reflections of mine others might find useful

Category: Event Promotions (page 1 of 2)

J. Warner Wallace urges, “Send your teens to Summit!”

J Warner WallaceThis morning our New Covenant church family was captivated by J. Warner Wallace, who gave compelling evidence for God’s existence.  If you missed it, I hope you’ll watch the video.

At the end of his message, he gave a passionate charge to parents, adjuring them to send their teens this summer to the two-week Summit Conference!  He urged us to fill our bus!

What is Summit?  Rather than explain it,  click here to watch a video that shows you what it’s all about.

From personal experience, Cindy and I are so grateful that both of our girls attended Summit while they were in high school. Their experiences there adequately prepared them for the spiritual, intellectual, moral, and cultural challenges they would face at the state universities they attended.  Their faith was significantly bolstered by what they learned from their Summit experiences.

Professionally speaking — from my 23 years as a youth pastor at New Covenant — I’ve seen firsthand that college is a pivotal time where faith is either strengthened or abandoned altogether. That’s why we encourage all of our students to attend Summit before and/or during college to fully prepare them for life.

Obviously there is a cost to this two-week training, which pays for housing, food, materials, and face-time with some of best Christian thinkers, authors, and apologists from all over the world.  But I don’t think of it as a cost — Summit is an investment!  New Covenant offers some scholarships (and transportation to one of the sessions) because we think it’s so important. We hope parents and others will also consider investing in this important training.

Three important notes for those interested in going this summer:

  1. The early-bird price for Summit ended on March 31st, but Summit has made a special arrangement with our Intelligent Faith Conference to extend the early bird deadline until April 23.  If anyone registers for Summit using the coupon code “IntelligentFaith2016” they  will get that $200 discount!
  2. New Covenant is providing free bus transportation to anyone from the Cedar Rapids area to who wishes to attend Summit’s “Tennessee Session #1” (July 3-16.)  There are 9 other sessions to choose from as well, but note that we only provide transportation to this session.  Be sure to register for Tennessee #1 if you want to go with our group.  This transportation offer is also open to people from other local churches, but people must contact me to reserve a spot on our bus.
  3. If you regularly attend New Covenant and want information about New Covenant’s Summit scholarship (applicable to any session of Summit, not just Tennessee #1) contact me.


If you have any questions, I’d love to discuss this with any of you!

Summit interviewed me in this professionally-made video, asking why New Covenant makes it such a priority to send our students to Summit.  Enjoy!

Why I believe in “Intelligent Faith.”

IFC newlogo w boxOne of the saddest things is to see people blindly embracing belief systems without any supporting evidence.  God gave us minds to use and to not do so would be about as ridiculous as a person with good eyes living with blindfolds on.  To not use what God gives would be a waste of His good gifts.

But some would argue — as I did in my satirical April Fools joke yesterday –that faith and reason are incompatible.  As if certain things are matters of faith, whereas other things belong to the realm of reason.  I want to challenge that argument.  I would assert that faith and reason need to work together.

But first I need to define what I’m talking about when I use the term faith.  Many skeptics think blind faith is the only kind of faith.  Blind Faith is believing something without any rational evidence, such as believing that the moon is made of cheese.

I agree with the skeptics that this kind of faith is an unfortunate waste of grey matter.

But I’m going to suggest there is another kind of faith — Intelligent Faith.

Intelligent Faith has three components.

  1. a subject to consider (a chair, for example)
  2. a rational assessment resulting in a belief about that subject (the chair appears to be able to hold my body weight)
  3. committing to that belief  (actually sitting in the chair, i.e. exercising faith.)

You’ll notice that reason itself has limitations.  Even in our simple example there’s a slight element of uncertainty in step 2 — the chair “appears” to be sturdy.  There is no absolute certainty that my chair will indeed hold my body weight — the wood may be rotten inside, the glue may be old, an earthquake may occur as I’m starting to sit down, etc.  So we don’t make decisions based on absolute certainty, but rather reasonable evidence.  Reasonable evidence is all a jury is asked to utilize in convicting someone — absolute certainty is never expected.  We all step out in faith based on reasonable evidence.  Faith fills the gap that reason alone leaves us.

So to put it succinctly:  Reason assesses; Faith trusts. There is no conflict.  Both are essential components needed to live life each day.

We all need to practice intelligent faith every day.  It’s how we decide whether or not to cover our roses after the weatherman’s frost alert.  It’s how we decide what we will allow ourselves to eat or not eat.  It’s how we decide what’s worth living for, fighting for, and dying for.  And what we believe happens after that.

I’m excited to be on the planning committee to present the Intelligent Faith Conference next weekend.  This event will draw attention to the vast amount of reasonable, rational  evidence that supports the Christian worldview, so no one will blindly believe anything.

The conference will be held April 8-9  at New Covenant Bible Church in Cedar Rapids.  The cost is $25 by this Sunday, April 3rd, $35 after that.  There is also a youth rally on Wednesday and a University of Iowa Q&A on the Resurrection on Thursday.  For more information on these events, or to register for the conference, click here!   I hope to see many of you there!

Reflecting on the NCBC Youth Group Reunion and my twenty years of ministry here

Saturday was one of the greatest days of my life.   Thanks to everyone who participated in the youth group reunion — either by your physical attendance or by your updates, thoughts and kind words.

I was profoundly and emotionally affected by the whole experience.  I need to blog about it to help me process it all –and for those of you who weren’t there, I want to tell you how it went.

For months I personally invested a lot of time, effort, and mental energy getting ready for this reunion.  It was the right thing to do and I was going to get it done.  The preparations were all very task-oriented and I like tasks:  planning, communicating, reserving, organizing, displaying, etc.  I spent the last two nights at church, maximizing the time needed in making the final preparations.

At 7 am Saturday morning we loaded up all the memorabilia and refreshments for the “Meet & Greet”, which was held at our old church building.  (Thanks to Faith Bible for letting us use their facility.)  We set up 20 tables in their gym and displayed a year’s worth of memories on each (photos, t-shirts, trip booklets, etc).  Haley Neiderhizer, our intern, surprised Mark and I with giant photo posters of us for people to sign.  It was neat that she gave people a way to express themselves.  Gina, my admin, set up the refreshments.

At 10 am, people from the “early years” started arriving, and it was fun to see people reconnecting and reminiscing and sharing long-forgotten stories.  As the “Meet & Greet” progressed, alumni from later years arrived.  It was delightful watching these students and sponsors reconnect with each other.  My enjoyment was watching them enjoy it.  This event was planned just for them!

When the “Meet & Greet” ended at 3 pm we had a mere three hours to clean up and transport everything back to our new building for the Banquet.  We set up the memorabilia display tables once again and checked on the decorations and food (Ken Owens and his team did a fabulous job!)

Alumni started arriving just before 6 and I again enjoyed watching them enjoy their event.  During the delicious dinner, we projected the 100+ current family photos that had been submitted by alumni and we played a youth group worship CD that was recorded in 1997.   Everything was going just as I had planned.

The after-dinner program was to be simple.  We would sing worship songs from over the years–using an overhead projector for the earliest ones!  We would recognize the sponsors for their service and present a special gift to Charley Snodgrass, who has been a sponsor for 25 consecutive years.  And then Mark Eades and I would each share about 15 minutes of reflections.

When Mark E got up to speak, rather than address the alumni, he started addressing me.  I could sense that something was going on that I had not planned.  Little did I realize that the party that I had planned was about to be sabotaged!  Suddenly, he announced that a special guest from my past had arrived to join me for this celebration of mine!  Just as suddenly, my old friend Brian Carroll emerged from the side room and came up on the stage.  He had driven 20 hours from Texas just to surprise me.

But I think the greater surprise to us all was the emotional impact that occurred within me at that moment.  It wasn’t about Brian — because I’ve never gotten emotional over him before — but it was about what he represented.  Since we became friends in college, Brian has been influential in my life — helping me to grow, challenging me to godliness, calling me on my sin, modeling Christlikeness to me.  When he walked in, it reminded me of how significant relationships are.

And then I looked across the room full of people and I realized that what was true about Brian was equally true about every person in the room — and many more who couldn’t attend.  During our youth group years together each of these precious people had shaped my life and I had shaped theirs in some way — on a retreat, in a bus, on a trip, in a stairway, etc.  I realized at that moment that this reunion was not just for them, it was for me too.  It wasn’t about well-managed tasks resulting in a party, it was about celebrating life-altering relationships.  That is what had brought us together this day.  A day that I will never forget.

How to know if events are church-sponsored.

Summertime is here and that means that there will be LOTS of get-togethers and activities among the youth group members.   Some will be sponsored by our youth group, such as our “8 Great Escapes.”  Others events will spontaneously be generated by students or parents and may or may not involve adequate supervision or agreed-upon standards of conduct. I’m writing this post to help parents know when an event is “officially” church -sponsored.


Official Youth Group Sponsored Events

  1. Will be communicated as such by an official email from either me or Gina Kaufman @, an official Facebook group invitation (“New Covenant Senior High Members”), or a publication originating from our staff, (Mark Forstrom, Gina Kaufman or a designated Quad leader.)  These official events will usually be mentioned in our church bulletin, e-news, church website, or by our new Twitter account: “NCBCyouth”.
  2. Will be supervised by at least two adult sponsors (or parents who have been trained to comply with our policies).
  3. Will comply with all the expectations outlined in our youth policy manual.
  4. The church assumes responsibility and bears liability for these event.

 Non-official events.

  1. Will never be promoted via official church publications, Facebook, or email addresses.
  2. Are, however, allowed to be promoted verbally at youth group (or via personal flyers).
  3. May be adequately supervised or not supervised at all, depending.
  4. Have no set conduct standards, such as what movies they may be showing.
  5. Necessitate that parents investigate to ensure their supervision expectations are met.
  6. The church assumes NO responsibility or liability for such events, even if a youth sponsor or youth pastor happens to attend all or part of it.

Please be aware of these distinctions and be sure that your parental expectations are being met.   Unofficial events can be very beneficial and help kids get and stay connected with each other in the summer.   They normally are very good.   But feel free to contact me or other parents if you want opinions about the suitability of any particular unofficial event.

What are Quads for?

I want to explain to parents why we divide our youth group up into four “Quads” every 1st and 3rd Wednesday.

Definition of QuadsQuads are simply the Sr. High large youth group broken down into four mid-sized groups.  In New Covenant terminology, it’s moving from the Front Porch to the Living Room.

Purpose of Quads.  To create an atmosphere where new or disconnected students can easily connect with others and where each person present feels noticed, loved, valued, and cared for.   In a group this size we can know everyone’s name, notice who the visitors are, and can do relational things not possible in the big group.

Division of Quads.  We have chosen to divide up the Quads according to school because those who are new or disconnected are most likely to connect with someone from their school whom they might see daily.  We also divide up our adult sponsors by Quad too, which makes it more manageable for them to contact students.

In future posts, I’ll introduce the Quad sponsors to you!  They’re a great bunch!

Welcome parents of Freshmen!

Parents of Freshmen look like this don’t they?

I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome the parents of the new freshmen.   I’ve really enjoyed getting to know many of the new students this summer through our “8 Great Escapes” as well as the Canoe Trip and last Wednesday’s Bonfire.  You’ve obviously produced some pretty amazing offspring and I consider it a privilege to be able to work with your sons and daughters!

This website will be one of several ways that I will communicate with you parents this year.  If you subscribe to the RSS feed of this site, you’ll be informed of each of my posts.    More frequently I will communicate with you by email.   Our youth group is in the middle of transitioning to a new database, so if you don’t start receiving such emails, please email me or Gina Kaufman, my capable administrative assistant and we’ll be sure you’re properly added to our distribution list.  (Like all New Covenant staff, our address is <firstname>.<lastname>

Caught at the A-Shop


Tonight I caught eleven of our senior highers at the Adult Shop and it thrilled my heart! 

Of course we were there to pray! It’s been two years now since we started praying weekly at the Adult Shop. Let me explain to you parents what this is all about because on the surface I know it sounds a little dubious!

Two years ago this month, Jordan Koskamp, Bill Uelze, myself and a couple of guys from Cedar Valley were brainstorming ways to help impact our city. My pastor friend Charles Daugherty had recently told me of another city where people prayed drug dealers out of town. We had just become aware of the new Adult Shop North–which is only a mile from our church–and decided to start to pray it away.

So that night we started what has become a weekly prayer time in cars on the street in front of the A-Shop (located next to Frontier Garden Center, which is across from the Happy Chef on Blairs Ferry.) We pray from 9:30-11:00.

Tonight was typical. The eleven of us prayed for God to overcome evil in our city, country, world, and in our own hearts as well. We pray for each person who comes to the A-Shop as well as the owner and employees. We pray “for” them, not “against” them. They are not the enemy, but they’ve been seduced by the enemy. We pray for freedom from their bondage and for them to find real satisfaction in Christ.

We’re not there to judge, but to bless. A couple of times, we’ve had pizzas delivered inside to show them our love. Tonight, we started a new tradition.  I’m going to bring in a dish of candy to the desk worker and let him know we’re praying.

It’s a place where you can feel the spiritual battles raging and we’ve sensed some victories as well. Often we’ve sensed we’ve prayed people away, who drive in and then end up changing their minds and don’t go in.  One man sat in his car for about 20 minutes, deciding whether to go in before finally coming to his senses and driving away.

We always pray for our church, our youth group, and our personal holiness as well. But by the grace of God any of us would be caught up in Satan’s deceptions.

Hopefully this explains to you parents what this is all about. I’m almost always there myself each week and if not, there is another adult youth sponsor. If your kids want to come, just drive down the street “Crane Lane”. All the cars parked on the street belong to our group. We pack ourselves into the largest of the vehicles for the prayer time, so just walk up and we’ll add you to a carload.  Typically, just look for my van with the green trim and the running lights on.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Mark

Mexico Team Update

Our Mexico Team Update can be found at Check it out!



We stopped at Willow Creek Church on the way to Merge last Sunday. We loved the service.

We meet for worship and teaching each morning and evening.

Worshipping through art is a neat emphasis at Merge. We have a lot of youth group processing time!!

Each afternoon we have different creative worship or service experiences as a group.

Today we served at a nursing home.

We visited with our new friends and sang old time favorite songs (favorites of theirs! We learned a lot of them!)

They asked us to lead singing, which we were glad to do. They loved us coming!

I asked several of the team what MERGE has meant to them so far and here’s what they wrote…

Joel Mason: Being at MERGE for the last few days I’ve been worshipping and learning about God quite a bit. On my second day, Monday, I was touched by the spirit and for the first real time I accepted God into my heart. What an amazing feeling… I am a changed person from what I came as. I can feel God moving in me to do great things for him… I’ll see you all when I get home, I can’t wait. Praise God, Hallelujah, Amen.

Rachel Rifner: It has been a great experience, one that has spurred growth and reawakening for my soul. The group is a lot of fun and I am enjoying that time we have together. So far, I have learned a lot about myself and how God’s story is reflected in my own. Can’t wait to come back and evangelize to those I know well who are not believers. Our God is mighty and alive…worship Him with your life!

Hall Block: MERGE… it seems there has been a lot of that going on recently. People coming to Christ, or renewing their commitment, and it seems like Monday was the day to do it for more people than just me. On Monday, Ben Wohlers and Mark were talking about predestination and free-will and that got me thinking. Eventually (somehow), I ended up realizing that life without God would be worse than death, and that means that the only thing we need is to praise God in all we do and build a strong, close relationship with us. Well, just an update from over here. God bless you all.

Thad walters; hi mom hi dad this is thad. I am having fun I am probably the only person here that will actually go up to people and get to know them. I cant type good so ill just go now, buy.

Jordan Spooner: This year at Merge has bean a great experience for me. I met a lot of new people throughout this week and I am enjoying the time I have with our group also. I have learned a lot on this trip, not only about myself but how some of God’s stories relate in my life. Being here has gotten me to think of a lot of things and look forward to build a better relationship with God. The worship great and we have fun and dance to the songs everyday. Well that’s all I have to say.

Emily Forret: Hi Dad and Mom and Ariel and Sasha! I’m having fun. See you in a couple days.

Benjamin Wohlers: Hey everyone back home. Things are going quite well here in Wheaton. It has been an interesting few days here at Merge and the next few look the same. Be home in a few days.

Katelyn Peterson: Hey family and cat!! I am having an amazing time here at MERGE. I am really enjoying getting to know everyone a whole lot better. Remember how I was so upset that I couldn’t go on the Mexico trip? Well, I think God really planned this whole thing for a purpose. I am soooooo unbelievably glad that God worked the wedding out so that I could come to MERGE instead. I really am enjoying the small group that came. If I was on the Mexico trip, it would’ve been too big of a group to get to know anybody new. Once again, God planned everything out. In the morning, we are digging really deep into the Bible’s stories and learning new things about all of them. I am learning so much about God’s story. I am learning that the Bible isn’t all those “G” rated stories I learned in kindergarten. There is really so much more. A lot of the stories are more PG-13 than you’d ever imagine. Learning all about how I can relate to people in even the Old Testament is so amazing. On Monday I experienced an amazing worship time and God really touched me in a way he hasn’t since 6th grade. In the afternoons we go and experience what we talked about in the morning. Yesterday, we walked all around for about 45 minutes like the Israelites walked around for 40 years. I realized what they may have been going through. I was complaining after about 30 minutes about how hungry I was (because we hadn’t had lunch and it was 1:15) and we were arguing about things. In the evening we have sharing time and we went to a cemetery one day and I shared about how I wished all the people had gone to heaven and how we can work to change that. The day we went to the cemetery, a girl’s grandma had died just that morning and I’d say most of the people were moved by her story. Mom, it is Rachel Rifner that is my roommate. Yes, dad, I have been running while I’m here I know you’re surprised. Jennifer, I hope you’re having fun with the kitten! Joel, I miss you so much! See you soon!

Kelly McCright: Hey guys! This is trip has been so much fun! We have learned sooo much that my brain is on overload hehe  Today I learned how to really learn and apply the scripture to my life in soul time. Anyways see you all in a couple days!

Bryant Haldeman: Hey Parents . . . and Weston, if you’re reading this too, HELLO! I am having an AWESOME time at Merge. It is so fun and I’m learning a lot. One of the best parts was on Wednesday, when we went to a Tabernacle remake: there were so many things to do, both happy and sad. There was this one where we put our hands in red paint (blood), and tried to wash it off in a bowl of water. This was very difficult and took quite a while, especially me cause I only did it with one hand. . It was really neat, cause it reminded you of how Christ washes away your sins. There are a lot of other great things we are doing, today we went to a retirement home and talked to and sang for the elderly. It made me smile. I also REALLY love the Worship here, it is so great. I have been growing immensely in my spiritual walk, and making a lot of new friends. I hope your back is getting better Mom, I have been praying for you. Hugs. See ya soon.

JT Fenton: Hello my parents and possibly Damien…I am having a great time at Merge I really thank you for paying my way. I have really fallen in love with the worship that they have here. I really am seeing myself in Gods story more and more through out the experience. On a day to day basis we start out the morning with a nice jog around campus but not everyone goes but that’s ok. Then after that we go to eat breakfast I usually shower. Its so hot showering is a twice a day thing. Then after that we have our morning lesson and we also break into small groups. After lunch we have a far out excursion and by far out I mean wont be anywhere else. And everything together in all of this is so amazing I would love to come back next year. I am also leaving this experience with 13 new friends. Thanks.


I’m sorry I don’t have pictures to share yet, but I did want to give a written report from MERGE and will try to do so during the week. I don’t have ready computer access, so that’s my big problem.

It’s going just GREAT!!! The students are really bonding and are experiencing God in many ways. Many of these students didn’t know each other prior to the trip, so it’s been neat to see new friendships forming.

So far, we have been studying “God’s story” in great detail and learning how to share that with others who don’t know Christ. The new name “Merge” is about us merging His story with our story and with our lost friends story.

The worship is awesome as usual. One really cool thing is that the 500 0f us are arranged in a big square in rows that all face the center. It really helps put the focus on God and the community! Also, worshipping God through the arts is another neat addition. Some of our team are artistically wired, so it’s been perfect for them.

Thanks for your prayers. I’ll update you as I’m able.

Thanks, Mark

“Parents Looking UP” support group

This is our new support group for parents who struggle with their teenagers, particularly those who have turned from their faith.




James 5:13 “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise.” If you are a parent of a teenager and fall into both categories-sometimes suffering, sometimes cheerful-join others like you. We are Parents Looking Up, parents of teenagers that have turned from their faith. We gather at Panera Bread by church approximately once a month.

Our next meeting is scheduled for 7 pm Saturday, Oct 26, 2006. We’d love to have you join us at Panera.

Gary Rieck from our church who is also a teacher at Washington High School facilitates this encouraging time together.

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