Are Universalists, Atheists, and Agnostics the Only Ones Fit for U.S. Public Office? An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders From A Vermont Pastor.

Note: The following letter has been sent to Senator Bernie Sanders’ office.

First Church

Dear Senator Sanders,

I am a pastor in Manchester Center, Vermont, so I am one of your constituents. And I am concerned. You and I both know that Vermont has added to the rich history of religious freedom in our great country. I live 25 minutes from the Old First Church in Bennington, where the following plaque is placed on the side of the historic church building: “First Church in Vermont dedicated to separation of church and state. Congregation founded by those seeking religious freedom.” As you probably know, First Church was “gathered” on December 3, 1762, the first Protestant congregation in the New Hampshire Grants. They were “separatists,” believing that the government should neither establish nor restrict religious freedom. They were seeking religious freedom, not freedom from religion.

Your actions towards and comments to Russell Vought during his confirmation hearing for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget endanger our rich history of religious freedom as both a state and a country.

Here is why I am concerned, and here is why I write you today: not only because I believe you violated Article VI of the United States Constitution in imposing a religious test as a litmus test for somebody’s fitness to hold a government office, but also because you then released this statement yesterday: “racism and bigotry—condemning an entire group of people because of their faith—cannot be part of any public policy.”

As I have read your comments towards Mr. Vought and watched the video of your interaction, I am astounded at how quickly you have tied together personal faith that Jesus is the only Savior with an individual’s public policy. As Mr. Vought tried to express but was interrupted, Christians believe that all people are made in the image of God and thus should be treated with dignity and respect, even while we hold to Jesus’ statements such as, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

We do not have to be Universalists theologically to be able to hold public office nor to be good citizens in the Green Mountain State or in the United States of America. I believe that the founders of First Church would have been shocked at your statements as they were leaving a government that told them what they could and could not believe. We have reverted back to a government that has a religious test, but rather than church membership allowing entrance into government office, it is now philosophical membership in secularism that holds the keys.

I ask you to clarify and clearly articulate whether or not you truly believe that a Christian who believes that Jesus is the only way to salvation can no longer hold public office in this country. Are you saying that citizens who are not atheists, agnostics, or Universalists cannot serve as government officials? As you have been reminded already since Wednesday, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution declares, “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Evangelical Christians who hold to salvation in Christ alone may be a minority in our great state, but we are not racists or bigots, and our elected Senators should not make such broad-brush and intolerant statements.

I will continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, which means the “good news” of Jesus Christ. It is a message of reconciliation to God and fellow man. It is good news that we offer to all people who will listen: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) It is a message that says that although our sin condemns us before the holy God, that Jesus took our condemnation on the cross and rose from the dead so that believers in him will never stand condemned (Romans 8:1). And if somebody really believes that message, they will embrace Jesus not only for salvation but also to help them live a life of service and love to others. Jesus himself said that all of the commandments are summed up in love for God and love for others (Matthew 22:36-40).

I will not only continue to preach that message, I will continue to pray that those of us who believe in this good news will be allowed to serve in public office; not promoted because of our faith but also not prohibited from service because of our faith. I am writing to you today not because you are telling me I cannot preach this message, but because you are telling me that those I preach this message to are “hateful” not because of their actions, but because of their faith.

As a Vermont pastor, I ask my country for freedom to not only preach the gospel–but also for freedom for those I preach to–to hold their religious beliefs while also holding public office. If you return to our roots of religious freedom as a state and as a nation, the religious tests will stop. And you may find that those you classify as racists and bigots today not only believe that Jesus is the only way to personal salvation, but also that His way is a way of love that treats all persons with the utmost love, respect, and service–even in public office.

Sincerely,
Tim Counts
A Concerned Pastor in Vermont

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Jesus Is the Hope of Christmas: Our 2016 Advent Sermon Series

I love everything about Christmas.  The decorations.  The lights.  The snow.  The music. And yes, Christmas movies.  My wife and I began a tradition of watching “White Christmas” when we were first married, and last year we watched it in Vermont for the first time.  “Vermont should be beautiful this time of year, all that snow…”  Nope, just like the movie, it was 70 degrees on Christmas Eve.

I have noticed over the years that there is one recurring theme in every Christmas movie, even if it has nothing to do with the real Christmas story:  HOPE.  In “White Christmas,” it is the hope of snow and true love on Christmas.  In “It’s a Wonderful Life” it is the hope of finding purpose and joy in life again.  In “How the Grinch Saved Christmas” it is the hope of even the most depraved person finding their heart and caring for others again.  We could go on and on.  Hope–in every one.

the-hope-of-christmasI think this is because innately, people know that things are not the way they should be, and if a miracle is ever going to happen, a miracle that changes things, then why not on Christmas?  But as Christians, we know that the greatest miracle that ever could happen already happened on Christmas.  He is the reason for Christmas.  God was in the manger that night.  God entered into our suffering world, physically.  God Himself appeared in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ.  God is not “out there,” God is here.  Jesus is Immanuel–God with us.  That is why we celebrate Christmas, because Jesus didn’t just give us hope in the past, Jesus’ salvation and presence today gives us hope today.

Our community and our world need hope, and Christmas gives some unique opportunities to share true, lasting hope–even gospel hope!  I will be preaching 3 sermons leading up to and including Christmas, to prepare our hearts as we seek to celebrate the Savior:

  • Jesus is the Hope of Christmas Because God Always Keeps His Promises
    (December 11, Matthew 1:1-17, the Genealogy of Jesus)
  • Jesus is the Hope of Christmas Because He Will Save His People From Their Sins
    (December 18, Matthew 1:18-25, the Birth of Christ from Joseph’s perspective)
  • Jesus is the Hope of Christmas Because He Offers Eternal Joy For All People
    (December 25, Matthew 2:1-12, The Visit of the Wise Men)

I can’t wait to celebrate Jesus with you–the true hope of Christmas!  And yes, I am hoping for a white Christmas.

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Only God Can Write a Story that Starts Out Perfect and Ends Better

Note from Pastor Tim: for privacy reasons, the names have been changed.

Words of Comfort from God’s Word at a Memorial Service in our Community

This afternoon, as I have the opportunity to bring you a message of hope from God’s Word, I want us to think about the basic message of the entire Bible in less than 10 minutes as we look at 4 movements in the Bible, just like a symphony has different parts or movements. Immediately as humans when we are faced with a tragedy like this, when it is forced on us that someone who we saw at the park a few days ago took his own life 2 days later, we want answers. I have heard many try to figure out answers over the last few days. What we do know though is that we will never have a final answer, except to accept that this is a choice that Sam made, and to not take responsibility ourselves. The immediate thought is, “If I had only known ______________.  Or if I had only done __________________.”

But the Bible gives answers for how things like this can happen. The Bible, as a message from God, faces reality. It does not gloss over the fact that we live in a broken world.

But this brokenness is not how it all began. The Bible begins with God, and God making a perfect creation. God created man and woman, and He created Adam and Eve in His own image. God set humankind apart because He simply spoke when He created everything else…but when He created man and woman, God touched them. He formed them with His own hands out of dust and the Bible says in Genesis that God breathed into them to give them their breath. This means that humans are different than any other part of God’s creation. We are made in God’s image. This means that every one of us in this room, whether elderly or disabled or healthy or in our 20s or in our 70s has meaning and a purpose in life. And that purpose, that identity is given to you by God Himself when you come to know God as your Savior through Jesus Christ.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The 1st movement in the Bible is Creation, and when God finished His work of creation He looked at it and said that it was, “Very good.”

The 2nd movement in the Bible is the Fall, and this is where sin and evil and suffering and brokenness enters God’s perfect creation. When Satan came to tempt Adam and Eve they had a choice to either obey God and to be His representatives on earth as they were made in His image, or to try to be King themselves and do things their own way. This rebellion against their Creator is when separation from God and suffering first began to happen, and it is the reason that we live in a world in which there is so much pain and hurt and tears.

From the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, the Bible explains how they no longer had a close relationship with a holy God and death even entered the world. Their own son Cain even killed his own brother Abel, and Adam now had to work hard to put food on the table and Eve now had pain in childbirth. Creation began to unravel. The rest of the Bible, from the moment of the Fall or sin entering the world in Genesis 3 to Matthew chapter 1 when Jesus comes on the scene, is a picture of what happens when people try to be King rather than letting God be King.

Then we have the 3rd movement of the Bible. First we saw Creation, then the Fall which answers why there is so much pain in the world today, then the 3rd movement is the Cross. Mark 1:1 explains it like this, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Do you know what “gospel” means? It is good news! It is not just any good news, it is an announcement of something that has been done for you.

Religion tells you that you have to do “x” “y” and “z” to be able to work your way back to God, but the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ—tells you that Jesus has already done “x” “y” and “z” for you. The diagnosis for you and I is worse than we ever imagined. We are more wicked and evil than we ever imagined, but the good news is that we are more loved and important than we ever imagined. Jesus came to give us life, to give us forgiveness, to bring us to God. So Jesus lived for 33 years exactly like you would expect a man who is also fully God to live—healing, loving, caring for and teaching those who were the most rejected by the rest of society like the lepers and the sick as we read in the Gospels—doing miracles because He was fully God and the wind and the waves knew His voice. And then Jesus died on a cross to pay the punishment for your sins, the punishment you could never pay, and then He rose from the dead, to show that the price for your sins had been paid in full—and so that all who trust in Him alone for their salvation can become children of God.

Jesus brings us back to God! Jesus explained how He came to reverse the work of the devil in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” You see, we saw the Fall earlier. Satan comes to destroy, but Jesus comes to give life!

But it doesn’t end there. This is where the 4th movement of the Bible comes in, the New Creation. The Bible started out in a Garden, and at the end of the Bible there is a Garden in the capital city of Heaven, the New Jerusalem. Only God can write a story that starts out perfect and ends better.

Here is God’s promise for all who will trust in Jesus alone for their salvation, and accept that the good news of the gospel is that the work has already been done by Jesus: we just have to accept salvation and confess that we have sinned, and that we want Jesus to be our King and Savior, and ask Him to save us and help us to follow Him.

Here is what God promises for all who will do that, in Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will be with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.” Do you notice how at the beginning of the Bible humans were made to be with God, but then sin separated us from God, Jesus came to bring us back to God, and then in the end we can be with God if we have trusted in Jesus?

God goes on in Revelation 21: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”  God will make everything sad come untrue.

Today, we wipe away our tears with Kleenex, but on that day God Himself will wipe our tears away. Will you be there? Have you asked Jesus to save you? It’s ok to shed those tears now. When Jesus was faced with his friend Lazarus’ death, Jesus wept even though He would raise him from the dead just a few minutes later.

One of the things that I will miss most about Sam is seeing him at the park. My family loves going to the Manchester Rec Park and in fact that is the last time that I saw Sam just over a week ago—we waved and smiled at each other. About 1 year ago, I was with my 2 youngest who loved seeing “Mr. Keene” at the park, and Sam stopped me and said, “Pastor Tim—I need to show you some things on my phone. Why do I keep seeing crosses everywhere?” And he showed me picture after picture of shadows of a cross that he would see in nature or somewhere. I told Sam that day what I beg you to believe today so that you can be part of this New Creation that God will create for those who believe in Jesus, “Sam, the cross reminds us of God’s love for us. Romans 5:8 explains, “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’”

Do you know God’s love? God wants to comfort you today, but you need to come to Him and trust in Jesus only.

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Pastor Tim’s Sermons

Here you can have access to my latest sermons, preached at Northshire Baptist Church in Manchester Center, VT:
http://northshirebaptistsermons.blogspot.com/

Here are my sermons while I was the Pastor of Family Ministries at Immanuel Bible Church in Bellingham, WA:
http://ibcbellingham.org/sermon-speaker/tim-counts/

bible on pulpit

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Why We Actively Support a Local “Crisis Pregnancy Center”

Each Spring since my family and I arrived in Bellingham for me to be the Pastor of Family Ministries at Immanuel Bible Church, we have joyfully participated in the Whatcom County Pregnancy Center Walk for Life. There are many reasons to share about why we do this, but let me explain a few:

1) God cares about every life.   “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) Every time that God talks about the unborn or children in the Bible, it is positive. God is actively and personally involved in the unborn’s life—and the LORD calls them babies even before they are born (Luke 1:43-44, Jer. 1:5, Job 31:15, Is. 44:2, Job 10:8-12).

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The 2013 Walk for Life–with a few friends from our church!

2) Doing the Walk for Life is good for my kids. Our children are too young to understand abortion, but when we go to the Walk for Life and explain that we are there to help mommies be able to help their babies live, they understand that it is important. They also understand that our faith should not just be something we talk about, but something we try to act on as much as we can. We pray together before and after for the babies and their parents, and that they would find the hope of Jesus.

3) My kids being present at the Walk for Life is good for others. Whether they are people on the street that see us walking, or the single elderly man in our church who comes out to support the WCPC every year, having kids present at the Walk for Life is a reminder of why we are doing it. These are kids who were not aborted. There are children who should be in our community who are not because of abortion. In fact, the equivalent of this year’s graduating classes at both Bellingham High School and Sehome High School are surgically aborted every year just in our county—415 who would have graduated in the year 2033.

My wife Melanie and I actively support the work of WCPC because we care about what God cares about. After almost a decade serving in Youth and Family Ministry, we have known teenagers who lived with the regret of abortion and needed to understand God’s grace, and others who needed to understand God’s truth and grace as they were pregnant and needing encouragement to have their baby. The WCPC is a place where teens and women in our community that we would never have contact with on our own can go and hear both truth and grace.

Roe v. Wade happened six years before I was born. As Christians, we cannot let abortion become “white noise” to us simply because it has “always” been there. It is always the time to stand together for life. If a woman hears the Gospel for the first time in her moment of crisis and also decides to not abort because we raised pledges and arrived before 9am on a Saturday with our children in tow, then praise God! What a small sacrifice for a life and eternity-changing ministry.

As citizens of only four countries in the world that allow abortion for any reason after viability (North Korea, China, Canada and the U.S.), and as Christians, we must do something. In addition to the Walk for Life, Melanie has helped with a Baby Shower that our church hosted, attended the WCPC Annual Dinner, and I recently brought our High School Ministry to pray in front of Planned Parenthood and then pray in front of WCPC after a Bible study on what God thinks about the unborn. At this stage in our lives, we can’t personally be there to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the women and men who come into those doors scared and looking for answers. But we can support those who are the hands and feet of Christ there on a daily basis! And sometimes that is as simple as going for a walk.

*This article will appear in the WCPC April 2015 Newsletter.

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Jesus Loves the Little Children

In light of preparing for a new Good News Club to begin in a neighborhood school, a Children’s Ministry Worker’s Training this Sunday, and our High Schoolers recently praying for the unborn and their mothers in front of Planned Parenthood–I wanted to repost this. What does God really think of children? We only need to look to Jesus…

He Must Become Greater

The recent 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, bringing with it the realization that over 50 million children have been aborted in America since 1973, has made me consider again how God views children.  Why did I tell the Children’s Ministry volunteers at our church recently that if they are involved in Family Ministry, they are involved in a ministry that is close to the heart of God?  How do you think about your own children?  Is it true that God has a soft spot of affection for little children?

I could give you verse after verse right now that affirms this truth.  Every verse about little children in the Bible is positive.  But to see what God thinks about children, we simply need to look to Jesus who is God incarnate.picture 14

I used to wonder if the paintings that we often see of Jesus holding children on his lap were true.  Does it…

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A Prayer for My Children This Christmas Season

Father,

As I think about picking up my 2 year old son out of his crib this morning, hearing him chatter in 2 year old boy talk about the mini Christmas tree in his room, it strikes me that Jesus did not only come as a little baby but also grew up as a boy.  The Word who became flesh learned how to form words with his mouth.  How incredible.  How humble.  How like us and yet unlike us you are, Jesus.

As we approach Christmas Day, my prayer is that my children would not miss Jesus for Christmas.  I know this starts with me, Father.  Would you strip away idols of materialism and picture-perfect white Christmases from my heart and help me to shine the spotlight on Jesus brightly this Christmas?

Would you answer the prayer that all of the decorations and cookies and parties and even Christmas programs this Christmas season would not cover up the manger, but rather point my children to it?

nativityMay Christmas cookies remind them that only in Jesus will they “taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Psalm 34:8)

May gifts this Christmas even point them to the greatest treasure, Your own Son.

May our Christmas tree point to the tree that the Messiah would die on for their sins.

May we celebrate like people who have a reason to celebrate, because the good news of great joy that a Savior has come is the greatest reason to celebrate.  But as we enjoy our celebration, may we never forget the reason we’re celebrating.

I know that this would take a miracle to do in my children’s hearts just as it takes a miracle in my heart, but I confess with the angel Gabriel, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)  I know that You long for my children to behold and to believe in Jesus more than I do Father, because You are zealous for Your own glory.  Make it so–as the star shone for the magi, shine in my children’s hearts so they can see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6) this Christmas!  As the angels pointed the shepherds to the glory that was in the manger that night, help my wife and I to point our children to the Glorious One who is reigning in Heaven today because He was lying in the manger that night.

We adore you, Jesus.  May this Christmas be about adoring You!

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