“No one gave him anything”

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(image courtesy of hbomax.com)

I recently had the opportunity to preach a sermon based on the well known parable that Jesus taught of the prodigal son. (You can read it in Luke 15:11-31)

I have heard and now have spoken about this many times. Often the focus is on the younger (prodigal) son, who demands his part of his father’s inheritance to then only squander it.

The older son gets some attention at times as well. He sees himself as the unappreciated, hard working and loyal offspring who does all that he is supposed to do, but doesn’t seem to derive any enjoyment in doing so.

The father in the parable represents God. Again, much has been spoken about the loving forgiveness he displays as he welcomes his once ‘dead’ son back into the family. There is a wealth of wonderful teachings about God’s unconditional love for all contained within this story.

Any or all of the above would have served me well for my recent presentation. But as I thought, prayed, and did my study, I landed on an area I had not heard brought forth from this old account.

Those of you familiar with the prodigal son know that during a time of great desperation after his funds were completley depleted, he takes on the job of a swineherder, possibly the most repugnant thing a Jewish male could do during that time. And even though he has debased himself in this way, he is still starving.

It is at this point in the story that Jesus said, “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” As I thought about the people who would have been passing this young man by, I began to see another place we can learn from Jesus as we ponder this famous account.

This young man was in obvious distress. I think the picture at the top shows this quite well. How, I want to think jugmentally, could people be so cold and uncaring? I understand from reading the text that there was a severe famine in the land. This tells me there wasn’t an abundance available to share. But no one gave him anything?

Upon further reflection, as I stepped down from my high horse, I began to see with more clarity the possible motivations of those who passed the prodigal by; and in so doing discovered some not so pleasant truths abut myself and how I think/react when confronted with the needs of others.

First, self-preservation. I have barely enough for me and mine, I couldn’t possibly share anything. This is shamefully selfish thinking in my context today. I never have to wonder where and when my next meal is coming from. I need to live into this blessing of God to be ever more willing to share from what God has first given me. God has proved faithful in every circumstance, I can certainly trust that to continue should I give some money or other items to someone in need.

But more disturbing than that first thought is the judgment that wants to rear its ugly head in my head. Thoughts like, “He probably deserves what he is experiencing” is one that pops up. Or, “if he would only apply himself, he could make improvements in his life situation.”

Maybe as you consider this, some other thoughts come to your mind. If they do, please know that neither I or anyone condemn you for them. God’s grace and forgiveness is big enough for all!

What I am asking, of myself and you too, Dear Reader, is to take that extra moment when you are confronted with an obvious need of someone and in so doing, consider just what you might do in that moment to help alleviate someone’s trouble. There are countless ways we can do so in each of our own context. And hopefully as we act to help in an individual case, we might all be working toward ways to eliminate the social ills that can leave people in such vulnerable positions in the first place.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

You got the job!

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Can you remember your very first job interview? If so, do you recall the feelings that it inspired? I would be willing to wager some of the common ones were: Nervousness, outright fear, and uncertainty, to name just a few.

Then when it was finally over, came the wait, which produced more questions than answers. Did I get it, when will they let me know? If the wait dragged on, then came the inevitable doubt about how you presented yourself or your qualifications.

Thanks for taking this quick stroll down memory lane with me. Now that I have got those feelings stirred up, forget them. As followers of Christ we automatically get the job! The difficult part is not in getting the assignment, rather it is in the carrying it out.

I am speaking about the task(s) God would have us undertake once we have accepted His Son Jesus Christ as Savior. If you would, please read Matthew 25:14-30 for the basis of what I propose today.

The verses mentioned above contain Jesus telling the parable of the talents (a talent was a measure of monetary value). This parable is one in a series the Lord was telling in answer to the question of when He will return to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Jesus has already made it known that no one on earth can know the day or hour of His return. Instead of wasting time worrying or wondering when this will be, Jesus teaches that we should be about our God-given task so that no matter when He returns, He will find us ready for Him.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus explains that God gives us responsibility in this work according to the abilities He gives us. The first two servants are given 5 and 2 of these talents respectfully. Each man then goes to work at multiplying what has been entrusted to them. After a long time the Master returns. He is overjoyed that these two servants have done so well with what he has tasked them with.

It is the person who received only one talent that I can best relate to. In the parable he concocts some lame excuses for avoiding what he has been requested to do by simply burying the talent in the ground. When he is approached by the Master, he is rebuked for his poor attitude and unwillingness to use what had been given him to further the master’s business.

I was headed in a similar direction. From very early on in my Christian life I had been encouraged by my many folks to consider using what God had given me and enter full-time ministry. I heard things like, ‘You have a pastor’s heart,’ and, ‘I find you very easy to talk to.’

My response at the time to these obviously mis-guided people was ‘thanks but no thanks. I have too much on my plate at this time.’ I would then list the many things that I had to see to. This would quiet those well-meaning voices for a time, but none of my excuses could ever completely still the One that kept tugging on my heart.

These days, I am ever so grateful that God shows abundant patience with me. When I finally gave up rationalizing my disobedience away and embraced the talent God had given me, my life has been put on the path that I now know was the one God had planned for me.

Like the two who took what the Master gave them and went to work for him, I too have been invited into my Master’s joy. And yes, like in the parable where the obedient servants were then given more responsibility, I have more these days as well. As I remember who it is that tasks me in this way, and that He makes available to me all I need to accomplish it, the joy is on-going.

My last bit of advice on this topic is that you embrace what God gives you to do immediately. Don’t put it off. There are blessings to be had, both by you and those you will encounter. And even if you were not to realize a single blessing as you undertake your Kingdom call, you will have the deep satisfaction in your soul that you are simple being obedient to God’s greater plan.

Lastly, there will be no better place to be than at your God-given assignment should He come back to settle accounts today. I realize that some folks work best under a looming deadline and in the workday world that might be ok. Not so in the all-important call that God gives you. Grab and run with it today! As you do, may you find the indescribable joy that comes from knowing you are right in the middle of God’s will for you!

Be blessed and be a blessing today,

Pastor Chuck.

Don’t be a Blockhead

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Like millions of others, I am a fan of Charlie Brown. I still make time to watch the Christmas and Halloween specials each year when they are aired on network T.V. Again, like so many, I find it easy to empathize with this shy character and inwardly cringe at the insult, “You’re a blockhead, Charlie Brown,” every time I hear it, especially considering CB didn’t deserve to be called that.

That really is quite the insult as it questions the intelligence of the target. There is no mistaking the intent when that word is thrown at someone; it is a direct put down.

Jesus, being more polite than most, didn’t use quite that term when he called Peter out for something he had said. But make no mistake, the Lord wanted to get his disciple’s attention when in response to Peter’s claim that Jesus should never go through with the idea of being put to death. The last thing I ever want to hear from the Son of God is, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” (Matthew 16:23 NIV).

Leaving alone the fact that Jesus refers to Peter, the man one paragraph above this quote He said He was going to use as the rock on which He would build His church, as Satan; the Lord tells the befuddled Peter that he is a stumbling block to the salvation plan.

It might have hurt Peter less if Jesus had called him a blockhead instead of a stumbling block. The word the Lord said Peter was to Him meant that he was an obstacle to a cause. From this word we get the word scandalous today. Of all the things I can think Jesus might call me, being an obstacle to His plans is not one I want to hear. Causing a scandal over Jesus by something I erroneously have said, even less so.

And not to omit that Jesus referred to one of His devoted followers as Satan, we must consider (as always!) the context of the narrative. What Peter said, in what the Bible says was in the form of a rebuke, sounded awfully close to what Satan had said to Jesus as he tempted the Lord in the desert just after His baptism. Satan had shown Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, telling Him he could be ruler over them all, if only the Lord would worship him. Like Peter, Satan was saying Jesus could avoid the awful suffering awaiting Him by taking a softer, easier way to His destination.

Jesus would have none of that from the devil, and He certainly didn’t want to entertain the idea from Peter. God had/has/will have the perfect plan; we need to trust that in order to not stumble into the way of it being carried out.

Somewhat easier said than done, however, for me anyway. After all, I make most of my plans after some thought, looking into possible outcomes as best I can. I do not think I would ever intentionally be a stumbling block to anyone, let alone the Lord Jesus Christ and His plans.

Still, if I go about my most careful planning without seeking any divine direction or influence by not praying about it, I can in fact have the outcome of that plan be something that causes a stumble off the Lord’s path; and it’s me who would be the most likely to trip and fall because of it!

Like many, I do most of my best learning from my mistakes, and having the occasional stumble-block result from my ideas has helped me to eliminate some of my tendency to make similar mistakes again.

So, if I were not to learn from my errors and slips in the past, I could be aptly called a blockhead after all!

Blessings and thanks from reading,

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

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