One Nation Under God

church-state-politics-web-bannerOne Nation Under God
We are fast approaching Election Day and regardless of who you are or your background, you have a horse in this race. Churches and pastors aren’t allowed to tell you who to vote for, and that is a good thing. Our pulpits are for preaching the Word of God in the Bible. Yet, it is important for pastors like myself to give guidance for all areas of life, so while I won’t tell you how or who to vote for—I will give you some thoughts on how to engage this whole election process.
You may be looking at the two options before you for president and either be extremely excited, or maybe you have just resigned yourself to picking one of the options. Regardless of how you feel towards the candidates, there is one thing we can all do.
In 1 Timothy, the apostle Paul is writing to his protégé, Timothy, a young man cut from the same cloth as Paul. Timothy is the pastor of the church at Ephesus, and the members of his church had the same concerns as we do today. They wanted to know how to function as a church, how to interact with their family including how to discipline and love their children appropriately, and they also wanted to know how to engage their government.
For them, the government was an empire and had an emperor called Caesar. Empires meant you do what you are told when you are told. Caesars, as the emperors were called, had total power and authority. Some of these leaders were decent, but others were deplorable. If you want proof, read about Caligula or Nero—these men were pretty awful and would definitely not be on your top choices for running your government. However, the people didn’t have a choice, and so they had to live with the person, whether a moral or immoral leader.
It would have been very easy for the church to justify disobedience, civil and otherwise, towards their government. It would have been justified to rise up and overthrow the corrupt regimes. However, the church didn’t do that. Instead, Paul instructed them in 1 Timothy 2:1-3:
“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior…”
The church was urged to pray for their kings, their Caesars. Men who hadn’t earned their respect or their vote; they were asked to pray for these men. We don’t live in the same type of government—we choose our leaders. This is the joy and privilege of democracy and freedom. Yet, we too, are called to pray for our leaders – for our present President and our future presidents, for all the men and women who will make up Congress and the Supreme Court, and for all of our leaders in Iowa. So let’s start there this election season — let’s pray for our leaders and pray that we will be one nation under God.
Grimes United Methodist Church is bringing in a guest speaker the weekend before the election for a seminar called “Church, State, and the Politics of God”. Rev. Tom Fuerst, Lead pastor of The Table at Christ UMC in Memphis, TN will speak of the nature of the kingdom of God and how the church relates to the state. All are welcome to attend on Friday, November 4th from 6-8:30pm and Saturday, November 5th from 8:30am-1:30pm. Childcare will be available along with the option to order lunch for Saturday. Register here.

Know Your Opponent

A quick look at the headlines and we find ourselves asking the same question that KCCI recently asked, “What is happening to our country?” Of course one of the things that can happen when a question like that is asked, is that people play the blame game. As civilized and cultured as we become, we haven’t learned much since the days of Adam and Eve. Adam blamed Eve and blamed God for giving Eve to him. Eve blamed the serpent. The blame game was in place, and the real issues were avoided and the true enemy was hiding in the shadows.
Today he is still hiding, and laughing as we tear each other apart. We fight against each other and not even the church is exempt. And while we hurt each other, our true enemy is laughing all the way to the bank. We are doing his work for him, forgetting the words that would save us and guard us.
Ephesians 6:12 says:
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
Paul tells the church in Ephesus and us that our fight is not with each other, but against the ideologies and philosophies that draw us away from God’s intended path for humanity. We fight against evil rulers and authorities of an unseen world, who while they can do scary things, mostly do subtle things that bring about really frightening things in our culture.
C.S. Lewis writes in his book, The Screwtape Letters, that one of our enemy’s biggest strategies is to get us to believe that he doesn’t exist. He is a myth and that the spiritual realm has no effect on our daily lives. The horror movies of our time add to that myth by sensationalizing evil to such a degree that it all seems cartoonish or fake. Yet make no mistake, there is a real enemy, and our real enemy, our real opponent, is the one doing damage to our lives and our culture. He is the father of lies and the king of deception, perverting and distorting the truth. He tries to convince us, through his lies, to walk away from God and to engage in an attitude, behavior that he says is harmless, will bring us pleasure, or make us God. He did it in the garden, and he does it today. However, his lies lead us not into freedom, but off of cliffs into dark places where when we wake up, we realize how deceived we have been.
#1 Peter 5:8 says
“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”
The devil is a roaring lion, but his roar can only hurt us if we give into his lies. He has to scare us into his den by deceit. In Christ, he has no real authority over us. He can’t make us do anything, though he would try to convince us otherwise.
He would have us believe that he is a real threat to us and that we better stay hidden and safe so he can’t get at us. Hear this, he is a liar. Hell and its occupants can’t hurt us. Jesus says the gates of Hell cannot prevail against us, the church. We, in Christ, are knocking down the gates of Hell, and setting the prisoner free or, at least, we should be. But we have let the lies of our opponent keep us off the field. Or we get winded, complacent, tired and give up, and lay down on the mat. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to stay on the mat and we can defeat our enemy.
However, to do so we need to know how he works. We need to know our opponent before we know how to beat him. And to help us better understand our opponent, consider a section of Acts that both lays out what we truly fight against and how to fight.
In Acts 20, Paul is Island hopping down the coast, sharing the Gospel, revisiting church plants and making his way to Jerusalem. As he hops from island to island, he makes a stop at Miletus and while there, he sends a message to the leaders of the church of Ephesus that they should come and join him at Miletus. This was to be his final tour of this particular area. He did not plan to go through Ephesus and the cities on this coast again and he wants to talk to the leaders of this church before he moves on.
The leaders of the church arrive and Paul says in Acts 20:18
“ 18 When they arrived he declared, “You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now 19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. 21 I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.”
Paul reminds them of the many things he has suffered for the Gospel. He had suffered from rivers, beasts, bandits, foreigners, his own countrymen, sea, starvation, sleeplessness and the constant anxiety of worry about the church. Yet, he never shrank back from preaching the message that God for which God has commission him to preach, the same message the church preaches today–salvation is found in no other name. Jesus, alone is Lord and faith in Him is what saves us.
And then Paul tells of his future plans in verse 22
22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit[a] to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”
He is heading to Jerusalem and God has revealed to him that suffering awaits. As the book of Acts progresses, that is exactly what will happen to Paul. He will be accused of breaking the law of His people, thrown into jail, have people plot to murder him and be sent on a Roman ship to the imperial city, suffering starvation and shipwreck before he gets to Rome.
And for us too, suffering is not a surprise. If we stand for the Word of God, we will suffer. However, when that happens, take heart for Jesus has overcome the world. Paul knew this truth and his all consuming passion to preach the truth, regardless of cost, was the motivation behind all his actions including why he wanted to see the elders of Ephesus one last time. He knew they would never see him again and wants to give them words that they might continue in the Gospel and the grace of God long after he is gone.
In verse 28, he says,
28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood[c]—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders.[d] 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.
He tells them to guard themselves and to watch out—be alert. When he is gone, people are going to come in, false teachers, who Paul calls vicious wolves. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus also uses that term to describe false teachers. Vicious wolves, those who seem like harmless sheep but are really ready and willing to tear the church apart, ripping it limb from limb. Wolves who will show no mercy and will attempt to rip the Truth to shreds or replace it with something that looks just like it. Gradually and cautiously leading sheep into a trap, causing them to depart from the accepted standard of spiritual truth, lulling them into a sleep, and when they wake up, they are in the wolves’ den—no way out.
Paul has seen these wolves creep in before from the surrounding culture and worse, from among their own ranks and he wants Ephesus to be on their guard. As shepherds of their flock, they are to protect their sheep, the sheep of God, bought with the precious blood of Jesus.
Paul had watched out for them for three years, spending sleepless nights in tears, praying over them. But now, they must do it for themselves and for their flock, for their church. They were to watch out for the wolves that will creep in and we must do the same today.
Notice Paul does not warn against people so much as he is warning against what they are doing, their teaching. False teaching are ideas from culture that seem right, but are not in line with the Word of God. They are distortions of truth that look like the Gospel, but when examined, they don’t hold water.
The father of lies is interested in one major thing—distorting the truth of Jesus so that people that God loves, miss out on salvation and he uses false teaching to do his work. It is this for which we must watch out. We must be alert like shepherds watching over sheep by night, like soldiers waving off sleep to keep watch over their unit.
This call to alertness is found in other parts of Scripture. Write these down, commit them to memory so that you might remember to be alert.
1 Corinthians 16:13
“13 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.”
1 Thessalonians 5:6
“6 So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded.”
1 Peter 5:8
“8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”

These Scriptures and all the words of God, along with prayer, are how we combat the father of lies. We read the Word, write it down, live it, and hold onto it, no matter what. And we pray. We pray with tears. We pray with persistence. We pray with fasting. We pray for the church to be protected and the Truth to be preached. And as pray and read the Word, we remember that this battle is already won.
Martin Luther wrote these words in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.”

And that word? Jesus. The father of lies is defeated because of Jesus and as a result, he cannot harm us. We are overcomers in Christ.

Open Your Eyes

Piper My family finally got over to the theatre to see Finding Dory and I was pleasantly surprised by the film. Yet as good as the film was, I was even more impressed by the Pixar short film that preceded it—Piper. Piper is a short story about a little bird that has to overcome its fears of the mighty tide so that it can find food. At the beginning of the story, Piper is content to stay away from the water, safe in its’ nest, and hope that his mama will feed him. When Piper finally approaches the tide, the bird is swept up in the undertow and retreats to its’ nest, vowing to never return.
However his stomach starts to rumble and he knows if he is going to eat, he will have to return to the shoreline. Yet, even the stabbing pains of hunger is not enough to motivate the little bird. It isn’t until a little hermit crab takes him by the wing, that he goes close to the ocean again. Once again, the tide comes in and Piper braces himself for the force of water. He burrows down into the sand, shuts his eyes tight and trembles as the waters submerge him. At that point, the hermit crab pokes the bird to open his eyes, and when Piper does, he sees that the undertow is full of all clams that the tide has kicked up, all ready to be enjoyed by Piper and his family. Under the waves, in uncertainty, is a blessing, that he only sees when he opens his eyes.
In the Gospels, Jesus and his disciples are crossing a lake when a huge storm rolls in and with it, huge waves, threatening to take the little boat down. The disciples are terrified and wake Jesus up, asking if Jesus even cares if they drown. Jesus looks at them and tells them, “Why do you have such little faith?” and then he speaks to the sea and commands it to be silent. The moment Jesus speaks, the winds and waves calm down and the seas is completely still. The disciples are stunned and realize there was no need to be afraid, Jesus had everything under control.
Like the little bird Piper in the Pixar short film and the disciples, we have waves that sweep over us—waves that send us fleeing to our comfortable nests. Yet, those very waves hide blessings that we can only see if we open our eyes of faith, and trust in the Lord who calms even the winds and waves. Don’t let the waves of life frighten you. Our God is the Lord over even them.

We Don’t Do That Anymore

We are in full VBC mode this week and like many of the GUMC’ers, my tank goes from empty to full and back to empty again, very fast. Last night, I hit the wall. After an engaging night with my group, we call ourselves, the Super Spelunkers, I went home and tucked the kids into bed and came upstairs, sat in my recliner and stared at the television. Julie was doing the same from her recliner. The sleep that came last night was hard and fast, and I slept like the proverbial rock.

This morning, the wall was still evident, but I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and came to work and put together my sermon and did a few other things. After lunch, I decided to fill my tank with ice cream so I headed over to Heavenly Delights.

While I was waiting in line, I noticed a child that I had seen at church in the past, but hadn’t seen her family for a long time. I said hello to her and then invited her to VBC, and she said the following to me, “We don’t do that anymore…I am doing sports instead.”

I was broken by these words, not for myself, but for the little girl and her family. There is something wrong when we view a commitment to Christ and His body as optional–something to do if there is time and we feel like it.

As I have been sharing recently, we are in a battle, not against people. People, all people, are made in the image of God, and are to be treated as such. No, we are in a battle against ideas like the one communicated by this sweet little girl, which basically was “God is optional.” Yet, that doesn’t seem to vibe with what we read in Scripture. We are told, multiple times, that Jesus is life, and that apart from Him is death and meaningless.

Of course, we think we know better. We say in our own ways, “we don’t do that anymore,” not realizing that doing that, giving our life over to Jesus and His Word, is the way to life that is abundant. What we do as Christians is important, and let us give ourselves fully to the work of sharing Jesus and inviting others into the Kingdom.

GUMC exists to provide a home for those seeking to belong as we cultivate the kingdom of Jesus Christ and God. We don’t claim to be the answer but we do know the One who is the Answer and invite you all to join us a we work the fields together.

Christ is not optional; He is life itself.

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Orlando

IMG_4286But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

Since the shooting in Orlando, I have been processing it and all that surrounds it.  And I find the verse, quoted above to be both insightful and helpful.   Like many of you, I have watched the events that have taken place over the last few years, with sadness, but honestly, the more they happened, also with numbness.  There is only so much you see and hear before your heart starts to not feel, either out of necessity or because you simply don't know how to process it anymore.
 
This shooting was a horrific and senseless act, and I find it, to be even more so, because it happened to a group of people, whose beliefs, are not in line with my own.  A group of people whose ideology I disagree with, based on strong convictions, and yet they and I, are equally made in the image of God.  On the basis of that reality and the events of Sunday morning, this act of terror has forced me to look at the LGBT community in a different way.
 
In the past, I thought sharing my thoughts in a public forum, was not worth the effort or the persecution that has been associated with it.   After Orlando, I think differently.  I was already going to pray for the victims and the families.   That is the easy thing to say and do in these times.  However, I am not stopping there.  Prayerfully as a pastor, I will seek to engage in dialogue those around me who think and believe differently from me.
 
Up to this point in the church, I have seen two very different camps of rhetoric on the issues of sexual orientation. On one side, the camp that says love is love and let people be whoever they want  be.   There are a number of reasons I find that problematic, but that is a discussion for another time.  On the other side, those who want to call out sin in such a way that shuts down conversation and relationship.  This stance, too, has its problems.
 
Adding to the issues associated with these extreme positions is the notion prevalent in society right now-to disagree is not to love.    This is not a fair or true statement.  There are plenty of people with whom I disagree but that has not stopped me from loving them.  Speaking truth does not mean you don't love someone.  Micah 6:8 says, "What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with our God."  Based on this verse and the one from Matthew quoted at the beginning of this blog, I would invite you to do several things as we seek to navigate the uncertain waters of our times
 
First, pray.  Pray for those who have lost their loved ones.  Pray for comfort and strength in this time of grief.  At the same time, pray for those who instigate these terrorist attacks.  Prayer is not a respecter of persons.  Jesus calls upon us to pray, even for our enemies.
 Secondly , love.  Love in extravagant ways those around you regardless of their background and/or belief systems.  As you have the opportunity, do it for those who have suffered this awful tragedy in Orlando.  Share the love of Christ, which has no limits, with those around you.
And finally , stand firm.  In gentleness and with respect, continue to hold your ground about what you believe, and speak that truth in love irregardless of how people respond to it.
 
Lord, give us courage, give us love and give us Your peace that we might shine like stars in this universe around us.  Amen.