Signs

Hello Blog-o-sphere! It is good to be here again! I think I made mention at the beginning of August that I had a busy month coming up. I truly had no idea how busy it would become.

I’ll spare you the details, except to say that as always, God showed His faithfulness to me in so many ways that the things that occupied my time this past month were not burdens, but blessings!!

I would like to share a snippet from my sermon of Sunday, 8-29. (Should you want to hear the whole thing, please go to our website: www.lakesidechristianministries.org)

I was talking about the hard-heartedness of the Pharisees in Jesus day as found in the 7th Chapter of the Gospel of Mark. They see the Lord’s disciples “eating with defiled hands,” meaning they were not washing them ceremonially as their rules decreed.

Jesus rebukes them telling them their hearts are not seeking God, but rather looking for praise, power and control over people as keepers of their burdensome list of rules and regulations.

All this made me think about my life; how I live it. What impressions do I give people in my everyday interactions with the world. I imagined my life as a house with various signs placed in the front yard. As I considered this, I wondered just what kinds of signs people might see.

I ask my listeners to join me in considering this. I asked: “Would the signs in front of the ‘house’ of your life say :“Keep Off!” Or “Go Away, you are not wanted here!” Maybe, “This is a place of judgment, and I am the judge.”

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You get the idea. I went on to ask myself and everyone to take a good look at what our lives look like. I asked us all further questions: “We wouldn’t withhold kindness because we perceive someone as living a different lifestyle than us, or we wouldn’t withhold friendship because someone has a different political opinion than we do, would we?”

Obviously, these types of ‘signs’ do not promote fellowship or encourage anyone. They serve only to protect us and our personal bubble we try to maintain.

In contrast to this, I asked if we might all put different placards in the front yard of our life. Signs that say: “All are welcome. Let’s talk about that. I’m not perfect so I will not expect you to be.”

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Or perhaps this: “I am a sinner saved by grace. Come, let’s share the experience of life as friends, getting to know each other along the way.”

How about you, Most Appreciated Reader: What do the signs outside the house of your life say?

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

You Just Never Know

I spent the majority of my 40 plus hour work weeks as a painter. The last twelve years of time-clock life I was the Facilities Painter at Le Moyne College, a Jesuit school in Syracuse New York. This last gig was by far the best. I was hired to start the department and it was basically left to me to organize and complete all the paint work on campus. It was a perfect fit for my personality. God has wired me to be an organized self-starter, and this played very well in this job.

Of all the fond memories I have of being a Dolphin (Le Moyne’s nickname), working with the summer crew of students was the very best. Those twelve summers allowed me to meet and interact with some fine young women and men. We shared lots of laughs as we completed the re-paint of all the dorm rooms on campus each year.

I am blessed to still be in touch with a number of “my kids,” as I fondly called them. Many have assumed prominent and interesting positions since graduating from Le Moyne. There are many schoolteachers in this group, as well an occupational therapist, several nurses and even a Funeral Director, to mention just a few.

The summer paint crew consisted of between 8 to 12 students each summer; so it is safe to say I worked with at least one hundred different students during my time there. Most had never held a paint brush when they started with me, making the first several days with them a challenge, to say the least!

It was always my intention to give my charges more than simply painting lessons, however. Working side by side with them for three months gave us the opportunity to get to know one another. The pastors heart within me cherished the times when our discussions went beyond assignments and into the realm of the eternal. Though I attempted not to be overt in my style, when questions pertaining to Jesus and/or Christianity came up, I did my best to answer in meaningful ways.

As in most cases in life, and maybe especially in ministry, we seldom get to see much if any fruit from our labors. I am ok with this, for ministry to me is all about God and His love for all people. If He should choose to use my words or actions to reach another person with His message of hope, may He get all the glory!

That is not to say that I do not wonder about the impact I may have had on my summer kids.

The other day, as I was looking at the gift they gave me as it hangs in my office, God gave me a blessing. You see, the picture I shared with this entry is what my crew of students gave me on their last day of the summer of 2016, just shortly before I left Le Moyne College to go into ministry fulltime.

If you would look at the picture again, you will see that each of them signed it (some with the nicknames I assigned them!) and attached a paint brush they had dipped in gold paint. The caption they wrote touched my heart with God’s affirming message about my efforts with them: Your brush has touched our lives.

What a blessing! These young folks, with grades, loans and many other things to occupy their minds, took the time to let me know what they thought of the time they had spent with me. As I looked at what they had given me, I felt a renewed sense of encouragement to carry on with what God has given me to do.

I share this with you today, Faithful Reader, so that you too may experience some encouragement. Yes, the days can seem long and this particular year can appear to be unending, but please hang in there, you just never know when what you say or do is reaching someone in a positive way.

Be Blessed and be a Blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Death of a Salesman

 

My first job out of college was in retail sales.  I hated it.  No matter how much I knew about the product or how much I would reduce the price to entice a customer to buy, my sales figures never matched those of my colleagues.  As much as I struggled on the sales floor, my other primary duty was an absolute nightmare.  I had to design and implement both the window displays and the in-house sets that were to promote the latest and greatest items in the inventory.  Of the many things that I am not, being a flashy attention-grabbing designer is near the top.  You can imagine may trepidation whenever one of my regional managers showed up.  He or she was never satisfied with what I had done, and usually with good reason.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want the displays to look nice and improve sales, I just lacked that creative gift.

It has now been over twenty-five years since I left the world of retail sales, and I can honestly say I haven’t missed it one bit.  The frustration of not being able to improve my skills finally caused me to look for work elsewhere.

I found my niche in the workplace as a painter.  As you may have guessed, not as an artist, but rather a contractor.  With training and a great mentor in the trade, I learned to be quick about my work and extremely neat.  I relished the fact that I didn’t have to design anything, merely put the proper coating on it!  This skill set allowed me to work in nuclear plants, factory settings and finally on a maintenance crew at a local college.

While working my 40 or more hours a week, I also slowly completed my schooling and training (though the training is always on-going) to follow the call God has put on my life to be a pastor.

That’s quite a way from retail sales you might be thinking, but consider this.  I entered this stage of life with the enthusiastic approach of a new salesman because I now had the single best-ever product to promote: Jesus Christ! How could I miss with this material?

But miss I did.  I realize I’m not the most gifted public speaker, but with abundant research and the occasional funny and applicable story from my past, I thought I would at a minimum be able to inspire folks to want more of this Jesus.  Unfortunately, my preaching lacks the ability to really grab a hold of people.

Not to be discouraged, I approached small group leading and teaching with the conviction that if I took the time to really explain what we are studying from God’s Word, those in the group would dive in with me to plumb the deep truths of Scripture.  Again, I experienced only a limited return on my investment of time and study.

Doubt in my pastoral abilities and the persistent voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t any better at pastoring that I was at selling had me once again wondering if I had better find something else to try.  Maybe this unnamed something would finally be my ticket.

Before heading in a different direction, I decided to first to follow the advice I so often counsel with: Don’t make any big life changes without first earnestly praying about it.  With a fair amount of self-pity, I approached the throne of grace with my tail between my legs, telling God I was pretty useless in this kingdom business and that He better open us some other way for me to serve Him.

I chose the term ‘throne of grace’ for a reason.  It is exactly what I experienced! God in His unending grace listened to my pity-party.  Once I got it all out, He simply let me know that it was my “sales” approach that needed changing.  I came to realize I could talk a good game about what living life for Jesus meant, but these words are hollow unless they are backed up with living life as an example of what I was suggesting others do.

What freedom! What a release it is to live ministry instead of merely doing ministry.  To wrap up the salesman analogy, I had to wear the product I was showing, not just talk about it.  The practical application is simple, if not always easy.  The love I feel toward God has to be evident in more places than just my office or prayer room.  It must be the thing people remember about me after we have met or as we build a relationship.  Wearing this love can/should take many forms, but a short list ought to always contain: patience, compassion, willingness to listen and to help (outside of my comfort zone), forgiveness and kindness, to name just a few.

In the short time since God has begun revealing this to me, He has allowed me to see tangible results as people are responding to Him through me in some new and powerful ways.  I am deeply grateful to the Lord for His grace, gratified for the people who are growing in their faith and extremely pleased the old salesman has passed away.

What a Friend, Part 2

 

Many, myself included, have sung the wonderful old hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  As I prepared to preach a message recently on what the friendship offered by Jesus can mean to us, I did a little internet research into the origins of this classic.  What I story behind its writing!

The author of the lyrics is Joseph Scriven. He born in Ireland in 1820.  We pick his story up on the eve of his wedding.  Incredible tragedy strikes as his fiancé drowns that very night.  It was this trauma, coupled with some other family issues, that drove Joseph to discover salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

His life of trials continues after he moves to Canada.  He meets and falls in love with Eliza Roche and they become engaged to be married.  As hard as it is to believe, his wife to be got sick shortly before their wedding date and also passed away.

Faced again with the difficulty and pain of going on, Joseph begins to fulfill his life’s call by providing care for the elderly and other less fortunate folks.  Rather than wallow in self-pity, he opts instead to carry on with the work of God’s Kingdom.

It is during this time (1855) that he receives word that his mother is extremely ill back in Ireland.  He wrote the words to What a Friend We Have in Jesus to be an encouragement for her as she lay dying.  I have an incredible amount of respect for this man who allowed God to use him despite his personal struggles.

I’ve included the lyrics to this great song here.  Please consider them and note the Scripture references I’ve added. I hope it helps you, as it has me, to see the validity of the friendship Jesus offers today to each one of us.

  1. What a friend we have in Jesus,                 John 3:16-17
    All our sins and griefs to bear!
    What a privilege to carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
    Oh, what peace we often forfeit,                Philippians 4:6-7
    Oh, what needless pain we bear,
    All because we do not carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
  2. Have we trials and temptations?               John 16:33
    Is there trouble anywhere?
    We should never be discouraged—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Can we find a friend so faithful,               Hebrews 2:18
    Who will all our sorrows share?
    Jesus knows our every weakness;
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
  3. Are we weak and heavy-laden,                Matthew 11:28-30
    Cumbered with a load of care?
    Precious Savior, still our refuge—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?      John 15:18-19       
  4. Take it to the Lord in prayer!
    In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
    Thou wilt find a solace there.

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John 3:16-17: All our sins Jesus has taken on Himself that we might be saved! We find this at the beginning in order that we get it from the start!

And yet, I/we don’t live in the constant all-encompassing peace this friendship offers. Philippians 4:6-7

Part of the reason for our unease was foretold by Jesus: John 16:33

            Take heart= action required on our part

Faith= Has He overcome your world?

In Him, our Friend, we have peace

A friend knows what it feels like to . . . Hebrews 2:18

            Jesus knows what it feels like to go through whatever we’re going through. He can help (if we ask Him)

Still, we get weary.

Our Friend Jesus knows and tells us what to do Matthew 11:28-30

            “All you,” that’s you too!  When you allow Jesus to lead, we can find rest and peace

However, there’s no pink cloud here; John 15:18-19

Strong words about being hated, but true.  The world hates Jesus, the world sees Jesus in us, therefore the world hates us.

One other constant throughout this Hymn: Prayer.  Take everything to the Lord in prayer.  Open up, admit your needs, shortcomings and insecurity.  Your Friend Jesus cares for you and will care for your needs, if you ask and then let Him.

What do you think? Is Jesus a friend worth having?

 

 

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Jesus said to His disciples, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15 NIV)

Jesus calls us His friend. What a friend indeed!  Our human experience with friendship pales when compared to the friendship offered by the Son of God. Sure, most of us get blessed with that one close friend in life.  Someone to confide in and that you trust completely.  The friend who wants to be around you; not because of your stuff or your home, but just to be with you.  As kids it’s called inseparable; impossible to see one without the other.  Plenty of laughter and good times; a person you spend time with and it seems completely natural to do so.  They stand with you in trouble or even get in the middle of it if they see you are hurt or threatened.  This rare kind of friend is a blessing for sure.

Yet I, for one, have never been a perfect friend to anyone.  Likewise, even my closest friends during my life have all had their share of imperfections as well.  Not so with Jesus!

Friendship with Jesus is an immeasurable upgrade over even the best we have known here on earth.  In the scripture passage at the top, He tells us all about it.  We are no longer simply servants, but in fact we become co-laborers with Him.  Jesus let’s us in on His business, which He has learned from His Father.  We can’t go any higher than that!

To be sure, this is not an ‘all get and not give’ relationship for us.  Jesus is also clear that if we are to be His friend, we will voluntarily obey His command to love Him.  We demonstrate this love for God as we unselfishly love each other.  Though this may seem difficult (or at least it does to me when I consider some of the people I know that seem pretty unlovable), God supplies the means: We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

It is simple, but not always easy.  When we struggle in this area of loving others, might I suggest we take a step back to consider what it is Jesus offers when He extends friendship to us.  It is a friendship I haven’t earned or deserve, but it is offered to me nonetheless.  We get the opportunity to love Him simply because He loves us.  When I stop looking at others through the lens of my understanding or perception and start to consider them simply as others that the Lord loves equally as much, my heart softens.

When we obey the call to love others, we are directly involved with God’s business.  Remember Jesus said He no longer called His disciples servants because He had let them in on the Father’s work.  The same applies to us to today.  We don’t know God’s Master Plan, but we can participate in our part of it: Love others as Jesus loves us.

Never forget that it is Jesus who brings the ‘weight’ to this friendship relationship.  He has already done immeasurably more than we ever could hope or imagine.  He proved His love to mankind by dying in our place that our sins could be forgiven.  What a friend! If you know that forgiveness, you have a pretty good idea of What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

If you don’t know Jesus as your friend but find yourself interested in doing so, open up your heart to Him.  I have experienced enough of His faithful friendship to know that if you want His friendship, He will make the way so that you can.