Hello to you all, both long-time and new!

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I would like to acknowledge and say a big THANK YOU to all of you who have recently started following this blog. I truly appreciate the time you take to read and respond.

For those who have been reading, putting up with, and/or groaning over the past 3+ years, a hearty thanks to you as well!

It occurs to me that those falling under the newer category might not know all the backstory that comes along with me. I’d like to take this opportunity to allow you the opportunity to catch up!

As I am embarking on a somewhat new aspect of my journey as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have been asked to write an essay introducing myself to the folks who will be considering me for a Rostered (ordained) ministry position within the Lutheran Church. The following is an excerpt from that essay. It is my hope that you, New Dear Reader, will take the time to get to know me a little better (and for those who have heard much of this, you may hit the like button and be on your way).

Thanks once again for sharing the ride with me.

Part 1: My Story

I was born on January 11th, 1960 in Oswego New York to Kenneth and Evelyn Copps. I have one older brother, Carl. I had a happy home-life growing up in in that small town. My parents provided for all our needs and most of my wants in a caring way. Dad worked full-time as a machinist while Mom stayed at home. I had some close friends through the years and it seemed we always congregated at my house. It was warm and open to everyone.

My parents were Roman Catholic and raised my brother and me in that faith. It never meant much to me as I saw going to church largely as an inconvenience on my time. Other than Confirmation, weekly Mass was my only exposure to Catholicism. Things of faith were rarely if ever brought up at home. Tending to shirk responsibility in those days, I was more than happy to do my 60 minutes per week at church and leave faith at that.

At the age of eighteen I opted out of regular church attendance, going back only to be married in 1983. My wife and I attended her local church, Holy Family in Fulton, New York for a brief period after marriage, but that attendance soon faltered as well.

I was well into the downward spiral of alcoholism at this point. The ensuing years are a blur even now. Finally, with my health failing, my wife ready to leave and at the brink of financial disaster, I sought help. A three week stay in a detox-center followed by a 28-day rehab helped prepare me to live a sober life.

It is at the beginning of recovery that my faith life came to be. In fact, I count both my sobriety date and the date of my salvation the same: May 3rd, 1991. It seems that the Bible stories I sat through as a child had some affect after all! I knew in my spirit that the Higher Power the AA literature speaks of was in fact Jesus Christ. I received His forgiveness at the detox-center and have been a follower of His ever since.

That last sentence hardly speaks to the wonder of these last 29 years. I owe a great debt of thanks to Pastor Brent Dahlseng. He took a great interest in my spiritual journey. He encouraged me to read God’s word and to become a person of prayer. He was a tremendous mentor and friend as he helped me navigate my new life with purpose.

God has been faithfully persistent as He continues to call me to His service. Starting as a Small-Group apprentice leader, I have now had the privilege of being on many different prayer ministries as well as hospital visitation teams.

As the Lord has helped me to discern His call on my life, I attended seminary (Rockbridge Seminary) and was granted a Master of Divinity in 2014. We had begun a home ministry by this point and the schooling and training the seminary provided me had enriched my ability to serve. This has proved especially true in my Hospice work as I provide pastoral care to patients and their families.

I was ordained by the Elim Fellowship of Lima, New York in April of 2018. I have had the pleasure to officiate at weddings and our home ministry is now ‘on the road,’ as we serve people in their homes by providing bible study, counseling and the opportunity to worship.

It is with much anticipation that I enter into this next phase of ministry. I continue to trust God will reveal His will to me as I embrace a deeper understanding of Lutheran theology in the service of the church.

Blessings to you all,

Pastor Chuck

A Whole New Meaning to ‘Be Still’

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With New York State pretty much such down in hopes of preventing the further spread of Covid-19, many people are faced with something they have longed for, time.  In my walks around the neighborhood with Violet, I have seen a good number of garages and sheds being cleaned out.  No doubt similar cleanings, sorting and discarding’s are happening in their homes as well.

This is time well spent.  Betsy and I did some of it ourselves as we cleaned out a large closet, taking the opportunity to rid ourselves of things no longer used or long forgotten.  There is a feeling of satisfaction that comes at the completion of these tasks.

But I wonder, what will the majority of folks do once the tidying up is done, especially if this mandated quarantine stretches on.  There is just so much busy-work to do to fill the void left in our schedules.  May I suggest, Faithful Reader, that you put some of this time to the best use of all, getting to know God better.

Allow me to share with you how I endeavored to do this today.  As I was reading through the Book of Psalms, I came to a passage that is familiar to many:

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:10 NIV)

I have read and taught from Psalm 46 any number of times, but that in no way makes me an expert or learned theologian.  Realizing my limitations, I took to some of my reference materials out (and there are some very good ones on-line as well), in an attempt to learn more of what God is telling us when He says to be still and know that He is God.

As usual when I make the effort to get more understanding from the Almighty, He doesn’t disappoint.  The word still, as it was used in the original Hebrew, carries a different meaning than what I was anticipating.  To me, being still is just that, to stop moving or doing.  The original language takes this to a new level however.  To be still, as it is written here, means to hang limp, or sink down.  It has the sense of being feeble.

Working with this definition, it becomes clear to me that God wants more than just me stopping activity.  Rather, this scripture is reminding me to recognize my frailty, my lack of significance in the big picture and my over all weakness in the face of a global pandemic.

As I get my mind into this place, I can then better appreciate the rest of what God is saying here.  Once still in the sense of the original word, we are then to know that He is God.  I did the same research on the word know.  This particular word carries a similar meaning to the way we use it today.  It basically means to recognize or understand what is being presented.

But then it goes a little farther.  There is an intimacy attached to the Hebrew word to know as it is used in this passage.  This makes the knowing much more than simply a textbook-type learning.  It becomes a matter of the heart by seeing our great need of God in all things.

When we are still in this context, it becomes possible to begin to fathom how much we need God.  My wife Betsy often says, “The more I get to know God, the more I realize how much I need Him.” That sums up Psalm 46:10 very well my dear!

So Friends, what do you think? Is slowing down to know God better in the midst of a shutdown of life a good idea? Please let me know how you might be doing this.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Powerlessness

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It was shocking and saddening to see the millions of people in Texas who had to brave the extreme cold without heat for their homes because of the recent severe winter weather there. Many prayers, mine included, went out for God to keep them safe and to provide the basics for survival. Many on the ground there did step up to provide what they could.

There is little in modern life that causes such great disruption to us than the loss of power. I can attest to this myself, as over the years both ice storms and electrical storms have knocked out power in our small city a number of times. When this occurred during the winter, keeping the kids warm was the priority and during the warm months trying to preserve food in the refrigerator and freezer took precedent.

In those cases, as well as the current one in Texas, as life-altering as being without power is, there remains the hope and even assurance that service will be restored eventually. Be it an inconvenience for 6 hours or a struggle for 6 days, some flicker of hope remains that things will again return to normal sooner or later when the juice starts flowing again.

But I had a reminder of a far more permanent type of powerlessness the other day. A man that I admire greatly asked that we might have a discussion of powerlessness at the AA meeting we were both attending. Though this man has in excess of 6 years of continuous sobriety, is a cancer survivor and survived the attacks of 9/11; this particular day brought powerlessness to the forefront of his mind as it marked the anniversary of the death of his sister from a drug overdose.

Powerlessness for the addicted is described in the first of the 12 Steps of recovery. We read this (and all 12 Steps) at the beginning of every meeting: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or drugs) and our lives had become unmanageable.

As we took turns talking about what this meant to us individually, it occurred to me again the complete powerlessness I have over my alcoholism. Unlike when the heat or the electricity go out, I have no hope that any sense of normalcy will ever be within my grasp. Being powerless tells me that if I should pick up another drink, I have no idea when or if the roller-coaster of craziness will ever stop. It is not the 10th drink that will get me drunk, as we are fond of saying, but the first one. For it is that one that unleashes the dominance of alcohol over my mental and physical being. Once imbibed, I am truly helpless and hopeless. I am in the dark with no hope of escape.

The great blessing I get to experience today is that I do not have to take that first drink. Discussions like we had at that meeting the other day serve as a tremendous reminder of what the hell of drinking was like. When I face each day honestly admitting my powerlessness, I become able to recognize that I have the greatest of all hope and power available to me.

A part of the AA Preamble, also read before every, meeting states: But there is one who has all power. That one is God, may you find him now.

Though not a religious program per se, those like myself with some understanding of who this God might be come to realize that He holds the only means of escape from the powerlessness of addiction. In Him lies the hope that ‘power’ can be restored. But make no mistake, this is not power given to me so that I can attempt to navigate on my own again.

Rather, it is a heaven-send invitation to tap into a source of power that never will be shut off. God gives it in abundance to those who truly want it for what it offers; the power to live addiction free.

For me, having had this power made available has done so much more than simply allow me to set the drink down. By humbly acknowledging my helplessness, God has stepped into my life with His life giving love. By doing so He has not only alleviated the physical compulsion to drink, but has also healed me of the mental struggle and anguish that accompanies an addicted life.

I share this today for several reasons. One is to honor my friend who lost his sister to addiction. By openly sharing his pain, those of us with him at that meeting were given the chance to again examine the reality of our own powerlessness.

I share this also as a beacon of hope. If you or someone you love is in the life and death struggle that defines addiction, please know that there is a way out. I testify that as God has poured out His infinite might into my powerlessness, and in so doing He has freed me to live a life filled with purpose and joy.

My experience teaches me that He has a never-ending supply of this power available. I have seen it at work in so many lives, and I see it still reaching people today.

Remember, you have not lost by admitting you are powerless. In fact, you have taken the first step toward a whole new, addiction free life.

Blessings to you,

Pastor Chuck

Ash Wednesday: What and Why

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(This blog was first published in March 2019)

Many of my dear sisters and brothers in Christ will be receiving ashes on their foreheads today.  As a non-denominational pastor, I’d like to share a few thoughts about Ash Wednesday means to me. 

I was born to Roman Catholic parents.  They faithfully went to Mass each Sunday, dragging my brother and me along with them.  They also hit all the Holy Days of Obligation with us in tow.  That meant that we got ashes on our foreheads every year at the beginning of Lent.  At the time, all I cared about was that this was bringing us closer to Easter and a basket filled with yummy treats.

As I got a little older, I listened to the readings at these gatherings, again without any real impact on my life.  As soon as I was old enough to decide whether I wanted to continue down my parent’s path of religious belief, I opted out.

Many years later life-changing things happened to me, and I found myself back in a church.  This time it was Lutheran.  These good folks also had a special midweek gathering at the beginning of the Lenten season where they, too, had ashes put on their foreheads.

By this time, thankfully, I knew more about the reasons behind this, which gave me a better appreciation of the symbolism.  My faith journey continued and my family and I landed in a non-denominational church.  I was, and am, still deeply moved by this approach.  When church life here is lived in the proper light, this church answers to God and not the traditions of men.  Therefore, I found no Ash Wednesday celebrations among these good people.

More time has passed, and I am now an ordained pastor of a non-denominational ministry.  What may be surprising to some is that I will be assisting at an Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran Church this evening.  How did this come about, you might be asking?

My wife and I have been blessed to become friends with the Pastor of the local Lutheran Church.  She is a dynamic person of God, whose devotion to the Word, to prayer, and to others is inspiring.  We met at an ecumenical gathering of local pastors who get together every Saturday morning at 7 to pray for revival in our area.

Pastor Wheatley has invited Betsy and me to participate at this evening’s service at her church: Betsy will lead us in song and I will help distribute ashes.  This is what got me thinking about this topic today.  Why me?  And why ashes?

Non-denominational or not, I have concluded that the receiving of ashes on this day is a very good thing to do.  The ashes themselves symbolize three things: our sinfulness, our mortality, and the hope we have in God through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The first two of these of go together; the bible teaches (and my life proves) that all people are hopelessly lost in sin.  Only God, in His mercy, can save us from eternal doom.  The ashes remind me of this fact today.  They also serve to refresh my memory about my own mortality; that no matter how good I feel physically today, at age 59, I am still much closer to the end of my natural life than I am to its beginning.  When this sobering thought is taken with the first point made, I am ever so glad for the third one!

