Thank You, Jesus

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There are so many thoughts running through my mind this Resurrection Sunday as I consider again just what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for the world. The joy, awe and wonder are as fresh this morning as they were the many years ago when the Savior revealed to me His plan for saving my life, eternally. And yet, there is a sadness in me as well as I consider those near and dear to me who have rejected the love of Christ. Amidst the abundant joy in my heart there are sections that are broken for these people. In many of these cases I have attempted in my limited way to share what God has done for me with them in hopes they would grasp the availability of that same love for themselves.

But this is not a day for discouragement! Today my sole focus is on the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. With this in mind, I would like to share a list (by no means in total) of the things I am grateful for because of the saving power of God as it has been revealed through Christ’s ultimate victory over death. As you read, I ask you to do two things. First, reflect in your own way the ramifications of Jesus’ resurrection on your life. And secondly, be intentional about living out a life of thanksgiving for the incredible gift He has given you, so that others may be attracted to God’s light through you.

Where do I start such a list of things I am thankful for because Jesus rose from the dead to forgive us? The totality of His mercy shown to sinners like me (us) is mind-boggling. So in no particular order, here goes:

  • Thank you, Jesus, for taking my place on that cross. You bore my sin in your body out of obedience to the Father and your love for me. Because of Your resurrection, You have defeated death and offered eternal life to all. You knew that there was no earthly way I/we could earn or deserve the Father’s mercy. So instead you demonstrated grace saturated in love to bring us to God.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the hope you bring to us because of the above. You have not only supplied, at great cost to Yourself, the way out of our eternal predicament, but because You have, I can be filled with hope in the here and now. I do not have to wait until physical death to be with You. Instead, because of Your love, I can be in a nurturing relationship with You now! This developing relationship carries with it the security of Your ever-present care and protection, for You have promised to never leave nor forsake those who follow You.
  • Thank you, Jesus, of your on-going obedience to the Father, even after Your resurrection. By appearing to over 500 people, You made it known beyond doubt that You had come back to life.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for fulfilling the promise of sending the Holy Spirit after You ascended to heaven. And thank you, Holy Spirit, for Your on-going fulfillment of the Father’s work here on earth. You make the Scriptures come to life and You encourage the Church to fulfill its part in God’s plan as well as You move individual members to walk in obedience to Him.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the many, many people You have placed in my path that have helped me to see You with greater clarity. These Saints are far to great in number to list individually here, but if you are/were a part of my life in Christ, I praise and thank God for you.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the opportunities to serve You and make Your name known in the world today. Please help me to always remember that obedience to You is a matter of great joy to You, as it should be for me as well!
  • And thank you, Jesus, for the Scriptures. They truly are alive and active, filled with the very essence of the Father. May I/we in our gratitude for them continue to learn from them.

As I said, this is by no means a completed list, but I do believe it gets to the heart of the matter: I/we owe a debt to our Savior that we cannot repay. Yet out of His ever-loving heart, He has paid it for us. May we, in the lingo of today, take this love and ‘pay it forward’ in humility, love and gratitude.

May the blessings of the Resurrection of Jesus be deeply known to you today,

Pastor Chuck

Watergate and Jesus Gate: Two Cover-ups that Did Not Work

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It has been said that if we don’t remember the lessons of the past, we are likely to make similar mistakes in the future. History has proved this time and time again with regard to the attempts of people in power attempting to cover-up actions they had taken, or at least had condoned. People my age grew up in a time when this truism was the hot button topic: The Watergate Cover-up.

For the many who are younger than me or perhaps those living in other parts of our world, here is my brief synopsis: In 1972, then President Richard M. Nixon was caught up in a scandal that would eventually lead to his resignation from this land’s highest office. He, or at the very least some in his administration that were very close to him, ordered a break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters located in the Watergate Office building for the purpose of obtaining intel on his political opponents.

The actual perpetrators acted more like a slap-stick comedy team than actual burglars. Their ill-advised and planned break-in was quickly discovered, which started the ball rolling on the plan to cover up any Whitehouse involvement in it.

I’ll spare you the sordid details, suffice to say that the many and varied attempts to cover up or suppress truth ultimately failed. The depth of the president’s involvement was revealed, which led to his resignation in August of 1974. Though Nixon was later pardoned by his replacement Gerald Ford, over 60 of his staff were convicted and sentenced to prison time. The cover-up had failed completely.

Another government sponsored cover-up that did not work happened about 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. Matthew’s gospel, written approximately 30 years after the events mentioned here, describes it this way:

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble. Matthew 28:11-14 NIV.

Hush money didn’t work then, much the same as it failed to hide the events at the Watergate building in 1972. The Roman guards received a “large sum” of money to keep quiet about what really happened as Jesus was resurrected, but the evidence was too overwhelming in support of the truth: He was risen from the dead!

Human history is pock-marked with countless attempts to conceal true events. I am not so naïve to believe that some of them haven’t been somewhat successful. But I count myself blessed to know the truth about that first Easter! No cover-up could prevent the news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His victory over death frees me and all who would believe in Him from its clutches. Why would anyone want to cover that up?

Thanks for reading and be safe,

Pastor Chuck

 

 

Believing is Seeing

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As I prepared some post-Easter messages, I turned to John’s Gospel for some of his eye-witness accounts of the activities of Jesus after the resurrection, paying close attention to the interactions that the disciples had with their now Risen Lord.

As it does each time I read it, the reaction of Thomas, both before and after seeing Jesus, resonates with me. Here’s my paraphrase of those encounters: Thomas, who was not present with the others when Jesus first appeared to the group after His resurrection, did not believe his friends when they told him what had happened. That’s impossible and a crazy thing to say was probably what Thomas said when he heard this. Ever pragmatic, he goes on to claim that he will never believe unless he can put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in Jesus’ side.

In other words, seeing is believing for old doubting Thomas. As critical as I would like to be about him, an honest look in the mirror shows that I too have these same tendencies. It was as I read and subsequently communicated with the author of beautybeyondbones blog (I highly recommend reading it!) that this fact raised its ugly head again.

The author of that excellent blog (you can find it on WordPress) was sharing about the painful loneliness of in-patient treatment for an eating disorder and how this current lockdown from Covid-19 was bringing some of those feelings to the surface again. This brought back vivid memories of my time in detox and rehab so many years ago. Realizing that the shared pain of a similar path was helping me, I have decided to share some of my personal experience of those days in my life. My hope is that these words will touch a life like mine was by that brave author now quarantined in New York City.

Faith, as I often write about these days, is defined best in the Book of Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (NIV). Hence, my title today, believing is seeing. Though there are times and seasons in my life now when the certainty of what I do not see is clear, that was not always the case.

As your know, Long-time Reader, I have been a recovering alcoholic for nearly 29 years, all thanks to God! I realize I have shared some of the results of that horrible existence; such as the physical, financial and spiritual bankruptcies that resulted from my drunken life. Yet, I do not believe I have ever mentioned in any detail the struggles of those 7 weeks of in-patient treatment.

As I see I am already on page two on my laptop, I think I’ll focus this entry of the initial 3 week stay in the mental health wing of the hospital that oversaw my detox. Actually, to say that they just monitored my detox doesn’t quite speak to what that caring staff did for me.

Having already taken my belt and shoelaces because I had stated I might harm myself, the staff for the next 48 hours checked on me every 15 minutes to insure I was still breathing because the risk of pulmonary and/or cardiac arrest is heightened when the body is no longer receiving the vast amounts of alcohol it was used to. I will never forget the compassion in their eyes as they not only checked my vital signs but would also stay to hold my shaking hands or wipe my sweat-soaked brow.

I believe the heart-felt care they gave me helped me to be more receptive to the idea of living life without booze. On the third day of that life-changing lockdown, now that I was physically out of the woods, I was given some AA literature to read.

My eyes were drawn immediately to one sentence: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. To this day, I count that moment as the time I knew, without any doubt or hesitation, that this Jesus I had heard about in church as a child was in fact the Savior. My Savior! I asked Him in that moment to please help me. I was lost and so scared, desperate for a way out.

It was then, in His infinite mercy, that He touched me. As He did, He opened my eyes to know that believing was seeing and, all these many years later, our Precious Lord has continued to pour the gift of faith into me, ever honing my spiritual insight that I might see Him at work better as He helps me to believe more completely. Believing is seeing!

I pray that my experience may help someone in some small way to better see through their own eyes of faith today.

Blessings and be safe,

Pastor Chuck

 

The stone was rolled away to allow us in, not to let Jesus out

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The importance of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be overstated! It is the foundational piece of what we as Christians believe. Our faith is to be wholly placed on this act of divine intervention for the salvation of sin-plagued mankind.

I have been using some of the ‘extra’ time I now have on my frequently sanitized hands to ponder this awesome act of love. In particular, I’ve been focusing on something Pastor Diane of the local Lutheran Church said during her Easter sermon. Betsy and I used Zoom to gather virtually with that wonderful group of folks. The Pastor made mention of the stone that was rolled away from the front of Jesus’ tomb was not done to let Him out, but rather to let us in.

This thought struck me and has stuck with me all this week. Like so many things, I have to put aside my understanding of how things work in the natural world so that I can more fully appreciate how God works in the supernatural. When I do, I can see that the resurrected Jesus was freed from the physical limitations He had during His time on earth. Thus, He did not need to have that stone rolled from the entrance of the tomb, it simply could not hold Him there.

The gift of faith God gives allows me to accept this as true and what a blessing that is! What joy it brings. And I find additional comfort in the fact that those who actually spent time with Jesus were faced with similar concerns about that stone. They didn’t ‘get it,’ and some of them spent 3 years in daily contact with Jesus.

Here is how the gospel writer Mark describes the journey of some of these folks to the tomb Jesus had been placed in that first Easter morning:

Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:2-3 NIV).

The question of who is never directly answered, because as Mark goes on to record:

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. (Mark 16:4 NIV).

When they peered in, they saw that Jesus was not there, yet the tomb wasn’t empty, either. An angel was sitting there, and he told them that Jesus was risen and that He would meet them in Galilee. Initially frightened and still quite flustered, these women went back to tell the other disciples what they had seen and heard. It would take the Lord Jesus appearing to the entire group later that day before the reality of what was going on would begin to sink in.

Fast forward to today, some 2,000 years after these things first occurred. Many still wonder about that stone. Who moved it and how? Important questions to some, and I understand that. Yet I would submit the more pressing question is why. If, as I said about faith, that Jesus did not need the stone rolled away, we are left with the premise Pastor Diane stated, “It was rolled away to let us in.”

There is such a depth of truth in this! The theological implications are enormous. The Bible teaches that we, as sinful humans, are separated from God. Furthermore, the distance between us and Him is immeasurable and cannot be spanned by any effort of our own. Hence this separation can only be bridged by God Himself. He does this by rolling that stone away from the entrance to the tomb that held Jesus’ body.

The now opened tomb has but one-way in. There is no side door or any other hidden passageway. We must see for ourselves that the immovable stone has indeed been rolled out of the way. We have access, by faith, to the resurrected Jesus because God has removed the barrier.

If you never have, please consider the eternal implication of not taking the step into the place Jesus was. He was there for you! Because the Lord no longer is there the truth of God’s love has been revealed. He has rolled the stone away to let you in. Please take the step of faith to see for yourself.

Blessings to all and be safe,

Pastor Chuck

A blog from the future, dated 2525

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Guest contributors: Zagar and Evans (not really, but some of you will get the reference)

(This entry has been translated from binary code to English)

A historic find of some significance was uncovered recently.  In what was once referred to as the United States of America, a strange book was found beneath tons of plastic bags and other trash.  This book, ironically persevered in plastic, had the words Holy Bible emblazoned on the front cover.  The find was in remarkably good condition given its age.  The non-human excavators surmise that it hadn’t been opened even before finding its way to the bottom of the trash heap.

Professors of ancient language and history have busied themselves studying the relic.  Language experts have determined it is written in a forgotten language called English.  Though the study of the original language is important, what has the Rabbit Ruling Class most concerned is what is recorded in the last third of the book.

The historians have pieced together a most remarkable tale of a deity taking human form to live among them.  Further study has revealed that this was supposed to be part of a major plan to bring salvation to humankind as the person/god was to die for something called ‘forgiveness of sins.’ This unbelievable plan was celebrated yearly in an event called Easter, from which many now think comes the origin of the Sect of the Blessed Bunny.  In any event, this so-called Easter season traditionally started on what was called Ash Wednesday.

In the considered opinion of Zagar and Evans, these long-forgotten words will hold no meaning to our advanced culture, for apparently they had little impact on those it was originally intended for.

We give great thanks to the Ruling Rabbit in the Great Hutch in the Sky that these confusing ideas died with that long-ago culture.  One can only imagine the chaos that would ensue if this crazy story gained a foothold today.  If it did, untold millions might have to forego their quota of chocolate (shaped like the Ruling Rabbit, of course).  We shudder to think what would happen to the millions whose livelihood depends on chocolate production should our spring-time celebration of the Holy Hare be interrupted.

Fear not, you who happily hop along the bunny trail, our greatest minds agree that this notion of a God dying to save others will remain buried in the trash heap.  It is truly too crazy to believe.  And even if it were true, chocolate is so much sweeter.

Regards,

Zagar and Evans

A little satire to start your Lenten journey, Faithful Reader.  May it help you to consider the true wonder of this Easter season which begins today: There is a God who loves you so very much that He did indeed provide the way to salvation.  Now that’s sweet!

Pastor Chuck

 

Thoughts about Ash Wednesday from a non-denominational pastor

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 what 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 chocolate bunnies.

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 my self 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, the non-denominational 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 ask?

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.

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

The People Stood Watching

This Sunday is Easter.  To many, this is a day to gather for a family meal, dole out chocolate bunnies to the kids and maybe go to church.  If this describes some of your activities around this weekend, the following blog was not written with you in mind.  Rather, these thoughts are directed toward those who profess belief in what the Bible says happened that first Easter; that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead; that His death paid the penalty we owe for our sinfulness and His coming back to life is the final victory over death that allows entry into eternity with Him.

As I re-read the account of the crucifixion found in Luke 23:26-49, I found myself burdened with a question about my own life of faith.  I share it with you in hopes that you too will be challenged as I have been to deepen my faith.  The wrestling began as I read verse 35:

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him.

As was the Roman custom 2000 years ago, those condemned to die this grisly death had to carry a heavy part of the cross they were to be crucified on to a hill outside of town.  It was a sad parade witnessed by many who hoped to catch a glimpse of the accused.  This time, there were those in that crowd who had seen some of the miracles Jesus had performed.  Perhaps others had been present when He spoke in the Temple.  Still others, probably most, were simply drawn to the spectacle, waiting to see how things would turn out.

Which brings me to my point: Am I standing by again this Easter, waiting to see how things turn out?  Am I somehow keeping my life of faith under wraps, waiting to see some great sign from above before I walk more boldly in it?

I am in no way casting judgment on that original crowd simply because they were sight-seers.  Remember, it is always a good idea to read the biblical accounts in context.  In this case, those people genuinely did not know what was to happen.  To most of these witnesses, this was an annual event, though this time one of those sentenced to death had more notoriety than at other times.  Still, God’s plan had not yet played out to its completion.  Few if any were expecting the eternity changing events that were to happen three days hence.

Today, I do know what happened on that glorious Resurrection Day and yet, I find myself too often standing on the sidelines while life’s parade marches by.  What is it that holds me back from proclaiming, by word and deed, the miracle of that first Easter morn.

Whatever rationalization I can come up with certainly pales considering the power of the resurrection.  I think to best not be a spectator  this year, and going forward, I need to take the command Jesus gave his disciples found in John 13:34-35 more seriously: “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV).

To actively love the world around me as Jesus tells me I should requires that I get involved with it.  The current state of our world provides amble opportunity to get off the sidelines and into action.  There are so many hurting and desperate people who need a genuine display of the love we so often talk about.  But I must be willing, as Jesus was throughout His earthly ministry, to minister to folks right where they are.  I am encouraging all of us, using the awesome wonder and power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, to motivate us afresh to do this.

Won’t you join me, asking for His help and guidance, to commit to being a more faithful follower of the Lord?  Please take to heart the command to love others so that the love of Christ may be made known. Let’s joyfully serve wherever and in whatever capacity is needed.  May we not stand off to the side and merely watch anymore. Spread the joy of the Resurrection every day, that others may come to know the saving love of God.