Is this the end (or a beginning)?

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(image courtesy of time/life)

Frequently, when folks are knocked from the routine of their lives by world events, I am asked if I think this is the start of the end times that the Bible speaks of. The corona pandemic certainly falls under this category, perhaps bringing this question to me more than ever.

My answer to the question is  definite “I do not know.” I base my uncertainty not on my inability to fathom the depths of the pandemic, but rather on the very words of Jesus Himself. His disciples we’re coming to grips with the fact that the Lord would be leaving them. Having heard Jesus say that He would return, they were looking for when that time would occur.

As recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples asked Him, “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3a NIV)

The answer Jesus gave them is the same one He gives all of us concerning the when of the end of the world: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36 NIV)

Because the Lord Himself tells us we cannot know when the end will come; I believe the better question to ask is this: “Am I ready for His return if this is indeed the end?” Seeing that we will never be able to ascertain the exact date or season of the Second Coming of Christ, trying to decipher current events in this context is fruitless.

Of much more importance (eternally so I might add), is the question posed about our readiness for His re-appearance. Given that I cannot know the day or hour, what I can control is whether or not I am prepared for the triumphant return of King Jesus. Please understand, my preparation has no ‘to do’ list attached. What it does entail is my heart position toward Jesus: do I believe He is who He says He is? Was He crucified in my place and resurrected from the dead? Have I asked Him to forgive me of my sinfulness? Having received forgiveness through His grace, does my life reflect the love God has shown me in all I say and do?

Being able to honestly answer yes to these questions allows you to know beyond any doubt that God has poured His loving forgiveness on you. Therefore, whenever He does return, you are ready!

To the believer in Jesus Christ the Second Coming is the end of life as we have known it here on earth and the indescribably awesome beginning of forever life in His presence.

And if, Dear Reader, you are undecided about who Jesus is, might I kindly suggest that you re-consider your stand. If this were truly the end of life on this planet, to you really want to face the possibility of existing forever knowing that you missed the greatest opportunity ever given? Should your evaluation reveal to your heart and mind that you do indeed need the Savior, please answer the above questions again. What a beginning to a never-ending life awaits you!

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

 

Believing is Seeing

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(image courtesy of bobrogers.me)

As I prepared some post-Easter messages, I turned to John’s Gospel for some of his eye-witness accounts of the activities of Jesus after the resurrection, paying close attention to the interactions that the disciples had with their now Risen Lord.

As it does each time I read it, the reaction of Thomas, both before and after seeing Jesus, resonates with me. Here’s my paraphrase of those encounters: Thomas, who was not present with the others when Jesus first appeared to the group after His resurrection, did not believe his friends when they told him what had happened. That’s impossible and a crazy thing to say was probably what Thomas said when he heard this. Ever pragmatic, he goes on to claim that he will never believe unless he can put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in Jesus’ side.

In other words, seeing is believing for old doubting Thomas. As critical as I would like to be about him, an honest look in the mirror shows that I too have these same tendencies. It was as I read and subsequently communicated with the author of beautybeyondbones blog (I highly recommend reading it!) that this fact raised its ugly head again.

The author of that excellent blog (you can find it on WordPress) was sharing about the painful loneliness of in-patient treatment for an eating disorder and how this current lockdown from Covid-19 was bringing some of those feelings to the surface again. This brought back vivid memories of my time in detox and rehab so many years ago. Realizing that the shared pain of a similar path was helping me, I have decided to share some of my personal experience of those days in my life. My hope is that these words will touch a life like mine was by that brave author now quarantined in New York City.

Faith, as I often write about these days, is defined best in the Book of Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (NIV). Hence, my title today, believing is seeing. Though there are times and seasons in my life now when the certainty of what I do not see is clear, that was not always the case.

As your know, Long-time Reader, I have been a recovering alcoholic for nearly 29 years, all thanks to God! I realize I have shared some of the results of that horrible existence; such as the physical, financial and spiritual bankruptcies that resulted from my drunken life. Yet, I do not believe I have ever mentioned in any detail the struggles of those 7 weeks of in-patient treatment.

As I see I am already on page two on my laptop, I think I’ll focus this entry of the initial 3 week stay in the mental health wing of the hospital that oversaw my detox. Actually, to say that they just monitored my detox doesn’t quite speak to what that caring staff did for me.

Having already taken my belt and shoelaces because I had stated I might harm myself, the staff for the next 48 hours checked on me every 15 minutes to insure I was still breathing because the risk of pulmonary and/or cardiac arrest is heightened when the body is no longer receiving the vast amounts of alcohol it was used to. I will never forget the compassion in their eyes as they not only checked my vital signs but would also stay to hold my shaking hands or wipe my sweat-soaked brow.

I believe the heart-felt care they gave me helped me to be more receptive to the idea of living life without booze. On the third day of that life-changing lockdown, now that I was physically out of the woods, I was given some AA literature to read.

My eyes were drawn immediately to one sentence: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. To this day, I count that moment as the time I knew, without any doubt or hesitation, that this Jesus I had heard about in church as a child was in fact the Savior. My Savior! I asked Him in that moment to please help me. I was lost and so scared, desperate for a way out.

It was then, in His infinite mercy, that He touched me. As He did, He opened my eyes to know that believing was seeing and, all these many years later, our Precious Lord has continued to pour the gift of faith into me, ever honing my spiritual insight that I might see Him at work better as He helps me to believe more completely. Believing is seeing!

I pray that my experience may help someone in some small way to better see through their own eyes of faith today.

Blessings and be safe,

Pastor Chuck

 

Good News or Bad News First?

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Thank you, faithful Reader, for indulging me (or maybe with me) during my last post about half-moon cookies.  Reading that you should have gotten the sense of my fondness for those tasty treats.  Enjoy them as I do, those cookies don’t hold much eternal significance.  So it’s back to what really gets my motor running, considering the Great and Awesome God I serve!

Allow me to start with yet another question: Which do you prefer to hear first, good news or bad.  I know we have each been asked this countless times.  I won’t delve into the motive of the bearer of this query (this time).  Rather, I’d like to first consider which one the majority of us seem to want to hear first.

My observation clearly points to the majority of folks when given the choice of good/bad news first, respond by opting to start with the bad.  This is almost always my response in these situations as well.  The thought process is simple: get whatever the bad news is out of the way and hopefully the good will far outweigh it.  I think it pretty safe to assume we all run along a similar track.

As a pastor/preacher/teacher/learner however, I find a different order given when the question arises in the Christian context.  It is my privilege and pleasure to speak often about the Gospel of Jesus Christ (the word gospel in the original Greek can be translated as good news).  Christianity 101 teaches that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on a cross in order to open the way for sinners just like me to enter into a loving relationship with the above-mentioned awesome God.  Jesus’ selfless act was done in order that sin may be forgiven.  This gift of forgiveness is offered to absolutely everyone, any where, any time! Because the bible teaches there is no way I can earn God’s forgiveness on my own;  that Jesus has done this for me/us is the best possible news ever.

My interactions with others in ministry often brings me the opportunity to explain, as best I can, how this plan of God’s works.  In attempting to do so, I often use the good news/bad news question.  In this context, the vast majority of folks I talk with are extremely excited about the Good News, but not so much the bad.

Can there be a bad side to this you (and many of them) ask? Yes, there most definitely is.  For this Good News to be truly that, we must recognize our need of it.  It is essential to understanding God’s loving forgiveness.  The bad news, simply put, is that I (and all humans) are born separated from God because of our sinful nature.  I’ll spare you the theological argument for this for now by offering the following example of the nature we are all born with: place two equally well-cared for 2 year old children in a room with only 1 toy.  The fighting and arguing that will result is sufficient evidence.  They didn’t have to be taught to be selfish or greedy, they (and we) were born that way.

It is in this admittedly oversimplified example that we still can find the truth of God in regard to salvation.  We are defiled at birth by the sin that is inherent in us.  Our Holy God, by being holy, cannot be in fellowship with us while we remain stained in our imperfection.  Hence the need of the greatest news of all time; the resurrection of Jesus Christ bridges that gap for those who put their faith in Him!

It is with my strongest, most loving recommendation that when pondering things eternal, please acknowledge first the bad news as I have presented it because in so doing, you may well become more aware of your desperate need of the Good News.  This need can and will be met by a loving God who deeply desires that we come humbly to Him.

My experience with this very thing has led to blessings far to numerous to count, but one I will mention is this: knowing my place in God’s heart because I trust in Jesus makes it much easier to face the good news/bad news situations that still occur to me.  I pray you may be blessed in a like manner.

My deepest appreciation for taking to the time to read this.  I welcome you thoughts on any of the above and would love to hear as well how you deal with the good and bad news of life.

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

PS: For my younger readers, the image at the top is of a newspaper, a thing that many of my generation read before phones and other electronic devices made them extinct.

P.C.

Happy (Leap of Faith) Day!

See the source image(image courtesy of potatorolls.com)

Happy Leap Day Faithful Reader! As you might have guessed, I’ll be taking this opportunity to discuss the matter of faith today.

Faith can be a hard thing to define.  Wikipedia does a good job as they render it: A leap of faith, in its most commonly used meaning, is the act of believing in or accepting something outside the boundaries of reason.

Whether they realize it or not, these folks have come fairly close to the biblical definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)

I prefer this King’s James translation of Hebrews 11:1 because of the use of the word substance.  I believe this puts hope in the proper perspective.  It is not like hoping to win the lottery (it’s ok, I don’t play it anyway), or hoping that the sun shines today (it’s Upstate NY, little chance of that happening).

Rather, the hope the bible talks about is real, it has substance.  In other words, when I put my hope in Jesus Christ to be my Savior, it is the real deal.  There is no wishful thinking involved.  Instead, after carefully considering what the bible says and relating it to the experiences of my life, I can whole-heartedly rest assured in the promise of God that tells me I am a forgiven sinner who is dearly loved by my Maker.

So much so, the biblical evidence goes on to show, that God Almighty desires a relationship with me! A relationship, by the way, that I am completely unable to establish on my own.  It is only through His grace that I can experience who He is and have joyful fellowship with Him.

My oft stated purpose in this ministry I am involved with is to help people make an informed decision about Jesus Christ.  As I mentioned, I came to faith in the Lord after carefully considering both what the bible has to say about God and by taking a sober look at my life up to the point I accepted His offer of salvation.

Simply put, my life was an awful mess that was spiraling downward toward death.  By far the bigger leap for me would have been to keep going in that direction, wishing for things to change for the better.

If you have ventured to put your hope in Christ, I rejoice with you! You know full well of the hope of which I speak.

But if you have not, might I suggest you do as I did.  Start with an honest (that’s the key) appraisal of where your life is and in what direction it is going under your direction.  If you discover areas that are messed up and need improvement, may I further urge you to discuss these things with a trusted friend.  This is a vital step, no matter how difficult it is to take.  Honestly looking at ourselves for the purpose taking stock needs to be shared with another, lest we soften over some of the more unsavory parts.

From here, seek out someone with knowledge of the Scriptures (it will be helpful if they actually live what they talk to you about). As part of the process, now begin to see yourself in the context of the bigger picture.  Doing this may allow you to see though the clutter and confusion around you.

Should you desire to, now consider how this God you’ve heard about might just be able to help you.  If you can humbly admit that you recognize your need, I am here to say that He will step in to help you make changes for the better in your life.  He did it for me, He can do it for you as well!

This may seem like a huge leap to take today but please believe me, if you do, you will never regret having done so.  That has been my experience that I truthfully share with you all.  I’d love to hear your stories of what brought you to your faith journey or if you haven’t taken the above mentioned leap,  feel free to share where you are on your journey.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Dogs or People?

 

I’m a dog person.  I mean, I really like dogs.  If I see you out with your canine, I will invariably ask if it’s alright if I pet him or her.  Almost always, the answer is yes.  That’s because, in my opinion, dog people understand one another.

I had yet another opportunity to meet a new to me dog the other day.  I saw Brutus, taking up most of the corner of a waiting room, sitting with his human mom.  Being a 165-pound Great Dane, you can see how he would take up space.  I asked and was given permission to pet the gentle giant.

As dog owners, our conversation went along predictable lines as we shared stories of our beloved pets habits and activities.  It was then the Brutus’ owner confided to me another common sentiment among those who love their dogs:  she liked dogs better than most people.

I responded by telling her I understood how she felt but that I, being in the ministry and all, had to make sure I put people ahead of our furry friends.  Whereas this usually changes the topic, this lady instead pressed me, “But don’t you sometimes like dogs better than people?”

I laughed off a response and then it was time for Brutus and his owner to go, leaving me to ponder her question about which I liked more.  Anyone who knows me, or is familiar with my Facebook page knows that I adore our Goldendoodle, Violet.

Image may contain: dog

 

In my eyes, she is the perfect dog: friendly to everyone with a ‘I want to please you’ style that is so endearing.  Smart and playful, Violet is loved deeply.

But the lady’s question lingered.  This usually means that something is going on in my brain or spirit that God wants to address.  It didn’t take long to come into focus.  For me, it’s not so much a question of liking one over the other.  The sticky point is how much patience I have with dog v. human.  Violet can have an accident or chew on another dish towel or eat the occasional jig-saw puzzle peace and I take it all in stride.  Her good points outweigh these minor inconveniences to such an extent that these bumps in the road hardly register with me.

If only I could so easily extend grace to the world of humans around me.  Personal slights or forgetting something important that I told you are nearly capital offences at times.  The list of ‘how could you’ can get quite long.  Not a ringing endorsement for a pastor, but it is an honest one.

Having identified an area that needed adjusting, God was just as quick to show me how to start.  Praying, as I like to do on my long afternoon walks with the above-pictured Violet, God spoke quietly to my spirit.  Basically, He reminded me that He loved me.  So much so that He gave His one and only Son to die for the forgiveness of sins, mine included.  His Spirit also reminded me that my very capacity to love comes from God and that I ought to access it more frequently.

Taking this to heart and putting into practice these last couple of days has been a joy.  Allowing God’s grace to flow through me to others has re-opened my eyes and heart.  These folks, all created by and loved as deeply by the same God who poured Himself out for me, deserve my patience and all the understanding I can muster.

Colossians 3:13 instructs me (and all of us) to: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (NIV) I’ve been doing this all along with my four-legged friends, simply loving them for what they are.  Applying this same criteria to the bi-peds around me is helping me to see them more clearly and compassionately for who they are as well.

Next time I’m asked which I like better, I’ll have a clearer answer! It’s not an ‘either or’ but rather a ‘yes and’ that works the best!

How about you: Dogs or people? And cat lovers too!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

But wait, there’s more!!!!!

See the source imageRonco Vegematic (Pinterest)

Ronco advertisements, those earliest of TV info-mercials, always used the tag line: but wait, there’s more! It implied that no matter what a great deal you were getting on their veg-e-matic with all its many attachments, there was something more coming for those who ordered right now.

 No matter how well your new veg-e-matic was going to ‘slice, dice and make julienne fries,’ the ad promised even more if you would only order Right Now! Jesus makes no such slanted an offer to you and me.  He is the best! Now and forever.  There’s no need to make a hurried phone call to assure yourself of being one of the few lucky ones to get whatever was being tangled in front of your eyes.

As an example, consider the first miracle recorded in John’s Gospel.  In it, Jesus changed water into wine. The whole account can be found in the beginning of John Chapter 2.  Jesus, as a guest at a wedding, is informed by His mother that the hosts have run out of wine.  The Lord then instructs some servants to fill 6 stone jugs with water, each with a capacity of 20-30 gallons.  It must have been one big party (they sometimes went on for a week) considering Jesus was about to miraculously make another 100 gallons of wine!  Thirst of the wedding guests aside, I like to spend our time together today discussing what the master of ceremonies had to say when he tasted this newly created vintage.

He asked the groom why he had broken tradition and saved the very best wine for last, after the guests were already well lubricated.  You were always bring it out first, so that folks could discern what excellent wine you have provided for them at your feast.

You see, with Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you get His very best from the start and all the way through, forever.  You get all of Him, from the very first, no waiting for some special offer at the end.  No veggy slicer/peeler can match that!  What’s even better, there is no payment required! No credit card, no shipping cost or extra postage for overnight delivery.  By bearing our sins on the cross, Jesus has paid, in full, the one-time price for you, me, and everyone who would accept His unmatchable offer of redemption and life eternal.

Allow me to change to change the Ronco pitch from “But wait, there’s more,” to “Don’t wait, this no charge to you, for this assurance of life eternal is available for you, right now!” If you haven’t partaken of this yet, won’t you please consider it today? Where you stand with Jesus is where you will stand forever.  What Jesus has done breaks the mold of ‘it’s too good to be true.’ For in fact, it is true!  As the bible says speaking of Jesus, “Salvation is found in no one else.” (Acts 4:12)

If you’re still wondering about this, you’re probably not alone.  As one who has accepted the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, let me tell you that even though their doesn’t need to be any more added to His offer, there is.  The ‘more’ I’ve found is true peace in my life.  The ups and downs of my day to day activities are comforted by His presence.  What’s ‘more,’ I found the true purpose in my life, simply serving Jesus each day, in whatever form that takes.  By taking Him at His word by faith, I have an unshakable assurance that He is in control.  What a relief! By learning to trust the Lord more and more, those things that distracted or disrupted my life are in a much more proper perspective.  I know, beyond any doubt, that my forever place is set with Him because of Him.  What more could anyone possibly want knowing that!

As always, thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

 

One More Day

What an absolutely gorgeous day has dawned here is Central New York.  The sun is shining brightly in a cloudless sky as the temperature hovers in the mid-70s.  It has the look of a quintessential summer day!  In no particular order, my plans for this day include officiating at an outdoor wedding, mowing the back yard and walking our Goldendoodle Violet several times.

This is a perfect day, and that it comes on a Saturday is simply an extra bonus! We have lived through and a long and cold winter and an exceedingly wet spring to get to this mid-summer classic.  Factoring in all those dreary weather days makes realizing that today is a real keeper easy to do.

Yet, am I that shallow to allow the current weather conditions to dictate how I feel about this day? Didn’t God create all the days? One of my favorite bible verses assures me that He did: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 NIV) I believe the point of this verse is to remind me that it is Who has created this day that I ought to be rejoicing in, not whether or not it fits my mold of what a nice day is!

Not that I intend to beat myself up about this.  Like many, I fall prey to the rut of the everyday life, where tasks and deadlines often make it impossible to get outside, regardless of the weather.  These are wonderfully busy times, and I do not want to complain about what God has got me doing, but time sure is flying by.

There is a fine line, however, that I would like to write about; that being the tendency many of us have for taking for granted these wonderful daily creations called Today.  For me, the maintaining of a comfortable routine is probably the biggest culprit.  Rather than simply thank God for what He has provided within the context of this set of twenty-four hours, I crowd Him out by surrounding myself with those people and things that keep me smugly satisfied with my place in life.  Here I am minimally challenged, and life chugs on it its predictable and somewhat controllable pace.

As a pastor/preacher I attempt to teach folks to consider the bigger picture.  Maybe I need a refresher!  Eternal life is God’s greatest gift to His kids, and folks have told me I explain it to them in ways they can understand and relate to.  Having faith in the finished work of the cross of Jesus Christ is how we step into this forever place of love and assurance.  I believe this with every fiber of my being as I present the biblical case for eternity.  My oft stated purpose is not to lead folks by the nose, but to give them enough information that they can make their own informed decision about Jesus.

Part of this teaching includes the wonder of each twenty-four hours that God gives us.  Each day, tailor made by the Author of all, is full of opportunities to thank and praise Him.  Yet it is here that routine can often cause the gradual loss of awareness of the special gift of today.

As usual, an example from my work experience helps to make my point.  One of the most interesting and well-paying hourly jobs I held over the years was at the James A. Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Plant.  My job title was Buildings and Ground Attendant, a name that barely scratches the surface of what us ‘grunts’ had to do.  You name it, from lawn care and snow removal to gathering contaminated protective clothing to assisting the operations staff as they moved spent fuel bundles, we basically did whatever was needed to be done to support the safe operation of the plant.

Like I said, these were high paying jobs.  When our funding finally got cut and several of us got let go, I was earning $21 per hour (in 1997).  Of course, this level of pay did not come without its risks.  Any time you were in the actual power plant, you had one constant companion, radiation.  The plant, run by the State of New York at that time, had a highly trained staff of radiation technicians, whose primary function was to keep the rest of us aware of the dose rates in the various place we might be working, thus limiting our exposure.  But coming in contact with radiation was a given to all who worked there.

To keep an accurate count of just how much dose we encountered, every employee was subject to a whole-body scan on the first day of employment.  This established a baseline against which further scans could accurately assess how much radiation each employee was exposed to.  On a person’s last day of employment, the whole-body scan was taken again.  From this the Nuclear Regulatory Commission establishes what your lifetime dose exposure has been.  They send you a letter within six weeks of this exam telling you the results and ending with the cheery statistic of how much you can expect your life expectancy to have been shortened by the radiation.

My final scan resulted in the NRC informing me that I could expect to live one day less than I would have otherwise because of my work at the plant.

“One day, that’s not so bad, so long as it comes at end,” I often quipped.  Fast forward to today, some 23 years since I frequented the inside of a nuclear plant.  That’s quite a few one more days I have lived.  It occurs to me that I have let a fair number of them slip by, barely noticed.  It seems like there will always be one more day when you are younger.

As I approach the fourth (of four) 20-year slices of life pie, as my oldest son describes it, the reality that there is a finite number of days left to me is quite clear.  The question becomes, what do I do with this fresh insight?  One thing I won’t do is waist time lamenting the fact that I have let so much of it go by.  There is nothing to gain in doing that, and certainly more to lose, like another day! Today I choose to keep the door to the past just open enough to learn from past experiences, in hopes of putting this precious today to better use.

I’m not saying I’m about to go hog-wild, living at some reckless pace as if this were indeed the day the NRC told me about.  No, just the opposite.  I believe a slowdown is in fact what is needed.  To truly embrace what God’s gift of today is, I have to idle back so as to not miss so much of the goodness He has surrounded me with.

Like other aspects of my faith walk, this is a simple, but not always easy thing to do.  It’s really not about focusing on things or people, as wonderful as they are, that God has put in my life.  The key to rejoicing in this day He has made is to heighten my awareness of Him.  After all, He has made the arrangement for me through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ to be with Him forever.  This is a great day to enjoy that awesome truth, and if it is the last one on earth, so be it.  The best is yet to come!

As always Faithful Reader, thanks for spending some time with me,

Pastor Chuck

It’s Not Rocket Science

Image result for rocket scienceimage courtesy of wikipedia

“It’s not rocket science.” How many times have you heard or used that one? I drag this line out every year with my new crew of summer work study painters.  Painting, I point out, is all about being neat and having the proper materials while using good technique.  Certainly a much easier undertaking than the science of rockets.   As I rethink this old favorite, it makes me wonder what rocket science is all about.  It must be incredibly difficult for everything else in the world seems to is easier to do/understand than it is.

I have used the comparison between rocket science and faith as well.  Though technology was still centuries away, if available in the Apostle Paul’s day he might  have tried this line.  In the letter to the Romans, he spells out with great clarity the ‘how’ of salvation: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9 NIV).

No degree in advanced learning required for this.  If you can say the words that Jesus is your Savior while believing in your heart He is who He claimed to be, the issue of where you will spend eternity is settled.

This straight-forward declaration seems almost too good to be true, but this is one time when the truth behind the claim is everything it says it is.  Yet, if it is as easy as it seems, why aren’t more people following Jesus as their Lord?  The answer, it seems to me, lies in the fact that the practice of accepting this truth is more difficult.  Maybe even more difficult than rocket science.

In my opinion, it is quite easy to mouth the words, “Jesus is Lord.” They can sound sincere regardless if you mean them or not.  The difficulty arises from the second part of Paul’s explanation of salvation: believing in your heart that Jesus was brought back to life by the Father.  Our human experience tells us that the body, once dead, remains that way.  Few if any of us have seen a corpse come back to life.  The first hurdle, then, is to believe that someone deceased three days can be reanimated.  A rational brain would have to rank this up there with rocket science.

As challenging as this can be, the even harder concept is the ‘why’ of God’s salvation plan.  I have talked with many folks who put their hope in doing more good than bad as the basis of their hope for eternity in heaven.  I see the appeal in this as it ultimately puts the individual in control of their eternal fate.

Unfortunately, this less than rocket science approach discounts the magnitude and magnificence of God.  It skews the balance toward us and away from Him.  If God is who He says He is, perfectly holy, then we have no business attempting to earn our way into His presence by having a balance sheet showing we’ve done more good than bad.  Here’s the bottom line: He’s perfect, I’m not and I cannot change this truth.

Thankfully He does! Because rocket science is beneath the heart and intellect of our Creator, He knows the woeful state we are in without Him.  Because He loves us, shortcomings and all, He has provided the perfect solution: Jesus Christ.  Paul describes it this way: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus, the Perfect Son of God, willingly bore the sins of the world in his body as He was crucified.  By acknowledging this truth we admit our own failings as we recognize the necessity of God’s salvation being worked out in this way.  Believing that God raised His Son Jesus back to life is the final piece.  It provides us the assurance of God’s intentions and is His invitation to absolutely everyone to partake of His loving grace and mercy.

Accepting His love and forgiveness is not rocket science, thank God!

Pastor Chuck

There is Life in Hospice

Two years ago I was asked to join our local Hospice organization as part of their pastoral care team.  I was honored by the invitation and gladly accepted.  The Oswego County Hospice has long been recognized as an outstanding provider of care to the terminally ill and their families.  I have known many people who have worked or volunteered for them, and to a person they tell what rewarding work it is.  Helping to bring dignity to the end of life has been some of their most fulfilling work.  When I joined the team, I hoped to discover this for myself.

Truthfully, though,  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Not much of my training or experience had prepared me for what I assumed was to be a monumental task.  After all, much of my ministry background has had me with folks, both saved and not, who seemingly give little thought to their own mortality.  Our primary focus has spanned from helping people meet their daily needs to counselling and leading Bible studies.  All of these types of activities have focused on improving both physical and spiritual life.  This Hospice work was going to bring physical death squarely in my face

Thankfully, Oswego County Hospice has an excellent training program.  It taught me much concerning the physical aspects of the dying process.  This information would be valuable as I entered into the patient’s family dynamic.  Although I knew that each case would be different, I felt that the training I had been given had prepared me for what was ahead.

All this excellent training did nothing, however, to prepare me for the awesome power of God I was (and still do) see! How did God display His power you ask? Has there been miraculous healings of bodies? These are legitimate questions especially when asked in light of Psalm 77:14 where the author describes God as: You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples (NIV).

To answer these questions, I must reply that to the best of my knowledge, I have not seen tumors removed through the power of prayer.  Yet what I do give witness to is at least equal to, or perhaps even greater than, a physical miracle.  What I have seen is unquestionably a move of God.  In His mercy I have seen estranged families reunited and lost individuals coming to realize the full life that the Lord Jesus promises.

Allow me to share some of the ways God has moved through Mary (not her real name), her family, friends and even some strangers during her time under hospice care.

I met Mary a little over a year ago.  As with anyone under hospice care, she faced the certainty of impending death.  On my first visit, she asked me what was going to happen to her when the inevitable happened.  Given this wonderful opportunity, I shared with Mary the Scriptures pertinent to salvation and the promise of eternity in heaven.

As Mary listened, a peace came over her.  Though I did not know it at the time, she had been a regular at a bible preaching church years ago before slipping into what she referred to as ‘the wild side of life.’ Hearing the words of John 3:16-17 and Romans 10:9 stirred in her the truth she had known so long ago.  I could tell that the issue of life after death was settled in her heart.

It was what happened since that initial conversation that has showed God’s power at work.  Mary, with her faith renewed in the goodness of her Lord, has become a powerful advocate for Him.  At any given time in her home there are extended family members, neighbors and acquaintances present.  Each and every time I am privileged to be in her company, any and all others with her are invited to pray with us or to be prayed for by me.

One such occasion allowed me to pray for a young man, Danny.  One look at him as I walked in told me much about him.  He was in a dark place, wallowing in self-pity at the turn life had taken on him.  He was homeless and obviously on the downside of whatever he had taken most recently.  A friend of one of her grandkids, Mary let him sleep on the couch, no questions asked.  After she and I finished our scheduled meeting, Mary asked him if it was alright for me to pray with him.  With a ‘what’s the use look,’ Danny agreed.  We held hands and I prayed.

I don’t have a formula for praying, I simply attempt to quiet my mind so that God can work through me.  I prayed for Danny in this way.  In this case I have no recall of what I said specifically and when I finished, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  At my Amen, Danny looked at me with tear filled eyes and told me that what I had said moved him deeply.  I thanked God and him for allowing me to pray with him.

Though I thought of and prayed for Danny frequently, several months passed with no word about him.  As always, God is working even when I don’t know it! My next encounter with this young guy nearly blew me away.  He had a big smile on his face, was cleaned up and generally had the look of someone who knew he had come through something awful into something far greater.  He excitedly told me about his new job and the nice place he had found to live.  His life had taken a 180-degree turn, at he counted our first meeting as the place it started.

I relate this account to you my friends in order to tell you that God is indeed still in the healing business.  The lesson it teaches me is to be looking beyond what I consider needs to be healed and to anticipate the greater thing God is up to.  There is life and there is joy in hospice care, for all involved.  God is healing.  The bible says that nothing is too hard for God.  Oh, and by the way, Mary has been discharged from hospice!

Thanks for reading and be encouraged, God is working!

Pastor Chuck

Peace by Peace: The Full Armor of God

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I put my armor on first thing today.  No, I’m not re-enacting a joust or trying to blend in at a Renaissance Faire, I’m referring to the full armor of God that the Apostle Paul wrote about in Ephesians 6:10-18

It might seem peculiar to some that the God of peace, love and forgiveness would also make a soldier’s armor necessary.  However, if you have been a follower of Jesus Christ for any length of time, you know all too well the battle that rages on around you.  Thankfully, nothing about this struggle is a surprise to the Almighty.  Therefore, He gives us access to all we need to carry on each day.

Paul knew full well the spiritual battle that was happening in his time.  He used the familiar picture of a Roman, dressed in full battle regalia, to describe what and how God was providing for our spiritual protection.  The Apostle then describes why we need it:

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:11-12) NIV

Paul establishes that there is an unseen battle going on around us and that we do have a common enemy, the devil.  Not to give the old liar too much credit, but he is a powerful and nasty adversary who wants nothing more than to cause strife and division, especially among those who profess faith in Christ.

I am eternally grateful that our God is more powerful than Satan.  (Spoiler alert: if you read the Bible all the way to the end, you’ll see it proved forever!) Having said that, the Bible also teaches that the devil is still active in this world.  Peter describes him as a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Knowing this, putting on the full protection of God’s armor seems like a no-brainer.

Let’s go through the various pieces of this God-given armor to see how they work to protect us.

The belt of truth is the first piece.  Whereas if may sound weird to us to put a belt on first, in this case it makes sense.  A Roman soldier put this piece of his armor on first because all the rest of his gear would be attached to it.  This holds true for our spiritual protection as well.  We must be able to ‘wear’ the truth of who God is if we are going to be able to stand at all in the battles we encounter.

With apologies to those who hold that truth is a relative thing, the truth of God is all encompassing and unchanging.  God is who He says He is and does what He promises to do.

The truth is that Jesus is the Savior of the world; there is no other way to heaven accept through His death and resurrection.  This has to be firmly buckled into our being if we are to put on the rest of the armor of God.

The breastplate of righteousness then attaches to the belt of truth.  A soldier’s breastplate protected his vital organs from harm.  This piece of godly armor does the same for us.  Righteousness, a term that sometimes gets thrown around in Christendom, simply means to be in right standing with God.  The position of being righteous in God’s eyes is necessary because He is perfect and without sin.  I, for one, am not.  The bible says He imputes righteousness to believers and I could never hope to be in His presence if He didn’t.  Because of this breastplate He provides, I am protected from His wrath.  God hates sin; the breastplate of righteousness keeps me shielded from the eternal consequences of it because He provides it to those who have put their faith in Him.

Verse 15 of Ephesians Chapter 6 then tells us that our feet are fitted with readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  I love the fact that this is fitted to each of us personally.  God’s peace, which we cannot fully grasp, is tailor made in such a way by the Master that even though we don’t understand it, we can live and move about with the assurance of the peace that salvation brings.

Once our shoes are on, we are to take up the shield of faith because by carrying it we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  The Roman soldier’s shield was curved in such a way that things would bounce off it.  As we carry our shield of faith, the lies and deceptions our enemy throws at us will also be deflected, bringing us no harm.

With our bodies now protected, we are instructed to put on the helmet of salvation.  Helmets, of course, are designed to protect the head.  The helmet of salvation does the same in a spiritual sense.  By donning it, we are to keep in the forefront of our mind the salvation God has given us.  By staying mindful of the of the grace of God that has been poured out on us, we are better able to stay focused on Him.  As we go through our days in this way, we are far less likely to fall victim to wrong thinking of the deceitfulness of the world around us.

As we are now fully clothed in the armor of God, we are then to pick up the only weapon we need, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17).  Much as a sword was the common weapon of the foot soldier in Paul’s day, the word of God is for us.  However, this sword has no equal.  In fact, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews describes it thus: The word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), God’s infallible Word is unmatched by any other weapon or tool.  It contains the very essence of God, making it supreme to all things.  What weapon would we possibly want to carry in its place?

Paul concludes this teaching of the full armor of God by reminding us all that once clothed in it, we must never forget to pray.  The list of what we could pray about is endless, but in this context, I would recommend praying to have awareness of the battles going on around us, and the wisdom to now when to engage the enemy and when to wait for re-enforcements.  It is then a very good idea to be praying for others that are on the battlefront, that they too are fully protected and moving within the will of God.

There you have it, my friends.  The full armor of God.  As was recommended to me years ago, I pass on to you.  Get into the practice of thinking about putting on this armor every day.  As you do, consider what each piece represents and how God has supplied it for you and the specific battles and struggles you are up against.  Remember, He who has made this armor is perfect.  What He makes is also perfect and perfectly molded to fit your needs.  All that is left is for us to put it on.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck