Political Grace

Over forty years ago, the Lord led me down a distinct path through an interesting twist in my grace journey. While pastoring in St. Paul, Minnesota, I was introduced to two politicians that God used to lead me in a different direction that would alter the course of my ministry and our family. God’s grace has led us all the way!

I was asked by the fledging Minnesota Association of Christian Schools (MACS) in the winter of 1975-76 to “look into” the Minnesota Capitol as a legislative liaison. I was clueless, but agreed to try. Our church had not yet launched a school, but we were located less than three miles from the seat of government in Minnesota. Our sincere goal was simply to operate Christian schools that were legitimate educational entities, but free from governmental interference. Our assumption stemmed from a strong conviction that religious liberty was granted by our country’s Bill of Rights.

My first step toward assuming these responsibilities was to ask for help. My good friend, and church member, Wes Budke was a state trooper assigned to guard the governor, and I asked Wes if he knew of any Bible believing Christians in the legislature. Wes said that the governor recently visited the home of a politician in the southwestern part of the state, and the governor asked for a beer. The legislator said he didn’t have any beer, but they could offer him a soft drink. Wes said, “I think his name is Representative Menning, and maybe he is a Christian?”

Armed with those slim facts I headed for the Capitol complex on a cold winter day. In the House of Representatives building, I asked a uniformed guard for directions to Representative Menning’s office. After he searched the office listings, he said, “Nope, don’t see anyone by that name.” What he, and I, didn’t know at the time was that Marion “Mike” Menning was now a State Senator, and thereby had an office in a different building and was not on his list.

I thanked him and headed off to find an information office where I obtained literature about the workings of the legislature. A clerk in that office gave me pamphlets containing information about the legislative calendar and short synopses of proposed legislation. I also signed up to be on a mailing list. As I began to study this material I learned that a state representative had introduced a bill endeavoring to outlaw obscene movies from drive-in theater screens. I thought, “That’s a good idea,” and called the rep’s office and asked what we could do to help him with that effort?

The representative himself, Glen Sherwood, came on the line and I repeated my question. I’ll never forget Glen’s response. He asked incredulously, “Do you mean that?” “Of course” I replied, and explained who I was and why our organization would be interested in something that was a good idea for Minnesota, both morally and spiritually. That phone call led to a deep and blessed relationship with a godly man who is a sincere and brilliant Christian man. 

Glen had a Ph.D. in wildlife biology and was a careful, no-nonsense protector of hunting, fishing and environmental issues in his northern Minnesota district. And he was a Democrat. He was a smart, gracious, gentleman who was originally courted by both political parties to represent the area north of Brainerd, Minnesota. The story was the Democrats got to his house first, and he said, “Yes.” He was from an independent non-denominational church background, and I would learn later that he was as solid as a rock. After I left the state, he ran for governor as a Republican — by conviction. An amazing man.

Our group from MACS helped him move the bill out of committee by literally jamming the hearing room with over 100 Christian school students, teachers, and a few pastors. Nobody on that committee wanted to defend obscene movies (that were being shown in Glen’s district on an outdoor screen within easy view of the highway). I later learned that it was Glen’s wife, and her prayer group, who became burdened and determined that something be done. When that bill finally came to the House floor, the vote was something like 102 to zip. The ACLU guy who opposed us was livid, but was unable to convince committee members of that era to support his defense of obscenity that today might be considered sex abuse by even liberal politicians and pundits.

Glen introduced me to Senator Mike Menning, and we hit it off immediately. Mike was from a Christian Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota, in the southwestern part of the state. Mike is still a friend today and he sends a weekly “Great Commission Utah” email that chronicles his incredible missionary work among needy souls of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) so-called church. This is the group that is led by infamous Warren Jeffs, the man serving a life sentence in Federal Prison due to sex crimes against women and children.

Glen and Mike introduced me to a group of Christian Senators and Representatives who met every week for Bible study and prayer. They would invite their follow legislators to join them and offer to pray for their personal and family needs in a caring and godly way. I had a standing invitation to attend their meetings, and went often. I remember the men vividly. Glen, Mike, Senator Wayne Olhoft, Senator Gilbert Esau and Representative Gaylin DenOuden were the leaders and they met consistently. Gaylin is Mike’s brother-in-law and is now my facebook friend. These men were all from different church backgrounds, but they were all unashamedly born-again Christians who made their stand known publicly and privately.

These politicians had a wonderful bi-partisan gospel ministry. Years later, Mike Menning said in a phone conversation with me that it was us Baptist preachers (I introduced him to many of my fellow pastors) who taught him to be a “soul winner”. When I was asked to join the staff of the American Association of Christian Schools, because of these experiences in the Minnesota legisature, my dear pastor friends, led by Ed Johnson and Clarke Poorman, maintained a close and supportive relationship with these godly witnesses for Christ in the legislature.

Great Commission Utah

Mike & Dawn Menning

Both Glen and Mike went into the ministry after they left public office. Glen became a Bible college president and professor, before retiring to take a pastorate in Montana for a number of years. Mike became a pastor in the Salt Lake City area and served there for many years. Since stepping out of pastoral ministry, Mike has led in the launching of several missionary ventures. Most recently he has focused on his long-time interest in reaching lost souls in the FLDS communities of Arizona and Utah. I read Mike’s weekly emails now, where he regularly reports detailed accounts of leading specific FLDS men, women and young people to trust Christ alone as their Savior. What a joy! What grace!

Minnesota State Capitol

Over the last forty years in my travels all over the country, the Lord has allowed me to meet and be blessed by scores of politicians, and other dedicated servants of the Lord, involved in political endeavors. These have been men and women who serve in elected office, or in supportive roles, who give bold and clear witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. They are leaders in the affairs of life and in the ministry of grace. May their tribe increase!

More Grace

Last week I was again quoting the old baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, who sagely observed “it is like déjà vu all over again.” Exactly a year ago I was exiting the hospital from heart surgery, and this week I was undergoing emergency gallbladder removal. Glad to escape the hospital the day before Thanksgiving, and then quietly celebrating a very grateful day at home. Not real fun, but once again graciously orchestrated by a faithful God. 

There were no warnings or symptoms — just, wham! I got to the hospital before the surgeon left town for his previously planned Thanksgiving vacation. He did the surgery and was gone the next morning. But our Lord was in control of everything. I was even current with my preparations for winter guests at Maranatha Village. Snowbirds are beginning to arrive, and by January 1 things will be in full swing. Our team of helpers is functioning at high level and I will be able to answer questions from home as I heal.

A thought came to me from the phrase in James 4:6, “But He gives more grace.” Several years ago I embarked on an over-arching journey to explore Bible truth about God’s grace. This week I could not miss the realization that God’s grace toward me was again abundantly evident. Several truths jumped out to me as I meditated on numerous scriptural gems. The imprint of His grace on my life was noticeable and so encouraging. Again, I cannot miss the impression that God is not finished with me yet, and a great God organized personal circumstances to give me more grace.

That thought sent me on a quick search, and I found that in scripture there is never a hint of little, or small, or weak, or insufficient grace. The apostle Paul mentions and expounds on the subject of grace in many passages. He declares that grace abounds, is exceeding in riches and is sufficient for us in times of weakness and infirmity. Grace does not promise that everything will be easy or painless, but that God’s grace will be enough for our every need.

It is interesting that the Lord Jesus spoke several times about little faith, and at other times of great faith. And many scriptural passages highlight the greatness of grace, but never about “little” grace. Never. The book of Acts makes it clear that the “good news” of the gospel was spread and received widely — but it was all the work of grace that drew people to become believers in Christ and His redemptive work. Grace spreads and delivers the truth of the gospel, and grace confirms the power of the gospel in the lives of believers.

And here, this week — God was giving more grace. 

Annie Johnson Flint captures this thought in her poem…

  He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase,
To added affliction He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
 
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half-done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
 
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men,
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth and giveth and giveth again.

Searching to See God in the Psalms

One year ago today I was recuperating from my second heart procedure within a two week period. I wrote the following thoughts four months later when I returned to the hospital for very difficult bladder surgery. My resulting study in the Psalms during the intervening months sent me on the course to launch this blog Grace Journey.

In November of 2018, during the time I was dealing with several heart cath procedures, I began studying the Psalms with the purpose of focusing on God as I read. I wanted to especially key on what the Psalmists reveal about God’s person, character, works, and glory. This has been a very rich study and blessing.

I use the YouVersion Bible app on my iPad as I read. With the use of technology I can compare reliable versions as I study a Psalm each day. The app allows me to highlight verses in various colors. And I highlight in a yellow color any verse that says something specifically about who God is, what He does, how He acts, and especially what He promises.

I use other colors to highlight commands, lessons to be learned, and truths to ponder. But my main focus is on seeing the overriding message of God’s goodness, greatness and glory in each of the Psalms. This approach has been very enriching. I find each day that I have an eagerness to learn more about my God.

This week I reviewed the first 22 Psalms and made a cursory list of things that the text declares about our God. He guards, decrees, protects, delivers, vindicates, makes us safe and secure, leads us to righteousness, gives good favor, hears our appeal for mercy, is just, sovereign, majestic, does amazing deeds, rules, shelters, is faithful, restores, guides, and on and on. These are just some of the revelations of God’s greatness that are spelled out in Psalm after Psalm.

Not all of the Psalms are words of comfort. Some are Psalms of lament, instruction, warnings, and judgment. Many are Psalms of praise, promise and encouragement. But all of the Psalms are rich in theology – the knowledge of God. The Psalms magnify our great God and they reveal the coming Savior. What a privilege to daily ingest these truths and see the greatness of our God in His eternal Word.

Guest Post from Pastor Steve Benedict, entitled: “Lost!”

Gerry Carlson: For many years I dreamed of hiking the famous Appalachian Trail. Well, it is not going to happen. My time for such adventuring is past. But in 2012 Connie and I camped several days at Harper’s Ferry, WV, where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters is located. This building and store is considered the half-way point on the 2,200 mile trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine. We enjoyed examining the small museum at the HQ, purchasing a memento ball-cap, and meeting some bona-fide hikers. I’ve always admired those who hike the Trail – whether partially, or completely.

This past year I learned that one of my valued former students from Maranatha Baptist Bible College did a ten-day expedition through the Shenandoah National Park section in Virginia. Steve Benedict had completed 18 years pastoring at a Virginia church and was taking a sabbatical to consider his next steps in ministry. As part of a season of prayer and seeking God’s will he embarked on a solo hike on a segment of the Trail in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Below is an excerpt from a personal post that Steve wrote last June on his own blog. I asked Steve if I could reprint a portion of his excellent post on Grace Journey. His words of experience and learning are wise and profitable for us all. Read and be blessed!    

LOST!

Hogwallow Flats Overlook

On the Appalachian Trail there’s a special blaze to indicate a sudden or unexpected twist or turn in the trail. Instead of a single blaze, there’s a double blaze.  This warns the hiker that the trail is about to take an unexpected turn, so pay attention.

Somehow, I either missed that section in the hiking manual or forgot it.  So, as you can imagine, I was in for a rude surprise when I blew past my first double blaze on day two of my hike.  I had just passed Hogwallow Flats and reached the summit of Mount Marshall.  The trail meandered along the ridge of the mountain for maybe a half mile, getting more rugged and narrow all the time.  The views were stunning and there were striking rock formations all around, where ancient movements of the tectonic plates had thrust massive sedimentary rocks into all kinds of crazy angles.  The terrain had an other-worldly look. And then, there came the double blaze.  The trail took a sharp turn down the mountain and I, assuming that there was another scenic overlook just ahead, took a sharp turn up the mountain.

I didn’t notice anything for maybe 10 minutes.  I just kept wandering down what looked like a trail.  Maybe it was, for deer or bear or something.  But there came a point at which I knew I was lost.  Then, I compounded the error.  Since I assumed that the trail had gone up the hill, I headed off at a 90 degree angle to intercept where I thought for sure the trail would be.  It wasn’t.

At this point, there was no retracing my steps.  I stopped, got out my trail map and compass and tried to figure out what went wrong.  What I discovered was, even though I thought I was right, I was headed in the exact opposite direction and had been for a long time.

I charted a new course and headed out over some of the steepest, rockiest terrain imaginable.  It took me a good 45 minutes or more, but I eventually found the trail.  But there were some consequences.  I had blown about 2 ½ hours of time and energy- both valuable commodities for an out of shape hiker like me. And I had also shredded my feet.  The hard angles and rocky surfaces, untamed by a trail, created blisters and a stress fracture that dogged me the rest of the hike.

I learned some valuable lessons that day which carry over well into the journey of life.  Maybe you can benefit from them too.

Lesson 1) When you realize you are off track, STOP and return to where you lost your bearing.  Don’t try to fix it on your own, it only compounds the error. It was self-reliance that got you there in the first place.  The very moment you discover your’e lost, stop and return, God is waiting for you there (2 Chronicles 15:4).

Lesson 2) When you’re lost, everything looks like a trail. Have you ever noticed that?  The woods appear to be full of trails, but most of them lead nowhere.  When I was a kid, I’d walk in the woods near our house and follow supposed “trails,” imagining that they were Indian trails or deer trails, or bear.  Usually, the trail would dissolve into nothingness and leave me standing in the center of a briar patch. We call these rabbit trails.  When we stop relying on the Holy Spirit as our guide and lose our way, we become susceptible to all kinds of worldly rabbit trails. We think these trails will lead to fulfillment, but they never do.  Are you chasing a rabbit trail right now?

Lesson 3) When you’ve lost your way, don’t trust your feelings, trust your instruments. When I finally broke out the compass and map, I had an incredibly difficult time believing that I was headed in the exact opposite direction.  I’m headed east? That can’t be right! I looked at the map and the compass and double and triple checked it. It was really hard to turn around. To do so meant admitting that I had been going in the wrong direction for a long time.  Even in spite of all of the evidence, a part of me still thought, “Maybe if I just go a little farther, I’ll find that trail.”

God’s word and Spirit are the only true north in our lives.  God has given us completely reliable resources, but like Peter walking on the water, the surest way to sink is to get our eyes off Jesus and trust in our own strength and resources.

I learned a lot on the trail that day.  Sometimes people think they are lost but they aren’t, they just need to keep walking. Sometimes people know they’re lost and the battle is to find the humility and courage to turn around. But the absolute worst place to be, is to be lost and not know it.  It’s from that place of arrogance or ignorance that our souls are truly in danger.

Which describes you?

The Ministry of Mentoring

“…able to teach others also.” II Timothy 2:2

This week we had the sad human experience of saying an earthly farewell and remembering the life of Terry Price, our pastor at Maranatha Baptist Church. The striking characteristic of Terry’s life that emerged at his memorial service was his impact on others. As his son Oz declared; his dad’s faithfulness, friendliness and steadfast following of Jesus left a marked influence on their family and a host of individuals he touched.

Pastor Price’s grandsons serve as pallbearers to honor their grandfather.

This was especially seen in his 42 years of teaching and coaching young people in two different Bible colleges. Scores upon scores of students and players have spoken out this week about the significant influence Coach Price had on their lives. Members and friends of Maranatha Baptist Church have also expressed a similar testimony from the three short years Pastor Price led by serving the church ministry here in Sebring, Florida.

It is a distinct privilege to participate in the lives of others through mentoring, discipling, and sharing significant life-building relationships. At the memorial service I was able to reconnect with some of Terry’s football players that I knew from over twenty-five years ago when I served on the administration at Maranatha College. It was a distinct joy to see them going on – enthusiastically serving their Lord.

Pastor Ross Johnson, Coach Malmanger, Pastor John Morlan, and Pastor Rob Cronin.

While serving at the college, I was a big fan of the football team. That was especially influenced by my observation that some of the strongest spiritual leaders on campus, at that time anyway, were the leaders of the football team. This was no doubt due, in large measure, to the emphasis of Coach Price, and supported by his coaching staff. But it was obvious to me that these student athletes were genuinely “team players” and that spirit was exhibited by them in their attitude toward the whole student body.  

The football players were leaders in cheering for the other athletic teams, and they were excellent role models and encouragers for the new recruits on the squad. Football was seen as a realistic metaphor for life – and especially for the struggles and challenges of the Christian life.  

Twenty former players with Coach Mal and Colene Price at the graveside service.

One year a small group of underclassmen became involved in some off campus rule-breaking activity. They accepted the discipline meted to them, and were removed from the team. I reached out to those athletes and invited them to join other students for a Saturday morning prayer time. It was a good learning and growing time for me. And, as it turned out, it became a strategic support for our family because our Marine son was deployed into harm’s way during the period of Gulf War I. Those guys prayed with me and supported our family during a very difficult time.

I learned that the essential elements of mentoring are sharing, listening and encouraging. It is truly a gift flowing from God’s grace to have the privilege of mentoring and ministering in the building up of the body – the body of believers; serving together until Jesus comes for His own.   

IT’S BETTER TO BE IN HEAVEN

On Friday morning our great friend and faithful pastor, Terry Price, entered heaven’s portal and joined those already called home. Terry was diligently serving the Lord as pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church on the very day he was called to heaven. We mourn our loss — but for Pastor Price, or “Coach Price” as he was affectionately known by his Bible college students and football players, it is all gain.

Years ago, as a youth pastor, I wrote the following poem when a dear church member, and father of two kids in my youth group, was very unexpectedly promoted to heaven. It is homespun poetry that was influenced by a youth group camping trip to the awe-inspiring Colorado mountains a few months before.

 It’s better to be in heaven
Than to walk the plains of earth,
For a moment with Christ in glory
Defies any measure of worth.

Sure — I’d like to live on a mountain,
There the world looks majestic and grand;
But life is lived in the valley,
Where sin and disease grips the land.

Heaven must be like a mountain —
Where the struggles of earth seem small;
And the view of eternal values
Obscures the curse of man’ s fall.

Someday I’ll be moving to heaven,
When God has need of me there,
But now I must stay in the valley,
To tell of the Saviour’s care.

For Jesus has given the orders,
To strive with the forces of sin;
And tell the news of Salvation,
That Christ in His mercy might win.

I’d rather go on to heaven
But God has need of me here —
To love a lost world for Jesus,
And dispel men’s doubt and fear.

We sorrow not for our brother,
Who God has called from the strife;
We weep instead for the millions,
Who know no hope past this life.

Declare His Strength & Power

All of my life I have believed that our latter years are to be particularly important. That seems to be a sub-theme in Scripture. Many personages in the Bible made their greatest impact in the seasons of advanced age. Moses, Joshua, David, Paul, John and many others performed significant ministry in their later years. God clearly intends for each one of us to pass on His truth and testimony to the next generations. This thought is certainly expressed in Ps. 71:18.

But our later years are often filled with doctor’s appointments and medical procedures. I had one this week. It seems that we are being relegated to the sidelines more and more. All of these experiences remind us of our waning strength. But they should prompt us to remember that it has been His strength – not ours – that has brought us this far. In Psalm 40 we are reminded that, “Many, O LORD my God, are your wonderful works which you have done; and your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to you…”

We are left with this challenge, as gray heads, in our most important years of life. We are urged to leave a legacy that trumpets God’s greatness, strength and power to the next generation. We are to tell of His works in a way that points to His greatness and glory, and not just to our exploits and wisdom. Ps. 111 declares “He has caused His wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.” It is His faithfulness that we are to declare.

The Psalmist then delivers this punch line: “He has shown his people the power of His works…” God has shown His works of power in the pages of Scripture, in the record of history, and in the experiences of our lives. Not that history and experience equal, or validate, Scripture. They don’t. But the Psalmist in Ps. 37 explains “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” Throughout our lives we have witnessed the faithfulness of an all-loving God, and we are to declare that testimony to those who follow.

God is true to His Word. That is what God’s Word tells us. That is what history and our experience confirms to us. The Lord is faithful to His promises. He is faithful to His Word. He cares for his own. We need to declare those truths and exalt the faithfulness of God’s character – His promise keeping character. That is what we need to leave to the generation to come. We need to leave a testimony of His strength and His power.