Where Is There a Place for Law Enforcement in the PCUSA?

I was trying to find resources for a law enforcement memorial service and discovered no such thing existed in the PCUSA. Fortunately, the Methodists, Catholics and evangelicals have not declared war on the police as has the PCUSA. Here is a newsletter article I posted for my local church after the last GA. The PCUSA needs to understand they have alienated many of the law enforcement and public safety officers with their acerbic rhetoric rather than showing compassion and encouragement.
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” — Luke 17:3-4 ESV)
I am writing this from the General Assembly meeting for the PCUSA here in Portland, Oregon. Having attended six days of the conference I found the scripture introducing my note to you appropriate.
During the committee meetings, the overtures generally centered on apologizing to various groups of people for injustices that white people had inflicted on them over the past 300 years. This has been the case the past seven or so assemblies. In general, the overtures are sanctioned by the general assembly that usually requires the Office of the General Assembly or Missions Agency to study, create listening groups or require them to lobby the government to pass some legislation. Essentially, what is important within the denomination will have little impact outside the denomination.
I learned that the Presbyterian Church USA is 1/3 the size it was in 1982 at the time of the reunification. I heard all actions justified through the Confession of 1967 and little reference to Biblical passages or the teachings of Jesus. There was one particular overture that caught my attention. It “demanded” that the police, prosecutors and courts change their practices and the legislation they use to “inflict pain” on others. Nowhere was there a discussion about how the criminal justice is a reflection of the values and demands of those in power who make the laws. Then this morning a United Church of Christ pastor who was invited to preach, said the protest and violence against law enforcement officers was justified because of past social injustice. Many of these conversations had much to do with what those promoting the social justice aspect of the denomination called “civil rights”.
Honestly, I am troubled. I was in Birmingham, Alabama in 1972 and was caught up in the demonstrations in the spirit of Martin Luther King to promote non-violent responses to injustice. What impressed me most about Dr. King was his statement that forgiveness had to take place before healing and reunification can take place. There are no prayers of forgiveness here at the GA. There are no prayers of reconciliation of all of us as God’s people here. When I mentioned my time as a law enforcement officer of over 32 years and my concern that without giving consideration to those in the profession who are Presbyterian and the impact absolute repudiation of an entire profession dedicated to self-sacrifice and Constitutional principles, I was told that sometimes it is best that those in conflict with the church (translated their church) to leave. When the moderator candidates were asked how the denomination would address the churches, pastors and members who have left the Presbyterian Church. The response was that often it is good for those in conflict with the church (translated their church) to leave. Ironically in the same breath, those responsible for finances informed those in attendance that revenue is severely reduced due to the reduction of church and giving. Their response? Raise the per capita. As I left this afternoon to return to the motel, I decided I will not return for the last two days of the conference. It is not worth the emotional and physical toll. After the 15th time of singing “We Shall Overcome” I prayed to God for guidance. God said to stay away and reflect on what God’s mission is in our world. I will be listening to what the Spirit says. In the teachings of Jesus, I will strive to forgive. I am not quite there yet, but I will be there soon.
Please understand, for the most part, those who are attending are well-intended albeit, misguided individuals who come together after lively discussion to commune with one another. They trust their clergy to guide them.
I always enjoy when we meet at Presbytery meetings or church meetings as I always feel the Holy Spirit present when we get together because it is to serve the greater church of Jesus Christ. I do not feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in Portland, Oregon this week. We are not focused on the greater church here, only the internal issues of a shrinking denomination. I will spend the remainder of this time sharing the gospel with those I encounter in my walking about this community in the hope that those who have not heard the reassurance of forgiveness may experience it first-hand. That includes the message of forgiveness of one another.
Upon my return, I will also be reaching out to law enforcement and other criminal justice groups to ask for help in seeking disenfranchised officers who feel abandoned by their church. It is time for a new mission in this country designed to help those who help us.
Finally, I thank God for each and every one of you who follow Christ’s teachings who support one another and work to achieve the Great Ends of the Church.
May the blessings of Christ be with each and every one of you!
Pastor Gary

February 2017 Sermon Series

Pastor Gary will be preaching on the theme of Encountering Jesus the entire month of February. Each week will focus on an aspect of Jesus’ life and his encounters with people not so much different from us. Please be sure to attend each week to hear the full series. For this week’s scripture study, read John 3: 1-17

Feed My Sheep

This coming Sunday is often referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  Associated with this Sunday is the 23rd Psalm often called the “Good Shepherd Psalm.”  So what’s with all the shepherd themes?

Consider that during Jesus’ time a shepherd was a person of importance.  The shepherd was responsible for caring for large numbers of sheep.  Sheep were an important staple of the time and often helped to define the wealth of the owner. On a number of occasions Jesus used the example of sheep and the shepherd to teach his disciples and others about God’s love through Jesus for each of us. The shepherd is so caring of his flock that he would lay down his life for a single sheep.

John, Chapter 21 describes one encounter between Jesus and the disciples. The disciples had been fishing without success when Jesus appeared on the shore and asked them if they had caught any fish.  They told him “no” and he told them to cast their nets again and the Bible says they filled the net with fish.  Here, another symbolic illustration that without Jesus, we will not be successful in reaching others, casting our faith and sharing the glory of the gospel.

Later, Jesus shared a meal with the disciples and this is where Jesus asks Peter the question over and over as follows:

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”” (John 21:15-19 ESV).

I’m sure that Peter was a bit frustrated and confused.  What was Jesus asking him to do?  As was the case many times, Jesus had to provide an explanation to his disciples.  So, you may ask, what this has to do with you on this Good Shepherd Sunday?

If we love Jesus we will feed his sheep.  In this case, we will care for his people.  The care could literally be feeding and shelter but more importantly feeding others the good news of salvation and sharing the love of God. That is what Jesus was telling Peter and the other disciples and that is what he shares with us through the Spirit every single day.  If you love Jesus, tend to his sheep.

May the peace and love of Jesus Christ be with you as you travel through this week.

Pastor Gary

Christmas and Easter Christians

Easter Sunday has passed.  It is always a joy to look out to find the sanctuary overflowing with God’s people present to celebrate the joy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I stayed at church for a while after everyone had left.  In the silence I found in the sanctuary, I thought about how different it was than just an hour before with the sounds of children, adults talking to one another, the music and the joy of welcoming confirmation students into the membership of the church. I prayed every person would return next Sunday.

I thought about what everyone was most likely doing at the time after church.  I am sure there were meals, family gatherings, meeting for lunch elsewhere and a general appreciation for family and friends.  I suspect there was a lot of good will, joy and love shown the rest of that day.  The question is what happens when the excitement of the day wears off?  Family goes home, Monday starts a new work week and school is back in session?  Do we maintain that high level of spiritual awareness of Eastertide or do we tend to let the issues of the world drag us back into the daily a daily grind where God is set back on the shelf until the next opportunity for church?

I saw a cartoon the other day that has the pastor speaking to a couple on the steps of the church after the service.  The man tells the pastor that he (pastor) is in a rut because every time he comes to church the pastor is talking about the resurrection and birth of Jesus: In other words, the man only attends church on Christmas Eve and Easter.  Although it is a bit amusing, it is also sad.  How sad it is that some only experience God’s grace and congregant worship twice a year or maybe a few more if there is a wedding or a funeral. I just think about all the joy and excitement they miss out the rest of the year.  C&E Christians as they are referred to in the trade (Christmas & Easter) as that is when they practice their faith.  Some tell me they do not need the church to practice their faith, some say they do not need others to have a relationship with God.  Although I kind of doubt that I feel sorry for them because they are missing out on the renewal of God’s message of hope, miss out on learning more about God’s kingdom and most of all, the missing out of the experience of the Holy Spirit moving among believers during a worship service.  I am especially concerned for children who miss the chance of growing up in the church.  Sometimes if feels like church membership is kind of like joining the Eagles’ Club.  You join so you can have a wedding reception there or an anniversary celebration when needed but the rest of the time you don’t have any obligation.

The success of any church is the full participation of the members and friends of the church.  Without the help of everyone, both financial as well as through time and talent, the church will ultimately die.  I have been involved in a number of churches who found it necessary to close because of dwindling membership and finances.  Ironically, the final service always had a full house.  The people attending would wonder out loud what happened to “their” church, despite the fact they had stopped attending and helping the church years ago.  There were those who expressed relief that the church stayed open until their parents died so the funeral could be held in their “home” church.

When I hear these comments, I always want to cry.  What a waste of Jesus’ ministry in that community.  I think about how hard a community will fight to keep their school open because it is the center of the community and there is a fear the town will die after the school closes.  What about the church which is also a center of the community?  Why do they not fight as hard to keep it open?

I wonder…..

Some stay away because of some slight or some perceived issue that probably took place years ago.  Some stay away because they have stayed away too long.  Some stay away because they have lost their way and don’t know how to return.  This past week, I decided that I needed to work with a trainer at a gym again because my routine at home wasn’t working as well as when I was twenty years younger.  Returning to a gym where there were new faces, a new environment and kind of intimidating is uncomfortable.  The pain and discomfort I feel now about two weeks into the routine is even more painful.  It would be easy to quit, nobody would really notice except me and perhaps my family but they won’t say anything.  I know it is worth the pain and discomfort because I want to live to see my future grandkids and live many years to come to serve God.

I think that this experience is much like getting into the habit of going to church and getting involved either the first time or getting back.  The pain and discomfort will certainly be worth it when the time comes to meet Jesus and stand before God and say I did the best I could.

Do the best you can.  Get yourself to a church this Sunday.


Pastor Gary Smith

Hey Spirit!!!

Today (Sunday) during worship, we asked the Spirit to be with us.  Some people often think that asking the Spirit to join us in Church is akin to asking Nebraska fans to show up at a game.  The reality is that each time we pray, read the Bible or gather together, we do need to take time to reflect and to ask the Spirit to be with us.  The Spirit can open our hearts and minds to God’s message and direction for each of us.

This Sunday was important as it was a service of healing and reconciliation. Often we focus solely on the healing aspect as it pertains to physical ailment when in fact, healing applies to the spiritual parts of our lives, the emotional parts of our lives as well as our physical lives.  Part of healing is attention to reconciliation: both with God but with others.  It is a time to ask forgiveness but also to forgive.

I would encourage you to ask God to use the Spirit to guide you through times of healing and reconciliation.  If you would like to learn more about healing and reconciliation, please give us a call at the church, message us here or email us.

Pastor Gary

How Are We to “Do” Church?

Here are the questions I posed this Sunday to ponder for the rest of the week.

Here are the questions I asked everyone to consider the rest of this week.

Are we moving or simply meeting?

Are we making a measurable difference in our community or simply conducting weekly services?

Are we organized around a mission or are we organized around an antiquated ministry model inherited from a previous generation?

Are we allocating resources as if Jesus is the hope of the world or are the squeaky wheels of church culture driving our budgeting decisions?

Are we ekklesia or have we settled for kirche?

Welcome Back

Today during worship we talked about the need to remember that as much as church is for those of us who have been fortunate to have learned about and receive God’s gift of grace, that church is really about those who don’t come; those who are unchurched or nonbelievers. Much like the prodigal son who returns home to find his father rejoicing over his return and loving him unconditionally, as members of Christ’s Church, we too must recognize that those who are lost and return are just as important as those who have been around a very long time. The church is a place for broken souls and sinners. Some of us have been around longer than others but the truth is that all of us are God’s children and there is great rejoicing every time another person finds their way back to God.
Consider what role you play in helping others find their way back to Christ’s Church. What can you do? How can you help?

From the General Assembly Moderator

Heath Rada
12 mins ·
It is not my place as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA to endorse a specific candidate for President or to speak out negatively about others. For me, this is an extremely challenging test of patience. Trying to be objective and open to understanding God’s will in new ways is a constant challenge in a position where I regularly encounter faithful people who understand their positions in direct opposition to others.
What I CAN say is that we all need to test our thoughts about such matters as politics based on our Christian values. The following is obvious, but may need to be affirmed one more time.
Being faithful followers means we don’t speak “hate” while we stand up for what we believe is “right”. It means we find ways to focus our energies on what might be best for others, rather than just for us.
The separation of church and state should not apply to our personal decision-making relative to politics and how we vote.
In fact, to choose to separate our beliefs into various categories where our living a Christ- like life has bearing on some matters but not on others is in effect turning our back on God.
Sadly, too many of us – be we conservative or liberal in our religious orientation – are choosing to translate God’s Word in ways that make it convenient for us to follow a pattern we like or affirm even if it is in direct opposition to Christ’s teachings.
Let’s remember that loving our neighbor is not an optional commandment. Next to loving God it is the most important directive we were given by Christ. Love. Where do we see it being manifested in our complex world of politics?
May each of us apply the very familiar words of 1st Corinthians 13 to our personal as well as our political lives.
“Love is patient. It is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but it rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. ”
My friends, this is the Word of the Lord. Are we bold enough, unselfish enough, faithful enough to demand this from our leaders? Can we apply these words to our own behavior? Or do we think God’s Word is irrelevant to our politics – that such words are out of touch with reality? If the latter, may God forgive us.