August 18, 2021

August 18, 2021

Dear Friends,
 
Those of us who grew up in a time when cartoons were only available for viewing on Saturday mornings or for maybe an hour or two after school also grew up in a time when an elementary school education included a healthy dose of patriotism.  Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was a daily classroom ritual.  In music class, we learned to sing all the verses of America the Beautiful – including the verses about alabaster cities gleaming and heroes proved in liberating strife.  We were taught My Country, ‘Tis of Thee and God Bless America, right along with the Star-Spangled Banner.
 
Our educators emphasized the goodness of our country and our national values, often glossing over, distorting or ignoring completely our flaws and sins.  We learned to cheer for the ideals of America without being taught to think carefully about the extent to which those ideas were –  or weren’t – being upheld. 
 
I don’t know if children are taught patriotic songs today.  But I do know that the divide between Americans about our national heritage, our history and our values has never in my lifetime been deeper.  The ideological split that existed in the 1960’s comes close to what is happening in our country today.  But the gap today is wider than it was then.  I hope and pray the divide will not lead to the kind of bloodshed some of our ancestors experienced a century and a half ago.  But I find myself in our day, as President Lincoln did in his day, wondering how long a divided nation like ours can endure.
 
I consider myself patriotic.  I believe the American principles of freedom, justice and equality under the law are values that have certainly been imperfectly lived out, but are still values worth preserving, protecting and defending.  As I’ve said before, I agree with Sir Winston Churchill’s wry observation that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”  I hope and pray that my grandchildren and great grandchildren – indeed, every American son or daughter – will continue to know the blessings of liberty throughout their lifetime.  As I have watched the scenes from Afghanistan this week, my gratitude for living in the land of the free has been stirred again, while my sorrow for what so many Afghans are facing has been fresh as well. 
 
I’ve said all that to say this.
 
My love for our country is deep.  But my love for, and my allegiance to, the Kingdom of God is so much deeper.  In the same way that Jesus has taught us that our love for Him should make our natural affection for family members seem like hatred in comparison (Luke 14:26), so my love for a Kingdom of men and women from every tongue and tribe and nation, all pledging their devotion to Christ as King, makes my love for America seem pale.
 
Apparently I’m in the minority.  Ryan Burge, who studies trends in religion and culture has researched the connection between love of country and religious commitment.  What he found, among other things, was that among those of us who are white and who identify as evangelicals, more than 85% say that being an American is either as important or more important to them than their faith. 
 
Put another way, fewer than 15% of white evangelicals polled said their faith was more important than their country.  Or as someone on Twitter correctly noted about the data, apparently fewer than 15% of white evangelicals are genuinely Christians.
 
As we watch so many of the values we hold dear – values anchored in what the Bible teaches – erode in our culture today, it’s easy for us to want to push back against the growing darkness.  There is a spiritual root that feeds the political and cultural forces at work in our society that are aggressively promoting policies and practices that scripture condemns.  “The whole world,” the Apostle John tells us, “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
 
That helps explain why some are prone to see a clear connection between love for God and love for country.  For them, standing for what scripture teaches and standing for America are one in the same.
 
Except they’re not.  Not the same at all. 
 
Look back at what John says.  “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”  The whole world.  Not one political party or another.  Not blue states or red states.  The real dividing line in our world is between those who are followers of Jesus and those who refuse to bow before Him as King.  Our ultimate fellowship and unity as Christians is founded on our common allegiance to our King and His Kingdom, not on our common agreement about how much we think the federal government should spend on infrastructure or whether we think our local officials should mandate masks in public places.
 
It’s not that cultural or political matters are unimportant.  And it’s not that there is no overlap between what we believe the Bible teaches and government programs or policies.  We should be active citizens who pay attention to what is happening in our culture and who work to promote and uphold biblical values of justice and morality.  
 
But when I read my Bible, political engagement and cultural change are not what is primary.  “My Kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus said.  The focus of scriptures is on the power of the gospel to transform the lives of men and women.  What is central to the plan of God in our world is gospel proclamation and gospel demonstration – words and works that point people over and over again to the goodness and kindness and mercy and love of God, who calls them to repent and believe and follow the Son. 
 
Our pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of American, and to the republic for which that flag stands, must be a pledge of secondary allegiance.  A lesser pledge.  The Apostle Paul, who availed himself of the rights and privileges of his own Roman citizenship made it clear to the Philippians where his ultimate allegiance lay.  “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20–21).
  
School has started back.  Summer is winding down.  And so many things are about to happen at church.   That’s why it took an extra day for the newsletter to be sent out this week.
 
You ready?
 
First things first.  This Friday night is a Gathering night for women in our church.  Ladies, dinner is on us!
 
 This Sunday, we’ll have Joe and Dana Neff with us in our worship service, giving us an update on their ongoing global work with Teach Beyond.  And Sunday afternoon at 4:00, everyone is invited to join the Neffs for about an hour in our worship center for a fuller report on how they are seeing God at work through the ministry and how we can more effectively pray for and support their efforts.
 
As we continue to navigate our way through Covid, we are making plans for ministry for children and students this fall.  Next Sunday, August 29, we have a special afternoon planned for parents and kids of all ages (0-18).   Show up at church at 4:00 for a some fun and games and treats.  There will be activities for families to do together and some special activities just for the kids, as we connect with moms and dads and give you an update on children and student ministry plans for fall.
 
4:00 pm – 5:45 pm, on Sunday, August 29.  Got it?  See you then! 

Speaking of parents, here’s something new.  Since your kids already have you up early on Sunday mornings, bring them to church early, and while we keep them entertained and occupied, you and other parents can be part of an 8 week Art of Parenting class, led by Randall and Cyndi Van Den Berghe.

As you can see above, you need to register for the Art of Parenting and order workbooks.  Each person – both a husband and wife – need to register separately.  

Here’s the link that will take you right to the online registration page where you can order your manual and let us know how many kids will be coming with you (so we can plan for child care).

Here are a bunch of additional September “save the dates” for you, with more details to follow:


 First Tuesday Men’s Gathering – September 7 at 6:45 at church.

New Members Class | Saturday, Sept 11 | 9:00-11am

FALL WOMEN’S BIBLE STUDY

Monday night Sep 13 (in person at church)

or Tuesday afternoon, Sep 14 (on Zoom). 

More info coming soon! 


 One more note.  We could really use your help caring for the youngest ones in our church on Sundays.
 
SO….
 
Here’s one final link that will make it super easy for you to choose a couple of dates and sign up.  Signing up usually works better on a computer instead of a mobile device, especially if you’re signing in for the first time.  If you get stuck trying to sign up, text me Jen specific dates and she will sign you up or help you get it working.
 
Specific dates are the key here.  Jen says “Do not leave the decision up to me (like saying ‘whenever you need me’); please let me know specific dates ASAP.  Love you guys and appreciate all the ways lots of you are serving our body!!!
   
How could someone see Jesus heal a man who was blind from birth and raise a dead man to life and still not believe that He was sent from God?  We’ll see what the Bible says about the willful, persistent sin of unbelief as we continue in John 12 this Sunday.
  
See you in church.
 
Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Bob

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