You Just Never Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Blessed and be a Blessing,

Pastor Chuck

“Do you want to get well?”

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The third recorded miracle recorded in John’s Gospel is yet another encounter between the Son of God and an individual. You can (and should) read all about in John 5:1-13. As a matter of fact, please read it after you are done looking at this blog, for it is a particularly good practice to check for yourself the scriptures someone is teaching/writing about. This helps you verify what is being considered and more importantly, opens your heart to what Holy Spirit may be wanting to reveal to you.

For the all-important context, an undisclosed amount of time has passed since the end of Chapter 4 where Jesus had spoken a word of healing over the royal official’s son.

In Chapter 5, Jesus is now back in Jerusalem for one of the Jewish feasts. The Lord walks to one of the gates of the city where many sick and invalid folks are. There is a pool of water in that place that many believe has healing powers, if only they can be the first to get in when the water is stirred up.

The Bible describes this collection of folks at this pool like this: Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. (John 5:3 NIV).

I must admit that I have wondered from time to time why Jesus didn’t just speak the words of healing over that entire gathering. Certainly, He has the power and compassion to do so, yet the Lord sought out only one person at that time. Though I cannot pretend to know why, my guess is that Jesus wanted this interaction to be personal; showing us that He can/will be personal with each one of us as well. More about that in a bit.

The author tells us that the man Jesus spoke to had been an invalid for 38 years and undoubtedly had been brought to this supposed pool of healing many times. Jesus addresses this fellow with what seems to be the most obvious of questions: “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6 NIV)

Whether the man thought the answer was implied because he was there we don’t know. What we can be certain of is that the lame man went directly into his litany of how he has no one there to help him get into the water when it is stirred, thus preventing him from partaking of the possibility of healing.

What a human-nature laden response that is! How many times, Most Cherished Reader, have you and I gone into a blow by blow account of our ailments when asked how we are. It seems that at times we simply want the whole world to know every ache, pain and problem we have. Maybe I’m looking for strength in numbers through your sympathy when I engage in this activity. But no matter my reasoning, I am not helping my condition in any way by merely re-hashing what the issues are.

In the case of our invalid friend at the pool, Jesus does not bite on the invitation to commiserate. Instead, the Lord simply tells the man to get up, pick up his mat and walk. The healing is immediate as John tells us this man who had been waiting for so long for help does just that!

Jesus then slips quietly away, once again allowing for the glory of God to be revealed rather than any flashy spotlight to be shone on Him.

Reading on, we find that neither the Jews he encountered or the newly healed man himself had any clue as to how or why this miracle has occurred. The people, instead of rejoicing that this crippled man was now somehow walking among them, pointed out he was breaking a Sabbath rule by now carrying his mat around as he walked on rejuvenated legs!

The former lame man was clueless as well: The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there (John 5:13 NIV).

So why did Jesus select this one individual for healing at that time? Until we see the Lord face to face to ask Him, we won’t know. If I may be so bold, however, allow me to propose two possible explanations as to why this played out the way it did.

First, as I mentioned above, Jesus had to get through the wall of defense the crippled man had built up. His pain and misfortune had become familiar daily partners; so much so that they were what he mentioned to Jesus when asked directly if he wanted to be healed. Don’t you and I do something similar from time to time? It is as if we are more comfortable talking/lamenting/complaining about our problems than we are in doing what we can to lessen or remove them.

Though this first possible reason puts an unfavorable light on how we sometimes deal with adversities, the second reason I propose is teeming with grace and mercy from the Lord. From the many, many people who were desperately waiting for healing, Jesus personally presented Himself to just one at that time. I point this out not as a lament for those still waiting, but rather as evidence of Jesus’ level or personal care that He makes available.

Did/does He have the power to heal them/us all with one spoken word? Absolutely! But here, as in other cases, Jesus is stressing the eternal value of entering relationship with Him as opposed to merely supplying a band-aid to the issue at hand. I know that my tendency after recovering or feeling better is to forget about what was wrong and how I got over it. Jesus desires to help us all on a much deeper level than just alleviating our pain.

As wonderful as the physical healing is or would be, the eternal significance of the personal relationship Jesus offers cannot be overstated. That is why, in my opinion, Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle John to record this particular healing event, for it highlights the personal way Jesus reaches out to all of us, one at a time!

I pray that you and I come to that place that allows us to know the personal invitation of Jesus Christ. If that entails healing from sickness or infirmity, may it be to His praise and glory! But most importantly, may we, after this type of encounter with the Lord, walk from it with the comfort and assurance of God’s personal love for each and every one.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Forgiven and forgotten: A lesson learned from a 20 yard dumpster

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Last week my wife Betsy and I rented a 20 yard roll off dumpster. Though we are no hoarders by any stretch of the imagination, two decades of living in the same, relatively small house does manage to collect and store lots of stuff. Most of it was deemed essential at one point (or thought it would be in the future), hence the slow increase of clutter in our garage and the storage space above it.

Betsy took some time off from her job so that we could work together on this project. On Wednesday, the empty container was left in our driveway.

That first afternoon we moved the heavy and cumbersome things from the garage into the container. We got a later start that planned on Thursday and by that days end we had completed just the downstairs area, leaving the more difficult upstairs work for Friday.

Friday morning we cheerfully and carefully started getting things down the ladder and out to the dumpster and several short hours later, the job was done!

As encouraging as I hope this is to you if you are faced with de-junking your home, especially if you were born during the Kennedy administration, the pastor/preacher in me feels compelled to share the two points God has laid on my heart about this task we undertook. I say from God because on my own I do not think I would have equated filling a dumpster with old things with God’s forgiveness of our sins!

Let me start with the Scripture that came to mind as I pondered all this:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11-12 NIV).

Much as I watched the company truck haul our old stuff away, God forgives our sins (when we come to him humbly asking Him to do so). The drivers job was to take the dumpster away, not fill it for us. So too we must come before our merciful God seeking His forgiveness. The Apostle John describes it this way:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 NIV).

Like the things, some new, some old, that were cluttering up our living spaces, unrepented sin in our hearts keeps us separated from the closeness God wants us to know in Him. By cleaning out the garage and upstairs storage area, we can now walk safely through them. No longer is the thought running through my head that someday I must get rid of all this. It is gone because we hauled it to the light of day and then had it all taken away.

There is so much learn about God’s forgiveness! I hope, Precious Reader, you can glean some of the joy and excitement I am experiencing through this expression of how God continues to work in all who are willing to do their part. Betsy and I decided it was time to jettison the old, space-filling things, and then watched as they were taken away.

As I think about this, what a blessing forgiveness from God truly is. Psalm 103:12 tells us that He removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. Just how far is that? Picture a globe and start moving east. You are always moving in that direction. Moving east never becomes starting to move west. God is telling us that He removes our transgressions to a point beyond measurement!

And one more thing. Much as I do not have to worry that the full dumpster will someday re-appear in my driveway, once God forgives things they are forgotten, (on His part). Our human frailties seem to want to examine that old useless and potentially harmless stuff. Not God! He spoke this truth through the Prophet Jeremiah as He described what the New Covenant of His forgiveness would be like:

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34b NIV).

God has promised to take away our sins. As proof look only to the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ that was shed for the remission of sin. We experienced a great reminder of this eternal truth as we watched the dumpster of unwanted things taken from our presence.

Having a clean and spacious garage is cool; remembering again the depth of God’s mercy and grace as evidenced by His willingness to forgive, however, is beyond compare.

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Believing is Seeing

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Continuing with our look into the miracles performed by Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John, we find the second one in Chapter 4:43-54. Before we go any further, let me help clarify something you may have noticed if you have read the first four chapters of John. Though we are about to consider the second recorded miracle, there have been others performed by Jesus since He changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana that we talked about last time.

To bring us up to speed, let’s briefly consider where Jesus has been and done since He left that wedding. He first left Cana for Jerusalem where He celebrated the Passover. The author John tells it this way:

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. (John 2:23 NIV).

The beginning of Chapter 3 reveals a conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus,  a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling counsel. This man sought out Jesus to learn more about Him.

“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him. (John 3:2 NIV).

After explaining to Nicodemus why He came (John 3:16), Jesus left Jerusalem for the countryside where He spent time with His disciples. He and His group then headed back toward Galilee, passing through Samaria where the Lord has the wonderful encounter with the Woman at the Well. I’m passing by that encounter, rich as it is with things to teach us, to get to the miracle we shall examine. This one can be found in John 4:43:54. As is always the case, reading it from the source is always the best way to go, but in the short-term, here is what happened. A royal official from Capernaum heard that Jesus was back in Galilee. He went to Jesus, begging the Lord to heal his son who was near death.

Taken out of context, Jesus’ initial response to the official seems a bit harsh, much as did the way He responded to His mother about the lack of wine at the wedding. Jesus was not calling out this man in particular, but rather the local Jewish community. Remember, just prior to meeting this man Jesus had been in Samaria, a place and people that the Jews held in great contempt. Yet many there embraced Jesus’ teaching and put their faith in him; yet there was much resistance in Jesus’ own territory to Him and His message.

The heart of this miracle is revealed in the next few verses. First, the royal official, having heard what Jesus said about the locals only wanting to see something spectacular to wow them, then says to Jesus, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” (John 4:49 NIV)

I respect this father’s heart! His son’s well-being was all that was on his mind. He had heard of the things Jesus was doing and sought Him out to restore health to his son. He wasn’t arguing the point with Jesus. His sole focus was the health of his child.

The compassionate heart of the Lord then shines forth, Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” (John 4:50 NIV). Jesus does indeed love us all with an eternal, inexplicable love. Here we are given evidence of its power.

As significant as this is, it is the official’s response that I would like us all to ponder. The man took Jesus at his word and departed (John 4:50 NIV). Remember, this man had traveled a full day to seek out Jesus on behalf of his son and from the conversation he had with the Lord, we can safely assume he spent less than 5 minutes with Jesus. Yet, at the mere words of Jesus this desperate dad left to return home. More incredible is the fact that as of that time, this man did not believe nor know who Jesus truly was.

God’s awesome power to heal is made known to this official as he approaches his home. His servants rush out to tell him the wonderful news that his son is better. He then puts the timeline together to realize the fever left his son at the precise moment Jesus told him his son would live. We then learn that this man and his entire household put their faith in Jesus because of what has happened!

God heals on so many levels! By healing the boy physically, Jesus healed that whole family eternally. The family had not seen Jesus, but they had seen the results of His love and power.

This leads to the question I ask both you, Most Appreciated Readers, and me to ponder: How much do you believe without seeing? Asked another and more pointed way: Does your faith in Christ allow you to see Him at work around you, even though your physical eyes give no clue?

Please feel free to share your thoughts and insights with us all. Thanks.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Faith and 20/20 Hindsight

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We’ve all heard the adage, ‘hindsight is 20/20.’ Even though our look back can still be skewed, things are often clearer as we consider the course of past events.

Joseph, the son of Jacob, was an important figure in the Book of Genesis. As one picks up his story near the end of that book, you find that his father is now dead, and his brothers have come to him to apologize for the contemptible way they had treated him. For review, Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, which caused his older half-brothers to be extremely jealous of him. They plot to kill young Joseph but instead settle on selling him into slavery.

Joseph had many trials as a slave; to say nothing of being abandoned by his family. Genesis records the ups and downs of his life.  Finally, he becomes a very powerful person in Egypt, rising to the number two person in power there, subject only to Pharaoh. He plans for and then administers the food he had set aside during a wide-spread famine in such a way that many lives are spared.

The narrative tells of Joseph brothers coming to beg food. They do not recognize him as their brother. Still, he takes care of them. Sometime later, after their father Jacob has died, the brothers come to him again.

Here is the account of part of what Joseph said to his brothers at that meeting which can be found in Genesis 50:20:

            “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (NIV)

Here we see clear evidence that Joseph had 20/20 vision as he looked back over the events of his life. He recognized that everything that happened to him was part of God’s overall plan for his life. Joseph makes a great testimony to the sovereignty of the Almighty.

