, you should pick up the ESV study Bible...By the way, you can get 35% off if you pre-order by may 15th!

October 15, 2008 can't come soon enough as far as I'm concerned!

By God's Grace, Jeff

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Pheasants...evidence against Darwinism!

We had our second run-in (literally) with a pheasant. Harmony hit her first pheasant while driving back from pilates in Washburn on Tuesday. Besides disjarring our side blinker, it didn't seem to do much damage. You wouldn't think that hitting a bird would do much damage except when you're driving nearly 70 mph! I think if I ever get into a debate with a proponent of Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest, I am going to use the case of the pheasant as my number one contradictory example. My point is that according to Darwinism, over time only the most "fit" of a species survives. However, the pheasant is a prime counter-example. You would think that over time the "unfit" pheasants who think they can make it to the otherside of the road in front of a car doing 70, would die-out leaving only the more "fit" ones to re-produce and thus their offspring would be less likely to make such unwise decisions. But the theory does not hold around here anyway, as you end up hitting just as many pheasants as the year before!

I was able to take advantage of the warmer weather here lately by golfing on my day-off on Monday. The course was pretty dry still but the greenskeepers were out watering the greens. As a result I couldn't make a put to save my life! Nonetheless, it was a lot of fun and a great day to spend a few hours chasing a small white ball around 18 holes.

The nice weather has not been all good. We're suffering through a drought and are in desperate need of rain. The western part of North Dakota did not get very much snow this winter (while the eastern part set records!) and we didn't receive many "April showers" either. The farmers are going to have a really tough year, if we don't get some moisture soon. With prices for food already increasing due to the weak dollar, gas prices and overseas markets, the last thing we need is a down year for crops. At the same time I have no doubt that God will provide.

Sunday I preached on Matthew 4:1-11 (Jesus' temptations) and the sermon title was "Choosing Mission over Temptation." The devil enticed Jesus to be other than what God called and sent Him to be (which would have been a lot easier) but Jesus chose His God-given mission to live a perfect life and die a sacrfiical death for sinners instead of giving into Satan's temptations. Now that you know the main point, if you'd like to hear the rest click here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Season Finally

No, by "season finally" I'm not referring to an upcoming tv episode but to the elementary basketball season being finished as of yesterday. While we didn't win a single game, I could definitely see the kids improving as the season progressed and the fourth graders being in just about every one of their fifth grade games over the past couple weeks. I've mentioned to more than one person that when we've been in these games, if they would have concentrated as much on their defense as on the scoreboard, we might have pulled off a victory. I tried to convince them that if they focus on the game, the scoreboard will take care of itself...but alas, there's always next season. I told Harmony a couple of weeks ago that I enjoyed coaching the elementary students during their games but the high school students during their practices. I felt a lot of pressure in the high school games that I didn't with the younger kids but the older kids actually listen and concentrate (for the most part) during practice and so you're able to get a lot more accomplished. I am looking forward to having my afternoons and Saturdays back!

A couple Sundays ago we had a younger guy (i.e. my age!) attend the worship service and Sunday School. Unfortunately he's only here temporarily while working at one of the plants during a schedule maintainance outage. Talking about it afterwards, Harmony and I both agreed that we need more young guys in jeans in the church! Obviously this is probably true of not just our small town congregation but many (if not most) across the US. There aren't too many young, unmarried guys who are actively invovled in churches these days. Why is that? Some think it's because Christian worship services appeal too much to feminine interests (i.e. singing, fellowshipping, sitting and listening instead of doing). But although these may be accurate descriptions, it doesn't seem to get at the root of the problem. The reason I mention this is that I recently picked up "Do the Hard Things," which is a book written by two teenage guys who are calling young adults to live contrary to the world's standards and up to God's standards. Although I've only read through half of it (during last Saturday's basketball tournament...when I wasn't coaching!), their message really seems to resonate with why so many young people leave the church after high school and why so few young men in particular ever come back. If you have teens (or close to it) or are interested in these issues, check it out.

This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 3 and we saw that John the Baptist's ministry and lifestyle call all of us to prepare our own lives in order to receive the Kingdom of Heaven and in particular, the person and work of Jesus Christ. The main way we do this is by earnestly repenting, by turning away from sin and turning to God. Now, unfortunately my digital voice recorder wasn't working so I didn't get it on audio, but I would encourage you to read through the 17 verses of Matthew 3 and consider if you are heeding John's message in your life.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Friday, April 25, 2008

Audio Books

During our recent vacation, my wife and I used some of our time together in the car to listen to "Pilgrim's Progress" and "Prince Caspian" on CD. Not only did this help to pass the time but it also provided us the opportunity to engage with some books that we otherwise might not have time to read together. I menion this as summer is approaching and many families may be planning upcoming driving vacations. It can be tough to entertain kids during the hours you're on the road and this seems like a great way to pass the time as a family with kids and be able to interact together about something valuable.

In fact, you can find a number of audio cds for free through your public library (if they don't have thes ones you want on the shelf, ask if they can get them through inter-library loan). Also, for those who've joined the 21st century and are able to listen to mp3s through your car stereo, check out http://christianaudio.com/. They offer a "free" Christian audio book at the beginning of each month that you can download and then listen to while you're on the road.

I hope this helps make for good family memories and eases the stress over high gas prices as you vacation this summer!

By God's Grace, Jeff

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A more "normal" week...so far

This week has been quite a bit more calm than last week. However, you never know, things could change. On Friday Harmony and I were finally able to have the head coach from the basketball team, his wife and their 15-month-old over for supper. I had been talking with him about getting together ever since the end of the high school basketball season but then with Harmony working all the library hours until recently and me getting involved with the 4th-6th grade basketball program it didn't happen as soon as we would have liked. However we had a really nice time with them and it was great to spend time with another couple our own age. We have certainly enjoyed spending time with the families from our church who are older than us and find that a very good opportunity to learn from their example but it's also nice now and then to be able to spend time with those who grew up in the same culture you did. I think that's one of the biggest things we miss from our time in Evanston; our close connection with so many friends who were in our same age demographic.

So how's the 4th-6th grade basketball team going anyway? Well, glad you asked. It has been difficult over the past couple weeks with the tragedic death of one of the players' mom (and another's aunt). We didn't start out with too many fifth or sixth graders anyway so to have a couple kids out for an extended period of time and another couple struggling to stay eligible, it's been tough to fill out both a 5th and a 6th grade team. I've basically been reserving the 5th and 6th graders I do have for the 6th grade team and playing all 4th graders on the 5th grade team. This makes it kind of hard on them at some points (the other kids are bigger and more experienced) but it's also a good learning experience and as I've tried to encourage them, wins and losses at this stage don't mean anything. The main thing we want to work on is helping them become better basketball players for the future.

At our first tournament, because of the aforementioned problems, we ended up only having enough players for one team...and they were all 4th graders! In fact, we should have had six fourth graders but one came down with the flu the night before and so we were left with five 4th graders who had to play in two games against fifth graders without any subs! In last week's tournament we had a few more kids and so were able to put together two teams (even if it meant having up to three fourth graders at a time in the 6th grade game!). In spite of the incredible odds, we almost pulled off an upset against Turtle Lake's 6th grade team. We were up 2 at half-time (first time all season) and down 3 with 18 seconds left. I tried to run a play to get three points (no three-point line) but it didn't work and so we lost a close game.

In addition, I've been struggling in coaching the younger kids. My only pervious experience is in coaching high schoolers and apparently I have a very revisionistic view of what I was like as a 4th grade basketball player. I've especially found it difficult to draw the line between being an Ambassador of Christ in my words and actions and maintaining discipline during practices. I must admit that on at least one occasion I have failed to maintain the former at least. A number of these kids don't have godly male role models in their lives and so I definitely see this as an opportunity to demonstrate what it looks like as a man to live for Christ. However, I also see the need to instill some modicum of discipline in our practices. Now I am not much of a disciplinarian and thus have found it difficult to know where exactly to draw that line.

With all that said, the last week or so has been a lot better. The kids are starting to get it. They've been in most of their games recently (at least until the second half) and are certainly improving. We have games Thursday, Saturday and next Tuesday remaining. It won't be easy but I think they have a chance at getting at least one win this season. Which would be quite remarkable seeing as in every game we are out-sized, out-experienced and out-manned...and quite possibly out-coached too :)

I guess for a "normal" week this turned out to be a longer blog entry. Apparently I had a lot on my mind I hadn't been able to get out in the craziness of the past couple of weeks. This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 2 and entitled the sermon "Who's the King?" If you want to listen to it you can be clicking here.

By God's Grace, Jeff

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Hebrew Bible Resource

Zondervan has just recently come out with "A Reader's Hebrew Bible" that looks like a great resource for pastors, seminary students, or anyone in the church who would like to be able to dive deeper into the original languages of the Bible. As one who barely made it through Hebrew in seminary, I'm looking forward to being able to more consistently get into the world of the Old Testament through Zondervan's "A Reader's Hebrew Bible." (Check it out for yourself by clicking on the link...I think you'll be as impressed and excited as I am!)

By God's Grace, Jeff Higbie

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Crazy Week

Well, I officiated my first funeral...and it wasn't even for someone in the congregation I serve. Tragically, the mom of one of the fifth graders on the basketball team I coach was killed in a small plane crash on Friday Arpil 11th (also the aunt of another player on the team). I reached out to the family and especially to the kids and as a result the grandmother and aunt asked if I'd officiate the funeral. They have some connection with one of the Lutheran churches in town and so I actually co-officiated the funeral with the interim pastor there (which was actually nice because he's a retired pastor with many funerals under his belt). As difficult as thsi situation is (and will continue to be for sometime), I can sense that there's a reason I was asked and accepted the opportunity to coach these kids and therefore have the chance to get to know the son and nephew. This is a family with a rough history and so I would appeciate your prayers for God to give me wisdom in to how to continue ministering to them.

Beyond running around visiting the family and making funeral preparation, I've been busy with the basketball team and trying to keep up with things for the church as well. Coaching the fourth, fifth and six-graders has been challenging and I won't be sad to see the season come to an end after next week. But I hope i've been able to develop some relationships with the players and families and continue to express a love for and desire to serve the community God's called me to.

Last Sunday I preached the first sermon in the year-long series through Matthew. It was on all of chapter one and was entitled "The Promised One has Come." If you'd like to listen to it you can by clicking here.

Harmony is enjoying her extra free time now that she's found someone to help out with the library hours (She's even taken up quilting).

By God's Grace, Jeff.