Freedom for All!

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(image courtesy of winchester2cc.org)

This 3 day weekend here in the States has given many the opportunity to celebrate our country’s independence. With Covid-19 on the run in many places, folks have traveled near and far to join in these festivities with family and friends. To many, the lifting of restrictions has a feeling of release from pandemic prison. I find it a joy to see the many happy faces around our neighborhood as they share laughter and food with others for the first time in a long time.

Yet I also know something of human nature and when tomorrow, July 6th gets here, many of these same people will trudge off to work. The thoughts of weekend celebrations will quickly fade into the dull routine of earning a living.

Part of the reason for this drudgery, in my opinion, is the fact that though we celebrate July 4th as a mark of freedom, most are aware that we live in a culture that is far from free. Racial and social injustice are still painfully prevalent, and no amount of celebratory fireworks can mask that truth. I believe that as a nation we carry this fact with us, thus quickly dampening the good feeling of celebrating something that is not universally available.

Thanks be to God, there is a true freedom that is offered to all; the freedom that Jesus Christ has procured. It is by His sinless life, His crucifixion in the place of sinful mankind and His glorious resurrection that this freedom comes.

Jesus spoke of this freedom while He still walked the earth. John’s gospel records it his way: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36 NIV) The Lord is speaking here of the freedom from the bondage to sin. He knows that only His perfect sacrifice will satisfy the wrath of God against all sinners, of which you and I are included. The word Jesus uses for freedom in the original Greek means to be liberated from something that holds you captive. In the case of humanity, this means the sinful nature that we are all born with. It is this sin nature that prevents us from entering into this saving relationship on our own, therefore making the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross a necessity.

How to we get this freedom that Jesus offers? Simply put, we must recognize our need of salvation and our helplessness towards attaining it on our own. If we can do this, it becomes a matter of simple faith: Believe that Jesus died, was buried and then resurrected as payment for our sinfulness. The Apostle Paul spells this out directly: 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)

Sound to simple to be true? It’s not! God loves us all. In that all-encompassing love He invites each and every person into relationship with Him. Salvation is from God and truly it is all about God. We are left to simply accept the gift of freedom as offered.

What, then, are we to do with this freedom once we accept it? Again, it is Paul the Apostle who gives us instruction: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

Faith in Jesus sets us free from eternal death. Paul’s point then is that we live in that freedom each day until the Lord calls us home. When, with the Spirit’s help, we live in this freedom to the best of our ability, we can know what the liberating power of God’s love is. If we can allow this love to permeate the depths of our heart, God’s love can flow from us to the world around us. Living in this freedom then ought to allow us to see all other people as they are, children of the same creator.

The freedom purchased for us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ truly levels the playing field. It allows us to shake off the shackles of hatred, distrust and jealousy so that we can be conduits for His love.

As you know, I have nothing against a cookout and sharing good times with friends and family. But those pale when compared to the celebration God calls us to. Please join me in continuing this celebration in all we do and say and may our hearts reflect gratitude to God for loving us so much that He has chosen to truly set us free.

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

I’m Gonna be a Star!!!

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(image courtesy of wallpaperset.com)

Well, um, not really. But I did have a pretty cool experience under ‘the lights’ yesterday. As many of you know, my wife Betsy and I have a unique hobby: We sing our national anthem at sporting events and other activities around the Central New York area. We’ve been doing this since the attacks of 9/11 as way to show our support and appreciation for all those who put their lives on the line for others.

Also, if you’ve been reading this for the past 6 weeks or so, you know that I am a huge proponent of getting vaccinated against Covid-19 when it becomes available to you.

Anyway, back to the bright lights, these two areas of passion in my life brought about the opportunity to bring them both to the forefront. A community action group called, Health Care Equity Task Force got wind of our talents and support of the vaccine and invited us to be videoed singing our rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. After we did this, and because I have received both of the shots, they had me sit down for a taping of my thoughts about this particular vaccination.

Pondering this experience the following morning, I began to see the connection between our presenting of the anthem and getting vaccinated. As I said above, we sing to honor this country that we love. That’s not to say I/we are naively unaware of the many challenges facing America today. I do not filter my view through the lens of any political party. I stay informed on the issues and daily pray that God will intercede on behalf of our land with a sense of His peace and leading.

Given the platform to perform the national anthem, we do so because, flawed as it is, this is still the greatest country on the earth; and even more so, we recognize that a vast number of people we will never know personally have and are performing duties and functions that protect us all. We sing to honor, respect and remember.

Getting vaccinated against Covid takes the same approach for me. Yes, I do not want to contract this thing, but I primarily have gotten the shots to serve others. I will never know, nor do I need to know, the positive affect my getting vaccinated is having. The point is, in my opinion, to put yourself in the place of others. By putting their well being at least on a par with my own, I tend to see the simple necessity of receiving the shots as doing the next right thing for others. I did it for the common good, as I attempt to honor, respect and remember all.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

PS: I will let you know when and where the video is to be released, most likely sometime this spring.

C

Our Salute to Veterans

I love my country, and my country has been very good to me. However, like any relationship, there are struggles along the way. Injustice, violence and political stupidity all cause me deep pain. But on this Veterans Days 2020, I post our rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in respect for those who have served this land so bravely and well as well as for those men and women who continue to do so today with dignity and empathy. And I continue to pray that God heals America; not to restore it to some glorified past, but rather to a place that glorifies the Lord Jesus!

Unity, Liberty, Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul writes in Romans 10:9: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and peace to you all,

Pastor Chuck