Hello to you all, both long-time and new!

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I would like to acknowledge and say a big THANK YOU to all of you who have recently started following this blog. I truly appreciate the time you take to read and respond.

For those who have been reading, putting up with, and/or groaning over the past 3+ years, a hearty thanks to you as well!

It occurs to me that those falling under the newer category might not know all the backstory that comes along with me. I’d like to take this opportunity to allow you the opportunity to catch up!

As I am embarking on a somewhat new aspect of my journey as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have been asked to write an essay introducing myself to the folks who will be considering me for a Rostered (ordained) ministry position within the Lutheran Church. The following is an excerpt from that essay. It is my hope that you, New Dear Reader, will take the time to get to know me a little better (and for those who have heard much of this, you may hit the like button and be on your way).

Thanks once again for sharing the ride with me.

Part 1: My Story

I was born on January 11th, 1960 in Oswego New York to Kenneth and Evelyn Copps. I have one older brother, Carl. I had a happy home-life growing up in in that small town. My parents provided for all our needs and most of my wants in a caring way. Dad worked full-time as a machinist while Mom stayed at home. I had some close friends through the years and it seemed we always congregated at my house. It was warm and open to everyone.

My parents were Roman Catholic and raised my brother and me in that faith. It never meant much to me as I saw going to church largely as an inconvenience on my time. Other than Confirmation, weekly Mass was my only exposure to Catholicism. Things of faith were rarely if ever brought up at home. Tending to shirk responsibility in those days, I was more than happy to do my 60 minutes per week at church and leave faith at that.

At the age of eighteen I opted out of regular church attendance, going back only to be married in 1983. My wife and I attended her local church, Holy Family in Fulton, New York for a brief period after marriage, but that attendance soon faltered as well.

I was well into the downward spiral of alcoholism at this point. The ensuing years are a blur even now. Finally, with my health failing, my wife ready to leave and at the brink of financial disaster, I sought help. A three week stay in a detox-center followed by a 28-day rehab helped prepare me to live a sober life.

It is at the beginning of recovery that my faith life came to be. In fact, I count both my sobriety date and the date of my salvation the same: May 3rd, 1991. It seems that the Bible stories I sat through as a child had some affect after all! I knew in my spirit that the Higher Power the AA literature speaks of was in fact Jesus Christ. I received His forgiveness at the detox-center and have been a follower of His ever since.

That last sentence hardly speaks to the wonder of these last 29 years. I owe a great debt of thanks to Pastor Brent Dahlseng. He took a great interest in my spiritual journey. He encouraged me to read God’s word and to become a person of prayer. He was a tremendous mentor and friend as he helped me navigate my new life with purpose.

God has been faithfully persistent as He continues to call me to His service. Starting as a Small-Group apprentice leader, I have now had the privilege of being on many different prayer ministries as well as hospital visitation teams.

As the Lord has helped me to discern His call on my life, I attended seminary (Rockbridge Seminary) and was granted a Master of Divinity in 2014. We had begun a home ministry by this point and the schooling and training the seminary provided me had enriched my ability to serve. This has proved especially true in my Hospice work as I provide pastoral care to patients and their families.

I was ordained by the Elim Fellowship of Lima, New York in April of 2018. I have had the pleasure to officiate at weddings and our home ministry is now ‘on the road,’ as we serve people in their homes by providing bible study, counseling and the opportunity to worship.

It is with much anticipation that I enter into this next phase of ministry. I continue to trust God will reveal His will to me as I embrace a deeper understanding of Lutheran theology in the service of the church.

Blessings to you all,

Pastor Chuck

Four ‘Soil’ Conditions in One Heart

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I remember a homework assignment from the 6th Grade. Our task was to ask our parents what they knew of our family history, particularly what nationalities we had in our bloodlines. The purpose was to better understand the ‘melting pot’ that has made up our society as we studied the impact and influence of immigration on American culture.

Fortunately for me, both my parents had a passion for where their families had come from and had a wealth of information for me. The combination of my mother and father basically made me into four parts: English, French, Irish and German.

Having four parts becomes a wonderful segue into what I’m writing about today, the four types of soil Jesus mentioned in the parable of the Sower found in Matthew Chapter 13.

Actually, saying there are four types of soil is incorrect: there is only one mentioned by the Lord, though it is represented in four different ways. I had the opportunity to preach a message on the Sower last Sunday evening, and I thought I would share some of what I said with you, Dear Reader.

I have taught/preached on the Parable of the Sower in the past, but the wonderful thing about God’s word is that it is truly living and active (Hebrews 4:12). Each time I ponder it for discussion, Holy Spirit tends to show me something I had not noticed before.

This time was no different in that regard. I have often thought of the four soils Jesus mentions as being separate and distinct from each other. This time, I was reminded that God made the soil (earth) way back in Genesis Chapter 1:9-10. After His work on the third day of creation, God declared the land ‘good.’ One soil, good at creation, now having been affected by the circumstances of the fallen world around it. Jesus then describes it in the following ways, a path, rocky, weed infested and finally good.”

Much as I am the product of four nationalities in my physical make-up, if I am to be honest with you, I must admit that all four ‘soil conditions’ can be present in my spiritual life at any time.

In the parable, Jesus describes the first three as being unable to support the healthy and spiritually vibrant life God wants to sow into each of us. The Lord describes this first as a path. I ask: was it always a path? Had been beaten down by years of being tromped on? Remember, Jesus used parables to help us see and learn things. This picture allows me to see where my heart has become spiritually hardened, having allowed circumstances and troubles to take away its suppleness. In this condition, the goodness of God bounces off, gaining no penetration, just like the seeds did on the path. I must be aware of and looking for any places in me that are becoming hardened. Snap judgments and a lack of empathy are indicators of a hard path developing.

The second soil condition mentioned in this parable is rocky. Here, Jesus said, the seeds fell and germinated quickly but because of the many rocks, there was not enough soil to sustain the seedlings life. The soil was too shallow. For me, becoming shallow is a constant threat. As a ‘fixer,’ if I hear of a problem, I want to dive in and correct it. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I must be careful to treat each opportunity more holistically. More often than not, addressing a symptom is not the only remedy required. To look into something more deeply, however, requires me to spend the time and energy to do so. When I don’t, I am more like the rocky soil Jesus mentioned. May we never be so shallow as to not allow the richness of God and His word dwell and grow in our hearts, especially as we are called to minister to others.

The next problem addressed by Jesus is that of weed infestation. He mentioned that the cares of life and the pursuit of the deceitfulness of wealth can choke out the word He wants to sow in us. I have never had trouble seeing how worry can do this. I have struggled with this all my life. I worry about a thing, usually running through my mind all the possible negative outcomes of whatever it is I am mulling over. The old saying often applies to me: Worry is the interest we pay on things that never come to be. Worry is all about me! I have taken the focus off the greatness of God and put myself in His place. It’s as if I’m saying what I have going on is beyond His ability to help with. That is some weed-infested thinking! It is no wonder I flounder in my spirit when I am cultivating that kind of crop.

The deceitfulness of wealth works much the same way. Either I am distracted in my pursuit of more of it or worried about how I will maintain what I have. Both of these lines of thought are again supremely selfish, as I once more put myself in the very middle of the universe.

Jesus saves the best for last, however! He says that some seed falls on good soil where it produces an abundant crop for the kingdom of God. Earlier I mentioned that all soil was good at creation. This tells me that God knew/knows what He is doing! In my case, and hopefully yours as well, He has used the events and circumstances of life to till our hearts into soft and plant-able ground to be used for His purpose. The parts of my soil (heart) that are good are because of His tender care, not because of anything I have done. My part is to be aware of what He is up to, and then to simply ask for His guidance to make even more of the soil that is me to be pliable in His hands.

The Sower, God, spreads only good seed. Though some falls on places that will not receive it or allow it to grow, you and I can, through humble obedience to His will, be a part of the abundant crop Jesus describes! I pray we all have a long and healthy growing season!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Who was that masked man (or woman)?

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“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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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

 

Of Empty Jars and a Fuller Faith

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The thoughts for this blog are taken from the message I have prepared for Sunday September 1st, 2019.  They are based on a passage from the Old Testament found in the Book of 2 Kings 4:1-7.  It is the account of a widow who is about to lose her two sons because she cannot pay a debt she owes.  What unfolds in this passage is wonderful story of God’s provision.

When preaching this message, it is my intention to go verse by verse as I attempt to help folks see how God, ever faithful to keep His promises, can grow faith in the hardest of times.

For you, Dear Reader, I’ll be touching on highlights here (should you want to hear my soothing tones discussing this in fuller detail, please go to our website, www.lakesidechristianministries.org and click of the dropdown menu audio/video).

As always, it is good to get some background/context to the passage of scripture being considered.  Elisha, who had been the prophet Elijah’s assistant, has now assumed the leadership position after Elijah has been taken up to heaven.  He is the man of God the widow seeks for help.  As prophet, Elisha would have others working and ministering under his guidance.  One of these people had been the widow’s husband.

It’s also helpful to remember that the accepted custom of that time in ancient Israel was if you were unable to pay your debt, some or all family members would be forced to be servants of that creditor.  In essence, they could be sold into slavery to cover a debt.  If she lost her sons, there would be no one left to work the land.  Her very bad situation was going to spiral even further downward.  She would be destitute.  You get a better sense of her desperation by knowing these things, I thinkAt this point, she would be seeing more of empty jars than anything that might grow her faith.

In her grief, pain and uncertainty of the future she seeks out the prophet. (Folks even then looking for a fix/cure on their own level instead of going first and directly to God.)  Elisha had already worked miracles in his ministry; no doubt the widow would have known, hence her seeking him out to do something about her situation. She spells out her issues to Elisha, who may or may not have already known about what she was up against.

After the widow spells out her problems to him, Elisha asks if she has anything at all to work with to pay the debt. “Nothing,” she replies, “except this little but of oil.”  To us this would be like having one dollar to our name when we owed one million.  Her situation looked hopeless, having more to do with empty jars than a flowing faith at this point.

The Prophet then gives her some strange instructions.  She is to go to all her neighbors, asking to borrow empty jars.  It is at this point we can she the widow starting to walk in faith.  This was a very humbling thing to do.  By going to all her neighbors, they would certainly know something was wrong.  No matter how they might talk about her, she was grasping at the chance to save her boys.

After collecting the jars, Elisha’s instructions don’t get any less crazy sounding.  The widow and her boys are to take them into their house and close the door.  Once they were alone, she was to start pouring the little oil she had into these empty jars.

Common sense would tell us this is futile, a heart hoping for God to do something wonderful would start pouring.  She did, and the Bible tells us the oil does not stop pouring until all the jars are full!

God has always been in the multiplying business.  Thinking about this takes me back to grade school grade school and learning the multiplication tables.  Each of these always showed that anything times zero was always zero.  That’s good for a mathematics table, but it doesn’t fit God’s character.  God continues to make something where there once was nothing!

This account was meant to grow the faith of those involved, not their pocketbooks! As you ponder it (and may I encourage you to read/re-read again 2 Kings 4:1-7), may I ask, “How can God enlarge your faith today?” You don’t need to be in the dire straits this widow was.  In fact, we should learn from her example and not wait as long as she did before seeking help. Don’t fall prey to the prideful feelings that you can a: work everything out yourself, or b: be to ashamed to admit something is messed up and you need help.

Take a spiritual inventory of what you have in the Lord and where your walk is currently with Him.  This will help you to see what you have in Him as opposed to how little you have on your own.  Let your faith grow as you ponder what God did for this obedient woman.  Difficulties might seem huge and having a kitchen full of empty jars seem of little use.  But our God will meet our deepest needs, if only we admit/ask Him to sustain us.  He’s done it; He’s doing it.  Do you have the faith He can do it for you?

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Peace by Peace: The Full Armor of God

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I put my armor on first thing today.  No, I’m not re-enacting a joust or trying to blend in at a Renaissance Faire, I’m referring to the full armor of God that the Apostle Paul wrote about in Ephesians 6:10-18

It might seem peculiar to some that the God of peace, love and forgiveness would also make a soldier’s armor necessary.  However, if you have been a follower of Jesus Christ for any length of time, you know all too well the battle that rages on around you.  Thankfully, nothing about this struggle is a surprise to the Almighty.  Therefore, He gives us access to all we need to carry on each day.

Paul knew full well the spiritual battle that was happening in his time.  He used the familiar picture of a Roman, dressed in full battle regalia, to describe what and how God was providing for our spiritual protection.  The Apostle then describes why we need it:

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:11-12) NIV

Paul establishes that there is an unseen battle going on around us and that we do have a common enemy, the devil.  Not to give the old liar too much credit, but he is a powerful and nasty adversary who wants nothing more than to cause strife and division, especially among those who profess faith in Christ.

I am eternally grateful that our God is more powerful than Satan.  (Spoiler alert: if you read the Bible all the way to the end, you’ll see it proved forever!) Having said that, the Bible also teaches that the devil is still active in this world.  Peter describes him as a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Knowing this, putting on the full protection of God’s armor seems like a no-brainer.

Let’s go through the various pieces of this God-given armor to see how they work to protect us.

The belt of truth is the first piece.  Whereas if may sound weird to us to put a belt on first, in this case it makes sense.  A Roman soldier put this piece of his armor on first because all the rest of his gear would be attached to it.  This holds true for our spiritual protection as well.  We must be able to ‘wear’ the truth of who God is if we are going to be able to stand at all in the battles we encounter.

With apologies to those who hold that truth is a relative thing, the truth of God is all encompassing and unchanging.  God is who He says He is and does what He promises to do.

The truth is that Jesus is the Savior of the world; there is no other way to heaven accept through His death and resurrection.  This has to be firmly buckled into our being if we are to put on the rest of the armor of God.

The breastplate of righteousness then attaches to the belt of truth.  A soldier’s breastplate protected his vital organs from harm.  This piece of godly armor does the same for us.  Righteousness, a term that sometimes gets thrown around in Christendom, simply means to be in right standing with God.  The position of being righteous in God’s eyes is necessary because He is perfect and without sin.  I, for one, am not.  The bible says He imputes righteousness to believers and I could never hope to be in His presence if He didn’t.  Because of this breastplate He provides, I am protected from His wrath.  God hates sin; the breastplate of righteousness keeps me shielded from the eternal consequences of it because He provides it to those who have put their faith in Him.

Verse 15 of Ephesians Chapter 6 then tells us that our feet are fitted with readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  I love the fact that this is fitted to each of us personally.  God’s peace, which we cannot fully grasp, is tailor made in such a way by the Master that even though we don’t understand it, we can live and move about with the assurance of the peace that salvation brings.

Once our shoes are on, we are to take up the shield of faith because by carrying it we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  The Roman soldier’s shield was curved in such a way that things would bounce off it.  As we carry our shield of faith, the lies and deceptions our enemy throws at us will also be deflected, bringing us no harm.

With our bodies now protected, we are instructed to put on the helmet of salvation.  Helmets, of course, are designed to protect the head.  The helmet of salvation does the same in a spiritual sense.  By donning it, we are to keep in the forefront of our mind the salvation God has given us.  By staying mindful of the of the grace of God that has been poured out on us, we are better able to stay focused on Him.  As we go through our days in this way, we are far less likely to fall victim to wrong thinking of the deceitfulness of the world around us.

As we are now fully clothed in the armor of God, we are then to pick up the only weapon we need, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17).  Much as a sword was the common weapon of the foot soldier in Paul’s day, the word of God is for us.  However, this sword has no equal.  In fact, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews describes it thus: The word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), God’s infallible Word is unmatched by any other weapon or tool.  It contains the very essence of God, making it supreme to all things.  What weapon would we possibly want to carry in its place?

Paul concludes this teaching of the full armor of God by reminding us all that once clothed in it, we must never forget to pray.  The list of what we could pray about is endless, but in this context, I would recommend praying to have awareness of the battles going on around us, and the wisdom to now when to engage the enemy and when to wait for re-enforcements.  It is then a very good idea to be praying for others that are on the battlefront, that they too are fully protected and moving within the will of God.

There you have it, my friends.  The full armor of God.  As was recommended to me years ago, I pass on to you.  Get into the practice of thinking about putting on this armor every day.  As you do, consider what each piece represents and how God has supplied it for you and the specific battles and struggles you are up against.  Remember, He who has made this armor is perfect.  What He makes is also perfect and perfectly molded to fit your needs.  All that is left is for us to put it on.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Truth and Consequences

There was an old radio turned television show called Truth or Consequences that ran through the late 1980’s.    Wikipedia describes it this way: On the show, contestants received roughly two seconds to answer a trivia question correctly (usually an off-the-wall question that no one would be able to answer correctly, or a bad joke) before “Beulah the Buzzer” sounded (in the rare occasion that the contestant answered the question correctly before Beulah was heard, the question inevitably had two or even three parts). If the contestant could not complete the “Truth” portion, there would be “Consequences,” usually a zany and embarrassing stunt.

Whereas the TV show was built on the premise of an either/or with regards to truth or consequences, real life, as the title of this blog entry mentions, provides a more accurate description: Truth and Consequences.  The truth is that all of our actions result in consequences, either for us or someone/thing else or a combination of both.

King David, one of the biggest heroes of the Old Testament, would find out first hand that the truth carried a severe set of consequences.  Reading through the Book of 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12 is a case in point.  These chapters tell of his affair with Bathsheba.  Here’s the Pastor Chuck condensed version: David sees a beautiful woman as he looks out from the roof of his palace.  Giving no thought to future consequences, he has her brought to him for his pleasure.  The fact that she was already married to another man wasn’t enough to dissuade him.  She gets pregnant as a result and David then plots to have her husband murdered under the guise of putting him in the front lines of the war that was going on at the time.  This scheme succeeds and the King is then ‘free’ to marry Bathsheba.

Enter Nathan the Prophet, one of the bravest figures in the Bible.  He has received a message from God about David’s sins and is instructed to call the King out on them.  There are many accounts from back then where the messenger is killed simply because of the message he bears, but this didn’t stop Nathan from carrying out his orders.  He reveals to David that God does indeed know the truth of what he has done.  Because of these actions, there will the consequences, the worst of these being that the baby born from this was to die.  As this all comes to be, David admits his guilt and asks forgiveness of God.  It’s important to note that while forgiveness is granted, the consequences of the actions still happen.

Of the many lessons you and I are to take from this sad situation, probably the most important is to realize and remember that our actions and choices will all have consequences too.  Obviously in this space I am referring to the bad or poor choices we make, but let’s not forget the opposite: that our good and proper choices can have positive consequences as well!

As we come to accept the truth about consequences, the more vital issue becomes what are we going to do about them going forward.  I have shared in this space before about the ruinous life I lived as an active alcoholic.  My totally selfish and senseless life style left a great deal of damage in its wake.  One place specifically was in our finances.  I accumulated a heap of debt because of my choices.  This was just one consequence that I had to deal with as I came to understand the truth of what I had done.

When my wife and I began to pick up the pieces of our life together, we realized the enormity of this debt.  In 1991 dollars, I owed well over $100,000.  Filing for personal bankruptcy protection alleviated some of this, but not to the IRS and the State of New York.  By failing to pay income and sales tax on the business that I owed, there was a substantial amount of restitution to be paid.

To the point of this blog, what was I to do when confronted with this truth? Was I to take out the mail carrier for bringing these notifications and demands for payment like some ancient prophet who delivered bad news? Of course not! How about running away or simply ignoring them? That approach had never really worked for me in the past, so I had to assume it wouldn’t now either.  What then was left?

Something that was new to me; owning up to my responsibilities.  I had to face and accept the truth.  I had screwed up and there were consequences to be paid.  God, true to His always faithful character, led the way out from under the cloud of debt that I had caused.  Once I accepted my part in this, I asked for His guidance in doing the right thing to clear it up.  He did.  Not with a winning sweepstakes ticket or some huge inheritance, but rather He with supplied me the opportunity to go back to work.  With this blessing came the chance to learn how to deal with money in the proper way, paying my obligations and deciding to pay off the government agencies that I owed.

The grace filled ending to this chapter of my life was that God saw us through it all.  Nowadays, I consider myself one of the richest people I know, though my checkbook my want to argue that point! I count my riches in a different way these days, all because God in his mercy saw to point out to me the consequences of my actions.  As He did, He has changed my heart, and continues to do so.  Am I above consequences for my actions now? Of course not.  What I am, however, is more aware of the bigger picture of life going on around me, which helps me to look for and find ways to have the consequences of my actions today be much more positive and good for me and those around me.

Thanks for reading.  Please feel free to share any stories of truth and consequences that God has seen you through.

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

 

 

Serving others in a self-serve world

Have you heard the joke about Walmart? It goes like this: Due to poor holiday sales, Walmart has decided to close 500 of their super-centers in the U.S. Because of these closings, up to 10 cashiers may lose their jobs.

Those like me that prefer having a human being as a cashier certainly can get a chuckle from that one.  When I’m shopping there (or anywhere that has self-checkouts, to be fair), I marvel, and sometimes grumble, that only two lanes are staffed while the do-it-yourself area teems with people.

Our culture has certainly become convenience driven.  Not only can we check out our groceries without help, when’s the last time you actually stepped inside a bank or have even written a check, for that matter.  Our paychecks are directly deposited and our bills are paid with electronic fund transfers.  Also for my ease, with credit/debit card in hand, I can purchase almost any item I want on line.  Just the other day I ordered flowers for my wife, found and purchased a book I was wanting to read and bought a steamer to help me remove wallpaper, all from the comfort of my office at home.  Self-serve is simply an accepted way to do things these days.

Please understand me, I have no problem using these modern conveniences.  They save me time and hassles.  The greater concern I have for me and others is this: with all the self-serve options available to us, am I/are we losing the sense of what it means to serve others? To be sure, this isn’t really a new problem for humankind.  Though they didn’t have the world available through their electronic devices, even the disciples who followed Jesus when He walked the earth struggled with this ‘serve me first’ mentality.

In Mark’s gospel, Chapter 10:35-40 we find two of them, James and John, selfishly asking Jesus for special treatment in the age to come.  They wanted to sit at either side of the Lord when He took His seat in heaven.  Truly a brazen request.  My first thought was this: Did they think this was a ‘first come, first served situation? I liken it to those hearty souls who camp-out over night to get in line to purchase the best seats for a big concert.

In His wisdom, Jesus deals with James and John diplomatically.  He tells them that what they ask is not for Him to give and that they really don’t understand what it is they are asking for in the first place.

The other ten disciples are less kind when they get wind of the request that was made by their peers. The bible says they were indignant that such a bold thing could be asked.  I wonder if part of their anger was that they didn’t think to ask first?

Whatever the case, Jesus uses the situation to do some wonderfully clear teaching on what it means to be a servant. “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44 NIV) In essence, Jesus’ message to the disciples is this: You need to take your accepted notions of what you think you deserve or have earned and turn them upside down.  Serving is to be the goal and purpose of life, not being served.

To make sure His point was being understood, the Lord added, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Here, Jesus ups the ante, if you will.  He reminds them of who He truly is, the Son of God.  Yet His heavenly position is not used to demand their praise and worship, rather it is a springboard to fulfill the Father’s purpose.  Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth to be a servant.  In truth, He is the ultimate servant, for He willingly suffered and died at the hands of men so that the Father’s salvation plan would be made known.

The call of servant-hood for every follower of Jesus Christ ought to daily move our hearts with compassion when considered in the light of what the Son of God has done for us all.  He, who deserves all our honor, praise and worship simply because of who He is, opted to set that all aside so that He could model what a servant’s heart looks like and who it is we are to serve.  Jesus served out of love and obedience to His Father.  Our one true purpose in this life is to follow His example.

How we do that will look different for each of us, but their will be a common thread running through it all: Serve others above serving ourselves.  To do so we must break free of our self-serve mentality.  Of course your time and schedule are important.  But are they so vital as to the exclusion of everything and everyone around you? Take Jesus’ instruction to heart in practical ways.  Stop and look around you.  If you do, I guarantee you will see places and people where you can be a servant.  I’m not saying you will see it in the checkout line that is seven deep, but then again, maybe you will!

The Appeal of Christianity

Does the person who cut me off on the highway know I am a Christian.  Did my one-fingered salute clue him in that I profess to follow Jesus? Do the folks around me at a hockey game experience my love when I loudly disagree with the referee’s call? Does my wife see the love of God displayed in me when I grudgingly agree to help with a project around the house? No, no and no.

Looked at in this light, I am missing by a wide margin the command Jesus gives in John 13:34-35: “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” (NIV).

The word love in these verses is God’s all-encompassing love.  It is the love given to us that we are to express back to Him and others.  Another place in Scripture tells us that, we love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

How do I do this? On my own, I can’t.  I/we can only exhibit the love of God if it is in us.  In order to obey this command, we must believe Jesus to be the Son of God who gave His life for all sinners and was raised from the dead to give the final victory over death.

Ok, I do believe that; why then do I have trouble obeying this command? The answer comes down to understanding the sacrificial nature of Jesus love.  More than understanding, I must become willing to supplant my wishes in favor of others.  That means I have to grow to be less selfish as I live my faith out.

Allow me to share some insight into what I see as the lack of appeal in today’s Christian to the outside world.  My current ministry has me visiting different churches in our area as I fill in for vacationing  pastors or as I help my wife lead worship when there is a need.  These churches have some things in common.  One, the people that are there seem genuinely glad to be there.  Second, there aren’t many of them.  The churches we help out at always seem to be more than half, if not two thirds, empty.

Why is this? Why are there more empty seats than warm bodies present on any given Sunday (except for Easter and Christmas)?  The answer, as I see it, is that going/belonging to a church has lost its appeal.  What has happened in the relatively short period of time from the commitment of  my parent’s generation to weekly attendance to the mass exodus from church today? I understand we live in a busier world today, with each of us seemingly being pulled in multiple directions constantly and that Sunday morning for many is the only chance to catch up on sleep.  There is also soccer and hockey and a myriad of other activities going on these days that never were on help on Sunday morning before.

Ok, I get it; folks are busy, stressed, or just too tired to even think about church.  This has resulted in a generation of people who are not necessarily anti-Christianity, they simply have not had any exposure to what a life of faith is all about.  The majority of this group has formed their opinion of what a Christian is based on how it is portrayed on television sit-coms.

This my fellow-believers, is our fault.  Somehow, in the busyness of our own lives, we have lost the attractiveness of what being a Christian should be.  Many of us, myself included, tend to ‘love others’ at our convenience.  In so doing and ever so subtlety, we have traded the command to love everyone for the desire to love ourselves first.  Said another way, once our wants our met, we can see to the needs of others.

When we profess faith in Christ, yet live with a ‘me first’ attitude, we fail miserably at obeying the Lord’s command to love others.  Our love of self limits our ability to experience the love God gives us.  With this restricted flow of heaven-sent love in us, we become far less appealing to the hurting world around us.

If we find ourselves falling into this trap, there is but one way out; ask God to forgive us our selfishness and restore to us the joy of His salvation.  This allows us to see our relationship to our Creator more clearly.  As we do, we bring our weakness in to the light; His light!

Remember, God is not a about condemnation when we screw-up.  What He is always doing is inviting us to enjoy a deeper life of fellowship with Him.  As we accept this invitation, we will find our ‘wants’ list to be greatly reduced in size as we realize our utmost need is being met.  Living in this freedom then allows more of the Father’s love to flow in to us, thus making us better able to love the world around us.  That appeals to me and it is what will make the life of obedience to Jesus appeal to others.

It’s simple really, just not easy.  But it is so wonderfully worth it! Let’s all make today the day we will take the Lord’s command to heart and love others as He has loved us.  In this way we can best make our appeal to those who don’t know Him yet.  For my part, I will pray blessings on that next driver who cuts me off, I’ll acknowledge the referees good work at the hockey game and joyfully join with my wife in our next project.

 

Death of a Salesman

 

My first job out of college was in retail sales.  I hated it.  No matter how much I knew about the product or how much I would reduce the price to entice a customer to buy, my sales figures never matched those of my colleagues.  As much as I struggled on the sales floor, my other primary duty was an absolute nightmare.  I had to design and implement both the window displays and the in-house sets that were to promote the latest and greatest items in the inventory.  Of the many things that I am not, being a flashy attention-grabbing designer is near the top.  You can imagine may trepidation whenever one of my regional managers showed up.  He or she was never satisfied with what I had done, and usually with good reason.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want the displays to look nice and improve sales, I just lacked that creative gift.

It has now been over twenty-five years since I left the world of retail sales, and I can honestly say I haven’t missed it one bit.  The frustration of not being able to improve my skills finally caused me to look for work elsewhere.

I found my niche in the workplace as a painter.  As you may have guessed, not as an artist, but rather a contractor.  With training and a great mentor in the trade, I learned to be quick about my work and extremely neat.  I relished the fact that I didn’t have to design anything, merely put the proper coating on it!  This skill set allowed me to work in nuclear plants, factory settings and finally on a maintenance crew at a local college.

While working my 40 or more hours a week, I also slowly completed my schooling and training (though the training is always on-going) to follow the call God has put on my life to be a pastor.

That’s quite a way from retail sales you might be thinking, but consider this.  I entered this stage of life with the enthusiastic approach of a new salesman because I now had the single best-ever product to promote: Jesus Christ! How could I miss with this material?

But miss I did.  I realize I’m not the most gifted public speaker, but with abundant research and the occasional funny and applicable story from my past, I thought I would at a minimum be able to inspire folks to want more of this Jesus.  Unfortunately, my preaching lacks the ability to really grab a hold of people.

Not to be discouraged, I approached small group leading and teaching with the conviction that if I took the time to really explain what we are studying from God’s Word, those in the group would dive in with me to plumb the deep truths of Scripture.  Again, I experienced only a limited return on my investment of time and study.

Doubt in my pastoral abilities and the persistent voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t any better at pastoring that I was at selling had me once again wondering if I had better find something else to try.  Maybe this unnamed something would finally be my ticket.

Before heading in a different direction, I decided to first to follow the advice I so often counsel with: Don’t make any big life changes without first earnestly praying about it.  With a fair amount of self-pity, I approached the throne of grace with my tail between my legs, telling God I was pretty useless in this kingdom business and that He better open us some other way for me to serve Him.

I chose the term ‘throne of grace’ for a reason.  It is exactly what I experienced! God in His unending grace listened to my pity-party.  Once I got it all out, He simply let me know that it was my “sales” approach that needed changing.  I came to realize I could talk a good game about what living life for Jesus meant, but these words are hollow unless they are backed up with living life as an example of what I was suggesting others do.

What freedom! What a release it is to live ministry instead of merely doing ministry.  To wrap up the salesman analogy, I had to wear the product I was showing, not just talk about it.  The practical application is simple, if not always easy.  The love I feel toward God has to be evident in more places than just my office or prayer room.  It must be the thing people remember about me after we have met or as we build a relationship.  Wearing this love can/should take many forms, but a short list ought to always contain: patience, compassion, willingness to listen and to help (outside of my comfort zone), forgiveness and kindness, to name just a few.

In the short time since God has begun revealing this to me, He has allowed me to see tangible results as people are responding to Him through me in some new and powerful ways.  I am deeply grateful to the Lord for His grace, gratified for the people who are growing in their faith and extremely pleased the old salesman has passed away.

What a Friend, Part 2

 

Many, myself included, have sung the wonderful old hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  As I prepared to preach a message recently on what the friendship offered by Jesus can mean to us, I did a little internet research into the origins of this classic.  What I story behind its writing!

The author of the lyrics is Joseph Scriven. He born in Ireland in 1820.  We pick his story up on the eve of his wedding.  Incredible tragedy strikes as his fiancé drowns that very night.  It was this trauma, coupled with some other family issues, that drove Joseph to discover salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

His life of trials continues after he moves to Canada.  He meets and falls in love with Eliza Roche and they become engaged to be married.  As hard as it is to believe, his wife to be got sick shortly before their wedding date and also passed away.

Faced again with the difficulty and pain of going on, Joseph begins to fulfill his life’s call by providing care for the elderly and other less fortunate folks.  Rather than wallow in self-pity, he opts instead to carry on with the work of God’s Kingdom.

It is during this time (1855) that he receives word that his mother is extremely ill back in Ireland.  He wrote the words to What a Friend We Have in Jesus to be an encouragement for her as she lay dying.  I have an incredible amount of respect for this man who allowed God to use him despite his personal struggles.

I’ve included the lyrics to this great song here.  Please consider them and note the Scripture references I’ve added. I hope it helps you, as it has me, to see the validity of the friendship Jesus offers today to each one of us.

  1. What a friend we have in Jesus,                 John 3:16-17
    All our sins and griefs to bear!
    What a privilege to carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
    Oh, what peace we often forfeit,                Philippians 4:6-7
    Oh, what needless pain we bear,
    All because we do not carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
  2. Have we trials and temptations?               John 16:33
    Is there trouble anywhere?
    We should never be discouraged—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Can we find a friend so faithful,               Hebrews 2:18
    Who will all our sorrows share?
    Jesus knows our every weakness;
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
  3. Are we weak and heavy-laden,                Matthew 11:28-30
    Cumbered with a load of care?
    Precious Savior, still our refuge—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?      John 15:18-19       
  4. Take it to the Lord in prayer!
    In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
    Thou wilt find a solace there.

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John 3:16-17: All our sins Jesus has taken on Himself that we might be saved! We find this at the beginning in order that we get it from the start!

And yet, I/we don’t live in the constant all-encompassing peace this friendship offers. Philippians 4:6-7

Part of the reason for our unease was foretold by Jesus: John 16:33

            Take heart= action required on our part

Faith= Has He overcome your world?

In Him, our Friend, we have peace

A friend knows what it feels like to . . . Hebrews 2:18

            Jesus knows what it feels like to go through whatever we’re going through. He can help (if we ask Him)

Still, we get weary.

Our Friend Jesus knows and tells us what to do Matthew 11:28-30

            “All you,” that’s you too!  When you allow Jesus to lead, we can find rest and peace

However, there’s no pink cloud here; John 15:18-19

Strong words about being hated, but true.  The world hates Jesus, the world sees Jesus in us, therefore the world hates us.

One other constant throughout this Hymn: Prayer.  Take everything to the Lord in prayer.  Open up, admit your needs, shortcomings and insecurity.  Your Friend Jesus cares for you and will care for your needs, if you ask and then let Him.

What do you think? Is Jesus a friend worth having?