An Angry Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

Powerlessness

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(image courtesy of bethesda4recovery.com)

It was shocking and saddening to see the millions of people in Texas who had to brave the extreme cold without heat for their homes because of the recent severe winter weather there. Many prayers, mine included, went out for God to keep them safe and to provide the basics for survival. Many on the ground there did step up to provide what they could.

There is little in modern life that causes such great disruption to us than the loss of power. I can attest to this myself, as over the years both ice storms and electrical storms have knocked out power in our small city a number of times. When this occurred during the winter, keeping the kids warm was the priority and during the warm months trying to preserve food in the refrigerator and freezer took precedent.

In those cases, as well as the current one in Texas, as life-altering as being without power is, there remains the hope and even assurance that service will be restored eventually. Be it an inconvenience for 6 hours or a struggle for 6 days, some flicker of hope remains that things will again return to normal sooner or later when the juice starts flowing again.

But I had a reminder of a far more permanent type of powerlessness the other day. A man that I admire greatly asked that we might have a discussion of powerlessness at the AA meeting we were both attending. Though this man has in excess of 6 years of continuous sobriety, is a cancer survivor and survived the attacks of 9/11; this particular day brought powerlessness to the forefront of his mind as it marked the anniversary of the death of his sister from a drug overdose.

Powerlessness for the addicted is described in the first of the 12 Steps of recovery. We read this (and all 12 Steps) at the beginning of every meeting: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or drugs) and our lives had become unmanageable.

As we took turns talking about what this meant to us individually, it occurred to me again the complete powerlessness I have over my alcoholism. Unlike when the heat or the electricity go out, I have no hope that any sense of normalcy will ever be within my grasp. Being powerless tells me that if I should pick up another drink, I have no idea when or if the roller-coaster of craziness will ever stop. It is not the 10th drink that will get me drunk, as we are fond of saying, but the first one. For it is that one that unleashes the dominance of alcohol over my mental and physical being. Once imbibed, I am truly helpless and hopeless. I am in the dark with no hope of escape.

The great blessing I get to experience today is that I do not have to take that first drink. Discussions like we had at that meeting the other day serve as a tremendous reminder of what the hell of drinking was like. When I face each day honestly admitting my powerlessness, I become able to recognize that I have the greatest of all hope and power available to me.

A part of the AA Preamble, also read before every, meeting states: But there is one who has all power. That one is God, may you find him now.

Though not a religious program per se, those like myself with some understanding of who this God might be come to realize that He holds the only means of escape from the powerlessness of addiction. In Him lies the hope that ‘power’ can be restored. But make no mistake, this is not power given to me so that I can attempt to navigate on my own again.

Rather, it is a heaven-send invitation to tap into a source of power that never will be shut off. God gives it in abundance to those who truly want it for what it offers; the power to live addiction free.

For me, having had this power made available has done so much more than simply allow me to set the drink down. By humbly acknowledging my helplessness, God has stepped into my life with His life giving love. By doing so He has not only alleviated the physical compulsion to drink, but has also healed me of the mental struggle and anguish that accompanies an addicted life.

I share this today for several reasons. One is to honor my friend who lost his sister to addiction. By openly sharing his pain, those of us with him at that meeting were given the chance to again examine the reality of our own powerlessness.

I share this also as a beacon of hope. If you or someone you love is in the life and death struggle that defines addiction, please know that there is a way out. I testify that as God has poured out His infinite might into my powerlessness, and in so doing He has freed me to live a life filled with purpose and joy.

My experience teaches me that He has a never-ending supply of this power available. I have seen it at work in so many lives, and I see it still reaching people today.

Remember, you have not lost by admitting you are powerless. In fact, you have taken the first step toward a whole new, addiction free life.

Blessings to you,

Pastor Chuck

Ash Wednesday: What and Why

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(image courtesy of the Cincinnati Inquirer)

(This blog was first published in March 2019)

Many of my dear sisters and brothers in Christ will be receiving ashes on their foreheads today.  As a non-denominational pastor, I’d like to share a few thoughts about Ash Wednesday means to me. 

I was born to Roman Catholic parents.  They faithfully went to Mass each Sunday, dragging my brother and me along with them.  They also hit all the Holy Days of Obligation with us in tow.  That meant that we got ashes on our foreheads every year at the beginning of Lent.  At the time, all I cared about was that this was bringing us closer to Easter and a basket filled with yummy treats.

As I got a little older, I listened to the readings at these gatherings, again without any real impact on my life.  As soon as I was old enough to decide whether I wanted to continue down my parent’s path of religious belief, I opted out.

Many years later life-changing things happened to me, and I found myself back in a church.  This time it was Lutheran.  These good folks also had a special midweek gathering at the beginning of the Lenten season where they, too, had ashes put on their foreheads.

By this time, thankfully, I knew more about the reasons behind this, which gave me a better appreciation of the symbolism.  My faith journey continued and my family and I landed in a non-denominational church.  I was, and am, still deeply moved by this approach.  When church life here is lived in the proper light, this church answers to God and not the traditions of men.  Therefore, I found no Ash Wednesday celebrations among these good people.

More time has passed, and I am now an ordained pastor of a non-denominational ministry.  What may be surprising to some is that I will be assisting at an Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran Church this evening.  How did this come about, you might be asking?

My wife and I have been blessed to become friends with the Pastor of the local Lutheran Church.  She is a dynamic person of God, whose devotion to the Word, to prayer, and to others is inspiring.  We met at an ecumenical gathering of local pastors who get together every Saturday morning at 7 to pray for revival in our area.

Pastor Wheatley has invited Betsy and me to participate at this evening’s service at her church: Betsy will lead us in song and I will help distribute ashes.  This is what got me thinking about this topic today.  Why me?  And why ashes?

Non-denominational or not, I have concluded that the receiving of ashes on this day is a very good thing to do.  The ashes themselves symbolize three things: our sinfulness, our mortality, and the hope we have in God through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The first two of these of go together; the bible teaches (and my life proves) that all people are hopelessly lost in sin.  Only God, in His mercy, can save us from eternal doom.  The ashes remind me of this fact today.  They also serve to refresh my memory about my own mortality; that no matter how good I feel physically today, at age 59, I am still much closer to the end of my natural life than I am to its beginning.  When this sobering thought is taken with the first point made, I am ever so glad for the third one!

The ashes, placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, are a visual reminder of the reality of the love of God for us all.  Jesus, God’s Son, chose to die an awful death on a cross in order that sinners (that’s all of us) could be saved.  Peter expressed it this way: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I can’t save myself, and no other human can do it for me either.  Only faith in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can.  The ashes on my forehead remind me of this awesome truth again today.  I’ll gladly hand them out and humbly receive them.  The only title I bear today is follower of Christ, for it is the only one that truly matters.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

“That tears it!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Desperate Times

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Ah, Google, how did I ever learn things before you showed up on my computer. I was mulling over the idea for today’s blog while shoveling snow from the driveway earlier, attempting as I do to find application for today from the timeless truth found in the Scriptures.  Actually this blog has been rattling around between my ears for about a week, ever since I re-read the encounter a father of a sick /possessed child had with Jesus. (please check in out in Mark 9:14-27)

If you just read this or are familiar with the event contained there, and if you have a beating heart in your chest, you can sense the desperation in the dad. Back to Google for a moment: I knew there existed a famous quote about desperate times and measures, and thanks to the search engine, there it was: The Greek physician and philosopher Hippocrates said it first and said it best: “For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable.” In other words, drastic times call for drastic measures.

You can get a sense of the drastic times calling for drastic measures the father felt as he spoke to Jesus, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

Whether this was demon possession of a terrible affliction of seizures is not the point. What is important for us to focus on is the strong desire of the boy’s father to help his son. Word of Jesus and His healing power was well known by this point in His earthly ministry, as evidenced by the large crowds following the Lord everywhere He went. No matter if folks were merely looking for a show or if they were also desperate to have a need met, they sought out Jesus in droves.

In this case the father, in searching for Jesus he instead came across His disciples, who also by this time had a growing reputation of being healers. In this case, however, they were unsuccessful in healing the boy. Again, the sense of desperation is palpable in the dad as captured in his response to Jesus when asked by the Lord how long the child had been in this condition: “From childhood,” he answered. “It often throws him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:21-22 NIV).

Did you catch the “if you can?” Jesus sure did! “‘If you can?’” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” As was Jesus usual approach, He wanted people to see the necessity of placing their faith in God for all things as opposed to simply seeking intervention for their problem. (V.23)

The desperate dad then exclaims what I believe to be the heart of this message, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (V.24)

Those of us who have been blessed with having and loving children probably identify with the depth of feeling this father had. After all, his long-suffering son seemed to be in the right place and at the right time for something miraculous to happen, but it had not. I can relate to his plea. “Tell me what else to do” in order that my child be helped. Any devoted parent would make any sacrifice in that moment for the welfare of their child. As you read the rest if this account, you see where the mercy, love and power of Jesus Christ does restore the lad to health.

What I am left pondering, and invite you to do the same, Most Precious Reader, is how desperate am I for Jesus in non-crisis times. Those times when life is cruising along pretty much as I want it. I am comfortable in my surroundings and not worrying about anything substantial.

Where is Jesus in these times of life? Am I merely keeping Him on retainer for when something comes along to knock my life off course? Sadly and honestly, there are times when I simply do take things for granted. Oh, I can do the things I do and say all the right things that go along with my calling, but is this where Jesus wants my heart?

The obvious answer is no. The Lord is zealous for the relationship He has forged with those who know Him through faith. And I believe He wants me/us desperate for more of Him, not merely content with what I have, for as my desire for more of Him grows within me, much of what I selfishly cling to falls away.

Realizing this, I join my prayer with the boys father, and ask Jesus to help me overcome my unbelief.

How about you? Do you struggle with areas of unbelief or maybe a lackadaisical type of faith? I would love to hear how you overcome that.

Thanks for reading, be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

C’mon Guys, man up!

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Please note that the following is based solely on my personal experience. There is no scientific research involved.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I received the first vaccination against the Covid 19 virus on December 29th. Like I said then, this was not a decision I made lightly. I spent some time in prayer, seeking God’s leading and I did a fair amount of research into the safety of these shots. I came away convinced beyond any doubt that not only were the vaccinations safe, but also that by taking the shot I was living out God’s command to love others as I protect myself and them from spreading this illness.

Actually I was at the hospital where the vaccine is being dispensed twice last week. On Tuesday for my shot, and on Wednesday as I brought one of the residents from the halfway house where I work to get his.

They seem to have a good system going at the local hospital as I was there only about 25 minutes each time. It was during these two visits that gave me the inspiration to write today.

Over those two days I saw approximately 50 people who were either in the fast moving line to register or in the conference room where we waited our 15 minutes to make sure no one had any adverse reactions once inoculated (no one did when I was there).

It was the wide discrepancy in the ratio of women to men that really caught my attention. Counting myself, I saw only 3 males getting vaccinated over those two days I was there. I realize that a large percentage of health care workers are female, but if my total count was accurate, only 6% of those I saw get inoculated were men. Where were they all?

Hence the title, C’mon guys, man up! Roll up your sleeves and get it done. Whatever excuses you may have for not doing this, I am asking that you think again. I had zero side-effects, not even a sore arm. Nor have I sprouted a third eye or have any of my God-given appendages fallen off.

And seriously, during these times when so many have felt so helpless and vulnerable, I believe this is an extremely practical way to show care for your fellow humans. I spoke to a nurse I know earlier and told her I got the shot in part so that I would be one less person she would have to care for. Tears filled her eyes as she thanked me. So c’mon guys, lets do this. If not for yourself, do it for your family, friends and those frontline workers who have given so much of themselves over the previous 10 months combatting this pandemic.

There needs to be a lot of folks getting the Covid shot if we are going to put this issue to bed. I am encouraging everyone who has doubts to do as I did: pray and do research and then ultimately look past just yourself to the larger community around you.

Thank you. Be blessed. And be a blessing by getting vaccinated when it becomes available to you.

Pastor Chuck

Happy New Day!

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Allow me to add my voice (blog) to the many who have extended blessings to you as we venture into the year 2021. I pray for all of you, Most Appreciated Readers, that God blesses you with His peace as He draws you into deeper relationship with Him in the coming days, weeks and months.

As I have written over the span of 2020, my heart goes out to all who experienced loss during the Covid-19 pandemic. Be those losses personal, financial or relational, I do indeed hope that the new year brings some measure of relief to you.

But it is to those who thought that somehow by turning the page of the calendar things were going to suddenly improve that I write to today. Much the same as someone trying the ‘geographic cure’ we talk about in the 12 Step programs, little relief is truly found just because it becomes January of a new year.

One of the things that is stressed in those recovery rooms is the importance of staying in today. To do this, one must not allow the burdens of the past to become backbreaking. Likewise, the expectations of the future, both good and bad, must be kept in perspective as well. Think of it like this: The past is a cancelled check, and the future is a promissory note that never comes to maturity because it is always Today.

Simply put, we learn from the past without dwelling on its mistakes and we plan for the future, without casting our anticipated results in stone.

There is a passage in Psalm 119 I would like to share with you that continues to be godly counsel to me as I attempt to live out these things I have mentioned above.

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 23the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 119:22-24 NIV)

These verses tell me several things that are of great encouragement. The rejected stone is a prophecy of Jesus. The Lord fulfills this as He becomes the capstone (or final) building block of Father God’s salvation plan for all of humanity. Meditating on the wonder that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection stirs all types of thoughts and emotions in me. I will boil them down to this: Complete awe that God would do this for undeserving sinners like me, and unspeakable joy that He has made life eternal possible because of His taking my place on that cross.

With my heart and head again re-directed toward God’s love and care for me, I can endeavor to carry out what verse 24 says as I realize that this day (which references both the day of salvation and this very day in which we live), has been created by God Himself. With this understanding then comes the attempt to be obedient to rejoice and be glad in it.

A quick check of the original Hebrew is helpful. The word translated rejoice carries with it the meaning of having a joyful attitude and being excited about the prospect  of the day. To be glad is to take delight in; not just in what may come, but in the very existence of this day.

It occurs to me that each of us as individuals will have to determine how we rejoice and are glad. I believe the common denominator though will be our own willingness to do so.

This will require more than a glass half full/empty mentality. I/we have to make the determination to rejoice and be glad in this day, simply because it was created for us. If we can do this, the circumstances of any particular day will have less power to sway our feelings and reactions. Basically, as in all things of faith, we must anchor ourselves to the Lord in complete trust. The more we are able to this (with His help, btw), the better our focus remains on Him, who is the true reason for our rejoicing and gladness.

So rejoice and be glad in the immeasurable and awesome love of God this day. He desires only good for us. Make this (and every) day the happy day is has been created for. Will it be all sunshine, unicorns and rainbows? My experience tells me no. But that same experience is teaching me that the true reason for rejoicing and gladness never changes, and I find great comfort in that as things swirl crazily around in the world.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

A New Suggestion I Give you

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I often marvel, and sometimes even write about the command of Jesus given to his disciples just prior to His arrest, mock trial and crucifixion: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

I have tried to get my head around the fact that Jesus was telling His followers to love as He loved. But, I say to myself, Jesus loved perfectly. I am not capable of coming close to that. As I do these mental gymnastics, I usually come back to the fact that Jesus knows I can’t. He is not expecting perfection from me; but I do believe He wants me to consciously be doing the best I can at all times.

With this somewhat settled, for now, in my mind, I move on to how I can show this love. Jesus has left this part quite open: Love one another. Once again as I examine my track record with this, I find myself behavior overly self-serving. Far too many times I have allowed my wants to interfere with me seeing to the needs of others. I must admit I have missed opportunities to simply love others because I have been too caught up in my own stuff of the moment.

I am ever so grateful for the faithfulness and patience of God. He continues to give me/us opportunities to showcase His love through our actions. Those of us who proclaim faith in Jesus Christ have a wonderful opportunity to act in genuine love now and in the coming months: Get the Covid-19 vaccination!

As many of you know, I work part-time at a halfway house for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. Because I do, I am eligible to get the vaccine. I did so just yesterday as I received the first of the two shots.

This was not a decision I made lightly. I did some research. I wanted, as best I could, to understand the process of development and testing. I also considered the possible adverse reactions that might happen. I concluded that I could trust the science that has gone into this. And I remembered to thank God for making this available.

Hence, Dear Cherished Reader, my suggestion to you is this: When it becomes available to you, please get vaccinated. It is a great way to display the love Jesus was talking about for our fellow humans. Jesus told His disciples then that people would recognize them as His followers by the way they loved people. His command (and my suggestion) is the same: Show others that you care enough about their well-being that you are willing to get vaccinated against this virus.

Thank you!

As always, thanks for reading, be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

BTW: I write this 24 hours after receiving the first shot with zero side effects, not even a sore arm.

From the Manger to the Cross: God’s Audacious Salvation Plan

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I know, Faithful Readers, that many of you share in the belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. I rejoice with you! Though differences may exist in how we dot our I’s or cross our t’s, we firmly agree in the fact that salvation only comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

I am also aware that some of you do not hold what I believe to be true. I am none the less grateful that you read what I offer here. My belief teaches me to be respectful of all so that I can gladly call you friend even if we hold diametrically opposed opinions.

That having been said, I am unashamedly bold in my proclamation about our loving God. I totally agree with what the Apostle Paul said: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16a). I attempt, though often poorly, to live out my life in ways that honor my Lord Jesus. To share the hope He has given me is the focal point of each of my days.

It is in this season we call Christmas that I quite often get to share what I know to be true about the birth of the Christ. I do so today under the title I have given this entry: From the Manger to the Cross, God’s Audacious Salvation Plan.

Audacious. It is the best word my limited vocabulary can come up with to describe what God set in motion when Jesus came to the world: as an infant! The same God who caused our world to be created. This same God that is simultaneously and always everywhere. The Creator of absolutely everything, and yet He desires that we enter into a loving and thriving relationship with Him.

With those and countless other accolades to describe this indescribable Deity, the ways in which to implement His salvation plan had to be equally diverse. Yet, with unlimited power and resources, He chose to come to our eternal rescue as a helpless human infant.

I recall from theology classes the necessity that He be both fully God and fully human in order to serve as the only acceptable sacrifice for sinful mankind. But still, with all the power of His own universe at His disposal, why not at least come as an adult, thereby avoiding all the things that can plague us humans as we grow. He could have still been all God/all man, but without acne, if you will.

But no. As a human baby He came. And as I consider these things again, how fitting. With unlimited power and possibilities, I must think there were more flashy ways to get this plan underway.

But as a human baby it was. As always with God, so perfect. The humility of an infant born with the royal bloodline of the Creator. How like our God to present His plan to save people swaddled in cloths and lying in an animal food trough.

From the earliest hours to the final ones as He hung on the cross, Jesus lived as the perfect example of love to all. To any who would doubt the depth of that love, please consider the horror of that crucifixion He suffered so that this audacious plan would come full circle.

Yes, it might have been splashier to do a huge intro, but the depth of His reveal has resonated through the world for over 2000 years now. I for one trust that His salvation plan is proceeding just as it should and am forever grateful that His love is so vast that it included an invitation to lowly ones such as myself.

A blessed celebration of the Savior’s birth to you all. I appreciate the time you spend with me and trust that our relationship will only grow deeper and better as we continue on together.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

It was (and still is) personal!

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I am not sure if this applies to everyone when it comes to reading the Bible, but it sure does to me! There are certain events that seem to jump off the page to me. Now, realizing I am reading a living document from God Himself, this probably should not come as a huge surprise. Yet, it continues to happen to me. Each year as I read the gospel accounts of the birth of the Savior, I am drawn to those shepherds out in the hills that night.

Much has been written about these guys, so I will not take your time with a long dissertation about them except to say, “You go God! Bringing the news of the birth of your Son first to the lowliest folks on the social scale is so much in keeping with the ministry He would live out.”

Having already written about angelic visitations this season (to Mary and Zechariah and Daniel), noticing again the first human response to an angels sudden appearance comes as no surprise. Luke records it this way: An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” (Luke 2:9 NIV) I have no idea what it meant to have the glory of the Lord shine around them, but whatever it was, coupled with the angels appearing, had those poor shepherds shaking in their footwear!

As the biblical accounts all show, the angel first has to allay their fears before delivering the message it was sent to deliver. In this case, it is the awesomely spectacular announcement that: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you (emphasis added): he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11 NIV).

Those two little words are what jumped at me today. To you. God has put into physical motion His salvation plan for the world and He chooses to reveal its kickoff to some nameless shepherds keeping watch over sheep in the middle of the night. Not only was this  a below-the-radar choice of initial recipients, but it was given to them personally (as well as to the rest of the world)!

Then just in case the shepherds were still unsure of what was going on (I would have been!), the angel gives them another personal touch: “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Emphasis added, Luke 2:12 NIV)

Those two little words again: to you! Now the shocked shepherds have not only been told what has happened, they have been given a personal invitation to see it for themselves! The proof awaits them in a dark and dank cave, the very Son of God!

As amazing as the personal invitation that was given to those shepherds was, they were not to be the sole recipients of it. God’s grace is available to all. It may not have been pronounced to you in the presence of the heavenly host, but that does not make it any less true.

To make this a little clearer, and certainly more personal, try reading vv. 10-12 this way:

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you, (insert your name here), good news of great joy that will be for all people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you (put jour name here again): he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you, (your name). You (you again, one last time) will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

I love reading that with my name in those places. For me, it makes God’s loving care even more tangible. Also, we are blessed to be living in a time when we know how God plays out His salvation: The death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. As wondrous as the birth we celebrate this time each year is, the awesomeness of what God did (and continues to do) is mind boggling, to say the least. And all of this, the prophecy coming to be in His birth, the sinless life and substitution for sinners on the cross and His glorious resurrection, are all done with this same personal invitation to believe and partake.

It is my hope, Faithful and Appreciated Reader, that these thoughts in some small way help you to find the joy in your personal invitation. Won’t you join with me and praise Him for His unending love and care. And like our shepherd friends we started with today, once you accept the invitation and find for yourself the reality of what God has done for you, do as they did: The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were jus t as they were told. (Luke 2:20).

Blessings to you and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck