I can do all things, except keep a New Year’s resolution!

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Many people are familiar with the well- known verse of Scripture: I can do all things through God who strengthens me. I have seen this verse on athlete’s equipment, on bumper stickers and billboards. It is often right in front of me and honestly, I believe it (almost always).

But…. if this Scripture is true (spoiler alert, it is!), why is it that I cannot seem to keep a New Year’s resolution. Try as I might, my firm commitment to lose weight by swearing off sweets turns into a good idea and finally to wishful thinking and waiting until next year. In talking with others, I find that the vast majority find themselves in the same boat in regard to these types of resolutions. The intentions are good, yet the ability to stay the course invariably goes away.

What is the answer? After all, God tells us we can do all things. But I have left the answer out: I can do all things, but only through God. I am sure that God wants me to watch what I eat so that I can worship God through ministry for years to come, but I need help to get there.

The problem is not with God, but with my stubbornness that continues to tell me I can do this or that thing on my own, thanks anyway, God. Personal history has revealed that in my own strength I will eventually wilt when confronted by ice cream or cookies.

So what is the answer? For me, I have to read that Philippians 4:13 in reverse: Through God’s strength, I can do everything. Reading it this way puts God first, exactly where God belongs in my heart and mind! Now I am better prepared to see God’s faithfulness toward me. And I am reminded that I need God to accomplish the good I set out to do!

Be encouraged my friends! Allow our human failing(s) to draw us ever nearer to the God who loves us all unconditionally.

Coming nearer to God will give us the opportunity to do everything God would have us do in 2022, so long as we stay aware of our need of God’s strength to do it.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

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

January 2020: The gyms are full again but the church is still mostly empty

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One of my buddies, who has been working out in a local gym for years, has a name for those folks who pack the place every year after the holidays: “Those January people.” He labels these well-meaning resolution makers through experience.  For as long as he has been bodybuilding, he has witnessed this annual event.  He calls them January people because, he claims, most of them will stop coming in by March.

I decided to see if there were statistics to back up his claim.  And sure enough, there is much documentation to support it.  One source said that up to 80% of the people who get a gym membership in January will have stopped using it within six months.  There seems to be a definite cycle at work here.  Most, if not all, national fitness businesses cite January as their peak month for the sale of memberships.

At least the gyms have a season where they experience more people coming in.  Christian churches in this land, for the most part, are not seeing any growth.  In fact and most sadly, the statistics prove out that church membership/attendance is waning faster than a new year resolution for fitness.

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Jeffery M. Jones, writing for Gallup.com, states that “Gallup finds the percentage of Americans who report belonging to a church … at an all-time low, averaging 50% in 2018.  U.S. church membership was 70% or higher from 1937 through 1976, falling modestly to an average of 68% in the 1970s through the 1990s. The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999.”

These numbers support what my wife Betsy and I see happening where we live in Central New York.  Our ministry work brings us to any number of churches in and around our city and area.  Sadly, each of these fellowships has seen their attendance figures lag.  This is happening in spite of the fact that the pastors and leadership of these churches we work with are faithful and devoted followers of Christ.

I’ve read and heard the many reasons for this decline.  I certainly can appreciate the fact that our world has changed and continues to at an accelerating rate.  Many people are working longer hours, leaving them with precious little time for anything else.  Others cite the extreme busyness of family schedules, which often take preference over regular Sunday worship time.  The list of reasons/excuses for not going to church is longer than ever.

Please understand that I write the above without an iota of judgment.  I am in the ‘people business,’ and have the privilege of knowing many folks who struggle through the hectic pace of life today.

If there is any judgment on my part, however, it is toward the church itself.  The drastically reduced numbers are due in large part to its inability/unwillingness to acknowledge the sweeping changes in our culture.

I also want to make it perfectly clear that I am not advocating whole-sale change of the church.  Today’s church, for the most part, is still the slow-moving organism it was 75 years ago.  The very demographics that make up the majority of them still in existence only adds to the problem.  By that I mean that the outreach programs of yesteryear are antiquated in today’s world.

Is there a solution to this decline? Is there any hope at all for the church to continue? Will it ever a significant part of a majority of people’s lives? Is there any hope?

My answer is a resounding YES! For evidence I ask you to consider how this entry began.  Each January we have documented proof that many, many people set out to make meaningful changes in their lives.  Be it weight loss, body toning or simply more social inter-action, throngs of folks flood the local fitness centers hoping to make these changes in themselves.  I conclude that it is in our nature to desire to make improvements in ourselves. We are not satisfied with our current state, and make, however fleeting, attempts to change our outward appearance.

Here in lies the opportunity for the church.  Am I suggesting that each one should include a weight room? Should congregants be encouraged to use stair masters or ride stationary bikes during the sermon? Of course not.

What I would suggest as the single best solution to the woes of the church is this: to proclaim the Name of Jesus Christ in all it undertakes.  Every church service, youth group meeting, outreach program, pod cast and every other thing it does must have the Risen Lord Jesus as its focus and reason for being.  Jesus is THE answer to all life’s problems.  In fact, if churches today would teach the truth of Scripture and model the love of God for ALL people, both inside and outside of its walls, it may well become the place where we could go to be truly transformed; from the inside out!

Jesus loved (and loves!) unconditionally.  He instituted His church to be that message bearer to all.  I believe that the local church doesn’t have to change to keep up with the times, but rather should immerse itself in what the Lord originally purposed for it: His love for all people.  In so doing, it too will experience the transformation that so many seek at the first of every new year.  As it does, the church will become the magnet that draws individuals to it.  May we all see the blessings of God on His church in the days and years to come. Amen!

Thanks for reading and as always, your thoughts, questions and concerns are welcome here.

Pastor Chuck

 

Have a Forever Happy New Year!

Happy New Year.  I’ve said it to plenty of people again this year with my heart in the right place, but when I stop to consider what I am really saying, it falls far short of I truly hope for them.

Mirriam-Webster’s Dictionary (does anyone other than me still use a hard- covered dictionary?) defines happy as: favored by luck or fortune.  Knowing and believing what I do about the two possible destinations that await each of us when we die, this wishing for a happy new year to those I meet rings shallow.

Please understand that I have nothing against someone experiencing some good luck in 2019.  If you golf, may a fortuitous bounce give you a hole-in-one.  If collecting coins is your hobby, may that rare find find you.  Or maybe by chance you’ll step on a $100-dollar bill on your next walk outside.  Whatever it is in things like this, I do indeed wish that you are favored by luck or fortune.

The pastor/teacher in me yearns for all of us to experience a far deeper and everlasting peace that none of these fleeting examples listed above can offer.  If you are reading these words and you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, I rejoice with you!  My 2019 greeting to you is that you take the time to come to know Him even better in the days ahead.  As you do, may you be filled to overflowing with the peace and contentment only He can provide.  Please don’t keep this blessing to yourself! It is meant to be shared with the world in which you exist.  I pray that you daily manifest the love God has poured out on you to others.  In 2019, may you be a true example of what a follower of Christ is to be.

Friend, if you are reading this and don’t know the salvation that Jesus died to offer you, my 2019 greeting to you is please consider it! At the top I mentioned there are only two destinations for us humans when our physical life ends.  It is an eternal reality: One is to live in bliss for absolutely ever in the very presence of God, the other is to live on forever with the knowledge that what you heard about, but never acted upon, was true.

Maybe that doesn’t sound too bad to you on the surface, but consider this: We’re talking about eternity here.  That’s a long time to ponder the hugest mistake you could ever make.  It breaks my heart to even consider the utter loneliness of that existence and the total inability to change your circumstance once set in it.  This is an isolation from all other life but even worse, it means you are forever separated from God; hopelessly lost forever.

I realize that is some heavy stuff to be thinking about on the first day of the new year, but so be it.  I believe you are worth talking to about this! And as strongly as I feel for you, God has an infinitely greater desire to be in relationship with you.

The Bible makes many direct references about God’s heart towards those who have not yet come to believe in Him.  One that says it clearly to me is this: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).

The promise mentioned here is that there will be and end of the world as we know it.  It doesn’t say when, just that it will happen.  God’s heart for you is revealed in the second part of this verse: He is patient, not wanting anyone to miss out and He even tells us what we need to do; repent (meaning to be truly sorry for our mistakes and failures).

His offer of eternal security remains in place until the Lord comes back again, another promise from the Scriptures.  I’m not claiming to have any inside-trader information of when that might be, only that it will.  Please, please, please don’t be left out when that happens.  Why not start this New Year with a brand-new you!  Not one that is sculpted at the gym or through dieting, but one that is eternally transformed by your Creator God.

Will this then be a ‘happy new year?’ Not it the sense of good luck or fortune, but it will have at its base an unshakable certainty that God’s love will care for you always.  I pray you consider God’s invitation and take Him up on his desire for you: to be happy, fulfilled, content, peace-filled, forgiving, etc. forever!

Blessings to all and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck