Giving Life to a Dead Battery

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Our pastor preached on John 3:14-21 this morning. Included in this passage is the familiar verse John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

Pausing at these words, she then likened a life without Jesus to a car with a dead battery. This car, without a life-giving boost of electrical energy, will sit. It simply cannot function. Pastor Diane then went on to say that we can picture the forgiveness that Jesus offers us as jumper cables. They provide the connection between the power necessary to bring life to the lifeless vehicle. I love this analogy!

Throughout my early adult years and through my 30’s I drove a series of what we call here in Upstate New York winter rats. Generally speaking, these vehicles have seen better days. Road salt usually has eaten through a fair part of the body, while years of hard driving and neglectful maintenance have rendered them less than reliable modes of transportation. Their one positive is that they are inexpensive to purchase.

Because these cars I drove during these times were not consistently dependable, and after a few times of having to call someone to come jump my dead battery, I purchased a booster pack.

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This neat invention allows a person to jump start their own car without the help of another vehicle. The booster pack has its own set of pos/neg cables, so as long as you keep it charged up, it is available at a moments notice to transfer the life giving power within it to the dead battery.

As often happens with me when I get to thinking on these things, I carry the picture of jump-starting a car to my own life. It becomes easy to see that my life before Jesus was as dead as they come. Oh, I had all the working parts, but they existed without purpose or meaning. My spirit was without life. I was, without question, destined for the scrap heap as yet another vehicle that would no longer run.

God, by His wondrous grace, did for me what I could not: He attached His ‘cables’ of life to my dead terminals. He used the precious blood of the Savior Jesus Christ to bring life, true life, to me. Now I know that despite the various dents and faded paint on my ‘car,’ it is going to run forever because God has poured His eternal life into it.

As if that were not enough, I can picture God’s jumper-cables as more than a one and done connection. His power is absolute. It is unending and always available. All I need to do is recognize when my ‘battery’ starts to run low on power. I can then simply ask the Lord to plug that energy into me again. He has provided several options as to how I can do this.

I can get re-charged by reading the bible. The word of God has come from His very essence, therefore it contains all the power of the Almighty. I can also make this connection with God through prayer. He is available 24/7. All I need do is to come humbly to Him, speaking what is on my heart and listening for He has to reveal to me. Spending time in worship is another way I get a fresh influx of God’s power into my life. Praising Him simply for who He is and what He has done/is doing helps to align my spirit with His.

How about you? Do you have ways that help you connect to God’s infinite power. I would love to hear about them!

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

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

I’m in Pretty Good Shape (for the shape I’m in)

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I had a semi-annual check up with my primary care doctor yesterday.  Having gone through this twice-yearly ritual for some time now, I have refined my response to the well-meaning folks who ask how everything is with me by saying: ‘I’m in pretty good shape (pregnant pause), for the shape I’m in.’  This is met with the usual laughter/groan by those who have become accustomed to some of my of the wall statements.

Driving home from that appointment, however, a new thought occurred to me.  Was I looking for something more than a laugh when I gave this report of my condition? Maybe I use the supposed humor of my response as a defense mechanism? Per chance I’m giving myself the opportunity to believe the first part without giving any serious consideration to the second.

Now there was nothing earth-shattering revealed during my conversation with the doctor.  My lab report looked good, with the exception of the borderline high blood sugar count. (Understand, I have more than one sweet tooth). He advised me again that if I eat less of those tasty things, the number will come down.

Also, the same leaky valve is murmuring away in my ticker.  The most recent echo cardiogram reveals the condition has remained stable and only needs yearly exams.  Depending on whose blood pressure reading you go by, the nurse or the doc, my BP is either very good or borderline high.  The reminder given to my oft unhearing ear is that by losing of few of the extra pounds around my middle, these numbers too will get into better shape, pun intended!

All in all, this 6-month visit has confirmed that I am indeed in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in, physically.

But if you’ve read any of my other rambles in the blog-o-sphere, you know I can’t simply sign off on that note.  You see, no matter how disbelieving that guy in the mirror is, my next birthday brings me to number 60!  I am, with no morbidity intended, much closer to the end of my life than I am to its start.  Physically.  As much as I enjoy my life, and I do, the fact remains that the finish line is approaching.  And if I want to continue to enjoy it, I must begin to take a little more interest in the above-mentioned shape.

This cold reality has caused me to examine the shape that is not so readily seen, my spiritual well-being.  I have little trouble being forthright with my medical doctor.  Shouldn’t I be even more so with the Great Physician? Answer: Yes! There are many places in my heart and mind that I need to reign in.  Scripture tells me:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2a) NIV

and,

Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1b) NIV

I’ll spare you, for now, what these heart and mind  struggles are in order to focus on the wonderful truth that I have an Ultimate Caretaker in the person of Jesus Christ.  He is continually calling me to a life that more resembles Him than me.  Talk about the greatest gift ever! A loving, compassionate and holy God who so desires a thriving relationship with me/us that He set the incredible plan to make it available through the birth of His Son that we celebrate later this month.  Because of His saving grace, my spiritual well-being is eternally set!

I conclude this entry not as a doctor, or even a pastor, but simply as one who knows this God who loves me.  He has not only made me whole spiritually; He continues to do refining work to shape me into what He wants me to be.  So I ask, with loving concern, what kind of shape are you in with regard to your spiritual life? If this is an area you’ve never considered, may I suggest you find someone you trust to talk about it with you.

For you, Dear Reader, who is blessed to know the saving love of God, might you share a line or two on your spiritual fitness? I’d love to hear how you are doing, both the struggles and the victories, with the spiritual shape you are in as an encouragement to all of us.

Blessings to all and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck