Fringe Benefits

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Fringe benefits. We’ve all heard the term and know basically what they are: things above and beyond basic compensation from an employer. It can be an extensive list that includes paid time off, health insurance, profit sharing and retirement plans, to name just a few.

Where’s this heading, you may be wondering. I’m glad you asked!

I was reading from the Gospel of Mark earlier, and came upon this passage describing Jesus in his travels: And wherever he went, into villages, or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:56 NRSV)

There you have it! The benefit of touching the fringe of Jesus’ garment. People had heard the stories of miraculous healings being done by this Jesus and in their desperation were hoping to just touch what he was wearing that they might experience a miracle too. And the gospel accounts tells us of many such folks who received healing from Jesus. He sometimes laid a hand on the sick or at other times and over a distance simply spoke a word and healing happened.

As wonderful as these accounts are, they truly represent only the fringe of Jesus’ ministry and purpose. He healed because of his compassion toward the hurting. Yet the driving force behind any of the miracles attributed to Jesus was to point people toward God. Physical healings are great, but to the best of my knowledge everyone restored by Jesus still eventually died a natural death.

None of what I’ve said is meant to minimize the wonder of Jesus’ actions, both then and now. My point is this: supernatural healing is a fringe benefit; of having faith.

If you have faith, you have already received the greatest healing you can ever get: You know the love of God! And the news gets even better: Faith is not something you and I have to develop, it is the gift of God! We are not given faith as a result of our good efforts or stiving for perfection. Rather, God knows we need it and that we are incapable of truly developing it on our own.

Enter Jesus, the Great(est) Physician! No matter how far modern medicine progresses, it will never attain the ability to cure us on an eternal level. And that’s ok, because Jesus has already seen to that for everyone. In so doing, our Savior has provided the vehicle of faith for us to grab on to. And we don’t have to reach for the edge of the Savior’s garment because through the blessing and activity of the Holy Spirit we have 24/7 access to the Lord.

So don’t be satisfied with touching just the fringe, but wrap yourself up from head to toe in the love of God; a love that is for all, always, forever and ever! Amen.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing,

Pastor Chuck

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

The Wonder of the Cross of Christ

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Christianity 101 tells us that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to its theology. Jesus, the very Son of God, came to earth and lived a sin-free life as He taught and demonstrated of the nearness of the Kingdom of God.

He ultimately revealed the depth of His love for all mankind when He willing went to an awful death by crucifixion. As He did, He supernaturally bore the weight of the entirety of the world’s sin on His person in order that ordinary folks like you and me could be saved for all eternity.

The Apostle Paul sums this all up for us in his letter to the Roman church: 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)

I would gladly welcome conversation on any of the above at any time, including questions, concerns and uncertainties. But let’s do that during another post. For today I want to focus on the physical cross itself that Jesus was crucified on. I believe that God is still calling us to Himself and that much of the invitation still lies in and around that wooden implement of death that God has wondrously turned into an invitation to life.

I have been giving some thought to the physical cross. I know that much of Christian art has depicted Jesus carrying an entire cross up Calvary’s hill. However, research seems to have shown that the Lord carried only the cross piece as the longer vertical pole would have been left in place for re-use.

Joseph Zias, an anthropologist with the Israel Department of Antiquities, and Eliezer Sekeles of Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem state that, “One can reasonably assume that the scarcity of wood may have been expressed in the economics of crucifixion in that the crossbar as well as the upright would be used repeatedly.”

If they are correct, and I have no reason to doubt them on this, that means that the crossbar that Jesus carried and died on was used again, possibly many times.

I think it unlikely than any of those being put to death by crucifixion by the Romans of that time for treason, speaking against the government, rebellion or murder (the crimes most often punished by this means) knew of the previous carriers of their cross-piece. Word of who Jesus was and what He had done was still confined to a relatively few people at the outset. How sad to think that the very piece of wood that had held the Savior’s body was unknown to them.

Conversely, how wonderful is it that we live on the other side of the event of the Cross of Jesus! Because He took the place of all sinners (that’s you and me again!) and willingly paid the price for all of our transgressions, we can know that our forever home has been secured with Him.

Yet as we celebrate this greatest news ever presented to human beings, let us not forget how it came to be. In other words, let us not lose sight of the significance of that cross-piece that Jesus carried. We have the opportunity to know why His Passion had to play out as it did.

As you contemplate that awesome truth again today, I ask that you also remember those who have no knowledge of what Jesus did (and is doing). Many are trudging through life carrying a burden that can only be relieved by the One who cares for us all. Please, if given the opportunity today, won’t you share the incredible story of God’s love for all as it is represented in the Cross?

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Have you seen the wind?

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Have you ever seen: Rain? Snow? Trees? Grass? Flowers? The sky? The sun? The moon? Of course you have. Your sense of sight sees them most everywhere you look. Your other senses remind you of many other of the multitude of things that surround us constantly in the physical world.

What about the wind? Have you ever seen it? You can see trees move and their leaves blowing around. You can also see the mighty force of wind in storms like tornados and hurricanes. Yet these things are the result of wind. I ask again; Have you ever seen the wind? I have not. But even though I have not seen wind with my eyes, I know that it exists. I have felt it on my skin and seen it move things, making me convinced that it is real.

What about God? Have you seen Him? Personally, I have not. I am alright with this because the Scriptures tell us that God does not need to be seen or experienced by our senses in order for us to know He exists. Much like we know the wind is real by what we see it do; the same goes for God.

But we do have to look (perceive) things a little differently for us to ‘see’ Him. The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians explains it this way: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV)

Basically he is telling us that in order to see God in the world around us, we have to take our focus off the material, tangible world. This is a difficult thing to do. Yet it is necessary so that we can be able to experience His presence with us day by day.

We have to practice using eyes of faith with the intention of getting them to a 20/20 capability. How can this be done?

Allow me to share with you my approach and though I am still a work in progress, I have found it to help sharpen my faith-sight. The author of the Book of Hebrews defines faith in a way that I use toward this end: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

I practice this as a two part exercise. First, I must be sure of what it is that I hope for, understanding that this hope is not like hoping to win a lottery but rather a calm assurance that the presence of God is a real and true thing. Next, by honing my faith eyes to see the things I cannot see, the faith that God has given me grows ever stronger.

As I said, this is a work in progress. There are times when the physical world around me brings me to near sensory overload. When this starts to happen, my eyes of faith tend to grow dim. The comfort here is that though I may be having trouble seeing what is unseen; this does not mean that God is not there. As I remember this, the unseen usually comes back into focus and with it the assurance of God’s loving care, protection and direction.

As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read this. I deeply appreciate your time and pray that these words may indeed help you to see the unseen a little more clearly today.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Hang in there!

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Waiting for something can be quite difficult. The more important that something is to us, the harder the wait usually. Maybe it is that long-awaited get-away vacation or the opportunity to reunite with an old friend. Perhaps, like often happens here in the Northeast US, the waiting for warmer temperatures seemingly takes forever. The wait for these types of things, hard as they can be, hold the promise of something positive when they do arrive.

But what about the waiting when the outcome or result is not known? I am thinking know about those of us who spend time praying for the healing of family, friends, co-workers, etc. We pray, seeking God’s mercy for these folks, but often we see little to no change for the better.

If this describes you, may today’s short blog entry serve as encouragement for you to hang in there. Reading Chapters 3 and 4 from the Acts of the Apostles got me to thinking about this. In Chapter 3, Peter and John meet a man crippled from birth. This person is carried to the gate of the temple courts to beg for food or money every day. Peter, when he has the crippled man’s attention says, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6 NIV). Instantly, this man is given the ability to walk.

This healing was instant when it happened, but it was a long time coming for we find out later in Chapter 4, verse 22 that the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old. (NIV)

Here is another example of an instant healing that was a long time coming. Jesus was in Jerusalem for one of the religious feasts when He encountered a man hoping to be healed by the stirred up water at the Sheep Gate. The Bible says of this man, One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. (John 5:5 NIV). John then tells of the conversation Jesus has with this individual and then of the Lord’s speaking a word of healing over him. As He does, this long-term physically handicapped person is instantly healed.

These are just two examples of people who had to wait what had to seem to them like forever before they got relief. But God did move on their behalf.

Like them, we are all captive to the passing of time as we understand it. God is not. He moves in perfect ways, in perfect timing, to His perfect will. This is of course far from our grasp.

So what are we to do? My encouragement is to hang in there! The Scriptures are full of examples of God’s faithfulness. His love and mercy are evident on nearly every page. We also have some experiences in our own lives where God has done something wonderful, just not on our schedule.

We also must remember that because God is outside of time as we know it, we will never fully (or even partially) understand His plans. But hang in there. Keep on praying and seeking His favor or blessing for someone. God’s track record is impeccable. The writer of the Book of Hebrews says this best: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23 NIV)

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing, and hang in there!

Pastor Chuck

30 Years later, 1 Day at a Time

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30 years ago, May 3rd, 1991, was a Friday. Though I had no idea at the time, it was to be the anniversary of my new life in sobriety. As I have documented here before, I am an alcoholic. To be sure, I had no idea of that fact 30 years ago. In fact back then, I wasn’t looking for some way to stop drinking, I only wanted to get out from under the load of trouble I was in. My sick mind thought I might gain some sympathy if I could pass off the mess I had made of things, as in my own words at the time, “Maybe I drink a little too much.”

That may well be the understatement of my life! Yet, as AA has taught me, it is not the amount of alcohol that I consumed but rather what it did to me when I drank that is the problem.

The effect was that over 15 years I had become morally, physically and spiritually bankrupt. I was a wreck, on the fast track to an early grave and an appointment with eternity that would be spent apart from a loving God.

But on that Friday morning all those years ago, all I was aware of was how awful I felt physically. As bad as the stomach pain and shakes were, nothing compares with the devastation I felt as my Dad, with my wife riding shotgun, drove me the 90 minutes to the nearest treatment center that had an open bed. Not a word was spoken and I was left to my clouded thoughts of impending doom.

With my focus still solely on me, I had no understanding of the pain they were in or of their concern for the future. They were hurting at least as much as me. Blessedly, they jumped in fully to support me in the journey I was about to embark upon from the very start.

And what a journey! Of primary importance is this: In the small examination room I found myself in the detox were all sorts of literature from Alcoholics Anonymous. As I glanced at it, I saw the reference to a Higher Power. In that moment, the Lord revealed Himself to me as that Power by letting me know that He was with me and would see me through. I count May 3rd not only as my sobriety date (for I have not had a drop since, by the grace of God), but eternally more importantly as the date that Jesus Christ poured out His forgiving grace on me, thus assuring me of my forever home with Him.

Now that journey has completed 30 years. I lack the words to properly thank God for what He has done and continues to do for me. I started this day as I woke up asking Him to do for me what I cannot, that is to stay sober. Then I asked Him to help me see His will clearly today, that I may do and say things that bring Him honor. At days end I plan to thank Him again for what He has provided me.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my wonderful wife Betsy for her unwavering support of my recovery. I might have done it without her, but in no way would I have enjoyed it as much as I have. Her faith in God helped mine to grow. She continues to live that godly example out day by day, thus encouraging me to do the same.

To the many folks who have and are praying for me to stay sober, you have my deepest gratitude. Your belief in me has made me believe in myself.

To the countless friends I have, both past and present in AA, please know that I love you. Your sharing of life’s challenges and rewards have been a constant support for me as I too face them. I have found your willingness to be transparent about the struggles of life in recovery has shown me how to do the same. And for those times you have called me out, thanks so very much. You have cared enough to want to help me see the blind spots I sometimes put up, those times when I was being less than honest with myself and you. May the 30 years God has given me be an encouragement to you to hang in there for one more day.

30 years, wow! I remember clearly thinking in my early days of my AA experience about the long-term sobriety of some of the ‘old-timers.’ I was 31 when God set me on this path and I recall thinking at that time when one of these icons mentioned that kind of length of sobriety that I would be over 60 years old if and when I got there.

 Well guess what, I’m there! And for whatever time God has left for me to continue on this journey, I pray that He will keep me ever hungry for more of Him, that I may grow in this life He has given me in order to give Him thanks and praise and to continue to share the Good News of His transforming love with all.

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

My name is Chuck, and I am an alcoholic. I am also a loved child of God, forever grateful for His overflowing mercy to an undeserving sinner like me.

Thank You, Jesus

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There are so many thoughts running through my mind this Resurrection Sunday as I consider again just what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for the world. The joy, awe and wonder are as fresh this morning as they were the many years ago when the Savior revealed to me His plan for saving my life, eternally. And yet, there is a sadness in me as well as I consider those near and dear to me who have rejected the love of Christ. Amidst the abundant joy in my heart there are sections that are broken for these people. In many of these cases I have attempted in my limited way to share what God has done for me with them in hopes they would grasp the availability of that same love for themselves.

But this is not a day for discouragement! Today my sole focus is on the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. With this in mind, I would like to share a list (by no means in total) of the things I am grateful for because of the saving power of God as it has been revealed through Christ’s ultimate victory over death. As you read, I ask you to do two things. First, reflect in your own way the ramifications of Jesus’ resurrection on your life. And secondly, be intentional about living out a life of thanksgiving for the incredible gift He has given you, so that others may be attracted to God’s light through you.

Where do I start such a list of things I am thankful for because Jesus rose from the dead to forgive us? The totality of His mercy shown to sinners like me (us) is mind-boggling. So in no particular order, here goes:

  • Thank you, Jesus, for taking my place on that cross. You bore my sin in your body out of obedience to the Father and your love for me. Because of Your resurrection, You have defeated death and offered eternal life to all. You knew that there was no earthly way I/we could earn or deserve the Father’s mercy. So instead you demonstrated grace saturated in love to bring us to God.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the hope you bring to us because of the above. You have not only supplied, at great cost to Yourself, the way out of our eternal predicament, but because You have, I can be filled with hope in the here and now. I do not have to wait until physical death to be with You. Instead, because of Your love, I can be in a nurturing relationship with You now! This developing relationship carries with it the security of Your ever-present care and protection, for You have promised to never leave nor forsake those who follow You.
  • Thank you, Jesus, of your on-going obedience to the Father, even after Your resurrection. By appearing to over 500 people, You made it known beyond doubt that You had come back to life.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for fulfilling the promise of sending the Holy Spirit after You ascended to heaven. And thank you, Holy Spirit, for Your on-going fulfillment of the Father’s work here on earth. You make the Scriptures come to life and You encourage the Church to fulfill its part in God’s plan as well as You move individual members to walk in obedience to Him.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the many, many people You have placed in my path that have helped me to see You with greater clarity. These Saints are far to great in number to list individually here, but if you are/were a part of my life in Christ, I praise and thank God for you.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the opportunities to serve You and make Your name known in the world today. Please help me to always remember that obedience to You is a matter of great joy to You, as it should be for me as well!
  • And thank you, Jesus, for the Scriptures. They truly are alive and active, filled with the very essence of the Father. May I/we in our gratitude for them continue to learn from them.

As I said, this is by no means a completed list, but I do believe it gets to the heart of the matter: I/we owe a debt to our Savior that we cannot repay. Yet out of His ever-loving heart, He has paid it for us. May we, in the lingo of today, take this love and ‘pay it forward’ in humility, love and gratitude.

May the blessings of the Resurrection of Jesus be deeply known to you today,

Pastor Chuck

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

Don’t Hesitate, vaccinate!

I was asked to participate in an effort to promote getting vaccinated against Covid-19 by the Regional Health Equity Task Force. I sat down with them recently to shoot this video and if you listen closely, you will hear Betsy and I singing our National Anthem in the background

CHUCK COPPS – YouTube

Thanks for watching and please don’t hesitate, vaccinate!

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

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As Jesus walks toward Jerusalem for the last time, He asks His disciples a question that is still relevant for all today: “”Who do you say that I am?”

Click on this link to hear the ‘studio version’ of the message I preached on this question this morning

Thanks for listening. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck