Who is your favorite

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Most of us have favorites. Be they in the world of movies, sports or music, we have certain personalities, teams and songs that we count as personal favorites.

I have a question for you today that I hope begins a conversation: Who is your favorite bible personality and why. I have found that depending on the season of life I am in or in what portion of the Scriptures I’m reading, my fave personality can change. That is ok, for God’s Word tells us that it is ‘living and active’ (Hebrews 4:12). With that being true, it stands to reason that this living document with reveal different things at different times to us.

With that being said, I was re-reading about one of my personal favorites just the other day, Philip. Philip is a prime example of a person with a servants heart who remains humble in the service to others, regardless of the fact that he gains a fair amount of notoriety as he does so.

We are first introduced to Philip in Chapter 6 in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The number of converts to Christianity has been expanding rapidly; so fast that some of the basic needs of these folks were not being met. The original Apostles wisely discern that they need more help, particularly in the distribution of food to widows and orphans. They select 7 people with the qualifications of being ‘known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.’ (Acts 6:3) Philip is one of the 7 that are selected to help in this regard.

Soon after this, persecution breaks out against the growing movement of Christ followers. Many are scattered to other regions, including Philip. He ends up in Samaria where he preaches the Good News of salvation through Christ. With the power of the Holy Spirit, Philip performs miracles that display God’s power. He is very popular among the people and many come to faith there.

With this background, allow me now to share 4 reasons Philip is a favorite of mine.

First: He was obedient to God. As I said, Philip was experiencing great success for the Kingdom of God in Samaria. Yet in Chapter 8 he has an encounter with an angel who gives him instructions to leave that ministry and go down a road toward Jerusalem. No other clarification is given. Philip simply listens and obeys. He did not allow his ego to cloud his judgment. This, in my opinion, is a wonderful example of obedience and trust.

Second: Philip is prepared. Like I said, he didn’t know what was ahead, but we soon find out that he was prepared to meet any challenge that might come. On the road, the bible tells us that Philip meets an official from Ethiopia who is stopped in his chariot, reading from the Scriptures. Feeling the prompting of the Spirit, Philip (in another act of obedience), goes to meet this man and then asks him if he understood what he had been reading.

The official answers that he cannot unless someone explains it to him. Philip starts with the passage the official had been reading (from Isaiah), and explains how this is the message of salvation found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It is obvious to me that Philip had himself spent time studying, reading and applying the Scriptures. When the question of explaining something came up, Philip was prepared to give the answer.

Now, we do not have to be biblical scholars to be prepared like Philip. But we do need to be familiar with what the bible teaches so that we too can express the truth found in it.

Third: Philip was willing to adapt to the situation as it developed. The Ethiopian official, after having the Scripture explained to him, wanted to express his joy in coming to this knowledge of Jesus by being baptized. There was water nearby and Philip honored the man’s request by baptizing him right then and there.

Again, we might not be called to such a radical act, but then again you never now. May our trust in God be evidenced by our willingness to perform whatever task the Spirit lays out for us.

Fourth: Philip was consistent. Acts Chapter 8 tells us that after he baptized the Ethiopian official, Philip was suddenly and supernaturally taken from that place and placed in another town. Philip, not resting on his laurels, begins to preach the Good News there and everywhere has he traveled to Caesarea. Philip knew the call God had put on his heart, and he consistently walked it out wherever he was.

There you have my favorite, at least for today, from God’s Word. How about you, Most Precious Reader? Would you share with us one or more of your favorites that you have in the bible and why their story has impressed you? Thanks.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

A Day is Like a Thousand Years

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According to the most recent statistics from hospicenews.com, the average length of time a person was under hospice care in the United States was 77.9 days during 2018. That is just a tick over 2 and a half months. I have always had an affinity for numbers, as I find they help me in my expectations and plans.

This is well and good for most of the mundane activities and sports that I enjoy. However, I have found that God pays little attention to the conclusions that we draw from our statistical findings.

Never up to this point in ministry have the words of St. Peter rung more true to me: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:8 NIV)

This tells me that it is God who created time for us. He is outside of its restrictions and constrictions. But we, like all living things, need the passing of minutes, days, weeks, etc. to help us mark time for the things of this life. In His infinite wisdom God set time in motion the way He has for our benefit. He works to a far different schedule than us, hence the helpful description of time passing by Peter as mentioned above.

I mention all this as a little background as I now tell you about Mrs. M. She was one of the first patients I had as a Pastoral Care Provider for our local hospice organization. When we first met, she had been given the prediction from her doctor that she had 2 to 4 months to live, well within the established length of time for most hospice patients.

The thing is, this was going to be an great example of God not heeding our statistical knowledge. I was invited into Mrs. M’s home in March of 2018! I just received word late last evening that she had been called home to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her expected 2.5 months of hospice care turned into just over 3 more years of life!

And please understand, she was not merely checking the days off as they went by. In those early months after I first met her, she was still mobile and enjoying many of the things in life. She spent time with her large and extended family members, went shopping and got out to play her beloved bingo as well.

But most importantly, Mrs. M. spent much of that time deepening her relationship with Jesus Christ. It was an honor for me to be a part of this.

To be clear, in my role as Pastor in hospice, my primary focus is to provide spiritual care for the patient and any family member that chooses to join. I am not to be overtly Christian in my approach, but rather simply listen with care and provide support in ways that are appropriate to each situation.

That is not to say I cannot share faith, but that I cannot lead with it. However, there are not restrictions placed on me should the patient have questions, thoughts or concerns about Christianity.

Mrs. M. made this abundantly simple for me. At our first meeting, after introductions around, she asked me, “What happens to me when I die?” Talk about an open door to expressing and sharing the love of Christ! As I began to explain what the Bible teaches us of our need for a Savior, I learned that she had trusted Jesus for her salvation by accepting His forgiveness for her sins some years ago. Like many folks, however, her knowledge of the possibilities of what that relationship with Jesus could mean to her in the here and now was limited.

From that point on, our once or twice meetings per week were mostly spent on exploring the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the Scriptures. What I was so honored and humbled to see was how Mrs. M. lived out these truths. As her many visitors stopped into chat when I was there, she never missed the opportunity to invite them to join us in discussion and prayer. The love, compassion and care she lavished on these folks, regardless of how she was feeling on any given day, continues to inspire me to be my best for God when I am given the chance to.

Watching God bless Mrs. M. in so many ways is one of the greatest gifts He has ever given me. As a matter of fact, after 12 months, the hospice agency re-evaluated her condition and released her from their care. She remains the only graduate of hospice this side of eternity I have ever known!

This ending with hospice did not cut our relationship short, thankfully. By this time, my wife Betsy and I were in there home on Sunday evenings leading bible studies and worship. As time went on, more and more family and neighbors were invited to join Sunday Night Church, as she lovingly called it. Again, the abundance of God’s blessing is incredible.

I have learned so much from her over these past 3 years with the single most important one being to follow the instruction of God: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

I conclude these thoughts today by asking for your help in carrying the love of God forward as my dear Mrs. M. did without reservation. Please take the time today to let someone know how much you care for them. It does not need to be anything special, maybe just a call or a walk across to street to check in on a neighbor. Or perhaps there is a family member you are in tension with. With the love of God in your heart and mind, be the one to set the those issues aside long enough to simply let them know that you care about them.

Thank you and may you be inspired by Mrs. M. as I have been.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

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As Jesus walks toward Jerusalem for the last time, He asks His disciples a question that is still relevant for all today: “”Who do you say that I am?”

Click on this link to hear the ‘studio version’ of the message I preached on this question this morning

Thanks for listening. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Two Weeks Later

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I write this two weeks after getting the first of two Moderna vaccinations against Covid 19 and am glad to report that none of my God-given appendages have fallen off nor have I sprouted a third eye (or anything else, for that matter).

Let me be clear at the outset, I am aware and understand that some people have heath issues that make getting vaccinated a risk to them. As always, I encourage folks to follow closely the instruction and direction of their medical care providers.

