Bug-Out Bag — Pastor Greg

Ever made an emergency plan? One where you had to have a “bug out bag” or an emergency kit ready to go in the event you had to leave quickly? What was in it? I looked up what others recommended to go into such a bag and there was some variation of opinions, but the basics remained the same. Food, water, clothing, first aid kit, important papers, and the like. These are things that in an emergency you would need to grab and go. No thinking about it at that moment, no making of lists or rummaging through the pantry. Nope, you just grab it and leave. The things that are in that bag are essentials. They are the basic items you “must” have, not what you would “like” to have. There may have been some items that you took out of the bag, like that Michigan State snow globe you got years ago from your Aunt Rita. Or that U of M back scratcher you won at the church raffle… had to leave that behind. It’s not that you didn’t like them, they just weren’t essential. 

Emergencies or crises often make us evaluate what is really important and what can be left behind. These moments in our lives can come on us suddenly or they can unfold over months or years. We live in such a time. Our present situation has forced us to confront what we consider important. This is a good thing. 

From 1938 to 1945, Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor, was held prisoner by the Nazis during WWII. His crime was speaking out against the evil that was enveloping his nation. The last four years of his captivity were spent in the Dachau concentration camp along with a few other political prisoners. It was at this time, from Christmas of 1944 to Easter of 1945, that he wrote 6 sermons that he shared with his fellow inmates. In each of these messages, the central theme that came through was the all sufficiency of Christ.  When all else had been taken away and each day gave way to an uncertain future, Jesus remained. The apostle Paul, who also had been imprisoned, wrote in Philippians 3:7-8 “But whatever things were gain to me those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Paul had his spiritual “bug out bag”. The essential thing – the one thing – that mattered to him was Christ. 

Just like with an emergency grab bag, preparation is key. We do not just throw things into it randomly, but much time and thought have preceded each decision. Notice how many times Paul uses the word “count” in these verses. Three times he counted something or considered something or regarded something and compared it to something else. Suddenly the things that were at one time valuable to Paul changed to the status of garbage. When Paul understood who Christ was and is, suddenly those things that at one time were dear to him lost their value and were cast aside. Paul was a redeemed man but his past reliance on the legalistic system of Judaism was a hindrance and had to be discharged. Then and only then was he free to pursue Christ and grow in his relationship with Him. 

Today we are forced to make those same comparisons. What in life really matters? What are those things that I once thought were so important that can be left behind? What are those things that we hold onto that give us a sense of importance, security, or value? For each of us that question may be answered differently. We only need one thing, and that is Jesus. He is our wisdom, our righteousness, and our peace. We also need each other. Relationships are not disposable and our mandate includes preferring one another. So, let us do the work of counting or considering those things that do not belong in the bag. Allow God to do the evaluating by His word and His Spirit in our lives, and let us focus on what is really the most important. 

God Is Not A Republican – Pastor Greg

God is not a republican. Actually, He is not a democrat, or a socialist, or a capitalist either. God is a sovereign monarch. 

A monarch is a sovereign head of state, sovereign in that He possesses supreme or ultimate power and authority. This is who God is. He has all the rights. Yet God is also gracious and has delegated responsibility to govern to human beings. We see in the account of Noah, after the flood (Gen. 9:5-6), God establishing the foundation for governance. Government is meant to restrain evil and reward good (Rom. 13:1-7).  Historically most of humanity has, and many presently live, under governments that are authoritarian, i.e. the citizens have no real role in the governing process. We as Americans live in a representative republic. We get to participate in our own governing – what a gracious gift this is! While we are blessed to live in a system such as we do, our hope and security does not rest on our government. I can often tell when my trust is misplaced by how I react when the “other” candidate gets elected. It is similar to when our favorite sports team wins or loses. If “we” (I’m not even on the team!) win, I’m elated, but if “they” lose I am down in the dumps. 

So the question can be asked: who has my heart? God, or a particular party, candidate, or political system? My heart belongs to God, it is to Him that I give my ultimate allegiance. This is also true for us as the church. I like this quote from David Platt: “As the church, we are not for Trump, we are not for Biden, and we are not for anyone else… The church is not for any political party or candidate, no, we are for Jesus.” As such our goal should be to magnify the name of Christ in all that we do. I am not saying something that we do not already know or believe, but I often need to be reminded and especially in a climate such as we have today. 

So, while our allegiance belongs to the Lord, we do have a stewardship entrusted to us. A steward is someone who looks after something that belongs to another. Voting is a wonderful right we have in this country. It is one of the ways in which we participate in our own governance. Our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people as described by Abraham Lincoln. As such we are stewards of that right and responsibility. God owns that authority, He has delegated it to us, so we are to use it accordingly. This reality should matter as we exercise our right to vote. When we vote let us do it with intentionality and care. 

So again, God is not a republican. Though we have the right in this nation to participate in our own government, our heart belongs to Him. Regardless of the outcome of this election we are called to peace. The apostle Paul encourages us to “be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God and the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In a few days we will have an election. Some will be happy with the results and others will not. Whatever the outcome, whether “our guy” or “our party” won or not, our hearts belong to someone else who is still seated on the throne, high and lifted up. We really are simply sojourners and pilgrims on this journey and will one day arrive at home. This should give us great comfort and hope as we navigate this life. 

Starvation Diet – Pastor Greg

I just finished a reading a book about the life of an American POW during WWII. He had been captured during the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944 and held until liberation in 1945. His story is one of incredible survival and bravery while standing up for what was right. During his time in captivity he defended fellow Jewish solders from the Nazi’s who would have separated and killed them. Though there were many lessons that I took away from the book, I would like to focus on one.

During the time of his captivity and that of thousands of other POW’s, food was in very short supply. It was part of a systematic plan of deprivation that was intended to break down the will and physical strength of the prisoners. It is estimated that the food intake of each soldier amounted to around 500 calories per day. These men were then subjected to heavy labor and freezing temperatures. This resulted in many cases of death by starvation and the POWs who survived lost between 50 and 80 pounds each. By the time of their liberation in early April 1945, when Patton’s  4th armored division broke into Germany, most of the POW’s were barely hanging on. 

This particular aspect of the ordeal stood out to me: the minimal amount of food that was provided, slowly starved those who ate it. Not only was the food low in quantity, it was low in quality. Much of the food provided was a kind of black bread that had as its main filler sawdust. This “bread” was eaten but not much, if any, nutritional value was found in it. I find in this a parallel to our spiritual lives and the food of the Word of God we consume. 

In Matthew 4, Jesus was at the beginning of His earthly ministry and was in the desert alone. After 40 days and nights of fasting, scripture says that He became very hungry. It was at this time that Satan came to tempt our Savior to sin. The temptation was for Jesus to take care of His situation without guidance from or reliance on His Father. Jesus responds to the devil with scripture: “It is written man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Jesus’s physical need was great, and His spiritual need was just as great and could only be provided by His Father. If Christ needed the Word of God to sustain Him how much more do we? 

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul is instructing Timothy regarding how things will be in the latter times. These last days will be marked by those who will fall away or walk away from the faith and will pay attention to false teaching. In a way these people were eating but the nutritional value was zero and thus led to lives that were wasting away. Paul tells Timothy to teach sound doctrine (teaching) to the believers, then they would be receiving good nourishment. Paul also says that it would need to be consistent and often. If the quantity of good food is low, then the results are the same as eating poor quality food. Paul encouraged Timothy that those under his responsibility must have good teaching and have it often. 1 Timothy 4:6, “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.” This would give the strength and vitality that their spiritual lives needed. 

Another question we might ask is what kind of food are we eating? It’s so easy for us to be eating junk food. It tastes great at first, but it does not really have much value. If our diet consists of only the fluffy cotton candy of the world, then we will begin to suffer for want of better nutrition. We must be nourishing ourselves on the Word of God consistently. Otherwise we will look like the emaciated half skeletons that were liberated from the POW camps, spiritually speaking. 

Not only may what we eat be of low quality, the amount we consume can also be an issue. If we are subsisting on what we hear just on Sunday or maybe a scattering of quick statements on the internet or radio, then it will not be long before we begin to suffer the effects. As Paul states in 1 Timothy 4, we must “constantly” be nourished on the Word. This is where our discipline comes in. We must regularly feed on God’s Word, daily even. So, the question for me is, am I subsisting on a starvation diet? Or am I regularly feasting on the good food the Lord has provided in His word?