When Obedience Hurts

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(image courtesy of remnatresource.org)

I have written, taught and preached many times that Jesus Christ is the perfect role model for all who follow Him. Although we know going in we will never perfectly emulate the Lord, we can and should be learning from His example on a daily basis.

The Scriptures, of course, are the primary place for us to gain insight into the Lord’s behavior. In the 11th Chapter of John’s Gospel, we find a narrative where much of Jesus character is revealed for all. In it, Jesus receives word that his dear friend Lazarus is sick and near death. The bible tells us that Jesus was not only close to Lazarus, but to his sisters Martha and Mary as well.

We learn that Jesus does not go to them immediately, but waits 2 days. When He and his disciples do arrive at the village where Lazarus and his sisters lived, they find Lazarus already dead.

The sisters each go to Jesus and in their grief question the Lord as to why He did not come sooner. They both believe Jesus would have healed their brother.

As I considered this account again, I wondered for a moment why Jesus didn’t simply say the word of healing when He first got word of Lazarus condition. There are other examples in the gospels that tell Jesus healed at a distance (He sent 10 lepers away who were healed on their way to the priest and the royal officials son, who Jesus sent back home with the assurance that the child was healed. This official found out upon arriving home that his son was healed at the very same time he had spoken to Jesus the day before. These are just two examples of this kind of healing received from Jesus).

Obviously, Jesus was following the direction of the Father, whose desire was/is to make the Kingdom of God known to all. God’s plan was to open the eyes of people to His unmatched power; power even over death. This was also a portent of what was to come with the resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus knew the importance of following the Father’s will, even though in the moment He was going to share the pain of Mary and Martha’s suffering. He was also experiencing a sense of disappointment as well; not that He had failed, but the powerful sense of the lostness of many of the people there.

The gospel writer sums it up in verse 35 of Chapter 11, Jesus wept. As I prepared to write this blog entry, I re-read of my favorite commentators on the Bible, Warren Wiersbe. What he wrote about this entire account is profound, so much so in fact that I want to share it with you all, for there is no way I could improve upon it.

 “Jesus wept” is the shortest and yet the deepest verse in Scripture. His was a silent weeping (the Greek word is used nowhere else in the New Testament) and not the loud lamentation of the mourners. But why did He weep at all? After all, He knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead.

Our Lord’s weeping reveals the humanity of the Savior. He has entered into all of our experiences and knows how we feel. In fact, being the perfect God-man, Jesus experienced these things in a deeper way than we do. His tears also assure us of His sympathy; He is indeed “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” Today, He is our merciful and faithful High Priest, and we may come to the throne of grace and find all the gracious help that we need.

We see in His tears the tragedy of sin but also the glory of heaven. Perhaps Jesus was weeping for Lazarus, as well as with the sisters, because He knew He was calling His friend from heaven and back into a wicked world where he would one day have to die again. Jesus had come down from heaven; He knew what Lazarus was leaving behind.

The spectators saw in His tears an evidence of His love. But some of them said, “If Jesus loved Lazarus so much, why did He not prevent his death?” Perhaps they were thinking, “Jesus is weeping because He was unable to do anything. They are tears of deep regret.” In other words, nobody present really expected a miracle! For this reason, nobody could accuse Jesus of “plotting” this event and being in collusion with the two sisters and their friends. Even the disciples did not believe that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead!  (Warren Wiersbe BE Bible Study Series.)

Sometimes, you and I are called to obedience that will cause us pain or discomfort. This is not a place I look forward to being in, as predictability and comfort are my normal default settings. But I must keep the greater picture in mind by remembering that my purpose today is to further God’s Kingdom in all that I say and do. Jesus has also said that His followers are the pickup their own cross and follow Him. I believe this is what He was referring to when He said that.

There will be times when hurt will accompany the being in the Father’s will. The Son of God has indeed modeled this for us. I find great comfort in knowing that our Savior has experienced all the emotions that go along with being a human being. May we call on His loving care and mercy to see us through when those tasks fall to us.

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

“Who do you say that I am?”

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As I read through the 16th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, I was struck by the question Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” As always, context is important to get the full flavor of what the gospel writer wants to convey. Here, Jesus is walking toward Jerusalem for the last time. The Lord knows this and what is to come. Therefore, Jesus is trying to get His disciples up to speed so that they will be better able to respond to the incredible things to come.

Before I read the disciples response, my mind began to ponder this question: ‘What if it was asked about me?’ Who would people say that I am?

The answer, I suppose, would depend upon who and when you asked. If the question were asked of any of my drinking companions during that dark time in my life, they would say I was ‘fun-loving, carefree and always looking for the next good time.’

If posed to others from during that period you would hear, ‘irresponsible, self-centered and thoughtless.’ Both answers from these various groups would be true.

As I have shared with you many times, Dear Reader, I am blessed that God lifted me out of the deadly mire my life was in as He restored me to a life of sobriety.

If folks were asked that question of me these days, I would hope the answer would reflect a growing concern for others and a life lived transparently as one who makes the effort to faithfully follow the Lord Jesus.

Interesting as this self-reflection is, by far the more prominent question (and our response to it) is the one posed by Jesus: “Who do you say I am?”

I am sure the responses would be as varied as they were when Jesus first asked the question. Be that as it may, how you answer that question is of eternal importance: to you!

So if I may, Dear Reader, allow me to ask for Him: Who do you say Jesus is?

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

There is Life in Hospice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and be encouraged, God is working!

Pastor Chuck

No Foolin’

April Fool’s Day has come and gone again for another year.  For the most part, I enjoy the shenanigans that accompanies the first of this month, though I could have gone without seeing Mother Nature’s 6 inches of snow prank on us here in Central New York!

Those who know me are aware that I love to laugh, remaining always ready to laugh at myself first.  If laughter is indeed the best medicine, I must be a pretty healthy individual.

What I know for sure is that the joy that is in my heart, ready to bubble over at any given moment, has been placed there by the Spirit of the Living God, whom I trust without reservation for my salvation.

I say all this to preface what I would like to briefly share with you all today.  I was asked to preach at a local church this past Sunday, filling in for their pastor who was not available to do so.  My style, if you can call it that, is to deliver the message of hope from God’s word in the same way I attempt to communicate all the time: straight forward, down to earth and with a touch of mirth so that we take the message, but not ourselves, seriously.

The title I gave to my sermon was Truth and Consequences, pointing out from numerous places in the Scriptures the truth that there are consequences for all our actions, both good and bad.  I concluded my presentation with an invitation for anyone in the audience to see me afterward to discuss the truth and consequences of making/not making an informed decision about Jesus Christ’s call to salvation, having outlined the consequences of believing in Him or not.

As I stood at the front, an older gent, I’d put him at about 80 years young, came up to me.  I had noticed as I spoke how attentive he and his wife had been, interjecting a fair amount of Amens! to the various points I was trying to make.  What he said to me is what has inspired this entry.  As he thanked me for speaking, he said, “Now that was preaching like we used to hear.”

I asked him what he meant by that.  He simply told me that the message was clear: Jesus Christ is the way to salvation and that there are indeed consequences that affect us forever based on our decision to the Lord’s invitation to be forgiven.

Here’s what I am still pondering and I welcome any and all thoughts and opinions: If plainly speaking about the pros and cons of recognizing our need of a Savior is ‘old school,’ exactly what is being preached/taught in churches today?

I started this entry speaking of the joy I experience daily.  I love a good laugh, usually at my own expense.  I’ll often refer to my lack of height (Vertically Challenged), my inability to jump and overall lack of athletic skill (Prisoner of Gravity) or my lack of good looks (Face made for radio) to get the humor started.

It is with the same joy that allows me to be not so serious about myself that I attempt to spread the simple yet all encompassing Good News about Jesus Christ.  The line between harmless self-deprecating humor and the absolute importance of making the choice for Jesus is crystal clear however, no foolin’.