The question I ponder as I consider Joseph’s life is this: Did he have that same insight about God’s plan as the bad things were happening to him? Was he able to keep his chin up and say, “It’s alright, God is working out part of His great plan through what is happening to me.”?

If I put myself in Joseph’s place, I do not see me saying those things as they occur. Being threatened with murder and then abandoned by my family would most certainly evoke anger with a dose of desiring revenge sprinkled in.

However, I will gladly admit that the passage of time has helped to attune me somewhat with God’s plan as it has unfolded in my life. I can see more clearly now that much of what I have gone through, self-inflicted as it was, has been used by our Heavenly Father to mold me into a more useful instrument for Him today.

I have concluded that we are not given the day to day thoughts of Joseph for good reason. This allows us to work through our own stuff. What needs to be constant is our focus on God, not on our circumstance.

God is true to His word. He is working all things for good: His good! We ought to be honored and humbled that He chooses to give us a role to play in the grand scheme of things. I’m not saying this makes everything easy to go through, but experience is helping me to learn that the more I trust God in the midst of the storms of life, the less turbulent are the seas.

The apostle Paul sums this up for us in his letter to the Romans in verse 28 of Ch. 8: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

The word translated as know used by Paul in this verse carries with it the idea of coming to know and understand something and then to put that information to use. For me, and hopefully you, Faithful Reader, this is a great teaching point. We are to see our current circumstance or those formational parts of our lives as being parts of God’s greater plan. I do not know why this often includes going through trials and pain. But I can say from my own experiences that it is the seasons of pain and uncertainty that have been the ones that have brought me closer to Him.

Admittedly, I usually don’t come to the point of understanding until I’ve gone through what it is I am going through. I am learning through them all to trust more and more in God’s care, which is, I believe, the point Paul makes as we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.

Seen in this light, the occurrences of our life are not just random and scatter-shot, but are actually all part of an intricate plan sculped by our all-powerful and knowing God.

Today, I am grateful that with the help of my eyeglasses my vision looking forward is 20/20.  Yet even more this, I am eternally grateful that God is revealing to me that His care, love and protection are infinitely perfect today as they were yesterday and will be going forward.

Blessings to you and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

God Answers our Prayers!

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When we last met, Dear Reader, the discussion had to do with the question of whether or not God hears our prayers. This is an extremely important question for anyone who would venture into a communication with the Most High God. Because of its importance, the Almighty gives us clear answers that He does indeed hear all prayers offered to Him. If you recall, I offered just a few of the myriad passages from the Bible that clearly state that God hears what is spoken to Him in prayer.

However, the next logical question, “Does He answer every prayer?” does not come with such a distinct answer. To be clear from the start, I wholeheartedly believe that our Heavenly Father does answer our prayers. The confusion on this point comes from us: What are our expectations? Do we trust God to answer? How do we know it’s Him answering? Why do I have to wait for an answer? Is ‘No’ sometimes the answer He gives?

These are valid questions that people have been asking with for centuries. As I said, I believe that God does answer every prayer. He is omnipotent; therefore He has the ability to do this. God is love; therefore He has the heart to answer them all.

The responsibility to receive/understand/accept the answer falls squarely on our shoulders. Far too many people, in my opinion, keep God in a small box, calling on him only when they are faced with some great or sudden need. This shallow approach to faith seems to think that God is far off somewhere, doing who knows what, and that He has a magic button to push to fulfill our request when we send it.

No, God is not a cosmic yes-man. Rather, He is magnificent beyond words and completely beyond us. Yet, His desire is for us to get to know Him as best we can. His heart is for us to enter into a loving and caring relationship with Him. Within this relationship is the on-going invitation to speak to Him through our prayers.

By being intentional about spending time to develop the relationship with God on our end is how we can get to know more of the depth of God’s character. The better we know Him, the easier it becomes to trust Him. Our ability to trust will coincide with the depth our relationship with God. Would you trust a stranger with your hearts deepest desire? Of course not. Don’t keep God at arms-length in your life. At the risk of over-simplifying the profound depth of God’s desire for us to deepen our relationship with Him, consider this: We cannot learn to trust Him until we begin to trust Him.

As our relationship with the Almighty grows, we begin to have the ability to better discern how He is answering our prayers. Seeing ‘No’ as an answer becomes a little clearer, if not easier to take. Again, trust is the key. God, who is outside the restriction of time you and I live under, knows the future. With this knowledge, He is the best (and only) one capable of seeing all the repercussions of what we are asking.

A growing faith will develop more of this important trust. This then helps us to be a little more patient as we await a particular answer to prayer. I far too often still want what I want when I want it. I am learning, ever so slowing, that God always has my best interest in mind. Because He does, His answer, be it “yes, no or let’s wait on that,” is exactly what I need.

Be assured, I haven’t gotten to this place in my relationship with God overnight, and I still have miles to go before I get to the depth I believe He wants me to get to. My encouragement to you is this: No matter where you find yourself in your faith life, be intentional about growing closer to God, for as you get closer to Him, you get closer to the answer(s) He has for you.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Unity, Liberty, Love

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Worldwide pandemic and the growing unrest in America have shattered the cozy bubble many Christians have been living in. It’s one thing to think of the poor and downtrodden and maybe even give a little money toward some helpful cause; but it is quite another when the very real threat of serious illness could await your next trip to the grocery store. The same goes for reading about oppressed people from long ago: Seeing it played out in real time before our eyes on our newsfeeds and in front of our eyes in our streets brings the reality of abuse to the forefront of the heart and mind.

With our bubble having been burst, what are we Christians to do? One thing we most assuredly cannot do is run from the issues, looking for some place we can bury our heads (and hearts) so as to not have the uncertainty of these times disrupt our quiet, peaceful and non-caring lives. Living like that helps no one, ourselves included.

What, then, is the body of Christ to do in the face of a world spinning more and more out of control? With so many people and causes that need our attention, how do we even begin an attempt to be a positive influence for Christ in the chaos surrounding us?

In my opinion, if the Church (that is all who profess faith in Christ) is going to have a lasting impact for God in today’s world, it is of the utmost importance that we begin with a clear and discerning look at ourselves. I found this helpful guideline regarding our attitudes and actions in the study notes of the NIV Application Study Bible from Romans Chapter 14:1-4: Our principle should be: In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in everything, love.

This honest appraisal hopefully will lead us to a clear decision: that we must move forward in Unity as a body to be best used by the Lord in today’s world. Unity can be a confusing word, especially if one were naïve enough to believe that all Christians around the globe (or even across town) are going to suddenly and completely agree on everything.

Yet, with regard to the above-mentioned essentials, I believe it is necessary that we do move ahead in complete unity. What are the essentials? I enjoy noted bible teacher, author and pastor Alstair Begg’s definition of what is essential for all believers. Begg says that from the Scriptures we find the essentials as being the main stuff is the plain stuff and the plain stuff is the main stuff. What wisdom in that definition! Here are just a few of the verses that fall clearly under this category:

John 14:6: Jesus speaking: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Paul writes in Romans 10:9: 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.

Peter speaking in Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:18: For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

I could gladly go on, but you see the point. On this essential we must be unified. Salvation by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). For the individual Christian as well as the church in its many expressions, the body of Christ needs to have this baseline as our rallying cry. Jesus is Savior for all. He is the ultimate equal opportunity giver. His life, death and resurrection are the proof of His undying, equal love for all. All. All are invited to partake in what He has to give. All. When the believer, individually or corporately has this unshakable truth in them, they are prepared to be used by God for the furthering of His plans and goodness in the here and now. As He spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah so may years ago, “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It is essential that we go forward trusting in God’s plan as we seek His guidance to follow and act our part in it.

Almost as important is the Liberty we express to our fellow believers who may have traditions, music, or styles that are different from what we know and participate in. As long as the essentials are held in the absolute highest regard, liberty can be given with greater ease and assurance in the non-essentials. For example, your worship experience may be much more exuberant than mine. Liberty to you. As long as the Lord Jesus is being praised, it matters not if it is through dance or a strictly adhered to liturgy. Far too often we Christians get to bickering with each other over non-essential things. Shame on us! This is a wasting of time to prove my way is better than yours. Meanwhile, the world watches and wonders what is so special about church. When we are seen as combative with other Christians, we lose any credibility with the world as far as being a place to put some hope in.

When we can extend liberty instead of harmful or destructive debate over non-essentials, we certainly can gain ground for the kingdom of God. But, this can be a difficult step. It requires humility. It requires a proper perspective on the ‘main stuff.’ When I feel myself hedging away from the center, I try to remember to ask myself, “Who is be edified by this argument or confrontation?” My honest reply is usually either me or the cause I am supporting. Neither of these are proper. Acting or thinking in these ways is not in accordance with the last point: Love

All of the above goes for naught if we fail in the ‘new’ command gave us: Love one another.” (John 13:34). Jesus did not leave this instruction as a mere suggestion, like something we ought to try to see if we like. No. To love others as He loved us is a command.

“A command sounds pretty rigid” you might be thinking. And if you attempt to follow it without whole-heartedly embracing it, that is how it will appear. I believe  the call to love one another, especially for the follower of Christ, is the manifestation of living out the unity and liberty I have been speaking of. And, I also believe it is imperative that we do so because quite simply, how are we going to show real love to our hurting and lost world if we cannot love one another?

One last reservation that creeps up on many: ‘I just cannot love everyone,’ for whatever your reasons are. I respond, ‘That’s ok.’ I am in no way suggesting we walk about our world like saints with hands folder in prayer, mouthing empty words of no meaning or value. Rather, I am saying that as devoted followers of the Son of God, our lives ought to be overflowing with His love for us. Living and walking this fact out will allow for the love of God to flow through us, helping us when we feel we cannot love another.

Unity, Liberty, Love. May we make these the battle cry as we march into our personal mission fields.

Blessings and peace to you all,

Pastor Chuck

 

The More Things Stay the Same, the More they Stay the Same

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Thomas Hobbes (image courtesy of famousbiographies.org)

On the surface of things, it appears that not much has changed over say, the last 4 centuries. It is as if it is in our DNA to not trust, respect or even get along with people who differ from us by skin color, nationality, or political bent. Recent events in this country have brought these latent feelings to a boiling point once again.

Listening to the car radio the other day, I heard a speaker reference Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher from the 17th century. I was struck by the similarities of his thoughts from 1651 to the current state of affairs.

Hobbes, in his most famous work Leviathan, wrote the following:

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Emphasis added)

The focus of this work by Hobbes was the plight of humankind living without a strong leader. I’ll leave that particular thought alone and instead focus on his description of society bound for chaos as noted in the bold print above.

Our news feeds are filled destruction and violence as years of oppression and struggle have been brought to a head by the thoughtless taking of lives by those paid to protect and preserve it. I am not here to argue one point versus the other; only to say that every life is precious in the eyes of our Creator and we should hold each other in that type of esteem as well.

What strikes me is how close Hobbes description of life in anarchy reflects ours today, some 450 years later! The more things stay the same, the more they stay the same. Many are living daily with the fear of violent death, which casts a pall over the lives of any thinking and caring person. It indeed can make the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

I, for one, don’t want to have this dark description be true of my life, and in fact, it is not. Though I do not have much of a say as to the brevity of my life, I certainly do have when it comes to being solitary, poor, nasty or brutish. And please understand, on my own I have made no great strides with any of these. It is only through the grace of God, poured out on me through the Savior Jesus Christ that has raised me out of the mire.

As Edward Mote wrote in that great hymn, my hope too is in Jesus Christ. Only when we, that is all of us, embrace the righteousness that only comes from the Lord, can we live as a people not described by Hobbes.

Jesus left clear instructions: Love others as He loved all. When individuals can truthfully live out this command of Jesus is when we will see true cracks in the walls of hatred and judgment of others.

Let us begin today to be what history will record us as. With God’s help we can be remembered as people who loved others as themselves, who promoted forgiveness and kindness instead of division and strife.

I pray for a grassroots growth of many individuals coming to know the love of God, for He truly is humanity’s only true hope.

1 My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

Refrain:
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.

2 When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in ev’ry high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil. [Refrain]

3 His oath, his covenant, his blood
support me in the whelming flood;
when all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay. [Refrain]

4 When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found,
dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne. [Refrain]

Source: Trinity Psalter Hymnal #459

Lyrics by Edward Mote

May you all come to know more deeply the love God has for you,

Pastor Chuck

 

Distress, Oppression and Tribulation

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(Image courtesy of pinterest)

Like so many, I am deeply troubled by the state of affairs in my country, the United States. Unlike others, however, I will not use this platform to simply re-hash the awful events of the past two weeks. I will state for the record that I have appreciation and respect for the brave men and women in law enforcement who serve all people with respect, dignity and understanding. I must also add that my heart breaks for all victims who have been mis-used, injured and even killed by those who have abused the power given to them in order that they can protect people.

I must also admit that a fair amount of defeatism has crept into my thinking this week. A focal point of the ministry God has given me is to be an encourager of others. I have found this most difficult to do when each idea in my head seems to be met with ‘What does it matter,’ or ‘what’s the use’ as one awful event after another comes to light.

Thankfully, God is infinitely more faithful than me! As I pondered these things this morning, He brought me to a familiar Scripture from which I have attempted to comfort others with through the years. It is John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)

As I looked into the original language in which Jesus spoke these words, I found again the peace that He promises. When Jesus referenced this world, John, one of the Lord’s closest disciples, was describing not just the physical world, but also according to Strong’s, “a system opposed to God.” It seems as if the prevalent world view then, much as it is today, had aligned itself in opposition to God.

But to get to that peace Jesus spoke of, I had to better understand the awful events of our recent past through the filter of God’s Word. As always, knowing the context in which these words were spoken is the best place to start. Jesus uttered this statement found in John 16:33 to His closest disciples just hours before He was arrested, tried and crucified. He certainly knew trouble was coming. Again using Strong’s concordance, I found that the trouble the Lord spoke of was not only what they were to face in their immediate circumstance, but it also speaks of tribulation and oppression to come. We certainly are living in times of oppression and tribulation.

After stating that His followers would face troubles, Jesus said what must have sounded as a peculiar thing: Take heart! Basically Jesus was telling them (and us) to cheer up, even in the face of current events. Not that He was telling them to grin and bear it; rather Jesus told His followers to put their full trust in God, the only One who is immeasurably greater than any world circumstance.

Jesus then said something that must have seemed even more incredible at the time: I have overcome the world. To his original audience, it certainly did not look like anything but what they were trying to accomplish had been overcome. Yet, a little over twenty-four hours later, the full depth of this momentous truth would begin to play out as God’s plan for the salvation of the world began with the crucifixion of Jesus. Three days later, as He arose victorious from the grave, the fullness of what Jesus had overcome came to light. Death had been conquered; eternal life was now possible for all those who would put their faith in Christ.

Having reviewed and renewed my faith in this awesome God who loves us all, I re-discovered the peace that Jesus said was to be found in Him alone. Here too a better understanding of the original word used is extremely helpful. This peace, as Jesus described it to be, went far beyond a conventional meaning of the word. Peace for most means the absent of strife. True as this is, the peace Jesus speaks of goes much further as it tells of having a reconciled relationship, as one has through faith in the Lord with God the Father.

As I said, God is faithful! He has seen me through this low time by bringing me back to a place where He is the focus and motivation of my life. For me, this means to be not only the encourager I have tried to be in the past, but to increase my efforts in these troubled times. As I have found (again), God is the only true source of hope that there is.

In practical terms, going forward I will make myself more readily available to those who are hurting while promoting the cause of justice for all people. God has more than enough of His peace to go around. We as followers of Christ must walk boldly in this peace as we make His love known to all; both the oppressed and the oppressor. Only when all sides are confronted with the universal love of God for all (and the call of everyone to respond to this love by loving each other), can the true peace of God be known. Jesus has in fact overcome this world; may we all live as if we believe it to be true!

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

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