“No one gave him anything”

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(image courtesy of hbomax.com)

I recently had the opportunity to preach a sermon based on the well known parable that Jesus taught of the prodigal son. (You can read it in Luke 15:11-31)

I have heard and now have spoken about this many times. Often the focus is on the younger (prodigal) son, who demands his part of his father’s inheritance to then only squander it.

The older son gets some attention at times as well. He sees himself as the unappreciated, hard working and loyal offspring who does all that he is supposed to do, but doesn’t seem to derive any enjoyment in doing so.

The father in the parable represents God. Again, much has been spoken about the loving forgiveness he displays as he welcomes his once ‘dead’ son back into the family. There is a wealth of wonderful teachings about God’s unconditional love for all contained within this story.

Any or all of the above would have served me well for my recent presentation. But as I thought, prayed, and did my study, I landed on an area I had not heard brought forth from this old account.

Those of you familiar with the prodigal son know that during a time of great desperation after his funds were completley depleted, he takes on the job of a swineherder, possibly the most repugnant thing a Jewish male could do during that time. And even though he has debased himself in this way, he is still starving.

It is at this point in the story that Jesus said, “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” As I thought about the people who would have been passing this young man by, I began to see another place we can learn from Jesus as we ponder this famous account.

This young man was in obvious distress. I think the picture at the top shows this quite well. How, I want to think jugmentally, could people be so cold and uncaring? I understand from reading the text that there was a severe famine in the land. This tells me there wasn’t an abundance available to share. But no one gave him anything?

Upon further reflection, as I stepped down from my high horse, I began to see with more clarity the possible motivations of those who passed the prodigal by; and in so doing discovered some not so pleasant truths abut myself and how I think/react when confronted with the needs of others.

First, self-preservation. I have barely enough for me and mine, I couldn’t possibly share anything. This is shamefully selfish thinking in my context today. I never have to wonder where and when my next meal is coming from. I need to live into this blessing of God to be ever more willing to share from what God has first given me. God has proved faithful in every circumstance, I can certainly trust that to continue should I give some money or other items to someone in need.

But more disturbing than that first thought is the judgment that wants to rear its ugly head in my head. Thoughts like, “He probably deserves what he is experiencing” is one that pops up. Or, “if he would only apply himself, he could make improvements in his life situation.”

Maybe as you consider this, some other thoughts come to your mind. If they do, please know that neither I or anyone condemn you for them. God’s grace and forgiveness is big enough for all!

What I am asking, of myself and you too, Dear Reader, is to take that extra moment when you are confronted with an obvious need of someone and in so doing, consider just what you might do in that moment to help alleviate someone’s trouble. There are countless ways we can do so in each of our own context. And hopefully as we act to help in an individual case, we might all be working toward ways to eliminate the social ills that can leave people in such vulnerable positions in the first place.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Who is my neighbor?

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(image courtesy of turnbacktogod.com)

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

The Freedom I Found in Giving

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(image courtesy of chucklarsen.com)

Please, please, please understand from the very beginning of this: I AM NOT TRYING IN ANY WAY TO RAISE MONEY! I AM NOT SEEKING DONATIONS FOR ANYTHING!

However, I am going to proceed into a topic that is downright sensitive to many and clearly off-limits to many more: the giving of money.

To re-iterate, I share with you my experiences in the realm of giving only in hopes that others will find the joy I have when the power of the dollar loses its hold on you.

For a quick review, allow me to share some of the formative background of my approach to money and the acquisition of things. As a child, I watched my Dad work hard to supply his family with our basic needs and a few of our wants. He was happy to fulfill his role as provider, but was equally guarded about how any of his hard-earned would be spent outside of our home. The idea he installed was to take care of your own, and anything left over was to be saved for that rainy day that was sure to come. It was not disposable it anyway toward charity of any kind.

As I have chronicled before, my early adulthood was a travesty of waste and destruction brought about by my alcoholism. All childhood lessons regarding money were forgotten or ignored, and I accumulated a large sum of debt.

Coming out of that haze and into recovery, I was driven to pay back every dime I owed. I was blessed with employment that enabled me to make good money, meeting the needs of my own family while paying down the mountain of debt.

It was during this season of life that I was introduced to the idea of tithing. I found the idea of giving 10% to the church I was attending a novel idea, but one that had no practicality in my circumstances. Once I heard the part about giving some of my money, I apparently shut my ears to the rest of the explanation. By doing so I missed the entire point about giving back to God first because anything I had came from Him anyway. The Bible refers to this as giving to God the first fruits of our labor, I simply called it crazy. I mean, how could I give any percentage when we barely had enough coming in to cover expenses.

As I look back on those days now, I am ever so grateful that my wife Betsy did understand from the outset what this giving was truly about. She was able to slowly help me to see the selfishness and short-sightedness of my hold on to it at all costs approach to our finances.

God, as always, was gracious and patient with me as my heart softened. As I came to more fully realize that everything we had or earned was all because of His love for us, I came to understand why it was God calls us to give back to Him ‘off the top’ instead of grudgingly handing over leftovers.

It was now that He began to reveal to me the freedom that comes when giving to God unreservedly. Instead of viewing giving to the church as a burden that was going to further tighten our budget, I began to see how I was spending on not so necessary things. For example, the rationalization that our busy lives necessitated having take-out food 2-3 times a week was replaced with a spirit of cooperation that allowed us to plan and make family meals together. This not only saved lots of money, but it also fostered a much more unified front with regard to the family finances.

Throughout the ensuing years we have continued to tithe to the local church. Please understand that we hold to no formula of giving. Nor to do we believe that we are checking some cosmic box that will earn us favor with the Almighty. We do use 10% as a benchmark, but these days we often find we are blessed to give over and above that number. Again, not because we have to, but rather that we get to.

The freedom that I mentioned at the top has grown from this last point. Giving is an act of obedience, not obligation. With my heart positioned in this way, giving becomes a joy because I know that obedience to God in any matter brings joy to him. And my personal belief is that when we come to obey in these areas that were especially difficult to give up or move away from, His joy is even greater.

Please understand, we are not living some austere life as we follow God’s direction. To the contrary, we are blessed with so much more than we ever have had before. The thing is that the blessings these days are not measured in material wealth, but rather in the deep assurance of God’s sovereignty over our lives.

My advice to any who ask me about the topic of finances is this: Live within your means and always remember to thank God for all He gives you. My willingness to give back to Him sprung from the development of an attitude of gratitude toward all He provides me. I present no formula for success. But I do share with you the joy of the freedom that came (and stays) to my life when I placed the importance of God over the importance of money. The freedom I speak of has been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. The joy is in living this out in all aspects of life.

As always, any thoughts you want to share on this topic are welcome. I would enjoy some dialogue on this.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Blessings to go

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(Image courtesy of catholiccompany.com)

As I have made mention of in the past, I am a person who is most comfortable in structured situations. I’m a planner, and as such like to have a back-up plan in place in case something goes wrong with my first plan. I work best from a list, using multiples ones each day to help me achieve what I need to.

You may rightly assume from the above that routine is something I embrace. Take the following as an example during these summer months as I return to my old painting job to lend a hand: Arriving home each day from work, the next day’s work clothes are laid out and lunch is made before showering. I find it comforting to know that these tasks are out of the way, allowing me to get into whatever is next on my home list for the evening. This also frees up time in the morning for devotional/bible reading.

Leaving my house to go anywhere also has a pattern that I follow: Wallet back left pocket, check. Phone front left pocket, check. Gates in place to keep the dog where she needs to be while I’m gone, check. Mask? Got it. You get the idea.

It occurs to me, however, that my leaving the house ritual has been missing something that I far too often leave behind: blessings! I was reminded of this in one of the devotionals I read this morning. It basically said that one should leave their home (or wherever) being intentionally ready to bless someone that you meet.

What a great idea! It’s another opportunity to share the love of God with the world around me. After all, I have been blessed beyond measure by the Almighty. Why not share some of that, in whatever form it takes, with the folks I encounter daily. Obviously, the blessing I share will vary upon each opportunity. The important point is that I remain mindful of all God has done for me and then be willing to share what I can of that precious love.

I realize this would look different to each of us. As I write this, I am not sure what it will look like for me. But I have decided this: Before going out my door, I am going to stop for a moment to get my heart and mind set in the ‘blessing way.’ I plan on doing this any number of ways. For example, I will realize that I have a warm and safe place to live. Carrying this thought with me may well prepare me to share with a homeless individual I meet.

Or maybe I’ll simply acknowledge the peace of God that reigns in my home, making me ready to share God’s peace with employees at the store I am going to.

Whatever the blessing you give away today, the world around you will be a little better off because of it. Now imagine if a majority of folks became intentional about sharing a blessing like this. Doesn’t that sound like something our world could use right about now?

If you have a moment, please share with me how you are going to carry this forward. Thanks.

Blessings to you (in case I don’t see you in person today!)

Pastor Chuck

Addition by Subtraction

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Sacrifice can be defined as the act of giving something up in order to get something else.  For us as humans, there still seems to be a bit of selfishness attached to that definition.  If my goal is to simply get something else, assuming it’s something better or of more value, my motivation is gain, not true sacrifice.

This of course is not true across the board of sacrifice, using the above definition.  I’ll use my own example of stopping the use of all tobbaco products, of which cigarettes were my favorite.  I truly enjoyed smoking them.  Even with all the evidence of the harm cigarettes would do, and the loved ones I had seen adversely affected by this habit, I puffed away.  Believe me, I understand better than many how addiction works, but to hide behind that defense didn’t get to the deeper truth: I loved to smoke no matter the supposed consequences.

Twenty years into my tobacco use, I began to re-think my approach.  The relentless march of time brought with it a growing awareness that I wasn’t going to last forever.  Yet, this dawning realization was not enough in itself to make me want to give up my treasured habit.

Much as I would like to tell you, Faithful Reader, that God sent an angel or a lightning bolt to grab my attention, the journey to finally getting free from tobacco was a slow and unexciting stroll.  At the heart (and lungs) of the issue wasn’t doubt that God could deliver me, He sure had from terrible alcohol abuse, but my reluctance to want to be rid of my smokes.

Quitting smoking for good, some 23 years ago now, most certainly seemed a painful sacrifice to me at the start.  Thankfully, time as allowed me a better perspective on what giving up tobacco has done for me.  For example, there is the significantly reduced likelihood of lung cancer.  And of course there is the monetary savings.  When I quit cigarettes, they sold for $2 a pack.  Smoking 2 packs each day, as I did, cost me $1460 annually.  I now put that money to far more constructive use.  Then there’s things that are also gone like that awful smell on my clothes that I couldn’t smell when I was smoking and the small burn holes in the upholstery of my car.  The balance is fully tipped toward what I have received from giving them up.

Which leads me to the greater over all point, that my life in faith in Jesus Christ is all about addition by subtraction.  Let’s start at the top: I believe He died so that sinners just like me could be forgiven and welcomed into eternity.  That’s the biggest plus I know! I have lost a life of sin and anguish because of God’s love.  There is no greater addition ever than that.

Others gains though subtraction include, in no particular order, the realization that I am not at the center of the entire universe.  I am less significant in my own eyes, and instead see that I am important enough to God that He gave His all for me.

Also subtracted from me was the mirage of perfectionism I often hid behind.  This permitted me to do nothing because I told myself I couldn’t do whatever it was perfectly, I simply wouldn’t do it.  As we say in AA, “self-serving will slip away.” As it has, the great addition has been the room this created in my heart to try new things.  For example: Reaching out to help others.  What a concept! I had no idea that doing for others, simply because I could, would be so fulfilling.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  The bottom line is this: My life is fuller now because there is so much less of me in it! I’ve always been good in math, but this formula took me a long time to start to comprehend.  I hope you get it more quickly than I did!

How about you? How has God added to your life through subtraction.  I’d love to hear about it.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this,

Pastor Chuck

A Life Well Lived

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There are times, though not very often, when I think about what kind of mark I will leave on the world.  Will my wife remember me as a partner who adored her? Will my kids recall me with fondness? Did I allow enough of my heart to be transparent; so that through the ups and downs of life my family will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my love for them never wavered?

With regard to ministry; how will the people God placed in my life and under my care  remember me? My desire has always been that they know my everyday intention is to have God glorified through what we shared together.  Have I lived out the Gospel in such a way that Christ is more fully in their hearts through what I have taught?

As I said, these types of thoughts don’t rattle through my brain too often.  Yet as I have mentioned here before, as I draw ever more away from the start of my life and closer to its human end, thinking about my legacy does happen from time to time.

This most recent journey into this recess of my mind has come about because of an individual I met last week.  I received a request from a family in hospice care that they wanted a pastoral care visit.  No more details were given me, so I on the drive to their home some of the more usual questions and my responses to them went through mind.   You see, the full awareness of one’s time being up on earth has a definite tendency to focus thoughts about the process of dying and what may lay beyond.

As I was greeted by the sad smile of the caregiver, I felt as ready as I could be to meet the patient.  Was I wrong!

That’s not to say I was totally off base.  Some things were as expected.  I was introduced to a patient who was obviously near death.  The frail and gaunt body told me all I needed to know about the physical condition: Cancer was wreaking its usual havoc at the end stage of life.

But this is not the memory I will carry from this meeting.  What touched me so deeply was the absolute peace this person exuded.  Though in obvious pain that the meds couldn’t alleviate, his eyes fixed on me with more care than I have seen in a long, long time.

We chatted briefly about the journey through life; of the many places seen because of work and family.  I am always blessed when folks share these personal nuggets from their past.  Losing track of time, I probably could have sat there all afternoon.  But the conversation lagged and then stopped.  I wondered if it was time for me to excuse myself, thinking that fatigue and pain were winning out.

What became apparent next was that it wasn’t tiredness that had quieted our chat, but rather that the patient was gathering the strength he needed to finish our time together the way he wanted it to end.

As best as I can remember, this is what he said to me: “Tell your parishioners this, ‘Think of others more than yourself.  Be ready and willing to help out in practical ways.  Don’t simply tell people that you love them, live your love for them in front of their very eyes.  I made this my primary goal in life, and as my time here is up, I am so very glad I did.’”

It was crystal clear to me that these weren’t merely words said in an attempt to comfort oneself when faced with imminent death.  They were spoken with a genuine desire that they be shared so that others could see what I was witnessing; peace.  Peace from a life well lived.

What an incredible legacy! I share this with you, my Faithful Readers, to encourage you as it has encouraged me to look beyond myself and into the eyes and hearts of others.  If I can incorporate this level of caring into my everyday lifestyle, I need not worry about what kind of legacy I am leaving behind.  The patient I met last week certainly wasn’t worried about it; may you and I find that same level of peace from our lives well lived too.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Somebody is Watching

Hello Faithful Reader! As the title of this entry implies, all that we do is being watched by someone.  Bearing in mind the times in which we live, this is not a hard sell.  We must be ever-vigilant in protecting our identities from theft.  Big Brother is seemingly everywhere, up to and including that intersection you just ran a red light thru!  Indeed, our every action seems to be under scrutiny by someone or something all the time.

However, as I like to do, allow me to put a more positive spin on the above stated fact.  I know a great many people who go about their lives doing for others simply from the goodness of their hearts.  No compensation is required or even looked for.  They see opportunities to help and take action.  These folks aren’t looking for recognition and most prefer to fly under the radar.  Whatever the motivation is, the willingness to help can be a great encouragement to others.

If you are one of these helpful-minded folks, thank you! I realize that the vast majority of you are simply doing what you know to be the right thing to do.  But let me encourage you to remember, people are watching!  And I mean this in the best of ways.  Your actions of sacrifice or words of kindness are being observed.  You may never know who is noticing, but be sure that someone has, is, or will.

I recently received an encouragement that has spawned this entry.  I have volunteered for a number of years at a local care-giving agency.  The little bit of my time that I have given to this cause has been returned in countless blessings to me.  In the mail yesterday I received another.  Among the fliers, bills and campaign literature was a letter addressed to yours truly.  It was from the national office of my local agency.  The letter, with my first name handwritten on top, informed me that I was one of only 140 people who had been nominated, nationwide, as volunteer of the year!  Though it went on to contain their condolences that I was not selected, the honor of being a nominee was not lost on me.

As I pondered this further, I became aware that it had to be someone within the local agency that had given my name for consideration for this prestigious award..  What an honor indeed! On the heels of this thought came the realization that caused me to share this brief piece with you, someone is always watching.  If we accept that as an on-going reality of our times, why not let what is being watched be seen as an encouragement to others.