The ashes, placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, are a visual reminder of the reality of the love of God for us all.  Jesus, God’s Son, chose to die an awful death on a cross in order that sinners (that’s all of us) could be saved.  Peter expressed it this way: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I can’t save myself, and no other human can do it for me either.  Only faith in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can.  The ashes on my forehead remind me of this awesome truth again today.  I’ll gladly hand them out and humbly receive them.  The only title I bear today is follower of Christ, for it is the only one that truly matters.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

I’m Gonna be a Star!!!

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Well, um, not really. But I did have a pretty cool experience under ‘the lights’ yesterday. As many of you know, my wife Betsy and I have a unique hobby: We sing our national anthem at sporting events and other activities around the Central New York area. We’ve been doing this since the attacks of 9/11 as way to show our support and appreciation for all those who put their lives on the line for others.

Also, if you’ve been reading this for the past 6 weeks or so, you know that I am a huge proponent of getting vaccinated against Covid-19 when it becomes available to you.

Anyway, back to the bright lights, these two areas of passion in my life brought about the opportunity to bring them both to the forefront. A community action group called, Health Care Equity Task Force got wind of our talents and support of the vaccine and invited us to be videoed singing our rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. After we did this, and because I have received both of the shots, they had me sit down for a taping of my thoughts about this particular vaccination.

Pondering this experience the following morning, I began to see the connection between our presenting of the anthem and getting vaccinated. As I said above, we sing to honor this country that we love. That’s not to say I/we are naively unaware of the many challenges facing America today. I do not filter my view through the lens of any political party. I stay informed on the issues and daily pray that God will intercede on behalf of our land with a sense of His peace and leading.

Given the platform to perform the national anthem, we do so because, flawed as it is, this is still the greatest country on the earth; and even more so, we recognize that a vast number of people we will never know personally have and are performing duties and functions that protect us all. We sing to honor, respect and remember.

Getting vaccinated against Covid takes the same approach for me. Yes, I do not want to contract this thing, but I primarily have gotten the shots to serve others. I will never know, nor do I need to know, the positive affect my getting vaccinated is having. The point is, in my opinion, to put yourself in the place of others. By putting their well being at least on a par with my own, I tend to see the simple necessity of receiving the shots as doing the next right thing for others. I did it for the common good, as I attempt to honor, respect and remember all.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

PS: I will let you know when and where the video is to be released, most likely sometime this spring.

C

“That tears it!”

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“That tears it!” I am certain most if not all of us have used this expression at a frustration in life. For me, I find myself uttering this toward the end of a game I am watching when a score by the other team effectively removes any chance of my group winning. By and large, ‘that tears it’ is most commonly spoken during a straw that broke the camel’s back occurrence. And rarely, if ever, have I heard this idiom used as an exclamation of something good happening.

But as sometimes happens within the quirky workings of my mind, I read something that caused me to put a different spin on a saying like we are considering. Today this has happened twice as I was reading through the Gospel of Mark. What I discovered in these two places is the most positive take on something being torn I have ever encountered.

Actually, ‘that tears it’ in the context of what I am about to share is the exact opposite of a negative connotation, for the following Scriptures reveal that God has taken away any barriers to Him. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the invitation to absolutely anyone who would put their faith in His saving power.

Sin, as I have stated here on numerous occasions, is that which causes separation between us and God. The imperfect (that’s us) cannot exist in the same place as the Perfect (that is, God). Blessedly, the actual playing out of God’s heavenly hope for poor sinners can be seen beginning at the baptism of Jesus.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11 NIV)

The image of what Jesus saw is beautiful in that it reveals that heaven, the eternal home for the faithful, has been opened. And Mark chose to describe this as heaven being torn open. This is not some neat cut along a dotted line, but rather a ripping open. This tells me that heaven was opened to stay that way. It was not left in such a way as to be neatly stitched back up. Picture that! When God ‘tears it,’ it will not be closed again.

As the events happening around the baptism of Jesus give us the joyful glimpse of a heavenly home being opened to us, it is at His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection that the actual invitation to life eternal in paradise is offered.

In Chapter 15 of Marks’ gospel we find his account of the gruesome crucifixion of the Lord. At the very moment of the physical death of Jesus, God once again ‘tears it.’

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:37-39 NIV)

The meaning of that curtain being torn in two is far too important to miss. In the days of temple worship, this curtain stood as a physical barrier between what was called the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Only a priest, and he only once a year, could go behind that curtain to perform a ceremony of forgiveness in the Most Holy Place.

The death of Jesus Christ tore that barrier out of the way forever! His resurrection three days later stands as the living proof of God’s awesome love for us all. Jesus had taken our place on the cross. He bore the price of our sin so that those who place their faith in Him could be forgiven. The physical barrier, represented here as the curtain to the Most Holy Place, is torn away, never to be replaced.

So if God were to say, “that tears it,” He would be describing the end of our separation from Him. His perfect love paved and continues to pave the way to Him. Won’t you let allow Him to tear away anything you may have or hold to that causes separation?

If you do, you will experience the ultimate joy of having God tear it from you. Once gone, whatever it is, His loving kindness will begin to envelop you, and nothing can tear that away!

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

For Such a Time as This

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“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14b NIV)

The above quote may well be the best known verse from the Book of Esther. It truly is a compelling story. Found within its 10 chapters are intrigue, irony and selfless bravery. Any of these topics would be more than enough material for an aspiring blogger, but today I just want to focus on that one verse I started with.

If you are not familiar with this short book (you can find it between Nehemiah and Job in the Old Testament), and not wanting to be a spoiler, suffice to say for my purpose today that Esther, through a series of events, has been placed by God in a position to be of great help to her native people.

It is in correspondence with her cousin, Mordecai, that we come across this pearl of wisdom that we are contemplating. Mordecai is doing his best to encourage Esther to use her standing as Queen to influence that King to spare the Jews. Hence, her cousin phrases his request in such a way as to help Esther see the possibility of coming to their aid.

None of us, I feel safe in saying, find ourselves in a royal position this day, as Esther did. That should not, however, prevent us from evaluating the circumstances that we do find ourselves in, looking with an eye and heart to be of service to someone else.

I mean, these days in which we find ourselves are indeed ‘such a time as this.’ To say they are unique does not adequately describe the challenge of global pandemic. Yet in the spirit of Mordecai’s encouragement to Esther, what is to say that you and I are not in our particular circumstance so that we can be a help to another.

And unlike Queen Esther, you and I do not have the weighty problem that faced her: the extermination of her race. This should take some of the pressure off us, but not the responsibility, to our fellow humans.

The question this begs then is this: What can I do ‘for such a time as this’ to carry the desire to be of service to others into action? I will list 3 off the top of my head, and would surely love to see your additions to the list. In no particular order, here we go:

Get the Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available to you. As I’ve stated before, one person getting vaccinated is not that big a deal, unless you get sick or cause some else to. But if we come together as caring people, placing the welfare of others at least on a par with our own, we can win this battle if we get the shot(s).

If, like many of us, you find a little extra time in your day these days, be intentional about setting a side part of this bonus time to spend for someone else. May I suggest you take a moment to pray for somebody you know that is struggling, or perhaps take a moment to call/text/email simply to let them know you are thinking of them.

Last one from me, for now anyway: Expand you frame of reference. For example, where I live is quite rural. There is little to no cultural differences for miles around. Because of this, I know virtually no one who is Muslim and even less of their faith. Since the pandemic, with its lockdowns and shutdowns, I have taken the time to read and research their faith. I do this so that if/when the time comes when God puts a Muslim in my life, I can speak intelligently and with some understanding of their beliefs in hopes of building a bridge to the one true faith in Christ.

Your turn, Most Appreciated Reader, where is God leading you ‘for such a time as this?’

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Desperate Times

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Ah, Google, how did I ever learn things before you showed up on my computer. I was mulling over the idea for today’s blog while shoveling snow from the driveway earlier, attempting as I do to find application for today from the timeless truth found in the Scriptures.  Actually this blog has been rattling around between my ears for about a week, ever since I re-read the encounter a father of a sick /possessed child had with Jesus. (please check in out in Mark 9:14-27)

If you just read this or are familiar with the event contained there, and if you have a beating heart in your chest, you can sense the desperation in the dad. Back to Google for a moment: I knew there existed a famous quote about desperate times and measures, and thanks to the search engine, there it was: The Greek physician and philosopher Hippocrates said it first and said it best: “For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable.” In other words, drastic times call for drastic measures.

You can get a sense of the drastic times calling for drastic measures the father felt as he spoke to Jesus, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

Whether this was demon possession of a terrible affliction of seizures is not the point. What is important for us to focus on is the strong desire of the boy’s father to help his son. Word of Jesus and His healing power was well known by this point in His earthly ministry, as evidenced by the large crowds following the Lord everywhere He went. No matter if folks were merely looking for a show or if they were also desperate to have a need met, they sought out Jesus in droves.

In this case the father, in searching for Jesus he instead came across His disciples, who also by this time had a growing reputation of being healers. In this case, however, they were unsuccessful in healing the boy. Again, the sense of desperation is palpable in the dad as captured in his response to Jesus when asked by the Lord how long the child had been in this condition: “From childhood,” he answered. “It often throws him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:21-22 NIV).

Did you catch the “if you can?” Jesus sure did! “‘If you can?’” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” As was Jesus usual approach, He wanted people to see the necessity of placing their faith in God for all things as opposed to simply seeking intervention for their problem. (V.23)

The desperate dad then exclaims what I believe to be the heart of this message, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (V.24)

Those of us who have been blessed with having and loving children probably identify with the depth of feeling this father had. After all, his long-suffering son seemed to be in the right place and at the right time for something miraculous to happen, but it had not. I can relate to his plea. “Tell me what else to do” in order that my child be helped. Any devoted parent would make any sacrifice in that moment for the welfare of their child. As you read the rest if this account, you see where the mercy, love and power of Jesus Christ does restore the lad to health.

What I am left pondering, and invite you to do the same, Most Precious Reader, is how desperate am I for Jesus in non-crisis times. Those times when life is cruising along pretty much as I want it. I am comfortable in my surroundings and not worrying about anything substantial.

Where is Jesus in these times of life? Am I merely keeping Him on retainer for when something comes along to knock my life off course? Sadly and honestly, there are times when I simply do take things for granted. Oh, I can do the things I do and say all the right things that go along with my calling, but is this where Jesus wants my heart?

The obvious answer is no. The Lord is zealous for the relationship He has forged with those who know Him through faith. And I believe He wants me/us desperate for more of Him, not merely content with what I have, for as my desire for more of Him grows within me, much of what I selfishly cling to falls away.

Realizing this, I join my prayer with the boys father, and ask Jesus to help me overcome my unbelief.

How about you? Do you struggle with areas of unbelief or maybe a lackadaisical type of faith? I would love to hear how you overcome that.

Thanks for reading, be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

A Real Shot in the Arm (for all of us)

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Because it was summer vacation, I was allowed to stay up to watch as Astronaut Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon. I heard him say, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” At 9 years of age those words did not mean a whole lot to me. I was simply awe struck that what seemed crazy or at least implausible was actually happening. There truly was a man on the moon.

As the years rolled on from my childhood, I have often made it a point to watch that first walk on the moon as it is replayed on its anniversary each year. As time has passed, I have come to understand and appreciate what Armstrong was saying as he stepped onto the lunar surface for the first time.

I thought about that famous quote the other day as I received my 2nd vaccination against Covid-19. Please understand, I do not put myself anywhere near the level of that famed astronaut. But as I looked around the large room where the others who had just been vaccinated sat for their 15 minutes of observation, I clearly saw the connection to July 20th, 1969.

Each person in that room had personally taken the small step toward helping themselves and their fellow humans. Individually, my being vaccinated will not have a far reaching effect, as my circle of contacts is quite limited. But that is not the point, and it was not was Neil Armstrong was saying either. Together, as we each take the small step to be vaccinated, we are coming together to help make the ‘giant leap for mankind’ in the fight against this pandemic.

So please, Dear Friends, take that small step when the vaccine becomes available to you.

As it was with my first shot, I had zero side-effects from the second, not even a sore arm.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Let’s Have Some fun

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In our topsy-turvy world, where there is seemingly always a crisis going on with several more lying in wait, I thought for today we ought to simply have some fun. I am not saying to bury our heads in the sand (or snow here), ignoring the issues of today. But I do believe we are all subject to burnout and disillusionment if we do not occasionally take a step back and have a little fun. That is the simple goal for my blog today. I’ll go first and after reading maybe you will feel like sharing some fun fact about yourself.

From 1999 through 2009 the United States Mint released quarters from all 50 states and the U.S. Territories. Like most people, I had one of those tri-fold holders to insert each new coin in.

Unlike most, I suspect, I decided from the start in 1999 to save all the Commemorative Quarters I came in possession of. Over time, I purchased three plastic containers with dividers that would separate each state from the others. When I get to $10 of a particular state, I roll them up, noting the date and what state this was and place the roll in a sturdy container. In keeping with my nerd-like tendencies, a journal is kept of each roll, with a graph of yearly totals. (2007 has single the largest total, 41, and South Carolina leads all individual states with a total of 20).

From humble beginnings, my fascination/obsession with these quarters has become known to many of my friends and of course my wife. She has faithfully turned over any she has received in change from the start. My kids are on board as well, each saving up ‘Dad’s quarters’ for when I get to see them in person. Some of my acquaintances from my old job still participate too.

Sadly, with the passing of time and as I  find myself doing more and more business online, the quarter supply has dwindled, to say nothing of the restrictions the Covid pandemic has placed on some of my discretionary spending, where getting at least one quarter in change is always a goal.

That being said, as of this writing, I have 416 rolls of these quarters in various boxes around our house (it is a good thing we do not have a basement, for they have gotten quite heavy!).

“What are you going to do with all these?” you might be thinking. My honest answer is that I don’t know. I have searched the internet for other ‘collector of bulk quarters’ like myself, but so far my search has come up empty. So until I find out, I can tell myself that I have the largest privately held collection of U.S Commemorative Quarters in the world! And if that claim doesn’t hold up, it is still a unique way to save some money.

So there you have it, Dear Reader, a quirky little insight into me. I hope it brings you a smile and a willingness to keep this going should you feel inspired to do likewise.

As always, be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

An Attitude of Gratitude

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(image courtesy of gratitudeseeds.com)

One of the suggestions I took seriously as I entered into recovery from alcoholism was the need to develop an attitude of gratitude. This required a total realignment of how I perceived things, as I had for so long only seen the negative and dreaded everything that was to happen. Existing in this black hole left me no option toward optimism or thankfulness about anything.

It turns out that my early mentors in recovery were correct: I had to adjust my way of thinking to develop a new way of life. Though it has not been easy to maintain the gratitude attitude all the time, I am happy to report that it has become easier the longer I have stayed away from booze.

Another of the practical tips my newfound friends gave me was to purchase and read daily the Twenty-Four Hours a Day book, known affectionately to AAers as the ‘little black book.’ This book contains daily readings and insights from others in recovery as well as prayers that are designed to help the one in recovery to navigate another day clean and sober. Like so many of their other suggestions, I took them up on this and am so happy I did.

I do read from it every day. In fact, I have been at this so long that my original copy fell apart and was replaced two years ago. I would like to share an excerpt from today, January 22nd, that has reminded me again of the importance of maintaining an attitude of gratitude:

Meditation for the Day

I will never forget to say thank you to God, even on the grayest days. My attitude will be one of humility and gratitude. Saying thank you to God is a daily practice that is absolutely necessary. If a day is not one of thankfulness, the practice has to be repeated until it becomes so. Gratitude is a necessity for those who seek to live a better life.

Prayer for the Day

I pray that gratitude will bring humility. I pray that humility will bring me to live a better life. (The above is quoted from Twenty-Four Hours a Day, Hazelton Publishing, for January 22nd)

Learning to thank God one day at a time for this chance He has given me has helped me to be a more grateful person. Yet, this does not come naturally for me. I can still to easily lose my focus on what God has done for me if I allow myself instead to concentrate on what I do not have as opposed to what I do. I must remember that it is my choice to live in this gratitude. When I do, I have such a greater appreciation of the world around me, and my place in it!

When my attitude is wrapped in gratitude, I am truly a ‘glass half full person.’ Not only am I more optimistic about the world around me, but in recovery I know exactly what my half-filled cup has in it (either coffee or Pepsi!).

It truly is a matter of perception. With a grateful heart/mind, I can have a much fuller and better appreciation of things. And when I start to look at the empty space instead of what I have, I need to pour the contents of that proverbial glass into a smaller one, thus reminding me to focus on what I do have going for me instead of lamenting what I don’t.

How about you? What are you grateful for today? And if like me you struggle in this area sometimes, what do you do to pull yourself out? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

The Freedom I Found in Giving

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(image courtesy of chucklarsen.com)

Please, please, please understand from the very beginning of this: I AM NOT TRYING IN ANY WAY TO RAISE MONEY! I AM NOT SEEKING DONATIONS FOR ANYTHING!

However, I am going to proceed into a topic that is downright sensitive to many and clearly off-limits to many more: the giving of money.

To re-iterate, I share with you my experiences in the realm of giving only in hopes that others will find the joy I have when the power of the dollar loses its hold on you.

For a quick review, allow me to share some of the formative background of my approach to money and the acquisition of things. As a child, I watched my Dad work hard to supply his family with our basic needs and a few of our wants. He was happy to fulfill his role as provider, but was equally guarded about how any of his hard-earned would be spent outside of our home. The idea he installed was to take care of your own, and anything left over was to be saved for that rainy day that was sure to come. It was not disposable it anyway toward charity of any kind.

As I have chronicled before, my early adulthood was a travesty of waste and destruction brought about by my alcoholism. All childhood lessons regarding money were forgotten or ignored, and I accumulated a large sum of debt.

Coming out of that haze and into recovery, I was driven to pay back every dime I owed. I was blessed with employment that enabled me to make good money, meeting the needs of my own family while paying down the mountain of debt.

It was during this season of life that I was introduced to the idea of tithing. I found the idea of giving 10% to the church I was attending a novel idea, but one that had no practicality in my circumstances. Once I heard the part about giving some of my money, I apparently shut my ears to the rest of the explanation. By doing so I missed the entire point about giving back to God first because anything I had came from Him anyway. The Bible refers to this as giving to God the first fruits of our labor, I simply called it crazy. I mean, how could I give any percentage when we barely had enough coming in to cover expenses.

As I look back on those days now, I am ever so grateful that my wife Betsy did understand from the outset what this giving was truly about. She was able to slowly help me to see the selfishness and short-sightedness of my hold on to it at all costs approach to our finances.

God, as always, was gracious and patient with me as my heart softened. As I came to more fully realize that everything we had or earned was all because of His love for us, I came to understand why it was God calls us to give back to Him ‘off the top’ instead of grudgingly handing over leftovers.

It was now that He began to reveal to me the freedom that comes when giving to God unreservedly. Instead of viewing giving to the church as a burden that was going to further tighten our budget, I began to see how I was spending on not so necessary things. For example, the rationalization that our busy lives necessitated having take-out food 2-3 times a week was replaced with a spirit of cooperation that allowed us to plan and make family meals together. This not only saved lots of money, but it also fostered a much more unified front with regard to the family finances.

Throughout the ensuing years we have continued to tithe to the local church. Please understand that we hold to no formula of giving. Nor to do we believe that we are checking some cosmic box that will earn us favor with the Almighty. We do use 10% as a benchmark, but these days we often find we are blessed to give over and above that number. Again, not because we have to, but rather that we get to.

The freedom that I mentioned at the top has grown from this last point. Giving is an act of obedience, not obligation. With my heart positioned in this way, giving becomes a joy because I know that obedience to God in any matter brings joy to him. And my personal belief is that when we come to obey in these areas that were especially difficult to give up or move away from, His joy is even greater.

Please understand, we are not living some austere life as we follow God’s direction. To the contrary, we are blessed with so much more than we ever have had before. The thing is that the blessings these days are not measured in material wealth, but rather in the deep assurance of God’s sovereignty over our lives.

My advice to any who ask me about the topic of finances is this: Live within your means and always remember to thank God for all He gives you. My willingness to give back to Him sprung from the development of an attitude of gratitude toward all He provides me. I present no formula for success. But I do share with you the joy of the freedom that came (and stays) to my life when I placed the importance of God over the importance of money. The freedom I speak of has been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. The joy is in living this out in all aspects of life.

As always, any thoughts you want to share on this topic are welcome. I would enjoy some dialogue on this.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck