What an Opportunity!

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Though I wonder what I might be writing about on March 15th, 2021, there seems to be little else on peoples mind right now than the global spread of coronavirus/covid-19.  Like many, I initially thought the talk of precautions, quarantines and physical distancing were all huge over-reactions.  I watched as stores were picked clean like buzzards on a carcass and wondered what was wrong with people.

However, as I have carefully done my research on this issue, I have jumped fully on-board with the ideas and practices that will help reduce the spread of this new threat. This in turn allow our health care providers to be better able to treat those most adversely affected by it.

Having said this, please know, Faithful Reader, that I am not advocating sticking our head in the sand in hopes it all goes away quickly.  Truthfully, I have no idea when things will return to the ‘normal’ I know and am comfortable in.

What I propose, and admittedly I should have been doing these things long before corona came along, is to seize every opportunity to be of help to those around us.  But try as I might, there is no way I can personally help everyone that I would like to.  Knowing this limitation, here is what I’m doing and I strongly encourage you to consider doing something similar: As I look out the front window of our little house, I see 3 homes across the street that are each inhabited by widows, all in excess of 70 years of age.  My plan, as soon as I publish this, is to walk across the street to each of these three in order to ask if they need anything.  Can I go to the store for you? Maybe I have something on hand that you need? Or maybe they will allow to simply pray with them.  I’ll make sure I leave my number with them should they need me later.

You get the idea.  Let’s take the opportunity circumstances have thrust upon us and literally be the hands and feet of Jesus in our own world.  I will take all the appropriate precautions when doing this, for their protection, mine and anyone else I may come in contact with.  But I will do it.

Please consider this for yourself.  We have been given the chance to step up as a people.  Let’s take advantage of the opportunity!

Blessings to you all,

Pastor Chuck

Addition by Subtraction

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Sacrifice can be defined as the act of giving something up in order to get something else.  For us as humans, there still seems to be a bit of selfishness attached to that definition.  If my goal is to simply get something else, assuming it’s something better or of more value, my motivation is gain, not true sacrifice.

This of course is not true across the board of sacrifice, using the above definition.  I’ll use my own example of stopping the use of all tobbaco products, of which cigarettes were my favorite.  I truly enjoyed smoking them.  Even with all the evidence of the harm cigarettes would do, and the loved ones I had seen adversely affected by this habit, I puffed away.  Believe me, I understand better than many how addiction works, but to hide behind that defense didn’t get to the deeper truth: I loved to smoke no matter the supposed consequences.

Twenty years into my tobacco use, I began to re-think my approach.  The relentless march of time brought with it a growing awareness that I wasn’t going to last forever.  Yet, this dawning realization was not enough in itself to make me want to give up my treasured habit.

Much as I would like to tell you, Faithful Reader, that God sent an angel or a lightning bolt to grab my attention, the journey to finally getting free from tobacco was a slow and unexciting stroll.  At the heart (and lungs) of the issue wasn’t doubt that God could deliver me, He sure had from terrible alcohol abuse, but my reluctance to want to be rid of my smokes.

Quitting smoking for good, some 23 years ago now, most certainly seemed a painful sacrifice to me at the start.  Thankfully, time as allowed me a better perspective on what giving up tobacco has done for me.  For example, there is the significantly reduced likelihood of lung cancer.  And of course there is the monetary savings.  When I quit cigarettes, they sold for $2 a pack.  Smoking 2 packs each day, as I did, cost me $1460 annually.  I now put that money to far more constructive use.  Then there’s things that are also gone like that awful smell on my clothes that I couldn’t smell when I was smoking and the small burn holes in the upholstery of my car.  The balance is fully tipped toward what I have received from giving them up.

Which leads me to the greater over all point, that my life in faith in Jesus Christ is all about addition by subtraction.  Let’s start at the top: I believe He died so that sinners just like me could be forgiven and welcomed into eternity.  That’s the biggest plus I know! I have lost a life of sin and anguish because of God’s love.  There is no greater addition ever than that.

Others gains though subtraction include, in no particular order, the realization that I am not at the center of the entire universe.  I am less significant in my own eyes, and instead see that I am important enough to God that He gave His all for me.

Also subtracted from me was the mirage of perfectionism I often hid behind.  This permitted me to do nothing because I told myself I couldn’t do whatever it was perfectly, I simply wouldn’t do it.  As we say in AA, “self-serving will slip away.” As it has, the great addition has been the room this created in my heart to try new things.  For example: Reaching out to help others.  What a concept! I had no idea that doing for others, simply because I could, would be so fulfilling.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  The bottom line is this: My life is fuller now because there is so much less of me in it! I’ve always been good in math, but this formula took me a long time to start to comprehend.  I hope you get it more quickly than I did!

How about you? How has God added to your life through subtraction.  I’d love to hear about it.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this,

Pastor Chuck

Happy (Leap of Faith) Day!