Blessings to you and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Figuring it all out?

 

As many of you know, I stepped away from full-time secular employment in September of 2016 so that I could devote all my time to our home-based ministry.  This was not a decision we made lightly.  Much prayer and not a few sleepless nights preceded this step.  In fact, my wife Betsy and I nearly took this leap in 2014.  At that time, after carefully going over our home budget, we decided to wait, using the time to downsize and pay down debt.  We were, we thought, figuring it out.

In the Spring of 2016, still waiting for God to show when it was time to make this life-altering decision, we had a prophetic word spoken over us.  The prophet, a man new to the area and whom we had never met, began to pray over us.  He started by calling Betsy by name! Looking back, I’m sure God did this to make sure He had my attention (He did!). The prophecy stated that we were to step out in faith into what God was calling us to by reminding us how He had cared for us in every way through the years.  Armed with this affirmation, we decided to act in faith.  We had it figured out.

I handed in my notice in March of 2016.  This was a job I thoroughly enjoyed at a place where I felt appreciated and was more than adequately compensated for my efforts.  On the very day I told my employer of the decision to leave, our ministry received an anonymous donation of $1500! You can imagine the joy and humility that was in my heart as I opened that piece of mail.  It was with great assurance that we had figured it out at last.

Our home ministry, Lakeside Christian Ministries, was actually birthed from a prayer group/bible study that had met regularly for seven years at our residence.  Again, after much prayer, four of us who served as core members through all those years, believed it was time to start having Sunday services here.  With much anticipation, because we had it figured out, we envisioned our home becoming too small to suit our needs.  This home church was going to reach those who had fallen away from consistent worship attendance.  Though the ensuing two years had times of blessing from the Lord with a few folks giving it a try, the meetings eventually petered out until it was just Betsy and I gathering in our living room to worship.

The two of us went back to our ever-faithful God in search of direction.  We sought only the what and how to of whatever He had planned for us.  At long last, we figured out that we were never going to figure it all out! Yes, we wanted His direction, but what we prayed for fervently was the obedience to simply comply with the opportunities he presented.

And has He presented some! Betsy and I now serve the kingdom in several ways.  Through our friendship and connections with other ministries here in our small city, we let it be known that we were available to help their churches with both worship music (one of Betsy’s many giftings), preaching (something I get charged up about) and leading Bible studies should there be illness or vacations, etc. A number of these fellowships have taken us up on this offer.  This facet of our ministry continues to be a blessing to all involved.

We have also been asked to bring Bible study to people’s homes that are not currently affiliated with any given church.  This has proved a wonderful opportunity to present the gospel on ‘neutral turf,’ if you will.  These folks seem much more at ease and ready to talk and ask questions in their own living rooms.  We have a new group planning to start in September of this year that will examine the Book of Daniel.

Without a doubt, God has showed us that the easiest, most clear way to have things figured out is to simply follow the example of Jesus.  For the most part, Jesus met people where they were, when they were there.  The wonderful account of Jesus and the Woman at the Well in John Chapter 4 has served as our blueprint.  We now meet on a regular basis, often more than once a week, in some of the apartments in what is considered the darkest part of our town.  Our task and approach is simple: to present the truth of God in both word and deed.  We have discovered that by investing time in the lives of these folks on an everyday type basis, they have developed a deep trust in us.  With this trust, we are able to present and explain what the Bible has to say on many different topics.

Having been meeting in that area for over a year now, we have seen God grow much fruit.  People that were at first solely focused on themselves and their wants/needs, are now finding life enriched as they reach out to others to lend a hand.  More importantly, we have the privilege of watching their faith grow before our very eyes.  Our times of prayer are rich with the Spirit of God as He leads us all into deeper knowledge of Himself.  The Almighty has answered the prayers of two of these saints by healing their cancers.  The first has the doctors astounded, as this was a terminal diagnosis.  Yet this week’s blood work for this person revealed no trace of cancer! The other miracle occurred when a person’s liver cancer was simply gone, leaving no trace of scar tissue on the organ.  God is moving, for His glory.  There is no other explanation for it.

So, what we have figured out is that God already has everything figured out!
When we walk this truth out in humble obedience, He continues to shine His light on the path He has for us.  This is wonderful but at the same time occasionally difficult for us as both Betsy and I are hands on, do it now type of people.  Figuring out how to do things and solving problems is how we are wired and yet God is using us in these ways, go figure!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

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.

With God, Receiving is Better than Giving

Please take a moment to re-read the title of this blog.  Thanks.  I want to be clear that I am not trying to re-write what Jesus has said.  The Apostle Paul has already  summed it up: “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

I’m sure we are all at least a little familiar with the saying ‘it’s better to give than to receive.’ Though Jesus is never quoted as saying those exact words, the weight of His teaching makes it clear: Giving is far superior to receiving.

This most certainly rings true is our dealings with other people.  The Lord’s instruction is that we always be willing to share our resources, time and talents to help others, seeking no gain for ourselves.  The blessing that comes from this obedience is in knowing we are pleasing God Himself.  Jesus, the ultimate servant, gave His very life that lost people (like me) could come to accept His forgiveness.  I find this truth in Mark 10:45 as Jesus said: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Any time we give of ourselves in service to others, we are modeling the lifestyle of the greatest servant ever.

Bottom line: Giving with a right heart with the right intentions is never wrong.  So what about the title of this blog?  Again, I draw your attention to the first two words; With God.  With God, our priorities change.  As clear as His word is about giving to others, so it is about receiving from Him. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33).  Go to God first, the receiving part will be taken care of.

Jesus spoke those words during a discourse on how we ought not be consumed with worry about the things of this life.  He was telling folks then (and now) that if God the Father takes care of the needs of birds and makes the lilies of the field be resplendent in beauty just because He can, He will certainly meet all our needs as well. (Notice we’re talking about needs, not wants).

I believe there is a greater blessing than these when we receive from God.  First, we learn to trust Him more.  He will do what He promises to do. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6).  Ask God to show the way and believe He is with you always as you traverse it.

My wife Betsy often remarks that the longer she walks out her life of faith, the more she realizes how much she needs God.  There is such wisdom in this! Living each day with the expressed agenda of knowing God better today than yesterday, she has learned to trust him all the more.  Betsy has met no circumstance that God hasn’t provided for or seen her through.  The Prophet Isaiah has this to say about how God responds to those who will live this lifestyle: You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3). Trusting in God is fertile ground for faith to grow!

What a thing to receive from God: His perfect peace! I know for myself that I cannot share with anyone what I do not have; hence I must receive God’s peace so that I can give it away.  Understand, it comes to me perfect from God, but I have a knack (being human) of diluting it somewhat.  That’s o.k. though, I simply have to believe/trust that He gives it.  My responsibility is to walk more closely with Him today than yesterday for as I do, more of His perfect peace will leak out of me and into those around me.  Don’t worry if this seems a little hard to grasp, for God describes His peace this way: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) If God says His peace transcends understanding, I’m good with that!

At this point, maybe you are intrigued by the idea of receiving from God.  His peace, building faith and trust, sounds like a pretty good idea.  But how do I receive it you ask.  Once again, the Scriptures provide the answer: “Be still; and know that I am God; (Psalm 46:10a).  That sounds simple enough, but for many of us experiencing this truth is much harder.  We must first ‘be still.’  This is difficult in our culture; for most of us are either busy doing something full tilt or we are wiped out from that activity.

Here’s a brilliant insight: To be still, we must be still.  That means we must quiet our hands, feet and mind so that we can contemplate this God I’m talking about.  Let yourself be still by ceasing the crazed pace of life.  I know it’s not easy to do because A, we’re used to doing things this way and B, being crazy busy keeps the mind so pre-occupied that it can’t/won’t think about the Almighty and all that that implies.

But if you’ll just try it, I believe you will receive from God some of what He has for you.  When you do, I promise you’ll want more.  This is the one place where our wants are important, for if we are wanting more of/from God, He will supply it.  He’ll do it in ways you can’t imagine or maybe even dream of, but if you want to spend time with Him, He’s got all of it you could ask for!

I’ll sum it all up this way: Prioritize your list by putting God always first on it.  When you can consistently do this, many of the other items on your list will melt away, for receiving from God is simply the best thing you can ever get!