A Real Shot in the Arm (for all of us)

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Because it was summer vacation, I was allowed to stay up to watch as Astronaut Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon. I heard him say, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” At 9 years of age those words did not mean a whole lot to me. I was simply awe struck that what seemed crazy or at least implausible was actually happening. There truly was a man on the moon.

As the years rolled on from my childhood, I have often made it a point to watch that first walk on the moon as it is replayed on its anniversary each year. As time has passed, I have come to understand and appreciate what Armstrong was saying as he stepped onto the lunar surface for the first time.

I thought about that famous quote the other day as I received my 2nd vaccination against Covid-19. Please understand, I do not put myself anywhere near the level of that famed astronaut. But as I looked around the large room where the others who had just been vaccinated sat for their 15 minutes of observation, I clearly saw the connection to July 20th, 1969.

Each person in that room had personally taken the small step toward helping themselves and their fellow humans. Individually, my being vaccinated will not have a far reaching effect, as my circle of contacts is quite limited. But that is not the point, and it was not was Neil Armstrong was saying either. Together, as we each take the small step to be vaccinated, we are coming together to help make the ‘giant leap for mankind’ in the fight against this pandemic.

So please, Dear Friends, take that small step when the vaccine becomes available to you.

As it was with my first shot, I had zero side-effects from the second, not even a sore arm.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Let’s Have Some fun

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In our topsy-turvy world, where there is seemingly always a crisis going on with several more lying in wait, I thought for today we ought to simply have some fun. I am not saying to bury our heads in the sand (or snow here), ignoring the issues of today. But I do believe we are all subject to burnout and disillusionment if we do not occasionally take a step back and have a little fun. That is the simple goal for my blog today. I’ll go first and after reading maybe you will feel like sharing some fun fact about yourself.

From 1999 through 2009 the United States Mint released quarters from all 50 states and the U.S. Territories. Like most people, I had one of those tri-fold holders to insert each new coin in.

Unlike most, I suspect, I decided from the start in 1999 to save all the Commemorative Quarters I came in possession of. Over time, I purchased three plastic containers with dividers that would separate each state from the others. When I get to $10 of a particular state, I roll them up, noting the date and what state this was and place the roll in a sturdy container. In keeping with my nerd-like tendencies, a journal is kept of each roll, with a graph of yearly totals. (2007 has single the largest total, 41, and South Carolina leads all individual states with a total of 20).

From humble beginnings, my fascination/obsession with these quarters has become known to many of my friends and of course my wife. She has faithfully turned over any she has received in change from the start. My kids are on board as well, each saving up ‘Dad’s quarters’ for when I get to see them in person. Some of my acquaintances from my old job still participate too.

Sadly, with the passing of time and as I  find myself doing more and more business online, the quarter supply has dwindled, to say nothing of the restrictions the Covid pandemic has placed on some of my discretionary spending, where getting at least one quarter in change is always a goal.

That being said, as of this writing, I have 416 rolls of these quarters in various boxes around our house (it is a good thing we do not have a basement, for they have gotten quite heavy!).

“What are you going to do with all these?” you might be thinking. My honest answer is that I don’t know. I have searched the internet for other ‘collector of bulk quarters’ like myself, but so far my search has come up empty. So until I find out, I can tell myself that I have the largest privately held collection of U.S Commemorative Quarters in the world! And if that claim doesn’t hold up, it is still a unique way to save some money.

So there you have it, Dear Reader, a quirky little insight into me. I hope it brings you a smile and a willingness to keep this going should you feel inspired to do likewise.

As always, be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Corrective Lenses

I remember the day long ago while riding in the backseat of the family car when I told my folks I couldn’t read the road signs we passed.  I was 10 years old and in the 5th grade.  My parents didn’t panic, they send a note to my teacher the next day asking that I be moved to the front row until they could get me an appointment with the eye doctor.  A week later I was given my first eye test (I could barely make out the large E on the top of the chart) and soon after those dorky looking black glasses became part of me.  Though thankfully the styles have changed, some 50 years later I am still wearing my glasses.

No surprise there, as that long-ago doctor had told my mother that I would need to wear them the rest of my life.  And if my blurry vision without them wasn’t reminder enough, my drivers license notes under Restrictions that I need corrective lenses to legally operate a motor vehicle as well.

Through the ensuing years I have gone to get my eyes re-checked when I notice things stating to getting fuzzy around the edges again and when advised to, I have purchased new glasses with a stronger prescription (and finally line-less bifocals to help in reading!).  I thank God for the technology and those who administer it so that weak-eyed people like me can have normal vision.

It is fair to say that my bad vision has been ‘fixed’ when I wear my eyeglasses.  When I think about this, I get a little better understanding of what the Bible says about fixing our eyes on the Lord. The author of the Book of Hebrews puts it this way:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 NIV).

Obviously, this is a different use of the word fix, but you get the idea.  Here’s my simple analogy: I ‘fix’ my weak eyes every time I don my glasses.  In regard to my faith, each time I stop to ‘fix’ my eyes on Jesus, I allow myself to see life with a clearer perspective.  Stopping to consider what the Savior of the world has done for a sinner like me gives me the ability to see the ‘eye-chart’ of life with greater clarity.  Though things will still be a little fuzzy around the edges, I can see perfectly through the eyes of faith that God is indeed in control.

Which brings me to the next thought about my vision as I ponder what the Apostle Paul wrote: For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV).  Is he saying I don’t need my corrective lenses after all? Did I waste all that money on exams and new specs all these years? Of course not! I would be foolish to go bumbling through life, tripping over unseen objects because I chose to not wear them.

But the Scripture plainly tells me to walk by faith.  Other translations render it we live by faith, so I rightly conclude, then, that it would also be foolish of me to stumble through life with compromised spiritual vision.  The question becomes: How to do this? I believe the answer lies in the ability to perceive more than just the surface of what is going on around me.  This is the fixing my eyes on Jesus part.

When all is well in my world, it can be quite easy for me to remember to thank and praise God for His care and abundance.  My spiritual vision, if you will, is operating just fine when I do this.  But what about when conditions are not to my liking? How do I see things if someone is in my face about something; or if my employer seems to be putting unreasonable tasks on me and no one else? How I perceive situations like these will go a long way in determining how well my eyes are fixed on Jesus.

For example, do I take immediate offense at being misused in the workplace? If I do, my eyes on squarely on me and my situation and the resultant affects on my life.  I’m not saying we have to be doormats, but I would suggest that we might make the effort to find out the root cause of the problem.  If that is not an option, here’s a better one: pray for the other person(s) involved.  For me, I find this very helpful because it takes my focus off of me and allows me to see the other person as someone who may have issues of their own.  Even better, I believe that all my prayers are heard.  What better way to find a solution to a problem or at least come to some common ground than by going to God Almighty, seeking His guidance.

Being honest, how well and often I follow my own advice varies from day to day.  What I gather from that fact is that my spiritual eyes need corrective lenses just as much as my natural ones do.  It only makes sense; with my glasses on, I pass every eye-test with 20/20 vision.  When I walk and live by faith, my spiritual vision is vastly improved as well.  I put my glasses on first thing each and every day and have done so for decades; now if only I could get into the same habit of fixing my eyes on Jesus!

How about you? Got any spiritual insight (pun intended) lessons to share? I’d love to see them.

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

Stormy Weather

Regular readers of mine are aware than I often mention current weather conditions in these jottings.  That’s because winters here in Central New York are usually noteworthy.  Where I am sitting, Lake Ontario often releases what is known as Lake-effect Snow.  I’ll save you the science lesson and simply say that the relatively warmer air flowing over the cold water of the lake produces these events.  Proof in point: we received about 12 inches of new lake-effect snow over- night.

Those who know me personally are also well aware of my angst when it comes to TV weather-people and their inability to forecast these snows (and most any other weather!) with any accuracy.  Locally televised weather reporting spends the majority of its time telling us what the weather was like over the previous 24 hours.  I lived it and don’t need a recap.  Please just tell me what is ahead!

But I really don’t want to rant on about the nice folks that report the weather on television.  After all, they are doing their job the way they are told to and the current procedure seems to bring in ample advertising dollars.

Besides, I have lived in this area all my life and as a bit of a weather geek, I am quite capable of formulating my own forecasts.  There is little that happens in the local weather here that surprises me.  Storms, be they lake-effect or other types, come and go; so I will keep my snowblower, shovel and chainsaw in good working condition.

There are other storms that I am still blindsided by, however.  These would be the far less meteorological ‘storms of life.’ They often come from out of nowhere and can rage on endlessly, upsetting the quiet calm that I so love.  Much like Jesus’ disciples felt fear when a sudden storm came up while they were in a boat together, I can quickly become unsure of things as a storm of life blows up around me.

Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:24-25 NIV)

We know that at least four of the disciples were experienced fishermen, yet the text seems to indicate that all twelve were fearful for their lives.  Sudden storms were not rare on the Sea of Galilee, but even so, this one appeared to be bad enough to bring a feeling of certain doom to the group.

Obviously, the storm the disciples were in was an actual physical emergency, whereas the personal storms I referenced above are usually relational/personal in nature.  Regardless, the lesson to be gleaned in how to deal with them is found in the disciples reaction.

Note first that they were not hiding how they felt.  They were scared to death! Their urgent plea to Jesus reveals this.  Not hindered by concern over admitting the fear they felt, the disciples exercised their best option; they ran to Jesus.  There was no trying to turn the boat around or maybe into the wind to stabilize it, they rushed to wake Jesus to save them.

The bible says that after Jesus chastised his guys for their lack of faith, he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm (Matthew 8:26).  Even though the disciples lacked a measure of faith, nonetheless the Lord granted their request as He miraculously silenced the wind, thus calming the sea.

Oh that I would run post-haste to Jesus when a storm of life blows up around me! The disciples did and their problem was solved.  Do I believe things happened the way they are recorded in this passage? Absolutely! Do I believe Jesus can and does still speak into the circumstances of people’s lives when they run to Him seeking comfort? Indeed I do!

So why is it I don’t always follow the example of what the disciples did on that stormy boat ride when life throws a storm at me? Is it a lack of faith? Sometimes.  I know I trust my salvation completely on Jesus, no doubt.  But being honest, there are times when I think what is happening to me is somehow off of His radar and I’ll go tearing off looking for advice or a quick cure or just a metaphoric shovel to bury whatever it is that is troubling me.

The usual result of these efforts for my part is the opposite of what the disciples experienced when they sought the help of Jesus.  What can I do? I can put myself in that boat with them, meaning I can confess my fear, uncertainty, etc. and swallow my pride and say, “Lord, I’m going to drown” in this.  Please help me.”

How about you.  What fears do you have? Are there things you struggle with and yet don’t bring them to the Lord? Why? I’d love to hear from you and how/if God has calmed the seas of your life.

It’s Personal: Part 3

 

Though the Christmas season is filled with joy and excitement for many, it isn’t that way for everyone.  As I stated in part one of this series, I have been given the honor of speaking at several gatherings recently that recognize this fact.  The first was a Hospice Commemoration service, where families who have lost a loved one over this past year gathered to remember family members and friends who have departed this world.  These folks came together to support one another in their shared grief and to hear the words of hope that our All-loving God has for us.  The other gathering was similar, where the entire community was invited to a ‘Blue Christmas’ service.  Again, people were encouraged to recognize the loss and emptiness this season can bring as loved ones are missed.  In both I used Psalm 23 as a means of expressing God’s love and care for these tender and hurting hearts.

I’ve broken this blog into smaller parts (knowing how busy we all can be), to allow you, my friends, the opportunity to read each one in its entirety.  Each one has attempted to bring to light the personal quality of the relationship God extends to those under His care.  Let’s consider the last two verses of this wonderful Psalm today:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (NIV)

Once again, please note the personal way David, the author, addresses God.  In the first four verses he recognizes the deeply caring relationship the Shepherd has for His sheep.

Moving ahead to verse five, the table being prepared isn’t like what we would call to mind in the West with linen and silverware.  The table referenced in the psalm would most likely be a flat area of ground where the shepherd could inspect each sheep individually.  If a wound was discovered during this exam, oil would be poured on it to cleanse it and to promote healing.  Saying that this is done in the presence of enemies tells us that we are truly safe and secure under the watchful eye of the Great Shepherd!  Even when we think we are most vulnerable, the Lord has us protected all the way round.

David concludes his thoughts in verse six by stating the ‘now and not yet’ promises of God: Saying that surely (which might be better translated as always) goodness and love will follow him all his days is living in the realization of God’s promise to never leave or forsake His children.  And writing that he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever speaks of the eternal promise of heaven for all those whose faith is in the saving power of God.  Though the appearance of Jesus on the earth was still many centuries away, David believed that God was going to provide a way for mankind to be with Him forever.  Those of us living on the other side of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have seen this promise come to fruition.

According to the NIV Cultural Background Bible, the metaphor in Psalm 23 of a shepherd was a royal one, with connotations of strong leadership but tender care. I can give personal testimony of having received this kind of tender leadership from the Lord.  He has met every need I have ever had.  As He cares for the sheep in Psalm 23, I can relate in His watch over me.

Because of this, I have learned it’s ok to be a sheep.  I know they get the rap of not being very smart animals, but haven’t I displayed a similar lack of sense in many of my thoughts, actions and words? By acknowledging I have some sheep-like tendencies, I therefore must admit that I need a shepherd to guide me.  Sheep, like me, will never make it alone.

I need the loving guidance that God freely provides.  Only He can fully heal all my hurts.  It is Jesus, whose birth we celebrate this month, who is the Great Shepherd.  It is His personal touch that leads us to the pastures He has for us and His personal care that reveals His love.  He is our comfort, our protector and our Savior.  He takes you personally, I invite you to do the same with Him.

It’s Personal: Part 2

 

Before we dive into Part 2, allow me to thank everyone who takes the time to read/comment on the thoughts I share.  It warms my heart that you would choose to spend some of your precious time with me.  As always, your thoughts and constructive criticism are welcome.  I only want to honor God in this venue; any suggestions you might have to help me do so will be greatly appreciated.

In Part 1 of this series we looked at the first three verses of the 23rd Psalm.  In them we discovered God describing His caring relationship toward us as a shepherd tending to his flock.  This truly is awe inspiring when we consider it is the Creator of everything who extends to each of us individually His care, guidance and protection.

This time let’s consider verse 4 (if you have a bible nearby it may be helpful to re-read all six verses of the psalm first).  There is a big change when we reach verse 4.  David, the author, is no longer talking about the Great Shepherd, he is talking to Him!

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4 NIV)

Verse 4 begins with the recognition of the darkness that often engulfs us in this life.  The shadow can refer to physical death and the sadness it brings, or any other challenge in our life that wants to turn our attention away from God.  Grief can certainly be a culprit, just as disappointment and discouragement can be as well.

One of the important things to remember, especially when sadness and loss want to overwhelm you is that Lord, as your personal Good Shepherd, never leaves you.  The times in my life when I couldn’t/wouldn’t sense His presence was because I allowed circumstances to interfere with my awareness of Him.  One of the many awesome characteristics of our Shepherd is His omnipresence, He is always everywhere all the time.  I can’t explain it, I just know it to be true through faith.

Much as the psalmist now recognizes the personal presence of the Lord, we must too.  Acknowledging His presence doesn’t mean we simply bury our heads in the sand with regard to our pain.  To the contrary, being aware of the loving guidance of our Shepherd ought to encourage us to open our hearts to Him.  Verse 4 states that I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Here is another key point for us: We are to walk through this valley.  In other words, keep moving! Don’t get stagnant and wallow in a pool of self-pity.  Yes, the loss and pain you feel hurts.  Let it hurt, but don’t allow yourself to get comfortable in your pain.

We need to then find the way that works best for us to deal with our hurt or loss.  The best example of how to do this can be found in what David wrote next; I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Fearing no evil tells us to have complete trust in God, that His very presence as our Shepherd is the balm we need for our wounds.  His rod and His staff comfort us as well.  These are the tools the shepherd used to protect his flock from danger.  The rod was a club used to beat back predators.  The staff was used to guide the sheep along the right path and was also used at days end to count each sheep as it passed into the pen.

For us to know this level of godly care, we must allow the imagery of the shepherd protecting and caring for his flock to bring us comfort.  Our Great Shepherd knows exactly how to guide us so that we can live in His peace.  He can care for every wound we might receive as we occasionally veer off the path He makes for us.  It is this level of personal care that only God could extend to each of us.

If you are aware of your personal Shepherd’s presence today, I rejoice with you! If, however, you are not in that place, I gently remind you of how the Lord feels about the sheep that have wondered: He leaves the ninety-nine in safety to go retrieve the one missing.  Why? Because it’s personal; to Him as well as us.

It’s Personal: Part 1

 

Over the next several weeks, I will have the privilege of speaking at two events.  The first will be a commemoration service for the local Hospice organization I volunteer at and the other is a Blue Christmas church service.  At each the focus of my message will be the hope that God brings to people in their darkest hours.  I have endeavored to pray, study and meditate on the familiar words of Psalm 23 in order to share what I have discovered and experienced about God’s comfort in the context of His promise to care for us always.

For my blog, I imagine this will be broken into several different entries and as always, your feedback is desired and appreciated.

As it is rendered in the New International version, Psalm 23 begins:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down on green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

That the relationship offered by God is personal can be seen here at the very start: The Lord is my shepherd (emphasis added).  He’s not just someone else’s shepherd, He is mine! Think about that.  The God of the universe, creator of absolutely everything, considers you important enough to be your personal shepherd.

With the LORD as my Shepherd, I can also experience the wonder of having all my needs met.  I read this in verse 1 as it tells me I won’t have any wants.  Logically, this informs me that with my needs met, there won’t be any wants.  Being honest, I don’t always live in the midst of this promise.  My mind can often wander, considering how nice it might be to own this or to have that.  Usually, and thankfully, God will grab my attention back from dreaming about these totally non-essentials.  When He does, I re-set my focus on Him.  As I do, He then makes more of His peace available to me as I again realize the abundance of gifts I receive while under His care.

In some ways, I find this personal relationship that God offers mind-blowing.  After all, what do I bring to it? It’s when I realize, again, that it’s all about Him and not about me, that the idea of the Lord being my Shepherd resonates deeply within me.

Continuing with the example of Psalm 23, verses 2 and 3 are further expressions of God’s personal care for His sheep.  Sheep won’t lay down when they are hungry and also will not drink from fast moving water.  Once again, the psalmist is telling us that our needs are being met by the Great Shepherd.

To me, these are clear indications of God’s caring heart toward those who would follow Him.  But before going any further, let me ask, “Are you o.k. with being a sheep?” Sheep are totally dependent creatures.  They can’t fend for themselves and on their own they are no match for predators.  They’re not known for being overly smart.

I’m not suggesting that we simply lay about in the natural, waiting for someone to come and take total care of us.  On the contrary, we are to see not only to our needs but also to the care of others (Philippians 2:3-4 has more on this).  Rather, it is in the spiritual realm that me must trust and rely upon God alone for our care.  It is when I muster this child-like faith that I can more fully realize the working of God around me. In my opinion it certainly is o.k. to be a sheep in God’s fold, because His faithfulness to me (and many others) has taught me this!

In closing for this time, please consider what we read in verse 3, he restores my soul.  The simple implication here is that we have a soul that needs to be restored! Does yours? Mine certainly needs it from time to time.  Once again, the Great Shepherd is the One who can/will accomplish this for us.  His is an all-inclusive care package.  A member in God’s flock can have the joy and peace that only He can provide and remember, this is not a cookie-cutter, one size fits all peace, it is personal! Created and molded for each one individually, the perfect fit from the Perfect One, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.