Fringe Benefits

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Fringe benefits. We’ve all heard the term and know basically what they are: things above and beyond basic compensation from an employer. It can be an extensive list that includes paid time off, health insurance, profit sharing and retirement plans, to name just a few.

Where’s this heading, you may be wondering. I’m glad you asked!

I was reading from the Gospel of Mark earlier, and came upon this passage describing Jesus in his travels: And wherever he went, into villages, or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:56 NRSV)

There you have it! The benefit of touching the fringe of Jesus’ garment. People had heard the stories of miraculous healings being done by this Jesus and in their desperation were hoping to just touch what he was wearing that they might experience a miracle too. And the gospel accounts tells us of many such folks who received healing from Jesus. He sometimes laid a hand on the sick or at other times and over a distance simply spoke a word and healing happened.

As wonderful as these accounts are, they truly represent only the fringe of Jesus’ ministry and purpose. He healed because of his compassion toward the hurting. Yet the driving force behind any of the miracles attributed to Jesus was to point people toward God. Physical healings are great, but to the best of my knowledge everyone restored by Jesus still eventually died a natural death.

None of what I’ve said is meant to minimize the wonder of Jesus’ actions, both then and now. My point is this: supernatural healing is a fringe benefit; of having faith.

If you have faith, you have already received the greatest healing you can ever get: You know the love of God! And the news gets even better: Faith is not something you and I have to develop, it is the gift of God! We are not given faith as a result of our good efforts or stiving for perfection. Rather, God knows we need it and that we are incapable of truly developing it on our own.

Enter Jesus, the Great(est) Physician! No matter how far modern medicine progresses, it will never attain the ability to cure us on an eternal level. And that’s ok, because Jesus has already seen to that for everyone. In so doing, our Savior has provided the vehicle of faith for us to grab on to. And we don’t have to reach for the edge of the Savior’s garment because through the blessing and activity of the Holy Spirit we have 24/7 access to the Lord.

So don’t be satisfied with touching just the fringe, but wrap yourself up from head to toe in the love of God; a love that is for all, always, forever and ever! Amen.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing,

Pastor Chuck

I can do all things, except keep a New Year’s resolution!

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Many people are familiar with the well- known verse of Scripture: I can do all things through God who strengthens me. I have seen this verse on athlete’s equipment, on bumper stickers and billboards. It is often right in front of me and honestly, I believe it (almost always).

But…. if this Scripture is true (spoiler alert, it is!), why is it that I cannot seem to keep a New Year’s resolution. Try as I might, my firm commitment to lose weight by swearing off sweets turns into a good idea and finally to wishful thinking and waiting until next year. In talking with others, I find that the vast majority find themselves in the same boat in regard to these types of resolutions. The intentions are good, yet the ability to stay the course invariably goes away.

What is the answer? After all, God tells us we can do all things. But I have left the answer out: I can do all things, but only through God. I am sure that God wants me to watch what I eat so that I can worship God through ministry for years to come, but I need help to get there.

The problem is not with God, but with my stubbornness that continues to tell me I can do this or that thing on my own, thanks anyway, God. Personal history has revealed that in my own strength I will eventually wilt when confronted by ice cream or cookies.

So what is the answer? For me, I have to read that Philippians 4:13 in reverse: Through God’s strength, I can do everything. Reading it this way puts God first, exactly where God belongs in my heart and mind! Now I am better prepared to see God’s faithfulness toward me. And I am reminded that I need God to accomplish the good I set out to do!

Be encouraged my friends! Allow our human failing(s) to draw us ever nearer to the God who loves us all unconditionally.

Coming nearer to God will give us the opportunity to do everything God would have us do in 2022, so long as we stay aware of our need of God’s strength to do it.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

The Baby King

Luke 2:1-18

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Do you remember playing musical chairs as a youngster? That supposedly fun game that had you march around a circle of chairs only to try to sit down in one when the music stopped. The object, of course, was to sit before everyone else because there were less chairs than people. The number of chairs would then be reduced and the music started again. The process continued until there were two kids and one chair with the winner being the last one to sit. It was plenty of fun for the winner, but I can recall feeling pretty lousy at not making it to the end.

I can also remember that sinking feeling of being the last one chosen to play baseball and off to right field I would go. There was also the pain in the pit of the stomach sensation when I had been excluded from a gathering of the other kids in the neighborhood.

It’s not my purpose to dredge up old feelings of being left out this Christmas, actually quite the opposite. Instead I would point your attention to the miraculous fact that the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, came to the world as the infant whose birth we celebrate today. An infant, it turns out, that wants all people everywhere to feel included by the love of God.

The King as an infant! What a radical way to set a salvation plan into motion! As a father of two children, I can recall the total and complete dependence of my kids when we first brought them home. There was nothing (well maybe one thing) they could do without adult help. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Yet, the bible tells as that the Son of God spent his early hours wrapped in rags and lying in a barn or cave inside a feeding trough! Hardly an A-list reception.

Pondering this momentous occasion again, I can see the love and logic in the divine plan. Jesus, so the theologians tell us, had to be both fully divine and fully human in order to perfectly carry out the plan of salvation for all humankind. Though I’d be lying if I said I fully understand this, I take it on faith because God has proved totally faithful in all things.

The great comfort that comes to me today is the fact that Jesus, growing up from that baby to pre-teen to teen and finally adult, experienced all the feelings and emotions that I did and do. All those left out feelings I mentioned, the Lord felt them too! And what is even more wonderful than simply knowing that Jesus can relate is the fact that if I bring my pain and hurts to Him, He will minister to my heart in a way tailor made for me and all the while assuring me/us of the love of God that will care for us now and forevermore!

So take please take a moment as you unwrap those beautifully done up gifts today, to consider the absolutely most awesome gift ever given once again, Jesus Christ; the life giving present that did not come to us in a perfectly prepared package, but instead was wrapped in old rags, lying in a manger. And as you do, allow the love of God to minister to all the old hurts you might have so that you can more fully rejoice this day (and always) in the love that was given to us all in Jesus Christ.

May the blessings of this season be upon you,

Pastor Chuck

We Are the Church!

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The following is a sermon I wrote for seminary this semester to be shared with the church I am now serving at.

We are the Church

A Sermon based on Acts 2:37-47

Presented by Vicar Chuck Copps

Greetings my siblings in Christ. Please take a moment to look around at those gathered here today. Familiar faces for the most part, I can safely assume. Now please close your eyes and in your mind’s eye see the church. Thanks.

Hopefully the pictures in your mind of church consisted of many of the faces you looked at a moment ago, for that is the church. Let’s define church this way: It is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel (Augsburg Confession; VII, p. 42, paragraph 1).

Now what if asked how you got here today? Motor vehicle would be one correct response. But for the purposes of our time together this morning, please consider another equally correct answer to that question:

We are brought to church, according to Luther’s Large Catechism, 3rd Article of the Creed (Book of Concord, p. 435) by the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit that leads us to the community of faith and places us in the lap of the church as he was fond of saying. The Holy Spirit then, working through the proclaimed Word of God and the sacraments, teaches us about God’s undying love as evidenced through the forgiveness of our sins. Presented with God’s love in this way, the Spirit pours into us the gift of faith by which we come to understand that God has redeemed and renewed us.

To sum up, the church is made up in and by the hearts of the faithful. To be clear, the church welcomes everyone in regardless of where they may be in their journey. There is no ‘heart monitor’ prior to coming through the doors!

Next let’s consider the example of the growing church we just heard about in our reading from the Book of Acts to see how we might deepen our own ideas about church, our place and purpose in it, and how our faith plays a role in all of this.

We, as the body of Christ, operate on a level playing field. There is no hierarchy of power. We as individuals are called to different vocations, and because of this we all bring something of value to the assembly. Of great blessing to this gathering of the faithful is Pastor Hannah. Because she is called to be our pastor, she is in a position of leadership and guidance for this assembly, not because she is a super-spiritual or an otherwise special recipient of God’s blessings. We are all the recipients of God’s grace as individuals but as a church we do not mediate this grace. Grace is a pure gift of God, given only by God to us through the means of the sacraments and proclaimed Word as the Holy Spirit works through them.

If this brief description of what the church, do these facts apply to the church we read about in Acts earlier? Here’s the short answer: Yes! Let’s review the activities of the Acts church to discover how this is true.

Those first members of that faith community had heard the Word of God proclaimed to them as Peter spoke. As they listened, the Holy Spirit moved in them in such a way that they received this gift, repented of their sins and were baptized and the church, as we defined above, was born! I am sure many of them then thought, “This is wonderful but what is next?

Our text gives the answer: They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers. It should be easy to see the similarities between then and now. We have gathered to pray, to hear the teaching of the gospel, the sharing of the communion meal and fellowship. Of these features, it is safe to assume that the teaching uses different examples and analogies now than it did then, but the pure gospel is still proclaimed here as it was then. Likewise, our prayers our different and certainly the time of fellowship would have many differences. Can you imagine a fellowship time without coffee?

Please note, however, that the breaking of bread would essentially be the same. Both the early church and we remember what Christ has done for all humankind as we share the bread and wine at his table. We are aware, as the first church was, that Jesus is present in this meal and by partaking of it, our spirits are nourished and our souls comforted as we remember again what the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus as gained for us all.

Our text tells us that those who received God’s forgiveness that day were then baptized. Obviously, those mentioned in Acts were adults. Why do we baptize infants then? An excellent question that deserves to be answered.

In the Lutheran Church, we believe baptism to be a divine action by God. The use of water, with the proclaimed Word of God is how we receive the gift of faith. As with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, the water is a material means by which the Holy Spirit imparts faith to us. We baptize infants then not only to have this gift poured into them early in life, but also a sign to the community of faith of God at work. As a person grows in faith, he or she becomes aware of their shortcomings. At the same time, that gift of faith poured into the person at Baptism continues to bring comfort as it brings to mind that we are renewed and redeemed by God.

This all sound good, but does it mean that we, as Lutherans, have the inside track to God? Of course not. Other churches and other denominations can be seen as ‘different flavors’, if you will. As long as the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are properly administered, the format of worship or the type of songs that are sung can vary significantly. The point to remember when looking at other Christian faith communities is this: Those things that are commanded by God are necessary for worship; traditions placed by humans, so long as they do not detract from what God decrees, are acceptable, though they be different from what we practice.

For example think about fasting. The giving up of food for a period of time may well be a valuable spiritual discipline for some, but the act itself has no bearing on our salvation. Hence, one church may practice fasting while another does not. Doing so does not make one community holier or closer to God, it is merely a practice that one group chooses to follow.

The preaching in the church today should be recognizable as similar to what was preached in the early church. Salvation is from God to us made possible by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. As we gather to worship God, we are reminded of God’s grace as we hear the gospel explained. The early church eagerly sought this teaching and God blessed them by growing them in numbers. We would do well to anticipate God moving likewise in this gathering should we digest the gospel message as first church goers did.

Concluding thoughts:  It is my hope that during this time together we have developed a deeper understanding of what the church truly is. Simply put, church is a state of mind, not a destination. Although a well-kept building and fine trimmed lawn is appealing to the eye, it is when the church is seen in the hearts of the faithful that God’s message of hope is spread.

As I’ve said, the church exists in each of our hearts, as it did in the hearts of those in the Acts church. God has put the same call in our hearts that was put into theirs all the centuries ago: We are sent into the world to proclaim and live out God’s justification of us through Jesus Christ.

As the Holy Spirit guided those folks in Acts to gather for worship, teaching and fellowship, so too are we to express God’s love to others as we do the same.

We can do this in confidence because we see the evidence of God’s love here in the Word and Sacrament. Through these God has initiated trust in our hearts. We know therefore, as the first church did, that salvation comes only from God. We play no active part, it is purely God’s gift to all. As the Holy Spirit works in us, both individually and as a church, we are transformed more and more into God’s likeness in order that we can better share this Good News with others, regardless of our personal vocation.

The passage we read from Acts Chapter 2 ended on a very encouraging note after describing the life and activities of that early church: And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (V. 47b NRSV)

As much as I would like to tell you that the same will happen here if we all truly embrace the idea that the church is made up within us. However, I’m just not privy to God’s plans.

 I can make several informed opinions if we do though. First, God will bless us with increased faith as we more fully grasp what the church is to be and that we all have a part, or function, in its growth. I believe that we will grow in our trust of God as we take to heart the things that make up a vibrant church.

Although I cannot say that God will add to our numbers on a daily basis, I am confident in the Almighty’s plan to deepen the faith of all of us and that as we come to trust the promises of God with greater certainty, each of us will grow in our love of God and our willingness to share that love with all the world around us. Amen.

Thanksgiving First

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While working on a sermon for the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my mind wandered back to early grade school times and the lessons we were taught about that first Thanksgiving. The pilgrims, we were told, gathered to have a dinner of thanksgiving, though by today’s standards the amount of food was paltry. That first Thanksgiving was more about being thankful for being alive as opposed to being grateful for an abundance of food.

As I continued to ponder the differences between now and then, I began to feel convicted about taking the blessings of God for granted. How often or how deeply do I reflect on the fact that my every day needs are met. I am faced daily with deciding what to eat, not wonder if I will.

With these thoughts in my mind, I decided I wanted to be more intentional and genuine in my thoughts, words and deeds with regard to being grateful. The idea struck me, as I continued to contemplate the first Thanksgiving, to put thanksgiving first.

As you who have been with me in the blog-o-sphere for a while might guess, I found the inspiration to do this in the Scriptures.

The Bible is full of passages that encourage the reader to be thankful. Here are just a few from the New International Version:

1 Thessalonians 5:18: give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 107:1: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 100:4: Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise

I could go on, but you get the idea; being thankful to God encompasses all of the human experience. Realizing this, I still was not sure if my being grateful for the blessings I receive does not sometimes get delayed because I am distracted by this or that.

To help me with this issue, I came across the solution in another favorite passage of Scripture of mine: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

Did you catch it? We are first told to pray instead of worrying. And then we pray with thanksgiving as we are making our requests of God. Don’t wait for an answer, instead be thankful as you pray. This is how we keep God in the forefront of our hearts and minds. Basically, we thank God for being God. And if I might add, the request we might make most often is that the Almighty increase our trust in Him.

The wonder of the promise here in being a thanksgiving first people is that we are promised the peace of God. Let that sink in a moment. The peace of God. It is given to guard our hearts and our minds according to this verse from the Letter to the Philippians. In my opinion, the primary role of God’s peace is guarding our hearts and minds from worry.

I pray for all of us that we become willing to be thanksgiving first people and that as we do, the Holy Spirit will draw us to a place of deeper trust in God. As this trust continues to grow, we will experience more and more of God’s promised peace as our tendency to worry becomes less pronounced.

So not only a Happy Thanksgiving to you all, but also one that grows you and me in our love and trust of God as we give thanks for all God has done for us and as we do, pray that God keeps our eyes open for the opportunities to share these abundant blessings with the world around us.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

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Hello again Faithful Reader! If the old saying is true that times flies when you are having fun, then I must be having a blast!

It has been a month already since I began the next part of my journey at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. I am serving on staff there as Vicar (a fancy word for saying intern!)

I wrote the following for the October newsletter they put out. I hope it serves as an update for you all.

Also, I was given the honor of preaching for the first time there on September 24th. I’ve included the link to the ‘studio’ version of that sermon should you want to give a listen to my take on the inclusiveness that Jesus modeled.

From the newsletter:

Feels Like Home

Growing up in Oswego, my house was the place we all my friends would gather. As I look back, it is easy to see why. My parents went out of their way to make my buddies feel welcome and never letting any of them leave hungry. The homemade dinners and fresh baked desserts were prepared with the expectation of extra plates being needed, and they often were!

Betsy and I made it a point to have our home be like that as well. Our two kids knew that their friends were always welcome. The numerous sleepovers and meals shared let us know the kids were as comfortable around us as we were with them.

The wonderful welcome Betsy and I have received at St. Marks has reminded me of the times I just mentioned. Even behind the masks, the light in your eyes and the joy on your faces is easy to see. Part of me feels like my friends must have at my homestead as my parents made sure their needs were met in a caring way.

At no time have we felt like outsiders trying to make our way in. Instead, invitations have been extended to join in ministries or to simply share a little of ourselves with you in conversation.

As you may know, part of the ministry I have been involved with in recent years has afforded me opportunities to be in any number of different churches as a guest preacher, providing music with Betsy or leading bible studies. We believe
each of these churches are doing their best to honor God in all that they do.

I find this true at St. Marks as well, but as a body of believers you stand apart from these others. I believe that is because of your humble devotion to serving Christ as you reach out throughout the Baldwinsville (and beyond) area. Betsy and I are honored and humbled to serve with you as together we extend the love of God to the world around us.

Blessings,

Vicar Chuck Copps

Here We Go!

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Starting something new brings out different emotions in different people. For some, new equals scary. The many unknowns tend to take the imagination in all sorts odd directions. Fear of failure can be nearly paralyzing. Sleepless nights as the new approaches are not uncommon, leaving one to want to stay snuggled in the familiar.

For others, new equates with adventure. The possibilities seem endless and the desire to get started has every nerve ending pulsing in anticipation. With different people to meet and challenges to overcome, a new project or direction is certainly not to be boring.

I find myself landing squarely in between these two examples. Being honest, there is some trepidation but also a pull to get started, to see just what God is leading me toward.

I share these thoughts as I begin a new chapter in ministry. Those who have been with me in the blog-o-sphere for a while know that I have been pastor of a home based, outreach oriented ministry. To be clear, this is not going away, but the realities of the pandemic have severely limited our access to so many we used to minister to.

Faced with this happening, I sought out God through prayer for direction. Faithful as He always is, a new path soon emerged. I have started this week serving as an intern on the staff of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Baldwinsville, NY, just a few miles down the road from our home.

Betsy and I have belonged to and worshiped at the Lutheran Church here in Fulton for a number of years. With the encouragement of the wonderful pastor there, I began to explore ways that I might become more active, in an official capacity, within the Lutheran Church.

This led to my being accepted into their Candidacy for Rostered Ministry program. Taking my education and experience background into account, those overseeing me suggested a take some courses at a Lutheran seminary (on line!) and to work on staff at one of their churches to learn the ins and outs of daily parish ministry.

Hence, the Here We Go at the top. The lead pastor at St. Mark’s is a blessing to that congregation and to me too! I have been welcomed with abundant grace. The details of my duties are still being worked out, but I am certain that God is in the middle of them all.

So there you have my update, Dear Reader. If you are a praying person, I humbly ask that you include Betsy and me in your prayers. We simply want to serve God and bring glory to His name.

As always, thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Jesus, So Much More than Just Another Meal

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Some thoughts on John 6:35, 41-51:

Just a quick scan of the Bible reveals that God has quite the record of providing real food on a miraculous scale to sustain the body. In the beginning of Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel you can read about one of those times as Jesus fed over 5,000 people from just 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread with leftovers that filled 12 baskets!

Jesus had worked this mighty miracle as a setting for a plain talk on His true mission in the world. “I am the bread of life.” By saying it that way, ‘I am,” Jesus was identifying himself with God.

While it is true that Jesus spent much time ministering to people’s physical needs, the real purpose of His coming into the world was to save people’s souls.

Hearing this, the people began to lose interest. As long as there is free food, great; keep it coming. Be our King and feed us every day like the Israelites in the desert under Moses. Jesus’ first audience were thinking only of their own physical wants and needs. How many of us still do this too?

More than just another meal

Jesus addresses those grumbling as He points out that the manna, (in verses listed at the top) miracle that it was, did not provide the eternal ‘food’ that we all need. After all, their ancestors ate it and still died in the desert. Jesus is so much more than just another meal.

The first of the I am statements in John’s Gospel

Jesus, “I am the Bread of Life.” What does that say to you? The original audience had trouble processing that claim. What do you do with it?

Maybe before we examine that, a more basic question needs to be addressed first: Who is Jesus to you?

            Is He: a cosmic talisman you call on when you are in trouble?

Some far-off or aloof deity/someone you choose to keep at arm’s length?

Is He your Savior (the A answer!). Yet the text today seems to be telling us that the Lord can be something in addition to Savior. Please remember that Jesus is salvation, plus or minus nothing.

Jesus: “I am the bread of life.” (twice) “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

            Is He the Bread of Life to you?

When Jesus says you will never hunger or thirst again, obviously He does not mean physically. Rather, Jesus is telling us all that believing in Him brings with it a satisfaction that cannot be removed or replaced. It has been said that we are all born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts that can only be filled perfectly by Jesus. That hole is what gets filled when you take the Bread of Life. Jesus brings to you the wholeness that only He can.

Remember, Jesus is not just another meal

 Jesus does not want only to help us sustain life. No, rather He is offering all humanity eternal life! You, me and the whole world. This is God’s grace as it is poured out to us each day. John 10:10b records Jesus saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I have come that they may have live; and have it to the full.” Jesus has come to save and to have the life He offers to the full.

We then must use each day’s grace for the purpose God gives it; that it nourishes us spiritually. All we have to do is merely acknowledge our need and accept what the Lord is offering daily. God knows your needs. Do you trust Him to supply that which you need, even if you do not understand it or can explain it?

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Freedom for All!

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This 3 day weekend here in the States has given many the opportunity to celebrate our country’s independence. With Covid-19 on the run in many places, folks have traveled near and far to join in these festivities with family and friends. To many, the lifting of restrictions has a feeling of release from pandemic prison. I find it a joy to see the many happy faces around our neighborhood as they share laughter and food with others for the first time in a long time.

Yet I also know something of human nature and when tomorrow, July 6th gets here, many of these same people will trudge off to work. The thoughts of weekend celebrations will quickly fade into the dull routine of earning a living.

Part of the reason for this drudgery, in my opinion, is the fact that though we celebrate July 4th as a mark of freedom, most are aware that we live in a culture that is far from free. Racial and social injustice are still painfully prevalent, and no amount of celebratory fireworks can mask that truth. I believe that as a nation we carry this fact with us, thus quickly dampening the good feeling of celebrating something that is not universally available.

Thanks be to God, there is a true freedom that is offered to all; the freedom that Jesus Christ has procured. It is by His sinless life, His crucifixion in the place of sinful mankind and His glorious resurrection that this freedom comes.

Jesus spoke of this freedom while He still walked the earth. John’s gospel records it his way: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36 NIV) The Lord is speaking here of the freedom from the bondage to sin. He knows that only His perfect sacrifice will satisfy the wrath of God against all sinners, of which you and I are included. The word Jesus uses for freedom in the original Greek means to be liberated from something that holds you captive. In the case of humanity, this means the sinful nature that we are all born with. It is this sin nature that prevents us from entering into this saving relationship on our own, therefore making the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross a necessity.

How to we get this freedom that Jesus offers? Simply put, we must recognize our need of salvation and our helplessness towards attaining it on our own. If we can do this, it becomes a matter of simple faith: Believe that Jesus died, was buried and then resurrected as payment for our sinfulness. The Apostle Paul spells this out directly: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

Sound to simple to be true? It’s not! God loves us all. In that all-encompassing love He invites each and every person into relationship with Him. Salvation is from God and truly it is all about God. We are left to simply accept the gift of freedom as offered.

What, then, are we to do with this freedom once we accept it? Again, it is Paul the Apostle who gives us instruction: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

Faith in Jesus sets us free from eternal death. Paul’s point then is that we live in that freedom each day until the Lord calls us home. When, with the Spirit’s help, we live in this freedom to the best of our ability, we can know what the liberating power of God’s love is. If we can allow this love to permeate the depths of our heart, God’s love can flow from us to the world around us. Living in this freedom then ought to allow us to see all other people as they are, children of the same creator.

The freedom purchased for us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ truly levels the playing field. It allows us to shake off the shackles of hatred, distrust and jealousy so that we can be conduits for His love.

As you know, I have nothing against a cookout and sharing good times with friends and family. But those pale when compared to the celebration God calls us to. Please join me in continuing this celebration in all we do and say and may our hearts reflect gratitude to God for loving us so much that He has chosen to truly set us free.

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Have you seen the wind?

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Have you ever seen: Rain? Snow? Trees? Grass? Flowers? The sky? The sun? The moon? Of course you have. Your sense of sight sees them most everywhere you look. Your other senses remind you of many other of the multitude of things that surround us constantly in the physical world.

What about the wind? Have you ever seen it? You can see trees move and their leaves blowing around. You can also see the mighty force of wind in storms like tornados and hurricanes. Yet these things are the result of wind. I ask again; Have you ever seen the wind? I have not. But even though I have not seen wind with my eyes, I know that it exists. I have felt it on my skin and seen it move things, making me convinced that it is real.

What about God? Have you seen Him? Personally, I have not. I am alright with this because the Scriptures tell us that God does not need to be seen or experienced by our senses in order for us to know He exists. Much like we know the wind is real by what we see it do; the same goes for God.

But we do have to look (perceive) things a little differently for us to ‘see’ Him. The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians explains it this way: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV)

Basically he is telling us that in order to see God in the world around us, we have to take our focus off the material, tangible world. This is a difficult thing to do. Yet it is necessary so that we can be able to experience His presence with us day by day.

We have to practice using eyes of faith with the intention of getting them to a 20/20 capability. How can this be done?

Allow me to share with you my approach and though I am still a work in progress, I have found it to help sharpen my faith-sight. The author of the Book of Hebrews defines faith in a way that I use toward this end: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

I practice this as a two part exercise. First, I must be sure of what it is that I hope for, understanding that this hope is not like hoping to win a lottery but rather a calm assurance that the presence of God is a real and true thing. Next, by honing my faith eyes to see the things I cannot see, the faith that God has given me grows ever stronger.

As I said, this is a work in progress. There are times when the physical world around me brings me to near sensory overload. When this starts to happen, my eyes of faith tend to grow dim. The comfort here is that though I may be having trouble seeing what is unseen; this does not mean that God is not there. As I remember this, the unseen usually comes back into focus and with it the assurance of God’s loving care, protection and direction.

As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read this. I deeply appreciate your time and pray that these words may indeed help you to see the unseen a little more clearly today.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck