A Day is Like a Thousand Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

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

An Angry Jesus?

Jesus Cleanses the Temple
(image courtesy of cagnz.org)

No April Fool’s joke here, the Scriptures that describe the events leading to the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus give us two examples of an angry Jesus.

When last we spoke, adoring crowds welcomed Jesus as He entered Jerusalem. The building excitement of His ministry seemed destined to conclude with Him being crowned King of the Jews. The events in the narrative of the following days do little to disprove the people’s belief that their earthly king was about to take his crown.

Picking up the story in Mark’s Gospel at Chapter 11, verses 12-19, we find evidence of an angry Jesus. It is now the following morning, and Jesus and His disciples are walking back to Jerusalem. Along the way, the author tells us Jesus was hungry and walked toward a fig tree, hoping to find something to eat. As He reached it, the Lord saw that it had only leaves and no fruit. Seemingly angry, Jesus then says to the fig tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (Mark 11:14 NIV)

We see another example of an angry Jesus later that same day as He entered the temple in Jerusalem. If you will recall, these were the days leading up to the important celebration of Passover. Many Jewish pilgrims would have been in Jerusalem for this event, fulfilling their vows in the temple. Those travelers who did not have the appropriate animals with them for the sacrificial rituals would have to buy them from opportunistic sellers in the courtyard of the temple. Also, because these people came from some great distances, the currency they used in their home village would not be usable at the temple. Therefore, money-changers were also doing a brisk business there.

Jesus comes upon this scene and angerly disperses these merchants, saying, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17 NIV) It is not difficult to close your eyes and picture the scene: mass confusion as small animals, various coins and bewildered worshipers are scattered about.

I don’t know about you, my Most Appreciated Readers, but I rarely spend much time contemplating an angry Jesus. I would much rather picture Him smiling at small children, teaching in the countryside or performing one of His many documented miracles. Yet, there is no denying that the Jesus told of here in Mark Chapter 11 is an angry one. And as I was taught early on, “if it is in the bible, it is important.”

What, then, is up with an angry Jesus? One view might be that He simply was under considerable pressure. His earthly time of ministry was coming to a close with a horrible, painful death on the horizon. I know that when I am feeling mounting expectations, I often can act more rashly by lashing out at things and people.

This is understandable with me, a foible human. But what about Jesus, the Son of God. Why not quietly point out to the temple vendors the issues He had with them and for that matter, how about miraculously make figs appear on that leafy tree?

The Withered Fig Tree - St. George's Church Burlington
(Image courtesy of stgeorgesonline.com)

Allow me to share an opinion or two on these occurrences. With the fig tree, I believe it would have been self-serving of the Lord to feed Himself in this way. Jesus had the power of heaven at His command, and He had used it wisely throughout His time on earth as a means to point people toward God the Father. It simply would not have been appropriate to manufacture a ‘to go’ meal with this power.

Also, as we read on, we find that Jesus and His disciples walk the same path to Jerusalem the next day. On it they see the fig tree in question, and it is withered. Jesus uses this to point out that those who were merely doing ‘religious things’ for their own profit were like this tree; lifeless in spirit and producing mothing of worth.

By clearing the temple in the manner in which He did, I believe Jesus was sending a strong and clear message about how we are to worship God. As He expelled the merchants and bankers, Jesus left no doubt as to what the priority is to be for those who claim to worship God: He alone is worth our undivided devotion. The temple was not to be a market, but rather a place where the world is set aside in order that focus could be placed solely and properly on the Father.

These emotional outbursts, if you will, serve another important point as well. Earlier I mentioned how it is I normally picture Jesus. These thoughts and images are of a loving Savior, who willingly sets aside everything in order that He reach the hearts of people. While this is a true picture of the Lord, it is not a complete one.

Along with being all-loving, the Savior is also perfect and holy. His justice is perfect always. His character cannot be impugned, nor should anyone doubt the complete honesty and consistency of His actions in dealing with creation.

I believe it to be essential in our spiritual growth to maintain this more complete picture of who and what God is, for it is in His perfection that we can completely place our trust. As we consider more of His character, we become able to better understand His love for us.

Yes, He is all-loving. But it is in the completeness of His nature that this total love can best be seen. He is holy. There is no part of Him that can abide with sin in any form. Yet, He loves us infinitely.

This is a love we cannot hope to earn, and blessedly, we do not have to. God, in His total wisdom, knows full well that you and I can never perform enough pious acts to win our way into His grace. Therefore, because His loves knows no bounds, He simply loves us because we are His creation.

This universal love was/is on display clearly upon the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion. The fullness of deity is found in Jesus (Colossian 2:9-10). He was both fully God and fully human as He walked the earth. This fullness includes everything we have considered here today, and so very much more.

Please take a few moments this week as you prepare to celebrate the Resurrection to consider more deeply the full nature of the God who saves.

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

Fickle Followers

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Today, March 28th, 2021, Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday. On this day we remember what is known as the ‘Triumphal Entry,’ as Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem, welcomed as the long-awaited Messiah. You can find the depiction of this event in Mark 11:1-11.

The gospel writer makes full use of the symbolism at hand. First, Jesus instructs his disciples to bring Him a colt to ride on. The Lord mentions that this animal is one that has never been ridden, thus making it an appropriate mount for a king.

It is also important to keep in mind that at this climactic time in Jesus’ ministry, He is wildly popular among the ‘every day’ folks He has been ministering to and teaching. These people had been living under the oppressive rule of Rome and had been waiting many generations for the promised messiah to lead them to freedom. By seeing the miracles and the healings, many had concluded that this Jesus was the one who would lead them to freedom.

The culmination of these events happens as the annual Passover Celebration is nearing. This feast commemorated God leading the Jewish people out from the bondage of Egypt. It is no great leap then to see how this remembrance would enhance the expectation of what Jesus was going to do for them, that is break them out from the dominion of Rome.

Mark’s account of this first Palm Sunday tells of the great excitement and expectation of the crowd that has gathered along the road leading into Jerusalem. I can picture it like a modern day parade, with folks jammed in shoulder to shoulder, craning their necks for a better view of what is happening. The crowd cheered for Jesus. They shouted praises, throwing their cloaks on the road in front of Him to pave the way for this heavenly royalty. The air was electric as the promised King who was going to make all their troubles go away passed by.

We, living on this side of the events of biblical history, know how quickly the great expectations of the masses turned to anger, despair and disillusionment. A mere four days later this soon-to-be king was arrested, tried and sentenced to death. The crowd that had so enthusiastically cheered His coming now raised their voices to have Him crucified.

Those now pleading for the death of Jesus were no doubt some who had been awed by the sights they had seen: Thousands fed from almost nothing, diseases healed, demons cast out and even the dead brought back to life. The glitter of these events was very bright, but when they stopped happening, what was left? For many, I suppose they felt empty and a bit sad that they had been ‘taken in’ by what they had seen. But now the showmen was arrested and about to die, this certainly was no messiah. The anger and disappointment boiled over into a mob calling for this charlatan’s death.

Well, that would never have been me, I comfort myself with. Surely I would have stayed to the bitter end. Not so fast Charles.

If I am to be honest, there are times in my life even now where doubt seems stronger than faith. When the earnest prayers of the faithful seemingly go unanswered, a part of my heart wonders why. As the world falls deeper into darkness and hopelessness, I cry out to God to make Himself known to many. Yet, the many do not seem interested.

As I contemplate these things, it occurs to me that I must be vigilant when it comes to faith. I can do this in a number of ways. First, I must recall that any faith that I have is a gift from God and that I do not generate it on my own. (Romans 12:3b). Because this faith is a gift from God, it is meant to be lived out in trust in Him. In Him means who God is, not necessarily what He is doing.

This was the flaw of many of the original audience on that first Palm Sunday. They had put their belief in the tremendous things they had seen, not in the One who provided the power to make them happen. Once the ‘show’ seemed to end, so did their own belief.

You and I must be vigilant here as well. As wonderful as it is to see firsthand the power of God at work, this should only enhance our faith, not be the basis for it.

We are so incredibly blessed to be living after these biblical events happened. We are privy to how the story played out. We can understand that the miracles of Jesus were to draw people’s attention to God; but it was God and not the miracles they were to place their trust in.

Let us all who recognize what the gift of faith truly is raise our voices today (and everyday) to proclaim the greatness of God. May we live our lives as examples of His saving power that is still at work in the world. And with the help of the Holy Spirit, may we all be faithful, not fickle, followers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Improve your conscious contact

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Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. Step 11 (of 12) from the Program of Recovery from Alcoholics Anonymous.

As many of your know, Faithful Readers, I have been blessed, by the grace of God, to live free from the bondage of alcoholism for nearly 30 years. Where once was a helpless drunk now stands a person living a sober life. I give God all the credit, for it is He who lifted me from the darkness of that former life into the light of His love, free from addiction.

I must also give credit to the program of recovery as laid out by Alcoholics Anonymous. The guidance offered by those who came before has helped me to live a life of personal growth, which I in turn try to share with others as was done for me. The 12 Steps of Recovery as explained in the book Alcoholics Anonymous have been solid guideposts for me all these years. Again, I learned much of what I share from those who took the time to help me get started and as we say in AA, ‘you have to give away what you have in order to keep it.’

Those 12 Steps that I mentioned were written in a specific order. They are meant to help a person get a foundation on which to base their recovery (Steps 1-3). The remaining 9 are more action steps. When followed honestly, they help us to deal with the wreckage of our past and give direction for a happy and productive life of sobriety going forward. In my opinion, there is no graduation day, as the working of the Steps into my daily life is an on-going process. This allows me to assess my thoughts and actions, while helping me to always remember that I am afflicted with a disease that is relentless. It wants me dead, but will settle for drunk. Continually working on the 12 Steps helps to safeguard me from slipping into bad thoughts or behaviors.

I write of this today because the 11th Step (quoted above), was brought up as a topic of discussion at an AA meeting I attended recently. As I listened to what was shared by others concerning Step 11, a few thoughts came to my mind. I shared some of them then, and would like to do so again here. I believe that these 12 Steps are vitally important for recovery, I also hold that they can be of practical help to anyone who wants to take an honest look at themselves with an eye toward becoming a better person, regardless of whether or not you struggle wit haddiction.

Step 11 is built on the premise that one has at least some conscious contact with a power greater than themselves. For me, as I have made abundantly clear in my blog, that power is Jesus Christ. It was the Lord who offered me the opportunity to live a sober life, and it continues to be Him who calls me to live a life that honors Him. I make no apologies for my faith, nor do I want anyone to think I water down what I believe in order to make it somehow more appealing.

Having said this for personal clarity, what the 11th Step teaches is that the offer to improve one’s conscious contact with a power greater than themselves is available to all. The key point is that for any lasting sobriety, a person must come to grips that they are totally defenseless against the ravages of addiction on their own. Hence the need for this Higher Power. It is a humbling thing, but by so doing we gain access to the awesome power that desires to help set us free.

Rather than go into a discussion of how one might accomplish the ‘prayer and meditation’ Step 11 advises, let me simply ask two more straight forward questions.

First, regardless of if you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, where do stand in regard to a Higher Power? If you do not recognize one, may I humbly suggest that you investigate the issue further. My journey through life has been made infinitely more peaceful, with life’s speed bumps included, simply because I have entered into a relationship with the God of my understanding, Jesus Christ.

This leads to my other simple question: If you have discovered this power made available to you, a power that wants only the best for you, why wouldn’t you want to improve your conscious contact with it? For me, the many challenges of life, as well as its rewards and joys, have been kept in proper perspective because of this relationship.

By recognizing my complete dependance on my Higher Power to get and keep me sober, I have come to trust Him more and more as the days have turned into years. Improving my conscious contact with Him has allowed me to acknowledge the areas of my life that still need work, as well as to be evermore grateful for what I have come know as His blessings on me.

My advice: Take/make the opportunity to improve your conscious contact with a power greater than yourself. It will only do you good!

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Prayer: Monologue or Dialogue? — Hidden Arrows

Dr. Eastman was one of my seminary professors. He has continued to be a blessing to me in the years since. His love for our Lord and depth of knowledge of the Word have long inspired me to emulate his life. Please take a moment to read his compelling thoughts on prayer.

Thanks

Talk about honesty! One of my seminary students admitted,  “My past practice of prayer…has been mostly a monologue.” He then made a simple yet powerful case for centering or contemplative prayer: “I am attracted to it because it will help me grow in my commitment to listen more to God…” Can you identify with that? […]

Prayer: Monologue or Dialogue? — Hidden Arrows

Who is my neighbor?

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If I were to ask you, Dear Reader, what is a good Samaritan, I am confident that many would relate the parable Jesus told that has come to be known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

In case you need a quick refresher, here is my synopsis: Jesus, in response to the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ tells this famous parable. In it a man traveling the 16 miles between Jerusalem to Jericho is robbed and beaten as he traveled. A priest and a Levite, see the injured man and deliberately pass by on the opposite side of him, not giving any kind of help to someone who clearly needed some.

Then comes our Samaritan, a social outcast in this setting, who lends what would have been life-saving assistance at the scene. He then transported the injured traveler to an inn, where he pays in advance for the care the injured man will need as he recovers.

Jesus used this parable to get his questioner to think about who exactly is a neighbor. When the man answered that it was the one who showed mercy, Jesus told him he was correct. But He also told him to go and do likewise.

As I mulled this over today, Luke 10:25-37 was part of my daily bible reading, I too got to thinking about just who is my neighbor. The answer is not as straight forward as I might want it to be. Oh, there are my next-door neighbors; the elderly couple with the seemingly countless grand kids and on the other side the married couple with two young daughters. Across the street is another older couple and a single mom of 2 teenagers. These are my neighbors. We are all on friendly terms and make ourselves available to help one another as needed.

This seemingly fulfills what Jesus is saying, but only to a point. Being ‘neighborly’ is important and should be done with a glad heart, but if it is as far as I take the question of who is my neighbor, it is terribly short-sighted.

If I am to be obedient to the teaching of Jesus in this regard, I must take a much broader view of who my neighbor is. Clearly, Jesus wants each of us to consider all others as a ‘neighbor,’ especially when someone is in need.

Being a good neighbor in the context of what Jesus is teaching is to have the willingness to give of yourself to help another. Under the Lord’s direction, there is no room at all for social bias or injustice. Both the priest and the Levite in the parable were duty-bound to help, yet they passed on the other side of the road, ignoring the need simply because they did not want to get their hands dirty on someone who they felt was beneath them.

The good neighbor in this parable cut through all the layers of dislike, distrust and disdain and simply rendered assistance.

 I would like to think that if I were in there instead of the Samaritan, I would have stopped to help as well. But being honest, I know that the perceived tightness of my schedule has caused me to join that priest and Levite in passing by a need from time to time. Typing these words makes me cringe at my selfishness and I ask God to forgive me of my hard heart. And while I am asking of the Lord, please also prevent judgment to worm its way into my mind.

With this now fresh in my heart, I am confident that should I come across someone in need to today, I will offer assistance. That is right and good of course, but I believe there are still things I can be doing for others even if I do not happen upon someone who has been robbed and beaten. In other words, I can be pro-active in helping out.

For example, there is a soup kitchen here in town that is always in need of volunteers. I also know of a home-bound person who may need a prescription picked up today. Perhaps there is another person that I know is struggling with loneliness. Today is a good day to call to say “Hello, I am thinking of you today.”

My point, to both me and you, is that there is plenty of need out there. We do not have to look to long or far to see it. May I encourage you to be a Good Samaritan today. I believe that when Jesus said, “Go and do likewise,” He included us in that direction.

I would love to hear how you have been moved to help others or perhaps share a unique way others can reach out to fill needs.

Thanks so much for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

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

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

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

Thanks for listening. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Ash Wednesday: What and Why

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(This blog was first published in March 2019)

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 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 yummy treats.

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 myself 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, this 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 be asking?

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.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

“That tears it!”

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“That tears it!” I am certain most if not all of us have used this expression at a frustration in life. For me, I find myself uttering this toward the end of a game I am watching when a score by the other team effectively removes any chance of my group winning. By and large, ‘that tears it’ is most commonly spoken during a straw that broke the camel’s back occurrence. And rarely, if ever, have I heard this idiom used as an exclamation of something good happening.

But as sometimes happens within the quirky workings of my mind, I read something that caused me to put a different spin on a saying like we are considering. Today this has happened twice as I was reading through the Gospel of Mark. What I discovered in these two places is the most positive take on something being torn I have ever encountered.

Actually, ‘that tears it’ in the context of what I am about to share is the exact opposite of a negative connotation, for the following Scriptures reveal that God has taken away any barriers to Him. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the invitation to absolutely anyone who would put their faith in His saving power.

Sin, as I have stated here on numerous occasions, is that which causes separation between us and God. The imperfect (that’s us) cannot exist in the same place as the Perfect (that is, God). Blessedly, the actual playing out of God’s heavenly hope for poor sinners can be seen beginning at the baptism of Jesus.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11 NIV)

The image of what Jesus saw is beautiful in that it reveals that heaven, the eternal home for the faithful, has been opened. And Mark chose to describe this as heaven being torn open. This is not some neat cut along a dotted line, but rather a ripping open. This tells me that heaven was opened to stay that way. It was not left in such a way as to be neatly stitched back up. Picture that! When God ‘tears it,’ it will not be closed again.

As the events happening around the baptism of Jesus give us the joyful glimpse of a heavenly home being opened to us, it is at His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection that the actual invitation to life eternal in paradise is offered.

In Chapter 15 of Marks’ gospel we find his account of the gruesome crucifixion of the Lord. At the very moment of the physical death of Jesus, God once again ‘tears it.’

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:37-39 NIV)

The meaning of that curtain being torn in two is far too important to miss. In the days of temple worship, this curtain stood as a physical barrier between what was called the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Only a priest, and he only once a year, could go behind that curtain to perform a ceremony of forgiveness in the Most Holy Place.

The death of Jesus Christ tore that barrier out of the way forever! His resurrection three days later stands as the living proof of God’s awesome love for us all. Jesus had taken our place on the cross. He bore the price of our sin so that those who place their faith in Him could be forgiven. The physical barrier, represented here as the curtain to the Most Holy Place, is torn away, never to be replaced.

So if God were to say, “that tears it,” He would be describing the end of our separation from Him. His perfect love paved and continues to pave the way to Him. Won’t you let allow Him to tear away anything you may have or hold to that causes separation?

If you do, you will experience the ultimate joy of having God tear it from you. Once gone, whatever it is, His loving kindness will begin to envelop you, and nothing can tear that away!

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck