No Foolin’

April Fool’s Day has come and gone again for another year.  For the most part, I enjoy the shenanigans that accompanies the first of this month, though I could have gone without seeing Mother Nature’s 6 inches of snow prank on us here in Central New York!

Those who know me are aware that I love to laugh, remaining always ready to laugh at myself first.  If laughter is indeed the best medicine, I must be a pretty healthy individual.

What I know for sure is that the joy that is in my heart, ready to bubble over at any given moment, has been placed there by the Spirit of the Living God, whom I trust without reservation for my salvation.

I say all this to preface what I would like to briefly share with you all today.  I was asked to preach at a local church this past Sunday, filling in for their pastor who was not available to do so.  My style, if you can call it that, is to deliver the message of hope from God’s word in the same way I attempt to communicate all the time: straight forward, down to earth and with a touch of mirth so that we take the message, but not ourselves, seriously.

The title I gave to my sermon was Truth and Consequences, pointing out from numerous places in the Scriptures the truth that there are consequences for all our actions, both good and bad.  I concluded my presentation with an invitation for anyone in the audience to see me afterward to discuss the truth and consequences of making/not making an informed decision about Jesus Christ’s call to salvation, having outlined the consequences of believing in Him or not.

As I stood at the front, an older gent, I’d put him at about 80 years young, came up to me.  I had noticed as I spoke how attentive he and his wife had been, interjecting a fair amount of Amens! to the various points I was trying to make.  What he said to me is what has inspired this entry.  As he thanked me for speaking, he said, “Now that was preaching like we used to hear.”

I asked him what he meant by that.  He simply told me that the message was clear: Jesus Christ is the way to salvation and that there are indeed consequences that affect us forever based on our decision to the Lord’s invitation to be forgiven.

Here’s what I am still pondering and I welcome any and all thoughts and opinions: If plainly speaking about the pros and cons of recognizing our need of a Savior is ‘old school,’ exactly what is being preached/taught in churches today?

I started this entry speaking of the joy I experience daily.  I love a good laugh, usually at my own expense.  I’ll often refer to my lack of height (Vertically Challenged), my inability to jump and overall lack of athletic skill (Prisoner of Gravity) or my lack of good looks (Face made for radio) to get the humor started.

It is with the same joy that allows me to be not so serious about myself that I attempt to spread the simple yet all encompassing Good News about Jesus Christ.  The line between harmless self-deprecating humor and the absolute importance of making the choice for Jesus is crystal clear however, no foolin’.

Thanks for taking the time to read this,

Pastor Chuck

The Fuzzy Line Between my Wants and Needs

In my role as pastor, I often find myself giving counsel to folks concerning their finances.  For couples, the stress of maintaining a budget at home can be overwhelming, especially in those cases where no budget is in place! This entry, however, is not going to be about Budgeting 101, as important as that is.  Rather, I would like to address what I perceive as being the major cause of financial struggle:  the blurring of the line between our wants and needs.

As usual, these thoughts pertain as much to me as anyone.  I find the above-mentioned line getting fuzzy far too often.  Here is a recent case in point: I enjoy reading very much, and in this season of life, I have much more time to do so.  I generally have two or three books going at once, with one pertaining to ministry, another to American History and the third being some kind of mystery novel.  Allow me to give a shout out to my precious wife at this point.  Betsy is our primary wage earner so that I can attend to our ministry full time.  Being blessed with the ability to manage my time well is how I can do this and still find time to read.

Part of this time-management skill includes the ordering of books on line, quite often through Amazon.  I like that I can type in an author’s name an instantly get all that person’s work to choose from.  That part of instant-gratification is helpful.  To the point of my want/need line getting fuzzy, however, I must consider how quickly I am going to receive my order.  If I subscribe to Prime, I can get them the next day, usually before 10 am!  The simple question is do I need it that soon or is it something I want because it sounds interesting/fun/new/different etc.  Seen in this light, I easily recognize that the line has gotten fuzzy and simply pay for traditional shipping, which will get my package to me in a reasonable time frame anyway.

I see another way the want v. need line can get blurred easily.  As I mentioned earlier, my wife is the one who brings home the bread to our household.  She has an incredibly demanding job that keeps her in the office 10 or more hours day, 5 to 6 days a week! Betsy has a deep faith in, and love for God which undoubtedly gives her the strength to meet the demands of her work life with such a cheerful and positive attitude.  Because she is so well grounded, I don’t see her struggle with her want/need line very much, if at all.

This is true even though she uses several different services that send her clothes to try on in styles she has selected in the profile given.  I enjoy that she gets to try different things (without me having to ride shotgun to the mall) in the midst of her hectic schedule.  What is even more wonderful is the ease with which Betsy simply sends back the majority of the items, because she does not need them.  It’s a great example of the clarity between what wants and needs should be.

Not surprisingly, examples can be found in the Bible that are written to help us clarify our wants and needs as well.  Psalm 37:4 tells us to delight yourselves in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (NIV).  This is really another place that speaks about our priorities in life.  David, who wrote this psalm, had experienced a vast amount of wealth and comfort in his life, as well as much strife and hardship.  The lessons of life had taught him that when he put the Lord first in his heart and mind, he found that all he had materially paled when compared to the relationship God had established with him.  Once he discovered the pure delight of God’s love, the rest of the desires of his heart fell in line behind this most important one.  He could see the difference between a want and need.

The Apostle Paul gives yet another example of how to prevent the wants/needs line from getting fuzzy when he wrote to the Philippians: And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 NIV).  Here too we can see that the Scriptures teach that when we seek God to fulfill all  we truly need, His inexhaustible storehouse will supply us fully.

How then does someone like me come to see the want/need line more clearly? The answer is that it starts and ends with God! The bible tells us that His care and faithfulness toward us never ends or even takes a break.  If I (or anyone) is seeking to fill life with instant gratification only to find these things quickly fading into non-importance, we need to better focus on our unchanging and all-powerful Creator.  By seeking Him first and always (see Matthew 6:33 for more on this!), we will realize that He is indeed the fulfillment of every need we have.  With this comfort in the bank, the wants of life can assume their proper place at the back of the line.

The issue is that most, myself included as always, don’t have a thriving relationship with God, usually because we don’t know Him all that well.  Thankfully, this is a correctable situation that can be rectified in two easy steps.  One: Pray like you believe someone is really listening (He is) and two, read more about Him (His entire story is available in print!).

Any relationship that is vibrant includes getting to know the other person more deeply.  It is an on-going proposition.  This means that all healthy relationships are two-sided.  With regard to the relationship God offers, He is all in all the time, which leaves it up to us to grow into our part.

I’m not one for making idle promises, so please don’t take the following lightly: If you will make the effort to deepen your part in your relationship with God, I promise that the line between your wants and needs will become easier to discern.  I speak from personal experience, having both lived in the blessing of intimate contact with God and knowing the loneliness of shunning Him as I try to fill the void by pursuing the things on my want list.  Trust me, having this line more clearly defined has been one of the greatest blessings to me, as I’m sure it can be for you!

Thanks For reading,

Pastor Chuck

Truth and Consequences

There was an old radio turned television show called Truth or Consequences that ran through the late 1980’s.    Wikipedia describes it this way: On the show, contestants received roughly two seconds to answer a trivia question correctly (usually an off-the-wall question that no one would be able to answer correctly, or a bad joke) before “Beulah the Buzzer” sounded (in the rare occasion that the contestant answered the question correctly before Beulah was heard, the question inevitably had two or even three parts). If the contestant could not complete the “Truth” portion, there would be “Consequences,” usually a zany and embarrassing stunt.

Whereas the TV show was built on the premise of an either/or with regards to truth or consequences, real life, as the title of this blog entry mentions, provides a more accurate description: Truth and Consequences.  The truth is that all of our actions result in consequences, either for us or someone/thing else or a combination of both.

King David, one of the biggest heroes of the Old Testament, would find out first hand that the truth carried a severe set of consequences.  Reading through the Book of 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12 is a case in point.  These chapters tell of his affair with Bathsheba.  Here’s the Pastor Chuck condensed version: David sees a beautiful woman as he looks out from the roof of his palace.  Giving no thought to future consequences, he has her brought to him for his pleasure.  The fact that she was already married to another man wasn’t enough to dissuade him.  She gets pregnant as a result and David then plots to have her husband murdered under the guise of putting him in the front lines of the war that was going on at the time.  This scheme succeeds and the King is then ‘free’ to marry Bathsheba.

Enter Nathan the Prophet, one of the bravest figures in the Bible.  He has received a message from God about David’s sins and is instructed to call the King out on them.  There are many accounts from back then where the messenger is killed simply because of the message he bears, but this didn’t stop Nathan from carrying out his orders.  He reveals to David that God does indeed know the truth of what he has done.  Because of these actions, there will the consequences, the worst of these being that the baby born from this was to die.  As this all comes to be, David admits his guilt and asks forgiveness of God.  It’s important to note that while forgiveness is granted, the consequences of the actions still happen.

Of the many lessons you and I are to take from this sad situation, probably the most important is to realize and remember that our actions and choices will all have consequences too.  Obviously in this space I am referring to the bad or poor choices we make, but let’s not forget the opposite: that our good and proper choices can have positive consequences as well!

As we come to accept the truth about consequences, the more vital issue becomes what are we going to do about them going forward.  I have shared in this space before about the ruinous life I lived as an active alcoholic.  My totally selfish and senseless life style left a great deal of damage in its wake.  One place specifically was in our finances.  I accumulated a heap of debt because of my choices.  This was just one consequence that I had to deal with as I came to understand the truth of what I had done.

When my wife and I began to pick up the pieces of our life together, we realized the enormity of this debt.  In 1991 dollars, I owed well over $100,000.  Filing for personal bankruptcy protection alleviated some of this, but not to the IRS and the State of New York.  By failing to pay income and sales tax on the business that I owed, there was a substantial amount of restitution to be paid.

To the point of this blog, what was I to do when confronted with this truth? Was I to take out the mail carrier for bringing these notifications and demands for payment like some ancient prophet who delivered bad news? Of course not! How about running away or simply ignoring them? That approach had never really worked for me in the past, so I had to assume it wouldn’t now either.  What then was left?

Something that was new to me; owning up to my responsibilities.  I had to face and accept the truth.  I had screwed up and there were consequences to be paid.  God, true to His always faithful character, led the way out from under the cloud of debt that I had caused.  Once I accepted my part in this, I asked for His guidance in doing the right thing to clear it up.  He did.  Not with a winning sweepstakes ticket or some huge inheritance, but rather He with supplied me the opportunity to go back to work.  With this blessing came the chance to learn how to deal with money in the proper way, paying my obligations and deciding to pay off the government agencies that I owed.

The grace filled ending to this chapter of my life was that God saw us through it all.  Nowadays, I consider myself one of the richest people I know, though my checkbook my want to argue that point! I count my riches in a different way these days, all because God in his mercy saw to point out to me the consequences of my actions.  As He did, He has changed my heart, and continues to do so.  Am I above consequences for my actions now? Of course not.  What I am, however, is more aware of the bigger picture of life going on around me, which helps me to look for and find ways to have the consequences of my actions today be much more positive and good for me and those around me.

Thanks for reading.  Please feel free to share any stories of truth and consequences that God has seen you through.

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

 

 

OUCH! That Hurt!

 

Sarah Young: It is easy to make an idol of routine, finding security within the boundaries you build around your life.  Although each day contains twenty-four hours, every single one presents a unique set of circumstances.  Don’t try to force-fit today into yesterday’s mold. (Jesus Calling; HarperCollins Christian Publishing: 2004) February 17th.

What Ms. Young wrote for February 17th in her devotional Jesus Calling really grabbed my attention. You see, I find great comfort in routine; so much so that I am often zealous in protecting it.  In fact, as I ponder what she has written, I see how easy it can be to make an idol of routine.  As a pastor, I will often caution folks about the sly way things in our life can become idols in our hearts.  I usually define an idol as being anything that wants to bring attention away from God and toward whatever the particular thing is.  A thing becomes an idol when it assumes more importance in one’s life than it should.

I am beginning to see that I need to take my own advice! I have begun to notice several ways in which I have allowed the striving to maintain my routine to do this to me.  As I said, I really like the comfort of my routine.  This is a crazy world in which we live, and retreating to the comfort of the familiar is easy for me to do. I often see first-hand the ways in which the world today so easily turns lives upside down.  Nor am I personally immune from this.  Personal upsets such as loved ones being ill or injured, misunderstandings within my family and that ONE MORE demand on my time can all shake me from my cozy routine that I put such emphasis on maintaining.

As I continue to think about this as I type, I am wondering why it is that routine provides such comfort to me.  Am I really saying that I prefer the comfort of my snug little schedule over the opportunity to operate more fully under the divine guidance of the Lord?  Ouch if that is true!

For if it is, it means that I am relying more on my ability to manage life than I am on the always available and overflowing grace of God.  In other words, I’m saying “Thanks, but no thanks to you God, I’ve got this.’  Ouch indeed! How shallow and short-sighted of me.  How hypocritical of me, as one who teaches and proclaims the abundance of God’s care for people, to snub my nose at it.

Ok, God got my attention with this one.  Again, following what I guide others with, I have asked His forgiveness for my selfish attitude.  With this acknowledgement also comes a request that He keep me aware of my tendency to go self-reliant; that as I practice being more aware of His ever-present presence, I keep my eyes and heart on Him.  In this way I will learn to be more trusting of His ability to always keep me in His care, thus keeping me away from more OUCH! that hurt times of realizing I’m tearing off on my own again.

How about you? Do you struggle with control of your time like me? Or anything else you might want to share? I’d love to hear how you have/are overcoming these issues.

Blessings to you all,

Pastor Chuck

Call Me Foolish

 

We live in a time where everyone’s opinion is to get equal hearing.  The internet and social media have given a vast majority the ability to express their views and have them read/heard at virtually that same moment.  The current culture says to embrace all views because truth is relative; what’s true for you may not be for another.  This approach does not want to hinder anyone from expressing their beliefs.  In fact, it seems to me the more unconventional one claims to be, the more that view is accepted.

Yet, there is a disconnect between this warm and fuzzy approach and reality.  If current culture is as open as it claims to be, why is it a traditional belief, that being Jesus is Lord, is shunned as narrow or closed-minded? Please note that I am not defending the long-standing approach of the institutional Church.  Mankind has basically made a shamble of it and because of this I understand why so many stay away religiously.  What I am standing up for is the all-encompassing truth found in the Bible.

Relativism says that what’s true for you may not be for another.  Biblical truth, on the other hand, is true for/to all.  That doesn’t mean it is agreeable to everyone.  If my believing whole-heartedly in the eternal validity of the Scriptures makes me rigid in your eyes, I am truly sorry for your misunderstanding.  I may indeed misrepresent the truth I believe in by my thoughts or insensitive actions, but that’s on me, not God.

God’s truth applies to everyone, regardless of your denial of it.  I don’t mean to sound ‘holier-than-thou’ by expressing this when in fact the opposite is true.  It is only through humbly accepting and then allowing God’s truth to lead me that I can ever come close to sharing what I have experienced in my walk of faith.

What is this faith I claim to walk in? The Bible defines it this way: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV).  I look at this definition as being in two parts.  The first is the easier: being sure of what I hope for.  I know the true longings of my heart and have put my hope for their fulfillment in God.

It is the latter part of Hebrews 11:1 that has caused me some consternation.  Whereas as my hope is a somewhat less tangible thing, certainty in things I cannot see tends to fly in the face of my tactile tendencies.  Therefore, I do have empathy for those who want to see before committing.  There is an inevitable tension there.  The only way I have found to resolve this tension is to willingly submit to the authority God has over my life.

To do so requires that I recognize God for being who he says he is.  To the nonbeliever this sounds absurd, but not unexpected.  Hesitancy to have faith in God is not something new.  Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus a group of believers in Corinth were afflicted with doubts about many of the claims being made about Christ.  This is addressed in the first letter written by the Apostle Paul to them: I know very well how foolish it sounds to those who are lost, when they hear that Jesus died to save them. But we who are saved recognize this message as the very power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 The Living Bible Translation).

There it is.  This is the ‘rubber meets the road’ truth around which all of Scripture is founded.  There are those who are ‘lost’ and those who have been saved through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.  It is a harsh truth that is not readily accepted by modern culture.  Again, simply rejecting this does not make it untrue.  There are certainly more warm and fuzzy thoughts about our eternal destination out there being held to by many.  The concept of being lost in our enlightened society is considered foolishness.

Go ahead and call me foolish then! If I am foolish to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, so be it.  I would rather be considered a fool than to give up the peace God has revealed to me through the Scriptures.  If the assurance I have about eternity because of faith in Jesus makes me seem simple in this advanced time, I’m ok with that.  If I am not taken seriously because I recognize my helplessness before the Almighty, I am good there as well.

The bottom line is this: It doesn’t matter what anyone else calls me so long as I answer the call of God.  In so doing I recognize and submit to my need of a Savior.  This is God’s love manifest for ALL mankind.  His offer of eternal life is extended to everyone, always and everywhere.  I’ve taken him up on it because I believe it would be foolish not to.  Won’t you consider it as well?