National Day of Prayer: for the Churches

I was asked to pray in Stevens County’s National Day of Prayer today, May 2nd. When asked, there were still a few subjects left, and I chose our community churches because it seemed one of the easiest in which to talk about the gospel. Here’s how I prayed at a community event in a way that was my attempt to be faithful to Christ.

Gracious Father,

Strong churches help us have a strong community. I’m thankful for those churches that are especially involved in serving our community’s physical needs. There are churches that provide free meals, that help the homeless, that encourage the addicted, that stand for life. Colville is better because of them and we thank you for them.

God, the church is an institution invented by you for the discipleship of your people and for the evangelization of the world. I pray that our churches will faithfully share the gospel. Our county needs Christ most of all. He changes people. He changed the Apostle Paul from a murderer into a missionary.

May those churches that love and share the gospel stay faithful to the Bible message. The good news needs to be known by all in Stevens County. May more and more realize they are sinners and that their sin separates them from a holy God. May they know that You must punish sin; you cannot wink at it or pretend it away since that would violate your nature. May they realize that Jesus was sent to live a perfect life and die in our place. A death that is substitutionary and effective for all who repent and believe. May our churches add nothing to the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is only by grace that we are saved.

Father, we need the words of life. We need the timeless truth of your Holy Word. So especially strengthen the pastors of our churches who labor long at understanding Scripture and teaching it to our congregations. May they preach the truth even if they are opposed. May they continue to be faithful to you.

I pray that our churches would get better at the one anothers of Scripture. The church should be different than the world. It should be a place where we love one another, forgive one another, bear with one another, live in harmony with one another, serve one another, be kind and compassionate to one another, admonish one another, encourage and edify one another, and so many more. Those are supposed to happen in our churches, and I pray they will.

Father, if anyone wants to be your disciple, Jesus said we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow you. May our churches produce more and better disciples of Jesus Christ.

God, you describe the church as a body in 1 Corinthians. It’s a picture that represents how each church needs every member. May our members faithfully attend, serve, and support our churches. If the entire body isn’t there, if the entire body isn’t serving, our local church bodies will limp along.

You also describe the church as a family when you call us the household of faith in Gal 6:10 and when you tell us to treat each other as fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters in 1 Tim 5:1. Lord, families function best when they are not at war with each other. May we give each other grace, may we obey Scripture, and reconcile with each other. May our churches be marked by forgiveness of each other because we know we have been forgiven by God. May our church families be loving families. May we treat each other with the kindness, love, and grace that is the mark of the best of families.

May our churches be truly healthy. Spiritual health isn’t measured by how large our auditoriums are, or how big our offerings are, or how many people attend. Spiritual health is measured by how faithful we are to the Bible. I pray our churches in Colville will be more faithful to Scripture.  

In our Risen Savior, Jesus’ name, Amen

Embarrassed of My Embarrassment

January 2024 will be five years since my younger brother died. Jeff was two years younger than me and also mentally disabled. When we were growing up in the ‘70s, it was called mental retardation, but that’s not a helpful description anymore, nor does it seem kind. Jeff was disabled enough that he was never going to be able to live on his own. My parents insisted that Jeff live with them; they took parenting him very seriously, and he lived with them until his death in 2019. He was almost 49. Jeff couldn’t understand the question why? If you asked him about his motivations, he would just repeat the question back to you. Physically, he was fine while we were growing up. Later, sometime after I left the house, Jeff started having seizures. When he died in 2019, it was while he was recovering from a seizure.

Jeff with my kids quite a few years ago.

My older brother was always the better brother to Jeff. I never told him at the time, but I marveled that he never seemed embarrassed by Jeff. As a preteen and teenager I was. Jeff didn’t have Down Syndrome; you couldn’t tell he was disabled by his appearance. But as soon as he spoke, it was obvious—at least it was to 13-year-old me. He wasn’t cool, and while I was never going to be cool, I also didn’t want to stand out in any way. Jeff occasionally stood out, and I thought that made me stand out. It’s embarrassing how sinful my thinking was. I’m embarrassed of my embarrassment then. I didn’t love my brother well. That love he got from our older brother, Bill.

Jeff was hardly the only reason for my embarrassment. I struggled with what I now know the Bible calls fear of man. I still see it in my life, but thankfully I’ve seen growth. For the longest time, I didn’t even know what was going on in my heart.

It was Edward Welch’s book, When People Are Big and God Is Small that first alerted me to this biblical theme. I’m sure others have had the same experience, but as I read it, incidents in my past started to make biblical sense.

Of course how I responded to my brother when I was a teenager came to mind. Also, others. For example, I attended a small seminary and was the president of the student body for a semester. One of my responsibilities was to organize the annual Christmas chapel. I did organize the program, but I recruited other students to actually do it. I didn’t want to be up front if it failed. I cared way too much what others thought of me.

The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted. Prov 29:25

Scripture describes this problem as a trap, and I was trapped. I had lived my life to that point in slavery to the opinions of others. No, that’s not accurate. To the slavery of what I thought might be their opinions. I didn’t even know whether they thought that or not. But the fact that they might think poorly of me was an outcome horrible enough to paralyze me. The most obvious symptom was I didn’t tell others about Christ. What might they think?

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. Gal 1:10

The Bible also tells me that pleasing God and living for the approval of men are opposites. And that contradiction is why Welch titled his book, When People Are Big and God Is Small. Either God or people are going to be big in your thinking. Whom will it be?

Welch’s book is far more helpful than this short blog could be. He is a fellow sufferer of the fear of man. His vulnerability gives the book authenticity. This one thought—either I fear people or I fear God—has been so helpful to me. It’s invaded my language of confession of sin. It changed how I parented my own kids. We talked about how the fear of man can control us, but we actually want to be controlled by God. Pleasing God must be more important than pleasing others.

But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 1 Cor 4:3–4  

Scripture described my problem, and it gave me a way out. Growing in the fear of God chases out every other fear. The Apostle Paul didn’t live for the opinions or values of the world. He knew that only God’s opinion matters.

So what to do? I know this. Since it’s sin, Scripture has a solution. Realizing what Scripture calls it was the beginning of help for me. Seeing its tentacles in my life made me realize that I need God’s sanctifying grace even more than I thought.

May it help you too.

Easy Christlikeness

Some Christians think that because they love those that like them, they are being Christlike. And probably they are. In fact, some Christians outside of Christ would be unkind even to those that like them—they would give evil for good. They are rascals. I was one of those rascals before Christ. That is a change that the gospel makes in us.

But that’s the low hanging fruit of sanctification. Jesus said that even unbelievers love those that love them (Luke 6:32). It’s not that hard.

It’s much more difficult to be Christlike with those that dislike us.

Once I saw a social media post where some friends in a ministry I love were slandered quite unjustly. I knew all the players on both sides of the issue. I’m unfortunately thoroughly up to speed on the attacker (and those that commented approvingly) and on those being attacked.

My response? To think angry thoughts towards the poster. And it was easy for me to excuse. I justified it because of their sinful life.  

But how quickly my thoughts turn to anger rather than love. How quickly I become defensive of the people I love (or myself) with nary a thought of praying for the attacker. In these situations the Spirit has used Romans 12 to convict me many times.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Rom 12:17–21 (ESV)

This is one reason I know I am far, far from becoming like Christ. I find it very difficult to repay good for evil. I don’t have it in me to love my enemies, but Jesus said that is what I must do.

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27–28 (NASB95)

The next verse tells me to turn the other cheek when someone strikes me and to give him my shirt after he stole my coat. If I cannot pray for those that mistreat me, I won’t ever give away my shirt.

You cannot minister long and well without some that you have tried to help turning on you unjustly. The Apostle Paul had both Demas and Alexander the Coppersmith, John the Apostle had Diotrephes who unjustly accused him, and Jesus had Judas. You and I will not fare any better than they did if we are faithful in ministry.

So… The Spirit brings me to my knees for confession and repentance. I need Christ to change me. Loving enemies is not natural to me. It is not easy to be Christlike. If it were easy, then I really wouldn’t need Christ, would I?

You will have a Diotrephes someday if you don’t have one right now. Will you overcome evil with good? Will your Diotrephes prove how much you still need Christ to change you?

The Happiest Place on Earth!

Disneyland in California has had the slogan of “The Happiest Place on Earth” for years. I’ve never visited Disneyland, but we took our kids to Disney World twice. The first time was when three were in elementary school, and one was in junior high. If you’ve been to a theme park before, you know that you don’t have to wait very long for a child within hearing distance to have a meltdown. On this particular visit whenever we would hear a child losing it around us, I would lean over and whisper in my wife’s ear, This is the happiest place on earth. I thought it was pretty funny, but my wife didn’t seem to agree.

I think about the theological implications of that slogan once in a while. Disney is selling the perfect circumstances to young parents. Imagine you could take your children to a place where everything is carefully curated, presented, and always exactly right. Wouldn’t your children have the best time possible? Well, every screaming child proves that slogan wrong.

How could you not be happy here? 😉

Turns out better circumstances don’t make a better me. The Bible tells us this.

The Perfect Environment Didn’t Prevent Sin (Gen 3:6)

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Gen 3:6 (ESV)

Adam and Eve had the best circumstances ever—far better than anything that Disney can offer—and sin still intruded. So if Adam and Even sinned in the Garden of Eden, then there must be something fundamentally wrong with us—not our environment—that produces sin. And that’s exactly what Scripture teaches.

Your Desires Are Insatiable (Prov 27:20; 30:15-16)

Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man. Prov 27:20 (ESV) The leech has two daughters: Give and Give. Three things are never satisfied; four never say, “Enough”: Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, “Enough.” Prov 30:15–16 (ESV)

Our lusts can never be fed enough even when we’re only a few years old. So Disneyland with it’s helpful employees and amazing rides and fun shows cannot satisfy the heart of a five year old—or a 35 year old! All of us want more even after we’ve been given more. What does a child say after opening the last Christmas present? “Is that all?” or “Is there any more?” That child might be more honest about his insatiable desires, but I have them too. “Give and Give” are in my heart; they’re in your counselees’ hearts as well.

What’s Inside of Us Is More Important than What’s Around Us (Mk 7:20-23)

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:20, 23 (ESV)

I really want to believe that if my circumstances were different, I would be different. But it’s just not true. What is going on inside of me is more significant than what is happening around me or to me. No circumstance can guarantee my happiness if my heart is wired for more: more lust, more stuff.

This is a very persuasive lie—that better circumstances would make me better. It shows up in the spouse who imagines that being married to a different person would make him different. It is in the heart of the pastor who dreams that a different church would display his Christlikeness so much easier. It is in the heart of the teenager that believes that she would not respond with anger if she had someone else’s parents. It’s a convincing untruth.

It’s easy to believe this about my own heart, but it’s also easy to believe about my counselees. I will hear terrible stories of tragic sin that make me want to rescue this person. And sometimes I think rescue equals fixing their circumstances.[1]Certainly there are some situations that require immediate intervention: abuse, suicidal ideation, potential criminality, etc. In those cases immediate help is getting the oppressed out of those … Continue reading But most often a person’s greatest need is being rescued from their sin. They need help to please Christ in the middle of their circumstances.

The Happiest Place on Earth? Well it can be anywhere that your heart is satisfied with Christ. Daydreaming about changed circumstances won’t lead to happiness. A changed heart can.

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness. Psalm 17:15 (ESV)


1 Certainly there are some situations that require immediate intervention: abuse, suicidal ideation, potential criminality, etc. In those cases immediate help is getting the oppressed out of those circumstances.

In Praise of a Godly Layman, Gary Riegel, upon His Death

Just before Christmas, on December 22nd, Gary Riegel, my father-in-law, entered glory and saw his Savior—faith became sight. It was an outcome we had been praying for because we were certain of his genuine salvation. His death after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis was quick–less than a year, but it was also God’s mercy.

Gary was born in Cody, Wyoming and spent most of his growing up years there, but spent most of his life in Laramie, Wyoming. The move was necessary, and there is a story behind it.

Gary with his Dad

Gary’s father, Ted, was a sniper for the Marines in World War II, and he fought in the Island-hopping campaigns of the South Pacific. It’s hard for us to imagine how stressful and dangerous this necessary service was. One night, so the story goes, the pressure broke Ted’s good friend, Francis. He started making noise that was going to give away their position, so Ted had to shoot his friend. That’s the story the family has told; it seems the type of thing that could happen in war. What we know for sure is that Francis died, and Ted named his only child, Gary Francis Riegel, in his buddy’s memory.

What Ted experienced in the war changed him. He came back and ever after struggled with drinking. Gary’s early years were years of consistent disappointment. He loved his dad, but his dad was trapped by his own sin.

Martha, Ted, and Gary

One example suffices. He promised Gary he would take him fishing. They drove off, and his dad said he needed to make a quick stop at a bar. He left Gary in the truck and went inside, and probably thought he would only be inside for a single drink, but he stayed there for hours. His young son finally got tired of waiting, got out of the truck, and walked home. Disappointments like that were normal for Gary as he grew up.

Ted was spending so much on alcohol that there wasn’t enough to buy groceries, so his wife made the tough decision of separating from him and moving to Laramie. Martha, Gary’s mom, never divorced his dad, but she never lived with him again. Even though they were separated, she loved him, and never said anything critical about him.

Martha had never heard the gospel until her brother-in-law and sister-in-law shared it with her. She was gloriously saved and through her witness, Gary trusted Christ too. He graduated from Laramie High in 1967 and married his teenage bride, Grace. Many marriages that start that early don’t last, but Gary and Grace were married over 45 years until her death.

Gary and Grace

They had nothing at the beginning; they were poor. But Gary and Grace always had their four children in church. They were of the generation that came every time the doors were open, and the doors were open a lot.

Gary started a body shop in 1976 that his oldest son owns today. Eventually the business grew and Gary and Grace had some extra room in their budget. Gary was a generous man with what God had given him. He supported several students at Bible college through the years, and he did it anonymously. He wanted them to believe that they could trust God for their needs. He supported his church at a generous level, and also supported missionaries, camp ministries, and many family members and friends. He used what God had blessed him with to bless others.

He was a godly layman for his entire adult life. He pursued Christ wholeheartedly. He was the first to volunteer when a ministry needed some physical labor. One of my youngest son’s memories is his grandpa taking him to a Christian camp in Wyoming and the two of them working on a building crew all week. That was Gary Riegel. When Laura and I were young marrieds and bought our first house, Gary would come out to North Carolina and put up a fence or build a small deck or whatever we needed. He was a servant. Through the years he served his small church as a deacon and also as treasurer.

Christ’s work in Gary’s life became increasingly evident. Like many of his generation, he didn’t have a lot of time for his children when they were young; he was always working. But he grew in Christ and made time for his adult children, their wives, and his grandkids. He was being sanctified.

My father-in-law was my go to guy for advice on cars, houses, and well… anything that required being handy. He patiently helped me. It was only a few years ago that I realized how merciful God had been to me through my in-laws. People make jokes about conflict with in-laws, and as a pastor I saw in-law situations that were very difficult. But Grace and Gary were a joy to me. They were kind and generous and humble. Gary was a godly father-in-law. Using his name in this blog is a bit jarring because I simply called him Dad.

When he retired, he and his wife would often start the day by listening to a sermon on the radio and talk about what they learned. They read God’s Word together. Grace died in 2014; they had a marriage that glorified God. Gary married Susan, and they were married until his death. She was a wonderful Christian woman whose husband had died a few years earlier.

Gary Riegel was a good man because Jesus saved him decades ago. He wasn’t naturally good. He was the only child of a drunk father, raised by his mother alone, and he married too young. Life was stacked against Gary, but he became a new creation when he trusted Christ as his Savior (2 Cor 5:17). Jesus takes rebels and makes them good through Christ’s righteousness. I’m thankful for my father-in-law’s salvation; he made some missteps as we all do, but he pursued Jesus with all his heart. When he could no longer remember his family members, he could still sing Amazing Grace–the grace of God that he never got over. He left a legacy where his grandkids can see God’s goodness. I hope my kids will remember their grandpa, be thankful, and pursue Christ like he did.

Gary with my kids in 2005