Thanks for taking the time to read this,

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

 

You Think This is Hot?

I enjoy reading and occasionally commenting on the blogs I follow.  It was as I read the various accounts of a heat wave being felt in various places around the globe that I got the inspiration for this entry.

It is hot here in Central New York also! The temperature (Fahrenheit) is above 90 today and will remain so for the next 4 to 6 days, with an expected high temperature of near 100 degrees later this week. A genuine heat wave like we are experiencing is rare here.  We are much more accustomed to cold and snow than we are to the heat.  My little city averages about 250 inches of snow (that’s over 20 feet!) each year and the air temperature rarely gets above 30 from January through March.

Some places get a ‘dry’ heat, which in theory makes the high temperatures more tolerable.  I have spent time in Denver Colorado and the desert of the southwest US; trust me, 95 degrees is hot whether it is dry or wet! Closer to home, when we get a heat wave it is always a ‘wet’ one.  The dew points will be in the low to middle 70’s during this event, which will make journeying outside for even the briefest time make you feel and look like an extra in a jungle safari movie.

As you may have guessed by now, it’s not the air temperature that I really want to talk about; but as long as we are on the subject of heat, let’s talk Hell for a bit.  Admittedly, I don’t know much about that place, but I can say my understanding has grown from thinking it is simply a hot, nasty place (se Dante’s Inferno).  The Scriptures do plainly say that a place of eternal punishment exists, I just don’t think it’s fire, brimstone and devils wielding pitchforks.

The punishment for those there, as I understand it, will be the eternal realization that life was spent wasted by non-belief in Jesus.  Regardless of the treasures and pleasures amassed, all will be found for naught when the last breath is drawn.  A separation exists between the Holy God of heaven and this place of hopelessness.  Jesus alludes to this unbridgeable expanse in the parable of the beggar Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31).  This is horrible news for those blinded to the truth of salvation through Christ alone.  Maybe fire and unquenchable thirst might be preferable, at least in so much that the physical suffering might temporarily take one’s mind off the eternal ramification of being separated from God.

However, this bad news is more than counter-balanced by what we preachers often call ‘The Good News.’  Knowing that there is a bad makes the good that much more wonderful. The Gospel (gospel=good news) proclaims that God has prepared the way for sinners like me (and everyone else) to stand guilt-free before His throne when life as we know ends.

The certainty of salvation is based on where it comes from; God Himself.  Jesus Christ somehow bore the sins of the world in Him as He died on the cross.  In His mercy He took my/our/all who would believe place.  We cannot earn nor do we deserve what He has done; we need simply to believe it.  The Apostle Paul describes how salvation works: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 NIV)

It really is that simple.  The hard part is coming to grips with it.  I have heard it said that we are all born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts that can only be perfectly filled by Him.  I love that imagery.  It describes my need (if I want to be complete) as well as the complete solution.  And it is all done for me!  God takes the pressure off us; asking only that we submit our will to His as we accept by faith His salvation: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Let’s review: The current (outside) heat wave plus humidity is oppressive but with history on my side, it is safe to say that it will end sooner than later.  The far bleaker forecast is for those who are feeling the heat (whether they admit it or not) of not choosing to have faith in Christ.  Crushing loneliness and helplessness are their future, the worst possible news.

My friend, if you haven’t ever considered eternity, please do in the context I’ve tried to describe.  Deciding not to decide is still a decision, and a bad one at that.  Put your trust in Jesus, He is who the Scriptures claim He is.  Though I cannot promise you that your life on earth will be all sunshine and roses, I stand (as you can) on the foundation of God’s saving love that continues to bring peace to those who believe.

Uncomfortable weather conditions come and go like the seasons.  Only God is constant.  Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  No number of fans, a/c or cool showers can give the lasting relief and comfort that the certainty of God’s love can, if only we will let Him.