Stop. Please, Please, Stop.

Stop. Please, Please Stop!

Before you post anything or say anything at the ballgame or theater or grocery store . . . please read this:

As a church family – a household of Faith – we believe and practice that human life is created by God and is good. Since we are uniquely created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and formed by God (Genesis 2:7; Job 33:4; Psalm 139:13–16), we hold to the sanctity of all human life (Genesis 9:6; Matthew 6:26). As best as we understand, human life begins at conception (Psalm 139:13–16; Jeremiah 1:4–5). It also lasts beyond death into eternity (John 5:28–29; 1 Corinthians 15:51–52; 2 Corinthians 5:8–10). God gives life and breath to everyone (Acts 17:25), calling us to value equally the dignity of every individual life in its entirety, which compels us to love and have compassion for all peoples of the world (2 Corinthians 5:14–15).

EVERYONE matters to God. EVERYONE matters to us.

That includes people on BOTH SIDES of the debates now raging about the ruling on abortion rights from the Supreme Court this morning.

God loves the abortionist and the LGBTQ+ people and the ultra-conservatives and the moderates. And He loves the justices who voted against overturning Roe vs Wade just as much as he loves those who were in the majority. He loves the women who have had abortions and those who are contemplating the decision; those who’ve experienced abuse, trauma, and rape.

As followers of Jesus, we should be slow, very slow to speak. (James 1:19) Let’s be very careful not to alienate anyone who feels like they “lost” today by claiming a “win.”

By every human measure, Jesus lost. On purpose. With a purpose. Let’s humbly join Him by caring deeply for the people who are hurt, disillusioned, and angry.

Let’s avoid gloating, prideful claims of victory, and any words – spoken or written – which might damage the ears and hearts and minds of people who need to see and experience the love of Jesus.

Texas Tragedy

How do we respond? How do we answer the questions from young kids, teenagers, young adults, and especially those who are far from Jesus?

A school shooting in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, May 24, left dead 19 children and two adults plus the shooter. And there are many wounded.

The “breaking news” is that the world is broken. Evil is alive and well. But our hope is in God who is our fortress and protector in times of trouble. We take refuge in Him. (See Psalm 37)

Bad things happen to good people. Horrific, unspeakable crimes are perpetrated against helpless, defenseless children.

Is God powerful enough to stop tragedies like a teenager slaughtering children in an elementary school? Yes, absolutely! Why doesn’t God stop all these bad things from happening?

I don’t know . . .

But I DO KNOW that God did not abandon those students, teachers or first responders. He was right there with them in those terrifying moments. God is always present – never absent. He joins us in our suffering.

Even as I write this, God is in the surgical suites, hospital rooms, and funeral director’s offices. He is present in the homes where grief threatens to overwhelm because someone is now absent. God steps into our suffering. He does not leave us alone but enters into the pain, confusion, and anguish with us.

Don’t reject God because He doesn’t measure up to your standard. God is trustworthy because He is all-powerful, always present, and knows everything. Even when everything seems to be going wrong, God is still good.

Sissy Goff offers some great words for parents, grandparents – for all of us:

Also check out this article on “Talking to Children About Violence.” Note: We don’t endorse everything found on the NASP website!

Camp Tri State 2018 Discussion and Devo Questions

NOTE: Stephen Grant, a Camp Alumnus and intern working with me this summer, is the main author of the following material. I provided direction and editing.

Day 1- Riches & Poverty: Ephesians 5:8-10 & Luke 15:11-32

Main Idea: When we wake up to the light of Christ our priorities are altered.

Introduction: Luke 15:11-32 is one of the most well-known parables of Jesus, The Parable of the Lost Son. In this parable, the lost son wants his share of the estate and receives that share. He has all this money from his father’s estate and decides to waste that money on wild living and soon becomes poor and ends up living with pigs. At some point, the son decides to go back home to his father and older brother. The father is filled with compassion when he sees his lost son and decides to make a huge celebration, because what was once lost is now found. The lost son went from riches to poverty and back to riches.

  1. What is the one thing that you value the most?
  2. What would your reaction be if you lost it? If you found it?
  3. If someone gave you 1 million dollars what would you do with it?
  4. Who’s the main character in the parable: the prodigal son, the older brother, or the father?
  5. Why are the reactions of the father and the older brother quite different?
  6. Why are we told nothing about what happened to the older brother?
  7. Why do you think Jesus finished this parable without telling us the end?
  8. What is the point that Jesus is making in telling this parable?
  9. How would you react if your father or mother showed compassion towards you after you turned your back against them?
  10. How is the story of the Prodigal an illustration of moving from darkness into the light of the Lord? (Ephesians 5:8)


Day 2- Bondage & Freedom: Ephesians 5:11-12 & Acts 16:16-40

Main Idea: Becoming children of the Light means we leave behind the “deeds of darkness” by exposing them to light.

Introduction: In Acts 16:16-40 Paul and Silas are sent to prison for their faith. While in prison, both Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God. An earthquake took place that destroyed the doors and the chains of the prison, but all of the prisoners stayed. The account ends with Paul and Silas being released from prison; Paul and Silas went from bondage to freedom.

Morning Questions

  1. What’s the worst place you’ve visited or have been to?
  2. What made that place so terrible?
  3. What did you do while at that place?
  4. What would you do if you were thrown into prison?
  5. How were Paul and Silas able to leave from prison?
  6. Why is this story important?
  7. What actions, words, and attitudes do you need to expose to light?

Evening Questions

Read Ephesians 5:11-13

  1. What comes to your mind when you hear or see the word prison?
  2. If you had to pick one city in America to never visit, what would the city be?
  3. Why were Paul and Silas sent to prison?
  4. Why did none of the prisoners, including Paul and Silas, escape when the earthquake destroyed the prison doors and chains?
  5. What’s the significance of Paul informing the jailer that none of the prisoners escaped?
  6. What did they do in prison and why is it significant?
  7. How is what we do in the dark different from what we do in the light?


Day 3- Wisdom & Foolishness: Ephesians 5: 15-16 & Proverbs 10:1-12

Main Idea: Wisdom and foolishness are both powerful forces in our lives. We need to learn to walk in wisdom.

Introduction: In Proverbs 10:1-12, we see Solomon giving advice to his son. He’s encouraging his son not to make the foolish choices that he made in his life. One of the foolish things Solomon did in his life was having 700 wives and 300 concubines, while he served as king of Israel. In this passage, you’ll discover the contrast between wisdom and foolishness as Solomon is sharing wisdom with his son.

Morning Questions

  1. What’s the smartest thing you ever did?
  2. What’s the dumbest thing you ever did?
  3. What’s the smartest thing you’ve seen someone do?
  4. Why is it so significant about Solomon sharing wisdom with his son?
  5. What’s your definition of wisdom?
  6. What steps will you take in your everyday life to live a life filled with wisdom?

Evening Questions

Read Ephesians 5:15-17

  1. What’s the dumbest thing you’ve seen someone do?
  2. What annoys you the most about people who are foolish or make bad decisions?
  3. What’s your definition of foolishness?
  4. What do you like most about people who are wise?
  5. Why is it that sometimes we do smart things and other times we do dumb things?
  6. What steps will you take in your everyday life to live a life filled with wisdom?


Day 4- Death & Life: Ephesians 5:18-20 & John 11:17-44

Main Idea: The contrast between trying to live a good life without the power of the Holy Spirit is like the difference between death and life.

Introduction: In John 11:17-44, Jesus is going to Judea to wake up his friend, Lazarus who’s been dead for 4 days. Martha and Mary confront Jesus about being absent when Lazarus dies and Jesus’ response is that He’s the resurrection and the life. Before, he raises up Lazarus, Jesus wept. Jesus calls Lazarus to come out of the tomb and he came out. Lazarus went from death to life.

Morning Questions

  1. If you would see someone being raised from the dead, how would you respond?
  2. Are you surprised by Jesus’ response of crying?
  3. What’s the significance of Jesus’ weeping?
  4. What does it mean that Jesus is the resurrection and the life?
  5. Did this event help people believe that God sent Jesus to earth? Why or why not?

Evening Questions

Read Ephesians 5:15-20

  1. What terrifies you most about death?
  2. Describe a time in your life when you lost a loved one.
  3. Who’s the closest friend you’ve ever had? Describe that relationship.
  4. Why do you think the disciples misunderstood Jesus when He said that He’ll wake Lazarus up?
  5. Thinking about Lazarus’ perspective, what was the best thing about him coming back to life? What was the worst thing?
  6. What steps do you need to take to practice daily being filled with the Holy Spirit?

Not Surprised . . . But Very Sad

A school shooting.

On Valentine’s Day.

Seventeen fatalities; 15 wounded.

Students walked past the bodies of classmates as they evacuated the building.

Scores of families devastated.

Hundreds of lives changed forever.

Evil is alive and well. Since Genesis 4 humans have killed humans in anger. As much as we would like to think we are advancing the human race not much has changed. Hatred and animus still produce unspeakable violence.

But we should not be surprised.

Satan’s job description is to “steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10) Until hearts turn away from individualism and selfishness we will continue to witness terrible atrocities. People will die senseless deaths.

As Followers of Jesus we are once again presented with an opportunity to respond with grace and love. We are called to love one another. We are called to love like God loves.

Let’s avoid the “pat answers” and, instead, respond to the latest tragedy with thoughtful consideration. Let’s listen to the pain of others and be careful to empathize with their confusion. As Followers of Jesus, let’s avoid being judgmental and critical and focus on inviting people to join us on this journey of knowing God and being known by Him.

The “breaking news” is that the world is broken. But our hope is in God who is our fortress and protector in times of trouble. We take refuge in Him. (See Psalm 37)

Focus on God’s Plans

My expectations, my hopes, my choices seem so important to me. Even for the Christ-follower the temptation is to list objectives and set schedules that are all about the little trinity – me, myself, and I.

1. Looking back on the past year I recognize that many of my plans were blown away like sand but the ones that survived were formed through prayer, the Word of God, and trusted advisers. Psalm 33:11 says. “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.”

2. I am testing all goals, objectives and schedules based on Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” I need to make sure God is in the center – not me.

3. When working on those items which are personal, I keep coming back to Galatians 5:22-26, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” It seems ridiculously obvious that if this fruit is evident in my character, the result will be humility, faithfulness, and obedience.

Let’s be purposeful in making Christ the center. Practically, this means we look for how to join what God is already doing; participate in His plans and resist the temptation to ask God to bless our plans.

The focus is God’s plans for me not my plans for God.

Difficult. Tough. Stressful. Complicated. Disappointing.

Was 2017 a hard year? I’ve seen a lot of social media posts where people have described the past year as stressful and painful and expressed great hope that 2018 will be better.

David, the great king of ancient Israel, experienced severe times in his life and in Psalm 69 he left us a record of his plea for help.  He writes (my paraphrase), “God help me! I’m about to go under; the tide is working against me and death by drowning in my own troubles is an almost certainty. My voice is hoarse and almost gone from calling for help and I’m so tired I can’t keep my eyes open. God, with you I can’t deny the fact that most of these troubles are the consequences of my foolishness, the result of selfishness, pride, lust, and anger. You know all about me. There’re no secrets with You.”

And then David shifts the narrative.

“God, may all the people around me – family, friends, neighbors – who are following You be protected from my foolishness. Don’t let them be discouraged or disgraced as they seek to live in Your presence.” (My paraphrase.)

That’s it. That’s what my focus needs to be for 2018.

Yes, there will be trouble and hardship, difficulties and pain; but there will also be hope and joy, fulfillment, goodness, abundance, and love!

I don’t want the people around me to be detoured in following Jesus because of me. Instead I pray they will be encouraged because I am following Jesus – no matter the circumstances, emotions, or frustrations. Let’s follow Jesus better.

December 31 – “When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.”

Read: Luke 2:39-40

God’s great work is hidden within the normal routine of life. If this was true of Jesus it is certainly true of us. There are ancient fairy-tale-like stories of what Jesus was like as a boy. In make-believe fashion they describe a precocious character who resorted to magic whenever it struck his fancy. Those who wrote and believed such stories are like Christians today who fantasize, sensationalize and spiritualize every aspect of life. They live in a spiritual disney-land of their own making. God lives and works in the real world. We should not forget that Jesus grew up in Nazareth.

Christian service makes sense. Real faith in God does not need promotional gimmicks or publicity. Authentic Christianity understands humble service, inner strength, quiet resolve, disciplined growth and the sacrifice of praise. Joy characterizes the life of the Christian who does not live from hype to hype but from grace to grace. It is in the routine of life with all of its tensions and tedium that we witness to the glorious grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give us patience and endurance to serve You faithfully in our Nazareth. Help us to grow and become strong in You and in Your love. We want to be filled with Your wisdom. May Your grace be upon us. Amen.

December 30 – “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Read: Matthew 2:13-18

The Bible reports an atrocity. The Bethlehem massacre of innocent children burdens the Christmas story with pain. The good news of great joy becomes a loud wail from young mothers in Bethlehem. Historians estimate the number of actual victims to be around twenty-five. Bethlehem was a small town of perhaps two thousand inhabitants. There may have been fifty children under two years old only half of whom were boys. But who can estimate the pain and sorrow of one mother whose son was ripped from her arms and murdered?

Joseph and Mary were forewarned. They fled for Egypt. Other families were unaware of the pending doom. Suddenly a pounding on the door in the predawn hours and screams in the village meant terror and horror. This Bible reading does not encourage a devotional feeling and does not answer all of our questions. If we are at all sensitive we are left in pain. We cry out “Why! Why did you have to let this happen God!” And the only answer we are given is Jesus. He is already heading toward the cross. Evil must be overcome.

Prayer: Save us, Lord, from thinking that the Christian faith is anything but a life and death struggle. The power of evil threatens to overwhelm us. We know that ultimate victory is secure. You have conquered sin and death through the sacrifice of the cross and the power of the resurrection. But we struggle amidst atrocities of all kinds waiting for Your redemption. Amen.


It was snowing when I got up at 5 this morning. There wasn’t much snow at my house but the roads got worse and the snow increased by the time I arrived at church in Ottumwa. My daughter, Joy and Lori Eldrenkamp did an awesome job decorating this year and took everything over-the-top with tables in the Commons stacked with sweet treats. Levi and the worship team and Chad in media were fantastic. It wasn’t a production or a performance; it was worship. Christmas Eve worship.

Serving the people of Northgate Church and our community is my priority; the focal point of my time and attention. I’m well into my fourth year and I don’t have any regrets; I am so grateful to God for this ministry. I still get up each morning with a heart full of anticipation for what God is about to do!

The highlight of the year was the wedding of Peter and Heather on April 9. What a great celebration! And they are expecting a baby boy April 23, 2018!

Kari Beth & Jeremy and their girls, Sarah & Natalie are doing well – I just don’t get to see them often enough. That’s a function of me being a pastor and Kari doing kids ministry at their church. Weekends are full.

Since I only live a few miles up the road, I do get to see Joy and Tony and their boys, Brady, Broc, Brandt, and Bo. Brady is a freshman and got a part in the High School play this Fall and I helped with the production – my 24th year. Some people go hunting; I help with High School Speech, Drama, and Theater.

The best event in 2017 is also the most difficult. TJ, the associate pastor I got to work with for the past three years, was offered a position at a church in the Denver suburb of Parker. I was/am so thrilled for him! As of the end of September, he is the Teaching Pastor at Crossroads Community Church; a great church and an awesome opportunity. I miss him. But I know this is also an opportunity for Northgate Church so we are trusting God as we pray daily for the right person to join our team.

This Advent season, I’ve been struck, once again, with the extraordinary courage of King Jesus who willingly left behind all the glory, power, majesty, and praise of Heaven to come to earth as a helpless baby born into utter poverty. That’s the kind of King I want to follow.

December 29 – “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

Read: Matthew 2:1-12

Who would have thought that on the night that shepherds were startled by an angelic host, a group of sages, probably from Babylonia, were excitedly sighting a star. With their Ph.D’s in astrology and a keen sense of Jewish culture (Numbers 24:17) they examined the skies nightly in search of heaven and earth’s mysteries. Indeed, God’s grace connects with people in unusual ways.

This entourage of Eastern sages made their way to Jerusalem in the hope that they could link their astrological find with an historical person. They came prepared to pay homage to the new king of Israel. The masses of people in Jerusalem were apathetic, or as in the case of Herod, hostile to such a search for meaning.

From beginning to end the whole account of the magi and their homage to Jesus is extraordinary. Their insight and openness puts to shame those who should have known. They are a sign to us, as they were to Matthew, that Jesus is more than a Jewish King. He is the Savior of the world.

Prayer: O Father, You are sovereign over all the world. In You there is no East or West; no third world or first world; no closed country or open country. Your grace knows no limitations. We worship You, Lord of the Universe, Hope of the world. How Your creation cries out for release! Amen.

Encouragement to follow Jesus better!