I write this today to those who may have a more general misgiving about this particular vaccination. As I stated in an earlier blog, I did some research and more importantly spent some time praying about this. My prayer was specific in that I asked God to reveal to me any reason I should hesitate to receive the shot. I have been blessed to be a person of prayer for some time now and have come to have a deep trust in the God I pray to. So when nothing negative was revealed to me, I gladly rolled up my sleeve.

Trusting in God was not only key in my decision to get vaccinated, but it is also my default setting whenever there are decisions to be made in my life. “That’s great for you, your a pastor guy,” you might be thinking. Believe me, my calling has no special bearing in getting heard from above. Really, the trust is built as it is in any relationship: Getting to know the other person in a deeper way.

I know of only one way in which to do this; that is to take the time needed to nurture it. With other people, it usually involves asking questions, listening to the responses and watching to see if what is said matches up with how they live their life. If I see inconsistencies, I will withhold the appropriate amount of trust.

But if their sincerity is matched with integrity, the door is wide open to walk through. I have applied this same approach with my relationship with God. I have found that He is who He says He is and His working in my life and the lives of countless others has backed up what He has promised.

I started writing this earlier in the day solely to encourage you to be thoughtful about getting vaccinated against Covid 19 when it becomes available to you. I firmly believe it is the next right thing to do, not only for yourself, but also those with whom you share life.

But as I wrote, I seem to have moved into another recommendation: to seek out the God of heaven. And not just to seek His guidance about getting the shot, but also to encourage you to step out in faith and develop your end of the relationship He offers you. He is there and patiently waiting, even if I should develop something untoward like an eyestalk.

Be blessed and be a blessing (get the shot!)

Pastor Chuck

God Answers our Prayers!

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When we last met, Dear Reader, the discussion had to do with the question of whether or not God hears our prayers. This is an extremely important question for anyone who would venture into a communication with the Most High God. Because of its importance, the Almighty gives us clear answers that He does indeed hear all prayers offered to Him. If you recall, I offered just a few of the myriad passages from the Bible that clearly state that God hears what is spoken to Him in prayer.

However, the next logical question, “Does He answer every prayer?” does not come with such a distinct answer. To be clear from the start, I wholeheartedly believe that our Heavenly Father does answer our prayers. The confusion on this point comes from us: What are our expectations? Do we trust God to answer? How do we know it’s Him answering? Why do I have to wait for an answer? Is ‘No’ sometimes the answer He gives?

These are valid questions that people have been asking with for centuries. As I said, I believe that God does answer every prayer. He is omnipotent; therefore He has the ability to do this. God is love; therefore He has the heart to answer them all.

The responsibility to receive/understand/accept the answer falls squarely on our shoulders. Far too many people, in my opinion, keep God in a small box, calling on him only when they are faced with some great or sudden need. This shallow approach to faith seems to think that God is far off somewhere, doing who knows what, and that He has a magic button to push to fulfill our request when we send it.

No, God is not a cosmic yes-man. Rather, He is magnificent beyond words and completely beyond us. Yet, His desire is for us to get to know Him as best we can. His heart is for us to enter into a loving and caring relationship with Him. Within this relationship is the on-going invitation to speak to Him through our prayers.

By being intentional about spending time to develop the relationship with God on our end is how we can get to know more of the depth of God’s character. The better we know Him, the easier it becomes to trust Him. Our ability to trust will coincide with the depth our relationship with God. Would you trust a stranger with your hearts deepest desire? Of course not. Don’t keep God at arms-length in your life. At the risk of over-simplifying the profound depth of God’s desire for us to deepen our relationship with Him, consider this: We cannot learn to trust Him until we begin to trust Him.

As our relationship with the Almighty grows, we begin to have the ability to better discern how He is answering our prayers. Seeing ‘No’ as an answer becomes a little clearer, if not easier to take. Again, trust is the key. God, who is outside the restriction of time you and I live under, knows the future. With this knowledge, He is the best (and only) one capable of seeing all the repercussions of what we are asking.

A growing faith will develop more of this important trust. This then helps us to be a little more patient as we await a particular answer to prayer. I far too often still want what I want when I want it. I am learning, ever so slowing, that God always has my best interest in mind. Because He does, His answer, be it “yes, no or let’s wait on that,” is exactly what I need.

Be assured, I haven’t gotten to this place in my relationship with God overnight, and I still have miles to go before I get to the depth I believe He wants me to get to. My encouragement to you is this: No matter where you find yourself in your faith life, be intentional about growing closer to God, for as you get closer to Him, you get closer to the answer(s) He has for you.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Hey God, are you listening to me?

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Generally when I, or I suspect most people, ask another, “Are you listening to me,” we want to make sure our point was received or to get a positive response way more than simply wondering if what was said was in fact heard.

I believe the same principle applies when we pray. Our desire is to not only get the Almighty’s attention, but also to get the response to our prayer that we want.

I am also aware that many followers of Christ have spent lots of time earnestly praying for others as well as themselves. I have been asked more than once by these folks if God really listens to our prayers. I realize that the companion question to this is, ‘Does God answers all our prayers?’ Though I am confident that He does, the purpose of this particular blog is to address the inquiry of whether or not God is listening to our prayers.

Though the anecdotal evidence I have gathered through years of ministry point to a resounding ‘Yes!,’ that God is listening, I believe going to the one true source, the Bible, will give us the clearest and infinitely more reliable answer. Please know that the following in no way exhausts the truth found in Scripture pertaining to God hearing our prayers, but it is my hope that these few examples will eliminate any doubt lingering in your heart or mind (Spoiler alert: God is always listening!)

Clear proof that God is listening can be found in the Book of Daniel, Chapter 9, verses 22- 23 record this message being delivered to Daniel by the angel Gabriel: “Daniel, I have now come to give you understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.” (NIV)

Notice how quickly the answer was made; as soon as you began to pray. There is no call waiting with God, no need to leave a voice mail, He is listening.

Here’s an example of one of those long time, devout people I mentioned earlier found in the beginning of the Gospel of Luke learning that God is always listening. Zechariah, who was to become the father of John the Baptist, had been praying to God for a son. He continued this fervent prayer even though he and his wife Elizabeth were now quite old. As we soon learn, age and circumstance pale in the face of the Almighty’s power and plans. One day, as Zechariah, a priest, was about his duties in the temple, an unnamed angel appeared to him: When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” (Luke 1:12-13 NIV)

Once again, prayer was heard. There is so much more to consider here in this particular passage, but I’ll leave it for another time except to say isn’t cool that the angel knew both Zechariah and his wife by name? This tells me that our prayers are not going to some faceless call-center, but rather are being received personally and with great care.

That is just two examples of prayers being heard. I take great encouragement from them (even if an angel has not been sent to me to deliver the answer!). As if the evidence of Daniel and Zechariah having their prayers heard were not enough, Jesus Himself shines the light of truth on the matter. Immediately before calling His friend Lazarus back to life, the Gospel of John records Jesus saying the following about being heard by the Father: So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42 NIV)

Jesus, in complete assurance of what He said was heard by the Father, spoke those words for the benefit of the crowd gathered there and for us. God is listening, always.

Here is one more example, this time from Father God Himself. In 2 Chronicles Chapter 6, there is recorded a long prayer that King Solomon prayed as He and the people dedicated to God the newly completed temple. Please take the time to read this prayer as it is a wonderful example of what our heart position should be when we approach the Almighty in prayer.

Then in Chapter 7, we read that the dedication is over and the people have been dismissed to their homes. It is then that God appears to Solomon and says, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.” (2 Chronicles 7:12 NIV)

No angel was sent to Solomon with an answer. Rather, God Himself delivered the message that the prayer offered had been heard.

As stated earlier, this barely scratches the surface of biblical evidence of God hearing prayers. But, you might be thinking, Daniel and Zechariah were notable characters. Maybe their standing moved their prayers up the line faster than those of ordinary folks like you and me.

Not to worry. Our limited and finite abilities as humans to take in information influences how we think God can. Never forget, He is omnipotent. He is limitless, we are limited. Because of His infinite capacity to care for us, He is able to hear all our prayers as we pray them.

I hope these thoughts on whether God hears us when we pray brings you some comfort in this regard. Next time we’ll consider if God answers all our prayers. Until then, keep on praying: God is listening!

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

Read and Heed

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We have a nice size backyard at our house. Since the kids have grown up and moved on, it hasn’t seen much use. That changed last year when we put up a fence to keep our Goldendoodle, Violet, from roaming. Last summer and so far this one my wife and I have spent many pleasant hours ‘out back’ playing fetch with the big black dog or sitting in the shade reading.

At this point (and hopefully toward the point of why I’m writing this, Dear Reader), I must mention that I have never been one to spend a lot of time tending my lawn. I mow and trim it but that’s about it. The backyard has remained quite green under my care, running at about a 60-40 percentage of actual grass to various types of weeds. That it has been green has been good enough for me.

One evening this past week, however, Betsy and I were noticing the increase of some broad-leafed weeds with whip-like stalks growing several inched high. Not only are they unsightly, but also somewhat unpleasant against our lower legs as we frolic with Violet.

I asked one of the groundskeepers at the college I’m helping out at this summer what I should do about the weeds. He suggested Weed and Feed, hopefully you catch how close that is to the title of these jottings. Pretending I knew what he was talking about, I thanked him and went back to my painting. Thank goodness for the internet I thought. I’ll research this when I get home.

I came upon the following from spring-green.com that not only helped me with my lawn issues, but also gave cause to today’s title, Read and Heed:

What is weed and feed? Weed and feed is an interchangeable, universal name given to a wide variety of lawn chemicals that have the purpose of strengthening the lawn by killing weeds. It generally improves your lawn’s ability to absorb water and food and adds necessary nutrients which promote healthy growth.

A healthy lawn, in turn, discourages weed propagation.

Simple enough, I will buy some weed and feed and apply it to the backyard with the purpose of turning it into a healthy lawn (that) discourages weed propagation.

Jesus told several parables that dealt with weeds, thorns and other invasive things. In Matthew 13:24-28 He likened the kingdom of heaven to a field that was sown with good seed only to have an enemy come at night and spread weeds among the good seed.

According to the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9), a farmer sows seeds that fall on the path, shallow ground, among thorns and finally good soil. It is only from the good soil that the seed germinates and grows to its completion.

I say all this to ask both you and me: How are the seeds planted in you by Jesus doing? Healthy and multiplying? Being choked by worry? A mixture of both?

What is our personal ‘weed and feed’ solution? May I suggest Read and Heed. I have written before to encourage everyone to read your bible daily. May this serve as yet one more encouragement to do so! In its pages is the very heart of God. There is no better way, in my opinion, to get to know the Almighty than by reading His word.

But, like my weedy backyard, my life needs on-going care and guidance from above. The Bible is unlike any other book, EVER!. The writer of the Book of Hebrews describes it this way: For the word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12a NIV). Because it is unique, the Bible is not meant to be simply read once and put away. It is living and active, but I need to not only take it in, I must ponder what it has to say. The timeless truths found within its pages are unchanging; but we and our world are changing nearly every moment.

Read, then pray over what you have just encountered. You do not need to be a biblical scholar before God will reveal more of Himself to you as you do. Remember, the goal is to get to know Him better and that is what He wants too! Jesus has delivered on the promise to send the Holy Spirit. One wonderful function of the Spirit of God is to help us understand the Scriptures (John 13:26).

God wants us to read His word and has provided His Spirit to enable us to get at the heart of His message of love to all. That is the bottom line of the Read part. Perhaps the Heed part will prove more difficult for you (it sure has for me).

To heed God’s word means that you not only accept the truth contained within it, but that you also make your best effort every day to live out His commands in the day to day of life.

Difficult? Sure can be. Rewarding? More than anything! And on so many different levels. Much as my backyard will begin to thrive as the weeds are driven out; I assure you that if you take seriously the commitment to Read and Heed God’s word, your life will become more plush as well.

Let me be clear, I am not spouting some foolish prosperity message to you. There is no huge lottery prize awaiting you if you get through the Book of Leviticus. But allow me to be just as clear, the rewards awaiting are truly amazing and of an eternal scope for those who endeavor to deepen their relationship with the Almighty.

I have found that embracing the Read and Heed approach to God’s Holy Scriptures has indeed been/is a huge blessing to me. It would take many more posts to mention even some of them. But for now let me say it this way, the weeds that threatened to overgrow parts of my mind and heart and been removed. Instead, there is plush new growth as God draws me closer to Him.

And believe me, there is absolutely nothing special about me personally in this regard. I merely came to God with a willingness to be taught/corrected/encouraged by what He has to say in that living document that is the Bible. He is faithfully doing that in me and will for you as well!

Take care of the intruding weeds in your heart and mind quickly and thoroughly, you’ll be so blessed as you do!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

PS: I mentioned that you need not be a bible scholar to gain access to the Lord through His word. That’s good, because I am not one. However, I have been at this a while and would welcome your thoughts, questions or concerns about what you are reading. I will share my email with your should you want any of those discussions to be of a more private nature.

PC

Salt and Light?

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Jesus taught in many different ways, knowing full well people had many learning styles.  That fact hasn’t changed in over 2000 years! For me, the Lord’s teaching through parables has always been easiest for me to understand.  I find the connection between the characters in the stories and the truth Jesus was teaching easy to find.  Conversely, His teaching through the use of metaphor hasn’t been as clear to me.  Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing, as it make me slow down to consider what was said.  It is this pondering process that leads my entry into the blog-o-sphere today.

The bible records Jesus speaking in Matthew 5:13-16 this way:

“You are the salt of the earth.  But if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (NIV)

Salt and light? How can I be salt or light?  Even realizing this is a question put in the form of a metaphor, I’m still not sure what it means.  Allow me to share with you what my pondering has revealed thus far.

To be salt as Jesus has commanded, I continue the metaphor in that I must be ‘seasoning’ to the world around me.  Much as salt brings out or enhances the flavor of some foods (like corn on the cob!), so should I strive to have that kind of influence in my world.  Health questions aside, I must be a salted potato chip, something with some zest, as opposed to a bland unsalted one if my life of faith is to look appealing to someone else.

Salt in the days when Jesus walked the earth was a primary preservative of meat.  Yet to be of any value, it had to be rubbed in to be of any use.  Salt left lying next to a slab of fresh meat doesn’t help at all.  This applies to our life of faith as well: If I stay secluded in my office, I am not adding any spice to my community as a whole.

Jesus then goes on to say that His followers are also the light of the world.  Light is such an important theme throughout the Scriptures.  God’s light removes darkness as it  reveals His loving and compassionate heart.  Those living in darkness can’t see this.

Jesus would later tell everyone that He was the light of the world and that whoever followed Him would never walk in darkness. (John 8:12) He is the light, no question.  Yet you and I can and do walk in darkness, physically.  But Jesus is talking about our spiritual, not our physical walk.  Following His great light illuminates everything.  Rather that worry about what this might expose, how about considering what this light can reveal to/for us? Has anyone ever said to you, “I don’t want to give up this or that” to become a Christian.

I can remember thinking that way, especially when it came to smoking cigarettes.  Was I going to have to give them up now that I knew Jesus had saved me? No, I didn’t have to quit them or any other vice I might have been enjoying.  Rather I came to understand that following Jesus is all about addition, not subtraction.  Becoming His follower gave me peace like I’d never known.  It gave (and gives) me assurance the world can’t come close to giving.  These minuses just don’t register when compared to the pluses (and BTW, I’m going on 23 years without a smoke!).

In the verses at the top, Jesus says we are the light of the world and not to hide this fact.  Alright, but how do I do this? Simply put, by living out this faith we claim for all to see.  Scripture is once again filled with examples of how we can accomplish this.  We can see to the need of orphans and widows (James 1:27) or by tending to the needs of the hungry, giving clothes to those in need and remembering to help out our own family as well (Isaiah 58:7).

Joyce Meyer has summed this salt and light question up in a way that helped me: The Bible says that Christians are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. On the job, in the grocery store, even among unsaved friends and family members, God’s people are there to bring seasoning to an unsavory situation.

If being salt and light has been a question in your heart and mind, I pray these musings have helped to clarify it some.

My sincerest thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

 

We’re Definitely One Day Closer

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I recently had a conversation with a young man about the escalating tensions in the Middle East.  Like many, he is convinced that the world is in great peril; that indeed the end is close at hand.  Because of this, he has decided that he wants to put a comfortable chair on his roof and watch as the missiles fly.

As interesting a take on current events as this is, I also believe that like many, this personable fellow is mis-interpreting current events.  To be clear, I am no End-times expert.  Having said this, I do give the following answer each time I am questioned (I guess many assume as a pastor I have special insight; spoiler alert, I don’t) about the end of the world: “Today, we are definitely one day closer to it than we were yesterday.”

Please understand, there is nothing flippant about my response and in fact I base it entirely on what the Scriptures record the Lord Jesus saying on this topic, starting with His answer to His disciples question: “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3)

Jesus, after giving an account of things that will precede His second coming, then answers His disciples by saying, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) Jesus added, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.” (Matthew 24:42)

The young guy wanting to be on his roof, like others, are missing the point of Jesus’ words.  These most recent events in Iran do not singularly represent the nearing of the end of days, but rather are simply more on what Jesus called “birth pains” that the earth and mankind will experience throughout the ages.  I understand these “birth pains” to be all the nastiness, both created by Nature and by man, because of the fallen condition of our planet and those who inhabit it.

I know that we all would sometimes like a glimpse into the future.  Parts of life would seem to be easier to plan for if we had some insight into coming events.  The problem with this approach, concerning things eternal, is that the knowing would decrease or eliminate the need for faith.  I don’t mean to over-simplify this, but when Jesus said you cannot know the day or hour that the end will come, I’m good with that!

Faith, that wonderful gift of God, assures the believer that God has everything under control.  It is a blessing given from the Father that assures us of His never-ending dominion.  To truly trust in God is to trust Him in our chaotic world, where often times seemingly inexplicable things happen to us and to those we love.

Out of this growing faith ( for me it has taken time for me and I’ve still a long way to go!) comes the peace of God that the Bible says transcends all understanding.  Once again, faith leads me to see that there are things beyond me.  One of these is the knowledge of the end times.  Trusting in the forgiveness of the Lord for salvation allows me to rest easily at night even amidst the uncertainty of the world around me.

Therefore, if I can’t and never will figure out exactly the what and when of God’s plans, what am I left to do? For today, I will make my best effort to live out this faith in God by embracing today for just what it is: One day closer to the end than yesterday.  If I am to believe this, all of my actions, indeed all my motivation, ought to be to share this precious gift of faith I have been given with everyone I meet.

I realize this will look different for each of us, and that’s ok.  God is as diverse as He is immeasurable.  I do believe, however, there will be one common denominator: A life lived in faith will be recognizable in the joy present in our countenance.  Though our eyes will take in all that goes on around us, nothing we see with distract us from the awesome truth of God’s saving power.  This truth tells us that Almighty God loves us and in His love He calls us to live this life with the unshakable assurance that He has guaranteed our forever place with Him.

So if you see me up on my roof, I won’t be looking for missiles, but rather it will be to get a better view of the world around me, praising God for who He is and that He has given me this day to worship and enjoy Him, even (or especially) if it’s the last one I get!

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

January 2020: The gyms are full again but the church is still mostly empty

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(image courtesy of blogmekrystal)

One of my buddies, who has been working out in a local gym for years, has a name for those folks who pack the place every year after the holidays: “Those January people.” He labels these well-meaning resolution makers through experience.  For as long as he has been bodybuilding, he has witnessed this annual event.  He calls them January people because, he claims, most of them will stop coming in by March.

I decided to see if there were statistics to back up his claim.  And sure enough, there is much documentation to support it.  One source said that up to 80% of the people who get a gym membership in January will have stopped using it within six months.  There seems to be a definite cycle at work here.  Most, if not all, national fitness businesses cite January as their peak month for the sale of memberships.

At least the gyms have a season where they experience more people coming in.  Christian churches in this land, for the most part, are not seeing any growth.  In fact and most sadly, the statistics prove out that church membership/attendance is waning faster than a new year resolution for fitness.

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(image courtesy of blogspot)

Jeffery M. Jones, writing for Gallup.com, states that “Gallup finds the percentage of Americans who report belonging to a church … at an all-time low, averaging 50% in 2018.  U.S. church membership was 70% or higher from 1937 through 1976, falling modestly to an average of 68% in the 1970s through the 1990s. The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999.”

These numbers support what my wife Betsy and I see happening where we live in Central New York.  Our ministry work brings us to any number of churches in and around our city and area.  Sadly, each of these fellowships has seen their attendance figures lag.  This is happening in spite of the fact that the pastors and leadership of these churches we work with are faithful and devoted followers of Christ.

I’ve read and heard the many reasons for this decline.  I certainly can appreciate the fact that our world has changed and continues to at an accelerating rate.  Many people are working longer hours, leaving them with precious little time for anything else.  Others cite the extreme busyness of family schedules, which often take preference over regular Sunday worship time.  The list of reasons/excuses for not going to church is longer than ever.

Please understand that I write the above without an iota of judgment.  I am in the ‘people business,’ and have the privilege of knowing many folks who struggle through the hectic pace of life today.

If there is any judgment on my part, however, it is toward the church itself.  The drastically reduced numbers are due in large part to its inability/unwillingness to acknowledge the sweeping changes in our culture.

I also want to make it perfectly clear that I am not advocating whole-sale change of the church.  Today’s church, for the most part, is still the slow-moving organism it was 75 years ago.  The very demographics that make up the majority of them still in existence only adds to the problem.  By that I mean that the outreach programs of yesteryear are antiquated in today’s world.

Is there a solution to this decline? Is there any hope at all for the church to continue? Will it ever a significant part of a majority of people’s lives? Is there any hope?

My answer is a resounding YES! For evidence I ask you to consider how this entry began.  Each January we have documented proof that many, many people set out to make meaningful changes in their lives.  Be it weight loss, body toning or simply more social inter-action, throngs of folks flood the local fitness centers hoping to make these changes in themselves.  I conclude that it is in our nature to desire to make improvements in ourselves. We are not satisfied with our current state, and make, however fleeting, attempts to change our outward appearance.

Here in lies the opportunity for the church.  Am I suggesting that each one should include a weight room? Should congregants be encouraged to use stair masters or ride stationary bikes during the sermon? Of course not.

What I would suggest as the single best solution to the woes of the church is this: to proclaim the Name of Jesus Christ in all it undertakes.  Every church service, youth group meeting, outreach program, pod cast and every other thing it does must have the Risen Lord Jesus as its focus and reason for being.  Jesus is THE answer to all life’s problems.  In fact, if churches today would teach the truth of Scripture and model the love of God for ALL people, both inside and outside of its walls, it may well become the place where we could go to be truly transformed; from the inside out!

Jesus loved (and loves!) unconditionally.  He instituted His church to be that message bearer to all.  I believe that the local church doesn’t have to change to keep up with the times, but rather should immerse itself in what the Lord originally purposed for it: His love for all people.  In so doing, it too will experience the transformation that so many seek at the first of every new year.  As it does, the church will become the magnet that draws individuals to it.  May we all see the blessings of God on His church in the days and years to come. Amen!

Thanks for reading and as always, your thoughts, questions and concerns are welcome here.

Pastor Chuck