Emily’s Journey


She had a spark the first time I met her.

Emily Ristau was a young seventh grade girl when we first met. Our first encounter was in the church lobby. It was memorable mostly because I opened my mouth and out flew a Freudian Slip (and no, I won’t go into those details). So, I was introduced to Emily alongside her two older brothers and parents. Her family soon became a favorite. I heard somewhere that you’re not supposed to have favorites in the ministry. “Shh! Don’t tell.”

Emily’s dad would frequently say, “My girl is a walking miracle.” Indeed she was. Emily was born with half a heart, also known as HLHS. When I found out for the first time I thought of little Laura from Little House on the Prairie and modified it to fit Emily. From then, on I dubbed her “Half Tank.” She didn’t seem to mind.

If you did not know Emily, you would not know there was anything wrong with her inward parts for outwardly she appear to be a ordinary teenage girl with an extraordinary faith in God. Though she often struggled with her image and what others thought of her, she would wander back to the truth that she was crafted in God’s image.
What impressed me most about Emily was her spunky and everyone’s-a-friend-attitude. It was a huge asset to our youth ministry at BGBC. I wish I could have cloned a few Emily’s, although the awkwardness factor would have certainly multiplied exponentially. Just thinking about Emily now makes me laugh. I can hear her say, “Sup?” with that cheeky grin and that faint bob of her head.

When Sarah and I began our courtship, Sarah stayed with Emily’s family. Following Sarah’s first visit, I sought Emily’s approval of Sarah. She said, “She’s a keeper, Justin.” That was enough. A few weeks later Emily help me to assemble a sock monkey for Sarah named Patch. He’s still held together by the Emily’s threads and needlework.

The spark she had was ignited by the Spirit of God.

Emily, left a mark on me. Though I wasn’t her youth pastor for a very long time,  she was used by God to shepherd my life by her example. Emily preached a sermon with her life. Emily may have had half a heart, but she really had more heart than most because her real heart was possessed with the One who gave her life and ordained her days.

Emily went to be with Jesus on May 14, 2014. She was 21.

Emily’s Journey is not over, it’s just begun. Emily is a hero in the faith and now with the champion of her faith! Lucky!

“God as you used Emily in this life to be a ginormous blessing to many, may you use her testimony and ‘new life’ as a continual testimony of Your fame. Until we meet again. In Jesus name.”

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

thumb licks [7.4.12]

When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity.

How big is the Universe? BIG! (check out this infographic).

One indispensable rule for using social media.

Cheesiest man cave. If I weren’t a Christian, I might be this man.

16 Ways to find a wife according to the Bible.

How cereal transformed American Culture.

Dirty Car slide show. Car wash lately?

Jarrod Dyson, Rollie Fingers, and How We View the World.

Get rich slow. Biblical bean counting.

Generous Testimony.

Hugo Liborio

The past two summers we have taken our groups from our church down to the Dominican Republic for ministry among the sugarcane villages. This last year our trip leader was Hugo. He is a man of contagious love for God and a joy for Christ. Our team quickly came to admire his passion for Jesus, the church, and his family. He is an example of a true follower of Christ.

The Lord to Hugo home early this year.

On Saturday, January 20, 2010, SCORE International celebrated Hugo Liborio‘s life at church plant Villa España in the Dominican Republic. Hugo spent the last year of his life working as a missionary in the Dominican with his wife, Sarah, and two children who are continuing in the work.

real questions: God?

We as human beings have questions. Big questions. Significant questions. Questions about life, God, and the future. As a pastor, I often get questions from people inside and outside our church. These questions are real and expect real answers. I will begin a series of blog-entries that show some of these questions and seek to provide them with biblical answers.

Ned Anzers: I think that the largest reason I believe in God is because I was taught to. If I were born in an Islamic, Jewish, or atheistic family I think it is safe to say I would be what I was taught. Surely this is not what God wants my faith in him to be founded. In the past I have asked myself why I believe in God and have found ‘answers’ but after deliberating on them I no longer feel they  hold any weight. My question is this: Why do you believe in God?

This is a very good question. Can I ask you a question in return?

How is your belief in God different than your relationship with God?

To answer your question, I will give you both a short and a long answer.

Why do I believe in God? In short, I choose to believe in God. That’s my snapshot answer. If it is not satisfying I will try to give you a clearer panoramic picture of why I choose God. Actually, it is more like He chose me

The long story:

I grew up in a home that believed and taught about God. We were Catholic (by title and church attendance). My priest baptized me as a baby, yet I don’t remember a thing because I wasn’t even old enough to eat smashed carrots. I went to Catholic mass every week because my grandparents took (and sometimes dragged) me there. I went to Catholic Sunday School (called Catechism), and had my first communion. We called ourselves Christians, but I had no understanding what that meant. I believed in God too.

As I grew older church became less satisfying. God was still real, but less desirable. There was this disconnect between God and me. God was like some cosmic grandfather that I never talked to or understood. He was like some story my family told me, but almost like He was an ancestral fairytale. Little did I know this was a very small and insignificant view of a very big God.

I was a troubled kid. I had an appetite for attention. I didn’t “feel” like I received it at home, so I was sort of a class clown around school. I was well liked by my peers. I was a friend to all kinds of people. I truly treasured the attention I received from my peers. When the attention would wear off, I would do something wild and crazy to get attention. It would draw a crowd and satisfy my tastes buds for a bit, but more often I would get into trouble.

My quest for attention led me to friends that were bad influences and not law abiding. I found myself doing things I never intended or desired to do just to be around people that I thought cared. These friends introduced and diverted my attention to girls, pornography and vandalism. Note: I was still involved in church and considered a rather good kid. Overall, inside and out, I was left feeling empty, lost, confused, full of questions, needing hope, and handicapped by my guilt. I was to the point of thinking suicidal thoughts. God seemed even more distant.

My parents took me to see a local psychologist. This ended up being a waste of money. The school enrolled me in special classes. The only thing this meant was getting picked up early for school by the short-bus. I was both embarrassed and frustrated with my life.

In junior high, my mom and step-dad moved. I lived further away from my dad, which really broke my heart. Life seemed like it couldn’t get any worse.

We started going to a different kind of church because my mom and step-dad were dissatisfied with the churches of their youth. I did what most kids do: went to church because I had to. There was something about this Wausau Bible Church that was different than St. Al’s. First, most everybody had a Bible. Second, most everybody was friendly. Third, most everybody talked about God or with God as if He was a close companion. This all seemed very strange to me. On the other hand, I was quite curious. We continued to go. We bought Bibles, even though I could not understand it. I got plugged into the youth group and learned new things about God that I never knew before.

I remember clearly some of the lessons from my junior high boys Sunday School class. Here are 3 that I challenged my thinking and ripened my heart:

Judges 3:1-15

Not only a weird story about a fat king, but a lesson on Idolatry. The people are testing God. God is ready to hear their cries and deliver, but there is a need for a deeper deliverance than they desire. They desire deliverance from their situation, when God desires they to have a spiritual Deliverer. This passage gave me a radical view of Gods purposes. I need Him. I need a Deliverer. I have idols in my life that have taken His place.

Psalm 27

This song of David is a BIG picture view of life, not just reactive living. David is incredibly honest with God. He is living in a world of trouble [enemies, rejection, fear, etc]. Yet among all the trouble he is God centeredness [v.4, 14]. That is incredibly weird. I had to ask myself the question: when trouble comes where does my heart go? Not to God, but my attention in stuff or silliness that did not satisfy.

Colossians 2:1-15 

This passage hit me square between the eyes and stuck my heart with the present active benefits of God here and now. It showed me how a life without God is foolishness [vs.1-5]. I am victimized by my own foolishness. It showed me the power I have over sin in Christ [v.9]. The indwelling presence of God is given to do what He has called me to do. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me…and gave Himself for me. It shows me the freedom of having a relationship with Christ [v.13-14]. I do not have to hide, live in shame, worry about exposure, because Christ forgives all my sin, weakness and guilt. No more fatalism.

I was left with God, I thought “I really didn’t know Him,” but ached in my heart to have a relationship with Him.  I did not treasure Him, but knew only He could satisfy my loneliness and desire for attention. Instead of seeking His attention, I sought to put my attention on Him. It was then I fully understood I needed a Redeemer/Deliverer/Savior. I was lost, but now He found me. Thus, in July 1992, I humbled my view of self and my view of God. No longer did I believe in Him, but I began a relationship with Him.

Well, that’s the long version of His Story with me. Like you, I wonder what if I was born into a Hindu, Muslim, or Jewish family. Would I believe the Truth? Would God in His grace rescue me from a bogus view of God? Then I wonder, why did He choose me? All I can answer is, “Alleluia!!” I thank God that He did! I pray that I would be used to help others see God is real and that He desires a relationship with them.

I would encourage you to take ownership of your belief in God [Acts 16:31]. Take your parents teaching on God and make it your own.

it was all new to me

Who would have thought that this kid would have ever amounted to anything? He grew up in the “normal dysfunctional American home”. Lived with his grandparents while his mother work two jobs to financially support him. In his elementary years he was forced into a special classroom for students with attention deficits, and after school he would see a local psychologist because of his anger problems. This kid was mentally and spiritually messed up.


The only spirituality he knew of was growing up in the Roman Catholic Church his family had always attended. He was baptized as a baby, had his first communion and going through the motions of ritualistic worship week after week. He knew what to expect. And even with all this problems he thought to himself, “I’m okay.”


Until…his mother met a new man. He was unlike the other boyfriends she brought home. Mike was his name and he was a Christian. Mike’s church background was Charismatic, but like the boys mother was very unsatisfied with his church. Together after getting married they made a move to a smaller community north of Milwaukee, WI. This new family of three started a new life in their new surroundings. They visited a new church that would meet their spiritual needs, an independant-funamental-Bible-preaching-church. This certainly was a new thing for this boy, but he liked it. They opened the Bible and the people stayed to talk after church was over!


He soon made new friends at his school and church. He was opted out of needed special help because of so-called problems. His future was looking a little brighter. However, in Junior High School he made a few friends that became a negative influence on him. Again, his problems got him into trouble.


As his family continued to go to church, he noticed the makeup of his home beginning to change. His mother didn’t do the same things she did in the past, she talked differently and she began hanging up religious pictures on the walls of their home. He asked his mother, “why all the changes?” She responded, “Because Jesus has come into my heart, and has made me a new person.” The conversation ended there. But her words stuck in his head like sharp tack.


It was no later after that conversation with his mother that the pastor gave a strong message of the realities of hell. This boy who had the I-can-do-what-I-want-because-it-will-not-affect-me attitude, suddenly realize he wasn’t okay. He needed help. He needed forgiveness of sin. He needed to know for sure that he has okay, and going to heaven. On that hot summer night long after the church doors closed he laid in his bed pondering his own pride. He cries out to the Lord, “Father forgive me. I dont want to go to hell. I need Jesus. Help me to live like Him.” From this day on this boys life looked a lot brighter.


He was a new creation in Christ. He soon made new godly friends, started attending the churches youth group, and had a desire to be more like Christ. That desire turned into a reality as godly men discipled and led him through the Word of God. They challenged his mind to consider going into the ministry and they opened up for him opportunities to serve in his local church.


Who would have thought that this problematic, attention crazed kid would have graduated from Bible College, heading into the world to serve Christ?


This is the testimony of MY life and salvation.