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Happy Leap Day Faithful Reader! As you might have guessed, I’ll be taking this opportunity to discuss the matter of faith today.

Faith can be a hard thing to define.  Wikipedia does a good job as they render it: A leap of faith, in its most commonly used meaning, is the act of believing in or accepting something outside the boundaries of reason.

Whether they realize it or not, these folks have come fairly close to the biblical definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)

I prefer this King’s James translation of Hebrews 11:1 because of the use of the word substance.  I believe this puts hope in the proper perspective.  It is not like hoping to win the lottery (it’s ok, I don’t play it anyway), or hoping that the sun shines today (it’s Upstate NY, little chance of that happening).

Rather, the hope the bible talks about is real, it has substance.  In other words, when I put my hope in Jesus Christ to be my Savior, it is the real deal.  There is no wishful thinking involved.  Instead, after carefully considering what the bible says and relating it to the experiences of my life, I can whole-heartedly rest assured in the promise of God that tells me I am a forgiven sinner who is dearly loved by my Maker.

So much so, the biblical evidence goes on to show, that God Almighty desires a relationship with me! A relationship, by the way, that I am completely unable to establish on my own.  It is only through His grace that I can experience who He is and have joyful fellowship with Him.

My oft stated purpose in this ministry I am involved with is to help people make an informed decision about Jesus Christ.  As I mentioned, I came to faith in the Lord after carefully considering both what the bible has to say about God and by taking a sober look at my life up to the point I accepted His offer of salvation.

Simply put, my life was an awful mess that was spiraling downward toward death.  By far the bigger leap for me would have been to keep going in that direction, wishing for things to change for the better.

If you have ventured to put your hope in Christ, I rejoice with you! You know full well of the hope of which I speak.

But if you have not, might I suggest you do as I did.  Start with an honest (that’s the key) appraisal of where your life is and in what direction it is going under your direction.  If you discover areas that are messed up and need improvement, may I further urge you to discuss these things with a trusted friend.  This is a vital step, no matter how difficult it is to take.  Honestly looking at ourselves for the purpose taking stock needs to be shared with another, lest we soften over some of the more unsavory parts.

From here, seek out someone with knowledge of the Scriptures (it will be helpful if they actually live what they talk to you about). As part of the process, now begin to see yourself in the context of the bigger picture.  Doing this may allow you to see though the clutter and confusion around you.

Should you desire to, now consider how this God you’ve heard about might just be able to help you.  If you can humbly admit that you recognize your need, I am here to say that He will step in to help you make changes for the better in your life.  He did it for me, He can do it for you as well!

This may seem like a huge leap to take today but please believe me, if you do, you will never regret having done so.  That has been my experience that I truthfully share with you all.  I’d love to hear your stories of what brought you to your faith journey or if you haven’t taken the above mentioned leap,  feel free to share where you are on your journey.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

The church is not the safe place it should be

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As difficult as it is for me, a pastor, to stick that title on this entry, it is unfortunately accurate.  And, I refer to churches right here in the United States, where the enemy of the church is far more active on the inside than the out.  The excellent blog, A Fractured Faith, written by Irish author Stephen Black (I highly recommend his blog and books), wrote a compelling piece on this topic on February 20th, 2020.  He stated, as many have felt, that the pain caused him by a local church has driven him from it.  Sadly, I know many who have experienced the same.

The church was once a safe place.  That is no longer the case.  The one place where folks should be able to simply be themselves, good and bad, healthy or hurting, has dropped the ball for the most part.  If you are reading this and attend/belong to a church that is carrying out the call of Jesus to be His hands and feet in the world, I praise God for it and thank you for all you do!

Yet, the vast majority of churches I visit in my various ministry roles seem to support, by the predominance of empty pews and chairs, the fact that the church is indeed missing its calling.

Both the cause and the solution to this problem can be found in the same place: the church itself.  As I listened to a preacher on the radio the other day, his point made this clear to me.  I didn’t catch his name, as I was driving at the time, but his message has quickly taken root in my heart.

His premise was this: that the Christian Church has spent the majority of its time since the late 1940’s teaching their flocks the importance of being obedient to God and the teachings of the bible.  He concluded that although the need for followers of Christ to be obedient is very important, if it is not taught/presented in a way that fosters love for God, it can also be quite dangerous.

This caused me to think: How could being obedient to God be dangerous in any way?  After all, if I’m doing what I’m told I am to do, shouldn’t that be good enough?

Here’s the thorn in that thinking.  Obedience, without a corresponding love that causes the believer to desire to please God, can (and has) led people to become the type ‘Christian’ that has caused such deep pain to my friend Stephen and countless others like him.  For example, a church that teaches its people that there are a set of rules that must be obeyed opens itself up to hard-heartedness.  It is far too easy to quantify obedience when you can check off the boxes of the things you have completed.  The next step in this downward progression is to assume that others who aren’t doing things the ‘right’ way, must shunned.  This type of obedience without feeling leads to judgment, which encourages the ‘us v. them’ mentality.

How heart breaking that becomes when those who come to a place of worship seeking care are instead treated as outcasts.  Their very brokenness prevents the established membership from helping them because their hearts have been calloused by the narrow perspective many churches have taught them to have.  This is what is spawned, in my opinion, when strict obedience is placed above (or instead of) having a loving heart.

Now Jesus was clear that He wanted His followers to be obedient to his teaching.  Check out Matthew 28:19-20 or John 13:34-35 for proof of this.  But the Lord desires so much more than out rote following of a list of do’s and don’ts.  Yes, He wants our obedience, but He wants it because we love Him.  A heart that loves the Lord chooses to be obedient as a result of this love, not as a way to earn it or worse, so that we can show the world we deserve it because we have finished the checklist.

In conclusion, my travels have not as of yet brought me to the perfect church and as long as churches are populated by imperfect beings like me, I probably won’t find one this side of heaven.  In spite of all I’ve written here today, I end on a hopeful note.  You see, the hope I speak of is found in Christ, not the church.  Only He is perfect, nothing we put our hands to will ever be.  But if we will search our hearts to find those places of judgment and short-sightedness that lurk there, asking forgiveness for them, we can begin the journey of improving the care and support the local church ought to be providing.

May our hearts be motivated by love for God which will then in turn cause us to desire to be truly obedient to Him, in all things.

Blessings and thanks for reading.  As always, I welcome your thoughts on this topic.

Pastor Chuck

2 in a Million

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Oh, what choices we sometimes make! I’m sure you know what I mean: the perfect car, the new job and neither one living up to the expectations you had for them.  We usually have clear 20/20 vision after the fact with choices like these because our mistake is often quickly evident.

But what about things that don’t reveal themselves so fast.  Perhaps a four-year course of study that ends up fruitless in the job market.  Maybe it’s that person you dated for years who you hoped would change but never did; or worse yet you made a commitment to and they did morph into a person you couldn’t stand.  Painful things indeed.

I got to thinking about these things as I re-read of God’s mighty freeing of the Hebrews from Egypt.  After 400 years of hard bondage, God called Moses to lead the people out and into the Promised Land.  Those who know much more than I do about these things estimate that the total number of men, women and children God freed was close to 1 million.

That number is what has struck me this time.  I have no idea how long a procession of 1 million people is; but it has to stretch for miles.  As flabbergasting as this figure is to me, it only strengthens my belief in God’s miracle-working power.  As Scripture proclaims: Nothing is too hard for God!

If you are familiar with the Exodus account, you know that this great horde of folks wandered for nearly 40 years in the desert before entrance to the promised Land happened.  Hence the title of this offering: Two in a Million, because only 2 of that original 1 million would ever step foot into the ‘land flowing with milk and honey.’ But it didn’t have to be! Less than two years into their journey, the new nation was at the doorstep of their destination.

The Bible tells that Moses commanded 12 spies to go into the land they were to take possession of.  Their mission was to scope out fortifications, numbers of troops and what the land produced for food.  Two of those assigned were named Joshua and Caleb.  These fellows were to be the 2 in a Million.

Here’s why: When the 12 spies finished their assignment they came back to report what they had seen.  The land was indeed rich and wonderful.  However, 10 of them reported that the defenses in place and the monstrous size of the inhabitants would make it impossible to conquer.  Joshua and Caleb agreed that the challenge ahead was great, but that God was greater! These two trusted God to be faithful to his promise and advised Moses and the people that they should march in believing in God’s power to do what He had said He would.

Unfortunately, the opinion of the other 10 spies was what the people heeded.  They were fearful because of the report given.  They chose to believe the opposition was too great and that they would surely die if they tried to overtake them.

Talk about your bad decisions! God then said that because of the people’s lack of faith none of them, except Joshua and Caleb, would ever set foot in the land He promised. It took about 38 years to come to fruition because that’s how long it took for that entire group to die off.

The decision to not trust God not only cost the 999,998 (approximately) the opportunity to enter that rich land, they had to wander about in the elements all that time, basically waiting to die.

I share these thoughts without any judgment on those poor souls.  To be honest, if I was with them then, I most likely would have gone along with the vast majority; too insecure and scared to take the leap of faith.

The lesson I’m learning these days is to put my professed faith in the Lord in the forefront of my heart and mind.  As I do this, it allows me to more fully grasp the depth of God’s love and faithfulness.  As I read and ponder the Scriptures, the more clearly the Almighty’s direction becomes.  I simply need to seek Him first and always and then follow His prompting.

Joshua and Caleb are heroes I look up to.  Might they be an encouragement to all of us to more fully trust God.  I still don’t know if I would be that one or two in a million; but what I do know is this: there is no numerical amount to quantify or qualify our God.  He is everything He says He is.  He has proved it, is proving it and always will!

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  May it be a blessing to you.

Pastor Chuck