Through A Deep Valley

My Journey with God By Bob Nieuwendorp

desolate valley

Editor’s Note: My friend, Bob Nieuwendorp, has since entered the presence of Jesus Christ.  I shared part of his journey through physical pain and suffering.– Warren Coe, Executive Director.

Follower of Jesus
I became a follower of Jesus when I was fifteen years old.   Though I had a genuine hunger for God, I was never really discipled.  I was faithful in worship and always felt I wanted to serve God in every way.  My wife, Lois, and I were married in 1967 and I began what I believed would be a career in farming.  But God made it clear that He wanted me in the ministry, so I quit farming in 1974, and went on to college and seminary to prepare for full time ministry.

By early 1980, I began pastoring a small church in Britt, Iowa.  In 1984, I started a new ministry venture of planting a church in Iowa Falls, Iowa, and have been involved in church planting and church multiplication ever since.  God was very present with me, blessing new church plants and the growth of many individuals who came to Christ.  There were always tests and trials but God’s grace was always sufficient.  The greatest trial of my life happened very recently

“I Lost My Strength and Energy”
 About a year and a half ago, I lost my strength and energy.  A long series of tests and examinations by a number of doctors finally came to a shocking conclusion when a pulmonologist told me that I had cancer in both lungs, and that I had six months to a year to live!

I will never forget that Friday afternoon!  After Lois and I cried a bit over this shocking news, we prayed and thanked God for all the good years He had given us.  Later that afternoon on June 3rd, I wrote in my daily journal:  “The final report was not good on the human side.  Cancer in both lungs with six to twelve months to live.”

I very soon sought to hear God’s voice in the Scriptures.  The first verse God had me read was Psalm 106:1 – “Praise the Lord!  O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  For His loving kindness is everlasting.”  My response in my journal reads, “I knew God told me His grace would be sufficient!”  God used may other means that very day to minster to Lois and me.  Our kids began to come home to encourage.  Christian friends began to call and pray.  As I shared my situation with a very special brother in Christ, I’ll never forget his priceless response, “I have no words.  But maybe Job’s friends should have kept their mouths shut.”

I had already resigned the pastorate of the church I was serving, and would finish in one month.   The outpouring of love and prayers was beyond words.

God’s Abiding Presence
 Most significant of all was a deep sense of the personal presence of God like I had never experienced before.  I will share a few of my daily journal entries to help you understand how preciously close God was to me in the most difficult days of my life.

June 8:  “Last evening and night God gave me two great old hymns, Safe in the Arms of Jesus and Under His Wings.”  (As I look back, I remember telling our church family that I was literally being carried in the arms of Jesus during this difficult time.)

June 9:  “I go to meet the oncologist today!  During the night Jesus woke me and gave me two more hymns, Beneath the Cross of Jesus and Because He Lives.”  (I can honestly say that I never had a second of fear or ever felt any anger for what had happened to me.  Rather, I was so close to   Jesus I wouldn’t have traded places with anyone.)

June 10:  “Today’s verse:  Psalm 112:1 & 7 – ‘Praise the Lord!  How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments.  He will not fear evil tidings. (Underline mine.)  His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.’  Another hymn came to mind, Near to the Heart of God.”

I want you to realize I had not been singing hymns for the past ten to twenty years.  I had been involved in new church plants that sang mostly contemporary music.  But God used both hymns and praise songs to bring joy to my heart in the midst of a deep and difficult valley.

Rigorous Treatments for Lung Cancer
On June 27th, I began rigorous treatments for the cancer in my lungs.  I was given heavy doses of radiation and chemotherapy concurrently.  The two oncologists that were treating me said they were fighting fire with fire.  They said they were still going for a cure, not just control.  The treatments took me to the edge of life.  I became extremely weak and was hospitalized at the end of six weeks of treatment for five days due to an infection in one of my lungs.

All through this time, prayer was going up to God from churches and Christians literally from around the world.  After the end of treatment, the doctors waited four weeks and then gave me a PET scan to see what effect the treatment had on the cancer.

Before I describe the consultation Lois and I had with the oncologist following the PET scan, I need to mention the incredible outpouring of prayer from brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.  Thousands of churches in India were praying for healing.  Literally hundreds of thousands of believers all over the world were crying out to God on my behalf.  It was extremely humbling.  I can truly testify that I had never experienced the person of God and His presence to be as real as during this time.  I was truly at peace with whatever God chose to do.

Two days before the consultation to learn the results of the scan, I was doing my morning devotions using a devotional guide.  The Old Testament reading for the day was II Kings 20.  This is the account of Isaiah giving Hezekiah a message to get his house in order for he was going to die.  Hezekiah cried out to God and God sent Isaiah back to Hezekiah to tell him that God was going to add 15 years to his life.  The day of the PET scan, I was doing my morning devotions and my Old Testament reading was Isaiah 38.  This chapter tells the same account of Hezekiah’s healing.  I sensed God was telling me the PET scan report would be good.

The Cancer has Been Arrested
Four days after the scan we had the consultation with the oncologist.  To summarize it, the doctor said at one point that “the cancer has been arrested.”  After asking several questions, I finally blurted out, “This is a miracle, an answer to prayer!”  The oncologist replied, “You can call it that.”

I’m not a health/wealth gospel proponent.  I know it is always possible that the cancer can come back.  But I also know God has touched me and for now the cancer has been arrested.  The oncologist informed us that for a while, a scan will be done every 90 days, but no treatment is necessary at this time.  The next scan will occur on Dec. 1st.

Important Lessons
Most important is all the lessons God taught me about Himself through this time.  He is my perfectly holy and loving heavenly Father.  His love for me would not be less had He taken me home because of cancer.

He also taught me that Jesus truly does stick closer than a brother in times of adversity.  His continual abiding presence is my most valuable possession.  I learned to enjoy experiencing that prayer is truly a dialogue.  As I commune with Him in prayer, His Word through the Scriptures would and still does pop into my mind and thoughts.  I can only praise Him for the unbroken peace I experienced in the valley of the shadow of death.  I thank Him daily that all fear is gone.

I know that in the future, no matter what I face, I will never face it alone.  He will never leave me or forsake me!  God is faithful and true, and good all the time!

Bob Nieuwendorp

Through A Deep Valley

A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir

GodSized Vision bookA God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir | Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge

Reviewed by Rev. Warren A. Coe

The Need
After the presidential election of 2012, a friend lamented that this is not my grandparent’s country anymore. Somehow the election left us feeling that a tectonic-size shift in culture and politics had taken place.

Even more disconcerting is the theological and spiritual drift in the American church. A Canadian friend observed how secular culture is not only affecting the church of Jesus Christ but has found its way into the core of the church.

What once were theological certainties are being seen as interpretation matters in which “my truth” is the right truth. There is a new normal for morality and a softening to the biblical demands for holiness. The standards for true spirituality sometimes approximate eastern mysticism. Generally speaking, there has been a gradual down-grading of biblical Christianity. We have a great need in America for the reviving of true religion in the hearts of God’s people in churches across our great nation.

Starting Place
Let me recommend a starting place for each of us. Read A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir by Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge. Here is a sharply written book on revival. The authors write in the preface, “This book is not for those who have grown comfortable with the Christian life. Others, however, will feel the Spirit nudging them toward something more. They will begin to see ways they have been satiated by small things and lost the taste for big things. They may realize that if Jesus is truly Lord, then everything changes.” (Page 12)

Woodbridge and Hansen note that everything changed when Revival came to ancient Israel. For example, in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the returning Jewish exiles were trying to rebuild their nation. What happened next? “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. (Nehemiah 8:5) For all the people were weeping when they heard the Word of the law.” (Nehemiah 8:9). Revival swept through the nation. The authors of A God-Sized Vision comment, “They (the people in Ezra’s day) recalled his (God’s) mighty works of redemption.” According to Collin and Woodbridge this is part of the pattern of revival—remembering the great deeds of God.

Definition of Revival
Woodbridge and Hansen tell us that the word “Revive” is found in Habakkuk 3:2.
“Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.”

It “comes from the Hebrew word chaya, meaning ‘to bring back to life.’” (Page 20). The people in Ezra’s day were brought back to spiritual life. This is what revival does for God’s people.

Pentecost and Beyond
The book traces the lines of revival fires through Acts 2. Citing D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, our authors write, “Every revival is a repetition of Pentecost, and it is the greatest need of the Christian church at this present time.” (Page 26)

Furthermore the book gives brief notations to the revivals that came to the church after the apostolic days like “In the late twelfth century, Peter Waldo, led a church-planting movement in Catholic Europe that advocated public preaching and Bible study. Other forerunners to the Protestant Reformation include the Brethren of the common Life in Germany and parts of Holland, John Wycliffe and the Lollards in England, and Jan Hus in Bohemia.” (Page 30)

Revival in America
The American reader will find that the author’s treatment of the revivals in the United States refreshing and hopeful. Men like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield take center stage as God revived his church in America.

They preached the new birth. Writing on the Great Awakening in 1730s to 1740s, these great preachers told their listeners, “It wasn’t enough for them to sign an orthodox creed or live morally. They must be born again.” (Page 45)

Chapter four is a captivating account of the 1857-1859 revival which began with a prayer meeting in New York city. According to historian Kathryn Long, “it was perhaps the closest thing to a truly national revival in American history.” (Page 77)

“Every Protestant denomination was caught up in its wake. Lanphier’s prayer meetings merely attracted the most media attention. The revival spread from coast to coast and even continued across the Atlantic after the fervor began to wane in America. Between 1856 and 1859, Protestant denominations added 474,000 members. Methodists and Baptist led the way, accounting for more than three-fourths of these new members.”

A Fitting Last Word
The authors of A God-Sized Vision provide the reader with balanced thinking on all things revival. Revival is not magical but supernatural. In many ways life in the church—its worship, preaching, prayers and evangelism continue on.

“Only they do so with greater power and authority and a heightened sense of God and greater capacity to embody and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners.” (Page 186)

“In short, a true revival has erupted when the church together can see the Holy Spirit exalt God in his glory as revealed in Jesus Christ. We won’t behold this scene in all its fullness until heaven. But every Christian can and should ask God to vindicate his name and demonstrate his glory by giving us a preview here and now.” (Page 186)

There is not a better primer on revival that I can commend to our readers than Hansen and Woodbridge’s A God-Size Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir.

Let’s pray for revival!

A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir by Collin Hansen & John Woodbridge.  Zondervan/2010.

A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir

Expository Preaching—The Antidote to Anemic Worship

Preach the Word

March 10, 2017

To Village Schools of the Bible Family.

Albert Moehler, president of Southern Seminary, has communicated a necessary truth about the place and priority of God’s Word in the life of God’s people. Please take time to read this article. It will answer many questions you have about the current state of the evangelical church in America—Pastor Warren Coe

Expository Preaching—The Antidote to Anemic Worship

The anemia of evangelical worship—all the music and energy aside—is directly attributable to the absence of genuine expository preaching.

Evangelical Christians have been especially attentive to worship in recent years, sparking a renaissance of thought and conversation on what worship really is and how it should be done. Even if this renewed interest has unfortunately resulted in what some have called the “worship wars” in some churches, it seems that what A. W. Tozer once called the “missing jewel” of evangelical worship is being recovered.

Nevertheless, if most evangelicals would quickly agree that worship is central to the life of the church, there would be no consensus to an unavoidable question: What is central to Christian worship? Historically, the more liturgical churches have argued that the sacraments form the heart of Christian worship. These churches argue that the elements of the Lord’s Supper and the water of baptism most powerfully present the gospel. Among evangelicals, some call for evangelism as the heart of worship, planning every facet of the service—songs, prayers, the sermon—with the evangelistic invitation in mind.

Though most evangelicals mention the preaching of the word as a necessary or customary part of worship, the prevailing model of worship in evangelical churches is increasingly defined by music, along with innovations such as drama and video presentations. When preaching the word retreats, a host of entertaining innovations will take its place.

Traditional norms of worship are now subordinated to a demand for relevance and creativity. A media-driven culture of images has replaced the word-centered culture that gave birth to the Reformation churches. In some sense, the image-driven culture of modern evangelicalism is an embrace of the very practices rejected by the Reformers in their quest for true biblical worship.

Music fills the space of most evangelical worship, and much of this music comes in the form of contemporary choruses marked by precious little theological content. Beyond the popularity of the chorus as a musical form, many evangelical churches seem intensely concerned to replicate studio-quality musical presentations.

In terms of musical style, the more traditional churches feature large choirs—often with orchestras—and may even sing the established hymns of the faith. Choral contributions are often massive in scale and professional in quality. In any event, music fills the space and drives the energy of the worship service. Intense planning, financial investment, and priority of preparation are focused on the musical dimensions of worship.

Professional staff and an army of volunteers spend much of the week in rehearsals and practice sessions.

All this is not lost on the congregation. Some Christians shop for churches that offer the worship style and experience that fits their expectation. In most communities, churches are known for their worship styles and musical programs. Those dissatisfied with what they find at one church can quickly move to another, sometimes using the language of self-expression to explain that the new church “meets our needs” or “allows us to worship.”

A concern for true biblical worship was at the very heart of the Reformation. But even Martin Luther, who wrote hymns and required his preachers to be trained in song, would not recognize this modern preoccupation with music as legitimate or healthy. Why? Because the Reformers were convinced that the heart of true biblical worship was the preaching of the word of God.

Thanks be to God, evangelism does take place in Christian worship. Confronted by the presentation of the gospel and the preaching of the word, sinners are drawn to faith in Jesus Christ and the offer of salvation is presented to all. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper and baptism are honored as ordinances by the Lord’s own command, and each finds its place in true worship.

Furthermore, music is one of God’s most precious gifts to his people, and it is a language by which we may worship God in spirit and in truth. The hymns of the faith convey rich confessional and theological content, and many modern choruses recover a sense of doxology formerly lost in many evangelical churches. But music is not the central act of Christian worship, and neither is evangelism nor even the ordinances. The heart of Christian worship is the authentic preaching of the word of God.

Expository preaching is central, irreducible, and nonnegotiable to the Bible’s mission of authentic worship that pleases God. John Stott’s simple declaration states the issue boldly: “Preaching is indispensable to Christianity.” More specifically, preaching is indispensable to Christian worship—and not only indispensable, but central.

The centrality of preaching is the theme of both testaments of Scripture. In Nehemiah 8 we find the people demanding that Ezra the scribe bring the book of the law to the assembly. Ezra and his colleagues stand on a raised platform and read from the book. When he opens the book to read, the assembly rises to its feet in honor of the word of God and respond, “Amen, Amen!”

Interestingly, the text explains that Ezra and those assisting him “read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Neh 8:8). This remarkable text presents a portrait of expository preaching. Once the text was read, it was carefully explained to the congregation. Ezra did not stage an event or orchestrate a spectacle—he simply and carefully proclaimed the word of God.

This text is a sobering indictment of much contemporary Christianity. According to the text, a demand for biblical preaching erupted within the hearts of the people. They gathered as a congregation and summoned the preacher. This reflects an intense hunger and thirst for the preaching of the word of God. Where is this desire evident among today’s evangelicals?

In far too many churches, the Bible is nearly silent. The public reading of Scripture has been dropped from many services, and the sermon has been sidelined, reduced to a brief devotional appended to the music. Many preachers accept this as a necessary concession to the age of entertainment. Some hope to put in a brief message of encouragement or exhortation before the conclusion of the service.

As Michael Green so pointedly put it: “This is the age of the sermonette, and sermonettes make Christianettes.”

The anemia of evangelical worship—all the music and energy aside—is directly attributable to the absence of genuine expository preaching. Such preaching would confront the congregation with nothing less than the living and active word of God. That confrontation will shape the congregation as the Holy Spirit accompanies the word, opens eyes, and applies that word to human hearts.

Article originally posted on August 19, 2013.


Expository Preaching—The Antidote to Anemic Worship