What if the person at the well had been a member of the LBGTQ community?

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The encounter known as Jesus and the Woman at the Well, found in Chapter 4 of John’s gospel has long been a motivator for me in ministry. If you are at all familiar with the meaningful interaction between Jesus and this woman, you know that she was ostracized from society because she was currently living with a man outside of marriage.

Jesus, caring little for social niceties, breaks a rule by engaging in conversation with this woman as he sat at the well outside of her village. Remember, in those days men and women who weren’t family would not have had this casual conversation. In fact, a male would never have asked a question of a female as Jesus had in public.

Jesus’ example or throwing social constraints aside is very encouraging to me. He met that woman right where she was, not only physically, but also spiritually. He carried no pre-set conditions or barriers to insulate himself. The Lord merely, and simply, starting talking with her.

At Lakeside Christian Ministries, we have attempted to take this same approach in all that we do. After all, if it was right and proper for Jesus, we must be on the right track!

Our ability to minister in some of the more difficult places in our community, be they racked with deep poverty, substance abuse or any of the other common maladies folks deal with in these times, has been blessed on many occasions. The simple, heartfelt approach of meeting people as and where they are has opened many doors and hearts to us.

Seeking and meeting people in this way has become our normal mode of operation and because of this, we are becoming better equipped as to how to respond to verbal and other clues. Experience is teaching us, and we are becoming more attuned to the folks we get the privilege to minister to. I feel we are following the example Jesus set by his meeting with the woman found in John Chapter 4.

We are certainly not alone in our efforts. Many people, be they of faith or not, are successfully reaching into communities as they supply many types of practical help and moral support. I thank God for every agency, ministry and individual that takes their concern for people and puts it into positive action.

But (you had to know by now, Dear Reader, that a but was coming!), I had pause to wonder how well I/we are doing with this example of Jesus when the need of someone is a little less obvious than that of the woman at the well. What I mean to say is that we may be good at seeing the need in poverty and springing into action with no judgment, but what about at other times and places.

For example, what if the person at the well is transgender? I am confident that this would not have made the slightest difference in Jesus’ approach. He simply met, interacted and always loved. The Lord would have engaged in conversation with this person for the simple reason that they were loved by him. No judgment, no condemnation, simply love.

Can you and I make this same claim when we are face to face with someone of the LBGTQ community? Do we look with compassion to see if there is a need we might help with? Or are our first thoughts more confused or worse yet judgmentally accusatory.

I for one have never found a response from Jesus described as these. Sure, he was appropriately stern or pointed when dealing with the hypocritical of his day, never mincing words when he was attempting to get their attention.

Yet on the other hand, Jesus always led with love, no matter what the issues in front of him might be. Consider those afflicted with leprosy back then. They could not be where other, ‘clean,’ folks were and if they were in their vicinity, they had to announce their own presence by yelling out, “Unclean, unclean, stay away!” The gospel records several instances where Jesus, paying no attention to any of that, actually laid his hands on some lepers to heal them!

We all need to pay closer attention to the wonderful example Jesus has left us. We are to follow his command to “Love one another.” Period. No questions as to who might deserve our love and certainly no judging someone that we feel doesn’t. We are to simply love. We can do this as Jesus modeled. We can listen. We can be willing to have open and honest dialogue with someone who is experiencing life in way that we might not be familiar with.

I encourage us all, in whatever way this little article may have touched you, to simply love one another (that’s everyone, btw) a little more deeply; a little more considerately, a little bit more honestly, etc.

Let love rule your heart, not judgment. Let the example of Jesus lead you, for he will never lead you in a way that is contrary to his love.

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

 Pastor Chuck

Signs

Hello Blog-o-sphere! It is good to be here again! I think I made mention at the beginning of August that I had a busy month coming up. I truly had no idea how busy it would become.

I’ll spare you the details, except to say that as always, God showed His faithfulness to me in so many ways that the things that occupied my time this past month were not burdens, but blessings!!

I would like to share a snippet from my sermon of Sunday, 8-29. (Should you want to hear the whole thing, please go to our website: www.lakesidechristianministries.org)

I was talking about the hard-heartedness of the Pharisees in Jesus day as found in the 7th Chapter of the Gospel of Mark. They see the Lord’s disciples “eating with defiled hands,” meaning they were not washing them ceremonially as their rules decreed.

Jesus rebukes them telling them their hearts are not seeking God, but rather looking for praise, power and control over people as keepers of their burdensome list of rules and regulations.

All this made me think about my life; how I live it. What impressions do I give people in my everyday interactions with the world. I imagined my life as a house with various signs placed in the front yard. As I considered this, I wondered just what kinds of signs people might see.

I ask my listeners to join me in considering this. I asked: “Would the signs in front of the ‘house’ of your life say :“Keep Off!” Or “Go Away, you are not wanted here!” Maybe, “This is a place of judgment, and I am the judge.”

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You get the idea. I went on to ask myself and everyone to take a good look at what our lives look like. I asked us all further questions: “We wouldn’t withhold kindness because we perceive someone as living a different lifestyle than us, or we wouldn’t withhold friendship because someone has a different political opinion than we do, would we?”

Obviously, these types of ‘signs’ do not promote fellowship or encourage anyone. They serve only to protect us and our personal bubble we try to maintain.

In contrast to this, I asked if we might all put different placards in the front yard of our life. Signs that say: “All are welcome. Let’s talk about that. I’m not perfect so I will not expect you to be.”

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Or perhaps this: “I am a sinner saved by grace. Come, let’s share the experience of life as friends, getting to know each other along the way.”

How about you, Most Appreciated Reader: What do the signs outside the house of your life say?

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Who was that masked man (or woman)?

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(image courtesy of pinterest)

“Who was that masked man?” I was not a big fan of the Lone Ranger television show as a kid. I remember watching some episodes with my older brother, who was. I also recall hearing at the end of some of them the question asked by someone the Lone Ranger had just helped, “Who was that masked man?”

This all came to mind the other day as I was out doing our weekly grocery shopping. Among the many shoppers, the vast majority of whom were wearing masks, a familiar, if partial face approached me. We each tentatively spoke the other’s name and to our mutual joy, got it right. This person is a member of one of the churches Betsy and I regularly minister at. With most of the State of New York on shutdown, we hadn’t seen each other in nearly two months.

We exchanged pleasantries and inquired as to loved ones health and well-being, then went of our respective shopping chores. I had another encounter like this a little later as I approached the checkout line. This one played out exactly like the first because our identities were somewhat hidden behind the masks we wore.

As I contemplated the changes this entire Covid-19 experience has brought about, I got to thinking about masks. I think it safe to say we have all worn them, even before the pandemic. With varying amounts of guardedness we don masks to hide true feelings, for many reasons. Some of these are for our own protection or possibly the protection of others. I am not using my blog to chide anyone about this.

But I will comment about the wearing of masks for those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, with myself at the top of the list. To be clear, I totally support the wearing of PPE and following the recommendations for sanitizing surfaces and physical distancing in an effort to prevent the spread of this virus.

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(image courtesy of fedit.ukneeq.com)

The masks on my mind today are the hidden ones, or at the least the ones that hide our true identity. A devoted follower of the Lord Jesus is to be growing in His likeness day by day. No mask should hide this progress. Yet, speaking for myself, I must admit that I do put on various masks that obscure the living God within me.

One of the many of these is: the mask of indifference. Wearing this one prevents me from being able to empathize with the hurting world and worse yet, can keep me from trying to help.

Another ugly mask I slip on from time to time is one of self-satisfaction. This mask keeps me satisfied in my little world, not wanting anything or anyone to change the status quo I have worked so hard to establish. This mask can easily be turned inside out to be worn as a mask of judgment. Behind this covering I can easily judge folks as being unworthy of my time or stuff. An ugly mask indeed.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Much as the protective mask prevalent today hides much of our face, so these less obvious ones often hide our true heart and intentions. Wearing these less visible masks is in no way proper for the disciple of Christ.

This brings me back to the words Jesus shared with His original group of followers on the night He was betrayed:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

It is clear that in order to follow this command of the Lord (a command, not a suggestion), we must be rid of the hidden types of masks I mentioned above. How you and I demonstrate this love of others will vary with each of us. But one thing will be clear, our motivation will be to love others as the Lord has loved us.

Though the PPE mask I wear today will still partially obscure who I am to the folks I meet, God’s loving heart ought to shine through in all other ways. This makes my goal not to be acknowledged as the answer to the question, “Who was that masked man,” but rather that our all-loving God is revealed in my words and actions.

Blessings to you all and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

 

The church is not the safe place it should be

See the source imageimage courtesy of churchleaders.com

As difficult as it is for me, a pastor, to stick that title on this entry, it is unfortunately accurate.  And, I refer to churches right here in the United States, where the enemy of the church is far more active on the inside than the out.  The excellent blog, A Fractured Faith, written by Irish author Stephen Black (I highly recommend his blog and books), wrote a compelling piece on this topic on February 20th, 2020.  He stated, as many have felt, that the pain caused him by a local church has driven him from it.  Sadly, I know many who have experienced the same.

The church was once a safe place.  That is no longer the case.  The one place where folks should be able to simply be themselves, good and bad, healthy or hurting, has dropped the ball for the most part.  If you are reading this and attend/belong to a church that is carrying out the call of Jesus to be His hands and feet in the world, I praise God for it and thank you for all you do!

Yet, the vast majority of churches I visit in my various ministry roles seem to support, by the predominance of empty pews and chairs, the fact that the church is indeed missing its calling.

Both the cause and the solution to this problem can be found in the same place: the church itself.  As I listened to a preacher on the radio the other day, his point made this clear to me.  I didn’t catch his name, as I was driving at the time, but his message has quickly taken root in my heart.

His premise was this: that the Christian Church has spent the majority of its time since the late 1940’s teaching their flocks the importance of being obedient to God and the teachings of the bible.  He concluded that although the need for followers of Christ to be obedient is very important, if it is not taught/presented in a way that fosters love for God, it can also be quite dangerous.

This caused me to think: How could being obedient to God be dangerous in any way?  After all, if I’m doing what I’m told I am to do, shouldn’t that be good enough?

Here’s the thorn in that thinking.  Obedience, without a corresponding love that causes the believer to desire to please God, can (and has) led people to become the type ‘Christian’ that has caused such deep pain to my friend Stephen and countless others like him.  For example, a church that teaches its people that there are a set of rules that must be obeyed opens itself up to hard-heartedness.  It is far too easy to quantify obedience when you can check off the boxes of the things you have completed.  The next step in this downward progression is to assume that others who aren’t doing things the ‘right’ way, must shunned.  This type of obedience without feeling leads to judgment, which encourages the ‘us v. them’ mentality.

How heart breaking that becomes when those who come to a place of worship seeking care are instead treated as outcasts.  Their very brokenness prevents the established membership from helping them because their hearts have been calloused by the narrow perspective many churches have taught them to have.  This is what is spawned, in my opinion, when strict obedience is placed above (or instead of) having a loving heart.

Now Jesus was clear that He wanted His followers to be obedient to his teaching.  Check out Matthew 28:19-20 or John 13:34-35 for proof of this.  But the Lord desires so much more than out rote following of a list of do’s and don’ts.  Yes, He wants our obedience, but He wants it because we love Him.  A heart that loves the Lord chooses to be obedient as a result of this love, not as a way to earn it or worse, so that we can show the world we deserve it because we have finished the checklist.

In conclusion, my travels have not as of yet brought me to the perfect church and as long as churches are populated by imperfect beings like me, I probably won’t find one this side of heaven.  In spite of all I’ve written here today, I end on a hopeful note.  You see, the hope I speak of is found in Christ, not the church.  Only He is perfect, nothing we put our hands to will ever be.  But if we will search our hearts to find those places of judgment and short-sightedness that lurk there, asking forgiveness for them, we can begin the journey of improving the care and support the local church ought to be providing.

May our hearts be motivated by love for God which will then in turn cause us to desire to be truly obedient to Him, in all things.

Blessings and thanks for reading.  As always, I welcome your thoughts on this topic.

Pastor Chuck

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Don't judge a book by its cover Premium Vectorimage courtesy of freepik

Most everyone is familiar with the old adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ That homey saying reminds us to not be so quick to judge someone or something with just a glance, but rather to make the effort to gather more information before drawing a conclusion.  God, as He so often does, gave me another lesson on the validity of this saying yesterday.

As many of you know, I have the privilege of providing pastoral care for Oswego County Hospice.  Oswego County, for those of you not versed in Central New York geography, is a large place, covering 1,312 square miles.  Yet within all that territory, only a little over 122,000 people live.  As you may have guessed, we are a predominantly rural place.

To their credit, Oswego County Hospice, utilizing us volunteers to the utmost, brings its amazing level of care to every inch of ground within these borders.  I have never been involved with an organization that brings such excellent care to each and every patient and family in their program.  And as a pastor, being able to step into the lives of people and their families as the end of this life nears is both tremendously fulfilling and humbling.

I had another hospice call yesterday but before I could endeavor to bring pastoral care, God wanted me to remind me to not judge a book by its cover.  This call was to one of the very rural areas I mentioned earlier (to my credit, I only got loss once on the way there!).  When i finally arrived, I was greeted at the door by one of the two sons who were providing the care necessary so that their mom could be at home for the end of her life.

He welcomed me in and as I was greeting the two dogs that met me, he brought in his other brother and my reminder lesson on not judging the book too early began.  This fellow, not bothering with a shirt in spite of the 35-degree weather, shook my hand.  Most of his exposed flesh was covered with what I knew to prison-work tattoos, including his shaved head.  All that ink, along with the guarded look in his eyes as he sized me up, made my pre-judging abilities leap to the front.

Now that He had made me ready, God taught me the lesson I need to learn again and again.  This second brother brought me in to see his mom.  As he did, I noticed a wonderful transformation take place.  His voice softened as he tended to his mother, helping to arrange pillows to make her as comfortable as possible.  He then introduced me and quietly left the room.  I sat and talked very briefly with the patient and prayed over her as she slipped back to sleep.

I excused myself and was ready to leave when the ink-covered son asked me if I had prayed with his mom.  I told him yes and to my surprise, he asked if he could join me to pray again for her.

We went back into the bedroom, where this man prayed one of the most heart felt prayers I have ever been blessed to hear.  He thanked God for his mom and her long life.  He praised God for allowing him to come from so far away to spend these last precious days with her and his brother.  He asked for mercy that she may pass peacefully, all in God’s time.

As he finished, I put my arm around him and said how moving that prayer had been.  With tears in my eyes, we stood to say our goodbyes.  It was then that I noticed the tears on his face too, the visible sign of his love and devotion to his mom, regardless of what his past may or may not have been.

I drove home thanking God for this man and the lesson he helped me to learn again about not judging a book by its cover.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck