Thunder and Lightning

The thunder I’ve been hearing is the sound of old, heavy theater seats tossed into a large construction bin late at night. The lightning is just the blinking of a worn out street light, coughing up spasms of past brilliance. 

You could think there’s no such thing as Thunder or Lightning – if you’d never been shaken by Thunder’s Deep Voice, or startled by Lightning’s penetrating flash. The immediate, heart-stopping crash feels as if some mighty celestial oak has just fallen. But I’ve heard Thunder and chased Lightning. Their incomparable voices are etched in my psyche. 

But what if someone has never heard – or seen – or been struck by the awe of a raw encounter? How could I convey what they’re missing? Any attempt at mimicking the sound of Thunder, or Lightning, would be a kind of blasphemy. Perhaps I could play a recording. Yes, that could make them believers. But no sound system in the world can convey the inimitable reality. They must experience it for themselves. Somehow I’ve got to bring them to the Encounter – or the Encounter to them.

Lord, I’ve been shaken by Your, Deepest-of-All Voice and awakened by the Flashing Insights of Your Spirit. They’ve left indelible inscriptions on my psyche, my soul. You have never been a subject of debate – for me. 

But others have not. How can I make You known to them? My mimicry could convince them that I believe. Your Words through my lips might engender faith. But without an Encounter, Your In-counter, they could slowly sink into passive acquiescence. 

They need You. We need You. I need You. Only You can make a believer out of those who ‘believe’.

Please, Lord,  put Your Thunder in our voices and Your Lightning in our touch. Or, better yet, revive us. Re-open our eyes, re-ignite our trust, re-infuse us with the unshakeable certainty that Your Thunder is in Your Word and Your Spirit is ready to strike in an instant – in this instant.

Help us to know that Your Voice silently thunders when we speak of You and that Your Spirit flashes when we touch others – and pray for them.

That Your Power is perfected in our weakness when it’s offered to You.

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters; The God of glory thunders; The Lord is over many waters.  4 The voice of the Lord is powerful; The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.  5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars, Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.  6 He makes them also skip like a calf, Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.  7 The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.  8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; The Lord shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.  9 The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth, And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”  10 The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood, And the Lord sits as King forever.  11 The Lord will give strength to His people; The Lord will bless His people with peace.”

Psalm 29:3-11


Our new adventure means we are now faith-based missionaries to pastors and their wives, churches and missionaries. As such, we are depending on the Lord to provide through the support of like-minded believers who have a heart for helping pastors and churches and would like to do it through us.

In order to make this work, we’ve adjusted our cost-of-living significantly (see ‘Radical Downsize’ below). Travel and housing costs will be a major ministry expense. Many churches need help but can’t afford to pay. We want to be able to offer that help – with your help.



IMG_6580   In order to take this step of faith, and ask you and others to consider supporting us, we believe it’s incumbent on us to do what we can to lower our living expenses. Along with the normal steps of shopping moIMG_6579re carefully, cutting expenditures and reviewing spending, we’ve swapped houses with our daughter and son-in-law, Grace & David Velasquez. They’ll be renting the big house (3300 sq. ft.), and we’ve moved into the cottage (600 sq. ft.),

We’ve also sold our Honda Pilot and are keeping the Honda Fit.

Houdini’s not the only one who can squeeze into tight places.

John & Laura Cowan2015-06-01_08-56-54_AM



Thanks to the encouragement and support of Pastor Terry and Calvary Chapel Salt Lake City, I will continue to be based in Salt Lake as a ‘Pastor Emeritus’ (a pastor sent out for ministry to the general body of Christ). Although my normal ministry responsibilities are being transitioned to others, we will continue to be part of the fellowship and serve whenever our schedule allows.

As for support, we will be primarily dependent on the support of like-minded believers who have a heart for helping pastors and churches and would like to do it through us. In order to make this work, we’ve adjusted our cost-of-living significantly (see ‘Radical Downsize’). Travel and housing costs will be a major ministry expense. Many churches need help but can’t afford to pay. We want to be able to offer that help – with your help.  (Please see ‘A NEW ADVENTURE – Pt.3’ for information on how you can support us)

When we left Calvary Chapel Sacramento after 26 years, I remember feeling like we were losing our family and exchanging it for a new one. Instead, we discovered that we didn’t lose our Sacramento friends and family, we gained an expanded circle. And so, we take this step with the confidence that we won’t lose our Salt Lake family, but will expand the circle in hopes that the Lord will use us, in spite of ourselves, to bless more of His flock.

A NOTE FROM LAURA – Off we go!

2015-05-30_09-38-53_PM copy
The other day, our youngest son Tim opened the car door for me. It’s strange how his humble gesture supplied an inexpressible comfort.  He saw a need, responded without fanfare, and off we went.  For John and I, this sums up the goal in our new venture:  to come alongside, identify a need, and open a door of encouragement and relief to a church leader or a group of believers; and then, to move on.

   Your prayers and financial support open the door for us, enabling us to open the door for others. Here are three things to pray.  Please feel free to add to this list.

Discernment • Strength • Provision

P.S.  Some of you have asked what I’ll be doing.  Well, I’m the official keeper of the stuff, John’s personal fashionista (you can’t wear that in public, John), and I have serious nunchuck skills in hospitality and…well, who doesn’t like a salted caramel cupcake once in a while?  Oh- and I like to write about everything.  It’s kind of like non-stop talking only-better-because-if-you-get-tired-of-me-you-can-jus-t“click”-and-I-disappear-and-I-won’t-even-know-you-did-it.

I will also continue as a rep for Voice of the Martyrs.    Thank you for your immeasurable encouragement.

“Oh magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together!”

Psalm 34:3  (John’s and my life verse.)

The nature of this ministry means we often don’t know our next ‘assignment’ until it’s in front of us. Please pray for the Lord to clearly direct us.


• Calvary Chapel Bishop, CA: Their long-time pastor, Daniel Mcclenaghan, went home to Jesus the week before Easter. We’ll be with them for a weekend doing a Mini-Conference, sharing with the Worship Team and speaking Sunday morning.
• Calvary Chapel Seine Bight, Belize: Spending time with Jim & Anna Mensie, missionary pastors to Seine Bight, an impoverished, voodoo-infested community in Belize. Laura will be speaking at a regional Women’s Retreat. John will do a mini-conference with the men at the church, as well as speak at various services. We’ll also be doing an informal Sunday Night Concert.


• Calvary Chapel Bishop, CA: Sunday Service

• Calvary Chapel Senior Pastors’ Conference, CA: We’ll be attending the Conference, meeting some of the Poimen team, reconnecting with old friends (and making new ones) as we hang out at the Poimen Ministries table.

• Calvary Chapel Bishop, CA: Sunday Service

NEXT? You will be praying for us – right?




The Lord is leading Laura and I into a new ministry adventure. After 26 years as Sr. Pastor of Calvary Chapel Sacramento and 9 years of ministry with Calvary Chapel Salt Lake City, we are taking a further step of faith into a new ministry. The Lord has slowly prepared us for this change over the past 18 months. But, now that His direction is clear, things have moved quickly. So what is this new direction?



(‘Poimen’ = ‘Shepherd’)

Poimen Ministries ( is a team of seasoned Calvary Chapel pastors dedicated to serving other pastors. The goal is to help pastors, churches and missionaries fulfill their calling by offering personal encouragement, practical help, fresh perspective and seasoned guidance. This may mean simply filling in for a pastor over a weekend – or committing a couple of years to shepherding a church through a challenging transition. Each ‘assignment’ is unique whether a ministry of encouragement to a leadership family, bringing assurance and hope to a church that’s lost it’s pastor, coaching a younger pastor through the challenges of ministry, or providing an honest assessment of a church’s ministries. This means we’ll be depending more than ever on the Lord’s guidance and the Spirit’s enabling. For us, this brings a new intensity to our frequent prayer: “Lord, help us to be what they need.”

Poimen is a ministry that resonates deep within our hearts. It has been my joy over the years to mentor others towards ministry and coach fellow pastors – often giving them the benefit of lessons I learned through my own mistakes. The Lord has continually drawn us to this kind of service, consistently encouraging us by blessing our efforts. Although this will require new steps of faith and a dependence upon the Lord’s provision through His people, we are excited and feel honored to have this opportunity. Please remember us in your prayers. We want our lives to count for Jesus, now more than ever. Our prayer is that the Lord will use us to strengthen pastors and churches so they, in turn, will continue to reach more and more souls for the Kingdom.

    Here is a snapshot of team activities this past month (May 2015):
    • Bill: Finished 4 1/2 months at Calvary Chapel Bible College, in Peru
    • Al: Completed a church assessment in NY; helping a church in Northern GA.
    • Bob: Serving churches in England: sorting out new, restrictive visa regulations.
    • Phil: Completed church assessment in NY; on way to Czech Republic.
    • Gillette: Returned from Nepal; on way to church assessment.
    • Trip: Finished 6 wks in Juneau, AK; helping 2 churches in FL.
    • Pat: Filled in for various pastors; Teaching at School of Ministry
    • Larry: Pastor Larry Anderson went home to be with his Lord while filling in for a missionary pastor in Kosovo, Yugoslavia (see tribute at

Temptation (4): Never Too Much

20131123-120209.jpg1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

The Christian life is filled with paradoxes. One of those is the discovery that, once we have found true Peace by resting in Jesus, we have also joined Heaven’s Resistance Movement in a Great War. Like the underground organizations resisting Nazi occupation in WW II, the Body of Christ is called to be a resistance movement against the Enemy’s occupation of Planet Earth. In essence, each local church is meant to function as an organized and committed cell carrying out strategic actions to sabotage the enemy, free captives, and equip them to join the resistance. It’s called spiritual warfare and you won’t last long on active duty without coming to understand the nature of the battle and the power of the Full Armor of God – how it fits and how it operates (Eph. 6:10-18).

There are three fronts in this battle: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, and they all come together in the battle with temptation. By Flesh, we mean our natural, sinful nature with it’s predisposition towards sin. It’s also called the ‘old man’. When we come to Jesus, we find that the ‘old man’, was crucified with Him on the Cross. From that point on, in Heaven’s eyes, our old sinful self is seen as dead. Through our trusting union with Jesus, we become new creations and the old is gone (2 Cor. 5:17).

It doesn’t take long, however, before we realize that our ‘old man’ apparently died with a death-grip firmly in place. Our flesh is still firmly attached and works hard to use it’s dead-weight against us. All of this moves the battle from somewhere ‘out there’ into the realm of our next thought or glance or word. Again we find the paradox that, when we’re born into spiritual Life, the conflict between the Spirit and the Flesh becomes more noticeable – more pronounced. This is exactly what Paul told the Galatians: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:16-17). Our response to the Flesh comes down to two things: 1) Walking in the fulness of the Spirit, and 2) Reckoning the old man dead (Rom. 6:5-11).

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

Have you ever watched a piano being tuned in the classic manner? The Tuner, who is a true craftsman, strikes his tuning fork with a mallet, sending the correct vibration through the air to the piano strings. When the vibration comes in contact with the strings, it produces a ‘sympathetic vibration’ in the appropriate string and it comes to life with a corresponding, resonating sound. That’s wonderful. But it’s a different thing when it’s the Devil who is striking the tuning fork of the World (which reflects his nature) and we find our Flesh responding with it’s own resonating sin. That’s temptation, and sometimes it can seem overwhelming.

never too muchyThat’s where the promise of 1 Cor. 10:13 comes in. We have it on the authority of God Himself that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to handle. That’s the promise. That’s the truth. That’s a rock every child of God can confidently stand on.

The problem, of course, is when the trial or temptation we’re facing feels  overwhelming. When that’s the case, we find ourselves facing an added temptation – the temptation to believe that this particular trial is more than we can handle. Going down that road means ignoring God’s promise and accepting the lie that some temptations are exceptions to the ‘common to man’ rule. It also implies believing that God either a) hadn’t thought of this particular situation when He made the promise, or b) He wasn’t watching when it slipped past His Hands, or c) He isn’t really that concerned. All lies. False, but effective (if we buy into them).

So, what do we do? We give ourselves a spiritual ‘pep talk’. We remember the promises of God, we recall His faithfulness to us, we call the devil the Liar he is, and we stand. We stand on the promises of God. That’s what faith is about. As the old hymn puts it:

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,

Through eternal ages let His praises ring,

Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,

Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing, Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.

dragged you

Temptation (3): I Am Not Alone

20131123-120209.jpg1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

There is no such thing as a truly unique temptation. Every temptation we face is “common to man”. To be sure, some temptations are extremely creative. But after you peel off the fresh paint, they’re still the same ol’, same ol’.  Understanding that is essential for avoiding the Devil’s attempts at disarming us. If he can get us to believe that the temptation we face is unique in some way, then he can persuade us that the promises of God don’t apply in our situation. Or, if he can get us to believe that our situation is somehow unique, he’ll suggest that the normal rules don’t apply to us. Once we buy into that, we’re soon justifying our latest sin while rationalizing the ones to come. It doesn’t take much encouragement. I know I can rationalize anything if I want to. It’s amazing how brilliantly stupid we can be when justifying our sin. We’re all by nature card-carrying members of the Sinners’ Anonymous Mensa Society.

all together

The truth that temptation, no matter how creatively dressed, always comes in ‘standard sizes’, is actually a great encouragement (as all Truth ultimately is). Realizing that the things I wrestle with are the same things others are facing means I am not alone in the battle. We’re all in this together. And, the more we walk together, the greater the victories we share. It’s just one of the many reasons believers are meant to do their pilgrimage together in the circles of their local church tribe. It’s there, in the environment of genuine fellowship that we find a place where we can tell our stories, show our scars, share our lessons and lift each other up in prayer. As the Preacher of Ecclesiates put it,  “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. …” (Ecc. 4:12a).

Knowing that I’m not the only one facing temptation also means I’m not the first. Others have gone before me. There are veterans in the Body of Christ who’ve fought the good fight and whose scars have been transformed into medals. They’re there to give us hope – we can make it. They’re there as examples for us to follow. They’re there so we can hear the story behind their medals and the keys to their victories. It’s always the true heroes who humbly refuse the label. But, if we listen and learn, we’ll find our own scars beginning to look a little more like bronze. We’ll also hear them inevitably talking about the Great General Who pinned those medals on. When they do, they’re simply echoing the words of Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

When we consider the fact that all temptations are “common to man”, that we all battle the same demons, and there is truly “nothing new under the sun”, we will eventually be led to the Only One Who faced temptation without a single failure – Jesus. We could go to the Gospels and follow Him through the 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. But instead we need to listen to Hebrews: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are –yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).

Can we trust Jesus to understand what we’re going through? Yes! He “has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin”. Among other things, this tells me that it’s not a sin to be tempted, it only becomes sin when we give in to the temptation. It also reminds me that my Savior was and is absolutely victorious over sin – and temptation.

Can we really find help in Him? Absolutely! In Jesus, we may “approach the throne of grace with confidence”.

What kind of help can we expect to receive? Mercy and Grace! Because of Jesus, “we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”. In the midst of life’s battles, as I call out to The Throne, I receive Mercy for my failures and find the Grace to get back up and do better.

“Lord, as You taught me, I ask You to ‘lead me not into temptation’. But as I inevitably find myself facing temptations (as You know so well), I also pray that You would ‘deliver me from evil’. Thank You that I can come to You knowing that ‘Yours is the Kingdom, and the Glory, and the Power Forever.’ Amen.”

Temptation (2): The Rules Do Apply to Me

20131123-120209.jpg1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

Jesus left no doubt about the Devil’s nature: He is a liar. “… He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Our Enemy is also supremely pragmatic. He doesn’t really care what tool he uses as long as it works. Unfortunately, he knows what’s effective for dislodging our hold on Truth and our faith in the Giver of Truth – lies. In his efforts to keep believers from being fruitful, he clearly knows that a simple, logical lie can often do greater damage than a host of frontal assaults.

More than once I’ve awakened out of some spiritual slumber or compromise by discovering that a simple lie had silently inserted itself into my thinking. It usually comes dressed in the guise of a false assumption I’m unconsciously acting on.

rules don't apply

When it comes to temptation, the Devil likes to tell us that our temptations are unique and, therefore, the promises of God do not apply in our situation (see ‘Temptation Pt.1’). An effective variation on this strategy is when he convinces us that our situation is somehow unique and, therefore, the normal rules don’t apply in our case. When this happens, we begin to believe that what is clearly sin for others – isn’t for us.

This lie takes many forms. One that I see more and more in premarital counseling is couples who are living together because they “can’t afford to live separately”. Supposedly, since they don’t have the money to afford two apartments, that makes it OK for them to live together. After all, “the Lord knows we just don’t have the money”.

In my conversations with them, they normally acknowledge that it’s a sin (usually phrased as “it’s not the best choice”). But, inevitably, I find myself listening as they explain why their situation is unique and, therefore, the normal rules obviously don’t apply to them. Of course, when you put it in black and white (as I’m doing here), the absurdity of it becomes clear. What they’re doing, as professing believers, is wrong on multiple levels and in multiple ways. It’s sin and the rules do apply to them – period.

In most cases it’s the guy who’s the strongest advocate for their excuses. After all, he’s got the most to lose (free sex). Sometimes I get the “but we’re married in God’s eyes” routine. To which I ask if her name has been changed on her driver’s license, if they’re filing their taxes jointly, if they’re on a shared medical plan and “On what day and at what time did this take place?”. You get the idea. This is followed by pointing out that, when someone is truly married, their legal and social status is clearly and definitely changed – if it’s not, they’re not.

Sometimes they claim that the Bible (acording to them) doesn’t say a lot about weddings and legal marriage. In this case, I point out that every time the Bible uses the words ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ or ‘married’ (often ‘to take a wife’), the very definition of the words only apply if the social, cultural (and legal) status of the couple has changed from being single to being married. It also implies that this change has taken place in the context of a ceremony that has, in fact, established their new standing in the eyes of their family, society and culture.

But I digress …

The Rules Do Apply. They apply to me and they apply to you. To think otherwise is to believe a lie and join the innoculated ranks of the spiritually impotent. We know better than that.

Although my interviews with ‘cohabitating’ (read ‘sinning’) couples usually end with an air of tension, a marked change often occurs over the next couple of weeks. I love it when they march up to me with beaming faces to announce that they’ve asked the Lord’s forgiveness, committed to purity, and one of them has moved out (usually the guy, who’s now sleeping on a friend’s couch). It’s amazing what you can afford when you’re willing to accept a little inconvenience.

So, the next time the Tempter tells you the rules don’t apply to you because, after all, your situation is unique,  just reply “If you believe that, I’ve got some beach front property in Nevada I’d like to sell you.” Or, better yet, just say “I’m sorry but I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

“Lord, forgive me for the times I’ve believed Your rules don’t apply to me. Teach me to be quicker to recognize the Tempter’s lies. And help me remember that Your ‘rules’ are actually the guard-rails of Your Will for my life – Your good, acceptable and perfect will (Rom. 12:1-2). Amen.”

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