reflections of mine others might find useful

Category: Event Promotions

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.

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

Why I love Sr. High Ministry

Tonight’s youth group experience was a powerful reminder to me of why I like being the Sr. High youth pastor.

Sr. Highers are so capable, enthusiastic, dedicated, and motivated! Here are some examples just from tonight.

1. Worship was 100% done by students: selecting, practicing, balancing sound, formating power point, and integrating it with the rest of the night.

2. The student’s testimony was fresh, raw, passionate and real. How many adults would commit major sins and then get up in front of their peers within days to confess and challenge them?

3. Jon totally took the initiative in this lesson. He had approached me some weeks ago, saying that God had been challenging him and teaching him some things from his Word that he’d like to pass on to the group. His commitment to being a student of the Word challenged more than just his peers you can be sure.

4. Irene got up tonight and announced a new ministry that she and 4 fellow seniors had started: a weekly inner city kids ministry at the HD Youth Center. Without any adult involvement or prompting they’ve made arrangements to be there with crafts, snacks, games, tutoring, and more every Tuesday afternoon. Starting yesterday!!! Their initiative and desire to make a difference in the world is outstanding!

5. The game that was planned was appropriately crazy. They approached me with the idea on Tuesday, wanting to make sure the night had a fun element. Again, it was all their initiative.

For many of these students, Sr. High is their first opportunity to have the maturity, the skills, a degree of independence (and often wheels!) to really begin to put their faith into action like never before. It’s so fun to be a part of these formative years, which hopefully launch them on into life at full-speed.

Being around them spurs me on to greater faithfulness.

Now can you see why I like my job?

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