Being a Citizen of Heaven

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I recently preached a message based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, 3:17-4:1. In it the Apostle marks a stark difference between those who do not follow God from those that do. In stating this difference, he used a phrase that piqued my interest and was the motivation behind this message.

Paul talks about this difference in this way:

            … many live as enemies of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their   stomach, and their glory is their shame. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. (vv. 18b-20a)

Citizenship in heaven? What does that entail? As I pondered this, I began to consider what it is to be a citizen of the country I live in, the United States.

The Declaration of Independence states that all of us are created equal, that we are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.                                                                                     

Like many, I suppose, I have a tendency to take these rights for granted. I am attempting to stay more aware of these things so that I might be better attuned to try to effect change for those who are not being treated equally.

As I think about my rights and responsibilities with regard to being a citizen of heaven, I find that here as well I am a work in progress.

Considering your heavenly citizenship will call you to think and act in ways that will seem contrary to the world around you. And though it will present its own unique set of challenges for each of us, our goal is to simply stay aware of what I’m calling: dual citizenship. Attempting to keep our hearts and mind focused on Christ will, even if it is ever so slowly, work change into us. It is a process.

The process of transformation that Paul mentions in the letter to the Philippians is an on-going event. You and I are being transformed into the image of Christ. Image: something like or reflecting the presence of. I’m not saying that we are to walk piously around with our hands folded.

In fact, the very opposite. Citizenship in heaven does not negate our responsibilities to our fellow humans (and all of creation)! A heart and mind focused on Christ and living as a citizen of heaven should be helping to open our eyes to the world around us. The process of transformation, as it brings us closer to the heart of God, will make our hearts more compassionate. It will show us things to pray for, always a good first response! It will allow you to see with concern the pain or suffering or uncertainty of another without also casting a judgment about them or their condition or its cause. For some, it will inspire toward actions that seek not only the relief of symptoms, but will work for change that can eliminate some of the systemic things that plague us still today.

To sum up, being an active participant as a citizen of heaven will allow us to get closer to the heart of Jesus that Luke talks in the gospel that bears his name. In the 13th Chapter he quotes Jesus as saying that He has often felt as a mother-hen as He laments over Jerusalem. This is a loving and tender picture of a mother-hen gathering and protecting her brood under her wings. This was Jesus’ desire for those who opposed the kingdom of heaven then. I firmly believe it still is today. Jesus invites everyone under the protective wings of God, that includes you and me. May we all, in this Lenten season and beyond, allow that on-going transformation to take place in us; that we grow in our love for God, realizing the blessing of being a child of the Almighty. And may this growing awareness increase our own hearts capacity and willingness to love. With our true desire being to simply honor God as we live in the reality of being a citizen of heaven even as we still live as citizens in the world today.  Amen.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Masks

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We’ve been wearing and removing masks for a long time now. But it is not the N-95 type I want to talk about now. Instead, I ask you to consider some of the other masks we wear at times, masks that are not easily seen, but all too often just as real.

Sometimes I wear a mask to veil my emotions. It is an easy one to wear. You ask me simply, “How are you?” My reply, “Just fine, thanks.” Nothing too terribly earth shattering about this mask, unless we wear it as a defense mechanism all the time.

No, 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 God’s likeness day by day. No mask should hide this progress. Yet, speaking for myself, I must admit that I do put on various masks from time to time 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. Much like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, my preoccupation with something ‘more important’ can cause me to give a wide birth to a need I might see.

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. It is like the old 2 filter HEPA mask I wore when doing industrial painting: I had my own ‘fresh air’ supplied and didn’t want anything to contaminate it.

This mask of self-satisfaction 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. This mask would have me say, “If they would only work a job, they wouldn’t be so poor.” This makes it too easy to categorize people instead of searching for ways to help them in their immediate need and to work for change that would prevent systemic poverty.  Wearing this mask can prevent me from seeing others simply as another sojourner here on earth as I attempt to rationalize my lack of response to their need. An ugly mask indeed.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Much as the protective mask prevalent today hides some 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 a disciple of Christ.

Because we keep ourselves hidden behind these types of masks, we are hindered from truly seeing and loving those around us. To the extent we stay behind these veils is to the extent we do not care for creation. These masks can blind us to the needs of those we term as ‘different.’ Or ‘difficult’ or even ‘an enemy.’ They can prevent us from seeing the poor, the needy and the hungry. Perhaps even worse, wearing the mask that judges others may well keep us from seeing the shining face of Jesus on them.

Peter, John and James got an up close and personal look at the glory of God with no barrier at the Transfiguration. Peter’s reaction: “Let’s stay here!” is understandable, but not practical and certainly not why God allowed them to see the incredible sight of the Transfiguration. We do sometimes have ‘mountain top’ experiences in our walk of faith. There is a certain appeal to wanting to stay in that moment, to not risk losing what it is that is going so wonderfully.

But staying on the mountaintop is not what we are commissioned to do. We are to come down, hopefully with our faces aglow, sharing God’s love with the world around us.

Now I have never been witness to anything like the Transfiguration, or have I? For sure, I have not seen Jesus engaged in conversation with Moses and Elijah, but that fact should not dull my eyes to the activity of God around me.

For example, can I/we not see God at work when we marvel at a newborn child/grandchild? Isn’t God’s light shining brightly when we witness someone caught in addiction getting set free from it? Or when we see reconciliation where there has been long-term strife perhaps in family members speaking to each other after a time self-imposed separation. Or how about when someone is able to truly forgive another who has seriously broken trust with them.

Be it in examples like these or others you may have been privy to, I encourage us all to shine radiantly from a fresh experience with God. How? First, let’s discard all the masks I mentioned at the beginning. Being judgmental or uncaring are certain ways we can hide the love of God from others (and ourselves).

Next we need to overcome the fear that might be there. Ridding those negative masks may appear to make us vulnerable or at least more transparent. Recognizing these feelings does not mean we are held captive to them. Rather, letting the love of God shine from you radiantly is taking a step out in faith. I firmly believe that the God who has showered grace on us will not leave us high and dry as we do.

The God who loves you so much does not want you to be inactive in your reaction to that love. As God continues to come down to us through the Sacraments and the Word, so we are to ‘come down,’ if your will, and live our life of faith in the midst of our own context. Live into the love God has freely given you. Then let the love from God lead you in all you do, making your entire countenance glow. Don’t mask that in any way, but rather let that love shine as a beacon of hope for all. Amen.

Be Blessed and be a Blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Signs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

A Day is Like a Thousand Years

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According to the most recent statistics from hospicenews.com, the average length of time a person was under hospice care in the United States was 77.9 days during 2018. That is just a tick over 2 and a half months. I have always had an affinity for numbers, as I find they help me in my expectations and plans.

This is well and good for most of the mundane activities and sports that I enjoy. However, I have found that God pays little attention to the conclusions that we draw from our statistical findings.

Never up to this point in ministry have the words of St. Peter rung more true to me: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:8 NIV)

This tells me that it is God who created time for us. He is outside of its restrictions and constrictions. But we, like all living things, need the passing of minutes, days, weeks, etc. to help us mark time for the things of this life. In His infinite wisdom God set time in motion the way He has for our benefit. He works to a far different schedule than us, hence the helpful description of time passing by Peter as mentioned above.

I mention all this as a little background as I now tell you about Mrs. M. She was one of the first patients I had as a Pastoral Care Provider for our local hospice organization. When we first met, she had been given the prediction from her doctor that she had 2 to 4 months to live, well within the established length of time for most hospice patients.

The thing is, this was going to be an great example of God not heeding our statistical knowledge. I was invited into Mrs. M’s home in March of 2018! I just received word late last evening that she had been called home to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her expected 2.5 months of hospice care turned into just over 3 more years of life!

And please understand, she was not merely checking the days off as they went by. In those early months after I first met her, she was still mobile and enjoying many of the things in life. She spent time with her large and extended family members, went shopping and got out to play her beloved bingo as well.

But most importantly, Mrs. M. spent much of that time deepening her relationship with Jesus Christ. It was an honor for me to be a part of this.

To be clear, in my role as Pastor in hospice, my primary focus is to provide spiritual care for the patient and any family member that chooses to join. I am not to be overtly Christian in my approach, but rather simply listen with care and provide support in ways that are appropriate to each situation.

That is not to say I cannot share faith, but that I cannot lead with it. However, there are not restrictions placed on me should the patient have questions, thoughts or concerns about Christianity.

Mrs. M. made this abundantly simple for me. At our first meeting, after introductions around, she asked me, “What happens to me when I die?” Talk about an open door to expressing and sharing the love of Christ! As I began to explain what the Bible teaches us of our need for a Savior, I learned that she had trusted Jesus for her salvation by accepting His forgiveness for her sins some years ago. Like many folks, however, her knowledge of the possibilities of what that relationship with Jesus could mean to her in the here and now was limited.

From that point on, our once or twice meetings per week were mostly spent on exploring the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the Scriptures. What I was so honored and humbled to see was how Mrs. M. lived out these truths. As her many visitors stopped into chat when I was there, she never missed the opportunity to invite them to join us in discussion and prayer. The love, compassion and care she lavished on these folks, regardless of how she was feeling on any given day, continues to inspire me to be my best for God when I am given the chance to.

Watching God bless Mrs. M. in so many ways is one of the greatest gifts He has ever given me. As a matter of fact, after 12 months, the hospice agency re-evaluated her condition and released her from their care. She remains the only graduate of hospice this side of eternity I have ever known!

This ending with hospice did not cut our relationship short, thankfully. By this time, my wife Betsy and I were in there home on Sunday evenings leading bible studies and worship. As time went on, more and more family and neighbors were invited to join Sunday Night Church, as she lovingly called it. Again, the abundance of God’s blessing is incredible.

I have learned so much from her over these past 3 years with the single most important one being to follow the instruction of God: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

I conclude these thoughts today by asking for your help in carrying the love of God forward as my dear Mrs. M. did without reservation. Please take the time today to let someone know how much you care for them. It does not need to be anything special, maybe just a call or a walk across to street to check in on a neighbor. Or perhaps there is a family member you are in tension with. With the love of God in your heart and mind, be the one to set the those issues aside long enough to simply let them know that you care about them.

Thank you and may you be inspired by Mrs. M. as I have been.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Thank You, Jesus

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There are so many thoughts running through my mind this Resurrection Sunday as I consider again just what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for the world. The joy, awe and wonder are as fresh this morning as they were the many years ago when the Savior revealed to me His plan for saving my life, eternally. And yet, there is a sadness in me as well as I consider those near and dear to me who have rejected the love of Christ. Amidst the abundant joy in my heart there are sections that are broken for these people. In many of these cases I have attempted in my limited way to share what God has done for me with them in hopes they would grasp the availability of that same love for themselves.

But this is not a day for discouragement! Today my sole focus is on the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. With this in mind, I would like to share a list (by no means in total) of the things I am grateful for because of the saving power of God as it has been revealed through Christ’s ultimate victory over death. As you read, I ask you to do two things. First, reflect in your own way the ramifications of Jesus’ resurrection on your life. And secondly, be intentional about living out a life of thanksgiving for the incredible gift He has given you, so that others may be attracted to God’s light through you.

Where do I start such a list of things I am thankful for because Jesus rose from the dead to forgive us? The totality of His mercy shown to sinners like me (us) is mind-boggling. So in no particular order, here goes:

  • Thank you, Jesus, for taking my place on that cross. You bore my sin in your body out of obedience to the Father and your love for me. Because of Your resurrection, You have defeated death and offered eternal life to all. You knew that there was no earthly way I/we could earn or deserve the Father’s mercy. So instead you demonstrated grace saturated in love to bring us to God.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the hope you bring to us because of the above. You have not only supplied, at great cost to Yourself, the way out of our eternal predicament, but because You have, I can be filled with hope in the here and now. I do not have to wait until physical death to be with You. Instead, because of Your love, I can be in a nurturing relationship with You now! This developing relationship carries with it the security of Your ever-present care and protection, for You have promised to never leave nor forsake those who follow You.
  • Thank you, Jesus, of your on-going obedience to the Father, even after Your resurrection. By appearing to over 500 people, You made it known beyond doubt that You had come back to life.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for fulfilling the promise of sending the Holy Spirit after You ascended to heaven. And thank you, Holy Spirit, for Your on-going fulfillment of the Father’s work here on earth. You make the Scriptures come to life and You encourage the Church to fulfill its part in God’s plan as well as You move individual members to walk in obedience to Him.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the many, many people You have placed in my path that have helped me to see You with greater clarity. These Saints are far to great in number to list individually here, but if you are/were a part of my life in Christ, I praise and thank God for you.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the opportunities to serve You and make Your name known in the world today. Please help me to always remember that obedience to You is a matter of great joy to You, as it should be for me as well!
  • And thank you, Jesus, for the Scriptures. They truly are alive and active, filled with the very essence of the Father. May I/we in our gratitude for them continue to learn from them.

As I said, this is by no means a completed list, but I do believe it gets to the heart of the matter: I/we owe a debt to our Savior that we cannot repay. Yet out of His ever-loving heart, He has paid it for us. May we, in the lingo of today, take this love and ‘pay it forward’ in humility, love and gratitude.

May the blessings of the Resurrection of Jesus be deeply known to you today,

Pastor Chuck

An Angry Jesus?

Jesus Cleanses the Temple
(image courtesy of cagnz.org)

No April Fool’s joke here, the Scriptures that describe the events leading to the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus give us two examples of an angry Jesus.

When last we spoke, adoring crowds welcomed Jesus as He entered Jerusalem. The building excitement of His ministry seemed destined to conclude with Him being crowned King of the Jews. The events in the narrative of the following days do little to disprove the people’s belief that their earthly king was about to take his crown.

Picking up the story in Mark’s Gospel at Chapter 11, verses 12-19, we find evidence of an angry Jesus. It is now the following morning, and Jesus and His disciples are walking back to Jerusalem. Along the way, the author tells us Jesus was hungry and walked toward a fig tree, hoping to find something to eat. As He reached it, the Lord saw that it had only leaves and no fruit. Seemingly angry, Jesus then says to the fig tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (Mark 11:14 NIV)

We see another example of an angry Jesus later that same day as He entered the temple in Jerusalem. If you will recall, these were the days leading up to the important celebration of Passover. Many Jewish pilgrims would have been in Jerusalem for this event, fulfilling their vows in the temple. Those travelers who did not have the appropriate animals with them for the sacrificial rituals would have to buy them from opportunistic sellers in the courtyard of the temple. Also, because these people came from some great distances, the currency they used in their home village would not be usable at the temple. Therefore, money-changers were also doing a brisk business there.

Jesus comes upon this scene and angerly disperses these merchants, saying, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17 NIV) It is not difficult to close your eyes and picture the scene: mass confusion as small animals, various coins and bewildered worshipers are scattered about.

I don’t know about you, my Most Appreciated Readers, but I rarely spend much time contemplating an angry Jesus. I would much rather picture Him smiling at small children, teaching in the countryside or performing one of His many documented miracles. Yet, there is no denying that the Jesus told of here in Mark Chapter 11 is an angry one. And as I was taught early on, “if it is in the bible, it is important.”

What, then, is up with an angry Jesus? One view might be that He simply was under considerable pressure. His earthly time of ministry was coming to a close with a horrible, painful death on the horizon. I know that when I am feeling mounting expectations, I often can act more rashly by lashing out at things and people.

This is understandable with me, a foible human. But what about Jesus, the Son of God. Why not quietly point out to the temple vendors the issues He had with them and for that matter, how about miraculously make figs appear on that leafy tree?

The Withered Fig Tree - St. George's Church Burlington
(Image courtesy of stgeorgesonline.com)

Allow me to share an opinion or two on these occurrences. With the fig tree, I believe it would have been self-serving of the Lord to feed Himself in this way. Jesus had the power of heaven at His command, and He had used it wisely throughout His time on earth as a means to point people toward God the Father. It simply would not have been appropriate to manufacture a ‘to go’ meal with this power.

Also, as we read on, we find that Jesus and His disciples walk the same path to Jerusalem the next day. On it they see the fig tree in question, and it is withered. Jesus uses this to point out that those who were merely doing ‘religious things’ for their own profit were like this tree; lifeless in spirit and producing mothing of worth.

By clearing the temple in the manner in which He did, I believe Jesus was sending a strong and clear message about how we are to worship God. As He expelled the merchants and bankers, Jesus left no doubt as to what the priority is to be for those who claim to worship God: He alone is worth our undivided devotion. The temple was not to be a market, but rather a place where the world is set aside in order that focus could be placed solely and properly on the Father.

These emotional outbursts, if you will, serve another important point as well. Earlier I mentioned how it is I normally picture Jesus. These thoughts and images are of a loving Savior, who willingly sets aside everything in order that He reach the hearts of people. While this is a true picture of the Lord, it is not a complete one.

Along with being all-loving, the Savior is also perfect and holy. His justice is perfect always. His character cannot be impugned, nor should anyone doubt the complete honesty and consistency of His actions in dealing with creation.

I believe it to be essential in our spiritual growth to maintain this more complete picture of who and what God is, for it is in His perfection that we can completely place our trust. As we consider more of His character, we become able to better understand His love for us.

Yes, He is all-loving. But it is in the completeness of His nature that this total love can best be seen. He is holy. There is no part of Him that can abide with sin in any form. Yet, He loves us infinitely.

This is a love we cannot hope to earn, and blessedly, we do not have to. God, in His total wisdom, knows full well that you and I can never perform enough pious acts to win our way into His grace. Therefore, because His loves knows no bounds, He simply loves us because we are His creation.

This universal love was/is on display clearly upon the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion. The fullness of deity is found in Jesus (Colossian 2:9-10). He was both fully God and fully human as He walked the earth. This fullness includes everything we have considered here today, and so very much more.

Please take a few moments this week as you prepare to celebrate the Resurrection to consider more deeply the full nature of the God who saves.

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

Faith and 20/20 Hindsight

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We’ve all heard the adage, ‘hindsight is 20/20.’ Even though our look back can still be skewed, things are often clearer as we consider the course of past events.

Joseph, the son of Jacob, was an important figure in the Book of Genesis. As one picks up his story near the end of that book, you find that his father is now dead, and his brothers have come to him to apologize for the contemptible way they had treated him. For review, Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, which caused his older half-brothers to be extremely jealous of him. They plot to kill young Joseph but instead settle on selling him into slavery.

Joseph had many trials as a slave; to say nothing of being abandoned by his family. Genesis records the ups and downs of his life.  Finally, he becomes a very powerful person in Egypt, rising to the number two person in power there, subject only to Pharaoh. He plans for and then administers the food he had set aside during a wide-spread famine in such a way that many lives are spared.

The narrative tells of Joseph brothers coming to beg food. They do not recognize him as their brother. Still, he takes care of them. Sometime later, after their father Jacob has died, the brothers come to him again.

Here is the account of part of what Joseph said to his brothers at that meeting which can be found in Genesis 50:20:

            “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (NIV)

Here we see clear evidence that Joseph had 20/20 vision as he looked back over the events of his life. He recognized that everything that happened to him was part of God’s overall plan for his life. Joseph makes a great testimony to the sovereignty of the Almighty.

The question I ponder as I consider Joseph’s life is this: Did he have that same insight about God’s plan as the bad things were happening to him? Was he able to keep his chin up and say, “It’s alright, God is working out part of His great plan through what is happening to me.”?

If I put myself in Joseph’s place, I do not see me saying those things as they occur. Being threatened with murder and then abandoned by my family would most certainly evoke anger with a dose of desiring revenge sprinkled in.

However, I will gladly admit that the passage of time has helped to attune me somewhat with God’s plan as it has unfolded in my life. I can see more clearly now that much of what I have gone through, self-inflicted as it was, has been used by our Heavenly Father to mold me into a more useful instrument for Him today.

I have concluded that we are not given the day to day thoughts of Joseph for good reason. This allows us to work through our own stuff. What needs to be constant is our focus on God, not on our circumstance.

God is true to His word. He is working all things for good: His good! We ought to be honored and humbled that He chooses to give us a role to play in the grand scheme of things. I’m not saying this makes everything easy to go through, but experience is helping me to learn that the more I trust God in the midst of the storms of life, the less turbulent are the seas.

The apostle Paul sums this up for us in his letter to the Romans in verse 28 of Ch. 8: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

The word translated as know used by Paul in this verse carries with it the idea of coming to know and understand something and then to put that information to use. For me, and hopefully you, Faithful Reader, this is a great teaching point. We are to see our current circumstance or those formational parts of our lives as being parts of God’s greater plan. I do not know why this often includes going through trials and pain. But I can say from my own experiences that it is the seasons of pain and uncertainty that have been the ones that have brought me closer to Him.

Admittedly, I usually don’t come to the point of understanding until I’ve gone through what it is I am going through. I am learning through them all to trust more and more in God’s care, which is, I believe, the point Paul makes as we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.

Seen in this light, the occurrences of our life are not just random and scatter-shot, but are actually all part of an intricate plan sculped by our all-powerful and knowing God.

Today, I am grateful that with the help of my eyeglasses my vision looking forward is 20/20.  Yet even more this, I am eternally grateful that God is revealing to me that His care, love and protection are infinitely perfect today as they were yesterday and will be going forward.

Blessings to you and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Don’t be a Blockhead

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Like millions of others, I am a fan of Charlie Brown. I still make time to watch the Christmas and Halloween specials each year when they are aired on network T.V. Again, like so many, I find it easy to empathize with this shy character and inwardly cringe at the insult, “You’re a blockhead, Charlie Brown,” every time I hear it, especially considering CB didn’t deserve to be called that.

That really is quite the insult as it questions the intelligence of the target. There is no mistaking the intent when that word is thrown at someone; it is a direct put down.

Jesus, being more polite than most, didn’t use quite that term when he called Peter out for something he had said. But make no mistake, the Lord wanted to get his disciple’s attention when in response to Peter’s claim that Jesus should never go through with the idea of being put to death. The last thing I ever want to hear from the Son of God is, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” (Matthew 16:23 NIV).

Leaving alone the fact that Jesus refers to Peter, the man one paragraph above this quote He said He was going to use as the rock on which He would build His church, as Satan; the Lord tells the befuddled Peter that he is a stumbling block to the salvation plan.

It might have hurt Peter less if Jesus had called him a blockhead instead of a stumbling block. The word the Lord said Peter was to Him meant that he was an obstacle to a cause. From this word we get the word scandalous today. Of all the things I can think Jesus might call me, being an obstacle to His plans is not one I want to hear. Causing a scandal over Jesus by something I erroneously have said, even less so.

And not to omit that Jesus referred to one of His devoted followers as Satan, we must consider (as always!) the context of the narrative. What Peter said, in what the Bible says was in the form of a rebuke, sounded awfully close to what Satan had said to Jesus as he tempted the Lord in the desert just after His baptism. Satan had shown Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, telling Him he could be ruler over them all, if only the Lord would worship him. Like Peter, Satan was saying Jesus could avoid the awful suffering awaiting Him by taking a softer, easier way to His destination.

Jesus would have none of that from the devil, and He certainly didn’t want to entertain the idea from Peter. God had/has/will have the perfect plan; we need to trust that in order to not stumble into the way of it being carried out.

Somewhat easier said than done, however, for me anyway. After all, I make most of my plans after some thought, looking into possible outcomes as best I can. I do not think I would ever intentionally be a stumbling block to anyone, let alone the Lord Jesus Christ and His plans.

Still, if I go about my most careful planning without seeking any divine direction or influence by not praying about it, I can in fact have the outcome of that plan be something that causes a stumble off the Lord’s path; and it’s me who would be the most likely to trip and fall because of it!

Like many, I do most of my best learning from my mistakes, and having the occasional stumble-block result from my ideas has helped me to eliminate some of my tendency to make similar mistakes again.

So, if I were not to learn from my errors and slips in the past, I could be aptly called a blockhead after all!

Blessings and thanks from reading,

Pastor Chuck

What, me worry?

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(image courtesy of jokes-battles.wikia.com)

Many of my generation grew up reading Mad magazine. Therefore the iconic face of Alfred E. Neuman was not only easily recognized, many of us tried to play the part of being care-free about everything. Never much of an actor, I was not particularly good at hiding my worries.

Looking back, I realize that my worries were for the most part shared by my friends, we just wouldn’t show the weakness of uncertainty in front of each other. Hindsight has also revealed to me that my worries were quite similar to those of my adolescent peers: Girls, popularity, making money, getting a car, etc. Worrying about things seemed as natural as any other aspect of growing up.

I actually developed a much greater conflict over my worries once I became a Christian. I began to read the Bible and in so doing came across verses such as: Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (Psalm 55:22) and, When I am afraid, I will trust in you (Psalm 56:3).

I had naively assumed that once I had broken with my past life of debauchery to try my best to follow Jesus and His teachings, life would become a utopia. The worries of life, many of which still kept me awake at night, were going to simply melt away as bliss dominated my existence.

As the days of being a Christian turned into months and then years, my worries still far outweighed any times of care-free life. Oh, I had learned to put the brave face on, or maybe it was the smiling face of my childhood buddy Alfred E., when asked how things were in my life. But inside, the worries of providing for my family and how to be a good husband and dad were constant companions.

Thankfully, God knows me better than I do myself and His faithfulness knows no bounds. He continued to put caring people into my life who helped me, through the instruction of example, that living life with the confidence of God’s care and protection was possible.

My wife, Betsy, took the lead in helping me. Her calm demeanor was a direct result of her practicing her faith daily. Her long-term daily reading of the Scriptures opened up her heart and mind to the goodness of the Lord, and she lived it right in front of me, as she does to this day.

Eventually, I took up the practice of daily Bible reading. God, knowing that I am often a slow learner, has taken His time with me as I spent time in His word. The passage of Scripture that continues to help me with my tendency to worry first, pray later is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).

Clearly, God wants me/us to take everything to Him in prayer, not just the needs and emergencies that tend to crop up. The instruction to not be anxious about anything is virtually impossible to perfect, but we can more than counter that by continually going to the Almighty. The direction to do this with thanksgiving also quiets my worries. When I remember to be thankful to God, much of the urgency or unmanageability of a situation lessens.

The next promise that our faithful God fulfills when we humbly come before Him expressing our needs and desires, is to guard our hearts and minds. The original Greek word translated guard carries with it a sense of shielding one from trouble. Because it is God who does the shielding, this becomes so much more than merely deflecting a problem away. In His divine providence, God will literally shield our minds from dwelling on an issue, which in turns allows us to come to the realization that He has protected us. This level of trust in our loving God helps us to not want to bury our heads in the sand hoping things will change, but rather to seek the shelter that His loving arms can provide.

As with most everything I attempt, I find keeping one of the ideas from Alcoholics Anonymous in the forefront of my mind helps: to seek progress, not perfection. I still find myself worrying over things and projecting negative outcomes that rarely come about. The progress I’ve made is that I fall into this trap far less often than I used to.

So Alfred E., like you I really do not have to worry and blessedly, being that I’m real and you are a cartoon caricature, I can keep turning to this Awesome God who daily invites me to travel through life with Him. By taking Him up on this invitation, I can know that my heart and mind are protected by Him as He gives me a peace I will never understand this side of heaven. Not to worry, everything will be revealed on the other side!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Read and Heed

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(image courtesy of LocalLandscapingQuotes.com)

We have a nice size backyard at our house. Since the kids have grown up and moved on, it hasn’t seen much use. That changed last year when we put up a fence to keep our Goldendoodle, Violet, from roaming. Last summer and so far this one my wife and I have spent many pleasant hours ‘out back’ playing fetch with the big black dog or sitting in the shade reading.

At this point (and hopefully toward the point of why I’m writing this, Dear Reader), I must mention that I have never been one to spend a lot of time tending my lawn. I mow and trim it but that’s about it. The backyard has remained quite green under my care, running at about a 60-40 percentage of actual grass to various types of weeds. That it has been green has been good enough for me.

One evening this past week, however, Betsy and I were noticing the increase of some broad-leafed weeds with whip-like stalks growing several inched high. Not only are they unsightly, but also somewhat unpleasant against our lower legs as we frolic with Violet.

I asked one of the groundskeepers at the college I’m helping out at this summer what I should do about the weeds. He suggested Weed and Feed, hopefully you catch how close that is to the title of these jottings. Pretending I knew what he was talking about, I thanked him and went back to my painting. Thank goodness for the internet I thought. I’ll research this when I get home.

I came upon the following from spring-green.com that not only helped me with my lawn issues, but also gave cause to today’s title, Read and Heed:

What is weed and feed? Weed and feed is an interchangeable, universal name given to a wide variety of lawn chemicals that have the purpose of strengthening the lawn by killing weeds. It generally improves your lawn’s ability to absorb water and food and adds necessary nutrients which promote healthy growth.

A healthy lawn, in turn, discourages weed propagation.

Simple enough, I will buy some weed and feed and apply it to the backyard with the purpose of turning it into a healthy lawn (that) discourages weed propagation.

Jesus told several parables that dealt with weeds, thorns and other invasive things. In Matthew 13:24-28 He likened the kingdom of heaven to a field that was sown with good seed only to have an enemy come at night and spread weeds among the good seed.

According to the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9), a farmer sows seeds that fall on the path, shallow ground, among thorns and finally good soil. It is only from the good soil that the seed germinates and grows to its completion.

I say all this to ask both you and me: How are the seeds planted in you by Jesus doing? Healthy and multiplying? Being choked by worry? A mixture of both?

What is our personal ‘weed and feed’ solution? May I suggest Read and Heed. I have written before to encourage everyone to read your bible daily. May this serve as yet one more encouragement to do so! In its pages is the very heart of God. There is no better way, in my opinion, to get to know the Almighty than by reading His word.

But, like my weedy backyard, my life needs on-going care and guidance from above. The Bible is unlike any other book, EVER!. The writer of the Book of Hebrews describes it this way: For the word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12a NIV). Because it is unique, the Bible is not meant to be simply read once and put away. It is living and active, but I need to not only take it in, I must ponder what it has to say. The timeless truths found within its pages are unchanging; but we and our world are changing nearly every moment.

Read, then pray over what you have just encountered. You do not need to be a biblical scholar before God will reveal more of Himself to you as you do. Remember, the goal is to get to know Him better and that is what He wants too! Jesus has delivered on the promise to send the Holy Spirit. One wonderful function of the Spirit of God is to help us understand the Scriptures (John 13:26).

God wants us to read His word and has provided His Spirit to enable us to get at the heart of His message of love to all. That is the bottom line of the Read part. Perhaps the Heed part will prove more difficult for you (it sure has for me).

To heed God’s word means that you not only accept the truth contained within it, but that you also make your best effort every day to live out His commands in the day to day of life.

Difficult? Sure can be. Rewarding? More than anything! And on so many different levels. Much as my backyard will begin to thrive as the weeds are driven out; I assure you that if you take seriously the commitment to Read and Heed God’s word, your life will become more plush as well.

Let me be clear, I am not spouting some foolish prosperity message to you. There is no huge lottery prize awaiting you if you get through the Book of Leviticus. But allow me to be just as clear, the rewards awaiting are truly amazing and of an eternal scope for those who endeavor to deepen their relationship with the Almighty.

I have found that embracing the Read and Heed approach to God’s Holy Scriptures has indeed been/is a huge blessing to me. It would take many more posts to mention even some of them. But for now let me say it this way, the weeds that threatened to overgrow parts of my mind and heart and been removed. Instead, there is plush new growth as God draws me closer to Him.

And believe me, there is absolutely nothing special about me personally in this regard. I merely came to God with a willingness to be taught/corrected/encouraged by what He has to say in that living document that is the Bible. He is faithfully doing that in me and will for you as well!

Take care of the intruding weeds in your heart and mind quickly and thoroughly, you’ll be so blessed as you do!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

PS: I mentioned that you need not be a bible scholar to gain access to the Lord through His word. That’s good, because I am not one. However, I have been at this a while and would welcome your thoughts, questions or concerns about what you are reading. I will share my email with your should you want any of those discussions to be of a more private nature.

PC