Believing is Seeing

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(image courtesy of bobrogers.me)

As I prepared some post-Easter messages, I turned to John’s Gospel for some of his eye-witness accounts of the activities of Jesus after the resurrection, paying close attention to the interactions that the disciples had with their now Risen Lord.

As it does each time I read it, the reaction of Thomas, both before and after seeing Jesus, resonates with me. Here’s my paraphrase of those encounters: Thomas, who was not present with the others when Jesus first appeared to the group after His resurrection, did not believe his friends when they told him what had happened. That’s impossible and a crazy thing to say was probably what Thomas said when he heard this. Ever pragmatic, he goes on to claim that he will never believe unless he can put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in Jesus’ side.

In other words, seeing is believing for old doubting Thomas. As critical as I would like to be about him, an honest look in the mirror shows that I too have these same tendencies. It was as I read and subsequently communicated with the author of beautybeyondbones blog (I highly recommend reading it!) that this fact raised its ugly head again.

The author of that excellent blog (you can find it on WordPress) was sharing about the painful loneliness of in-patient treatment for an eating disorder and how this current lockdown from Covid-19 was bringing some of those feelings to the surface again. This brought back vivid memories of my time in detox and rehab so many years ago. Realizing that the shared pain of a similar path was helping me, I have decided to share some of my personal experience of those days in my life. My hope is that these words will touch a life like mine was by that brave author now quarantined in New York City.

Faith, as I often write about these days, is defined best in the Book of Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (NIV). Hence, my title today, believing is seeing. Though there are times and seasons in my life now when the certainty of what I do not see is clear, that was not always the case.

As your know, Long-time Reader, I have been a recovering alcoholic for nearly 29 years, all thanks to God! I realize I have shared some of the results of that horrible existence; such as the physical, financial and spiritual bankruptcies that resulted from my drunken life. Yet, I do not believe I have ever mentioned in any detail the struggles of those 7 weeks of in-patient treatment.

As I see I am already on page two on my laptop, I think I’ll focus this entry of the initial 3 week stay in the mental health wing of the hospital that oversaw my detox. Actually, to say that they just monitored my detox doesn’t quite speak to what that caring staff did for me.

Having already taken my belt and shoelaces because I had stated I might harm myself, the staff for the next 48 hours checked on me every 15 minutes to insure I was still breathing because the risk of pulmonary and/or cardiac arrest is heightened when the body is no longer receiving the vast amounts of alcohol it was used to. I will never forget the compassion in their eyes as they not only checked my vital signs but would also stay to hold my shaking hands or wipe my sweat-soaked brow.

I believe the heart-felt care they gave me helped me to be more receptive to the idea of living life without booze. On the third day of that life-changing lockdown, now that I was physically out of the woods, I was given some AA literature to read.

My eyes were drawn immediately to one sentence: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. To this day, I count that moment as the time I knew, without any doubt or hesitation, that this Jesus I had heard about in church as a child was in fact the Savior. My Savior! I asked Him in that moment to please help me. I was lost and so scared, desperate for a way out.

It was then, in His infinite mercy, that He touched me. As He did, He opened my eyes to know that believing was seeing and, all these many years later, our Precious Lord has continued to pour the gift of faith into me, ever honing my spiritual insight that I might see Him at work better as He helps me to believe more completely. Believing is seeing!

I pray that my experience may help someone in some small way to better see through their own eyes of faith today.

Blessings and be safe,

Pastor Chuck

 

Happy (Leap of Faith) Day!

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Happy Leap Day Faithful Reader! As you might have guessed, I’ll be taking this opportunity to discuss the matter of faith today.

Faith can be a hard thing to define.  Wikipedia does a good job as they render it: A leap of faith, in its most commonly used meaning, is the act of believing in or accepting something outside the boundaries of reason.

Whether they realize it or not, these folks have come fairly close to the biblical definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)

I prefer this King’s James translation of Hebrews 11:1 because of the use of the word substance.  I believe this puts hope in the proper perspective.  It is not like hoping to win the lottery (it’s ok, I don’t play it anyway), or hoping that the sun shines today (it’s Upstate NY, little chance of that happening).

Rather, the hope the bible talks about is real, it has substance.  In other words, when I put my hope in Jesus Christ to be my Savior, it is the real deal.  There is no wishful thinking involved.  Instead, after carefully considering what the bible says and relating it to the experiences of my life, I can whole-heartedly rest assured in the promise of God that tells me I am a forgiven sinner who is dearly loved by my Maker.

So much so, the biblical evidence goes on to show, that God Almighty desires a relationship with me! A relationship, by the way, that I am completely unable to establish on my own.  It is only through His grace that I can experience who He is and have joyful fellowship with Him.

My oft stated purpose in this ministry I am involved with is to help people make an informed decision about Jesus Christ.  As I mentioned, I came to faith in the Lord after carefully considering both what the bible has to say about God and by taking a sober look at my life up to the point I accepted His offer of salvation.

Simply put, my life was an awful mess that was spiraling downward toward death.  By far the bigger leap for me would have been to keep going in that direction, wishing for things to change for the better.

If you have ventured to put your hope in Christ, I rejoice with you! You know full well of the hope of which I speak.

But if you have not, might I suggest you do as I did.  Start with an honest (that’s the key) appraisal of where your life is and in what direction it is going under your direction.  If you discover areas that are messed up and need improvement, may I further urge you to discuss these things with a trusted friend.  This is a vital step, no matter how difficult it is to take.  Honestly looking at ourselves for the purpose taking stock needs to be shared with another, lest we soften over some of the more unsavory parts.

From here, seek out someone with knowledge of the Scriptures (it will be helpful if they actually live what they talk to you about). As part of the process, now begin to see yourself in the context of the bigger picture.  Doing this may allow you to see though the clutter and confusion around you.

Should you desire to, now consider how this God you’ve heard about might just be able to help you.  If you can humbly admit that you recognize your need, I am here to say that He will step in to help you make changes for the better in your life.  He did it for me, He can do it for you as well!

This may seem like a huge leap to take today but please believe me, if you do, you will never regret having done so.  That has been my experience that I truthfully share with you all.  I’d love to hear your stories of what brought you to your faith journey or if you haven’t taken the above mentioned leap,  feel free to share where you are on your journey.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

January 2020: The gyms are full again but the church is still mostly empty

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(image courtesy of blogmekrystal)

One of my buddies, who has been working out in a local gym for years, has a name for those folks who pack the place every year after the holidays: “Those January people.” He labels these well-meaning resolution makers through experience.  For as long as he has been bodybuilding, he has witnessed this annual event.  He calls them January people because, he claims, most of them will stop coming in by March.

I decided to see if there were statistics to back up his claim.  And sure enough, there is much documentation to support it.  One source said that up to 80% of the people who get a gym membership in January will have stopped using it within six months.  There seems to be a definite cycle at work here.  Most, if not all, national fitness businesses cite January as their peak month for the sale of memberships.

At least the gyms have a season where they experience more people coming in.  Christian churches in this land, for the most part, are not seeing any growth.  In fact and most sadly, the statistics prove out that church membership/attendance is waning faster than a new year resolution for fitness.

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Jeffery M. Jones, writing for Gallup.com, states that “Gallup finds the percentage of Americans who report belonging to a church … at an all-time low, averaging 50% in 2018.  U.S. church membership was 70% or higher from 1937 through 1976, falling modestly to an average of 68% in the 1970s through the 1990s. The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999.”

These numbers support what my wife Betsy and I see happening where we live in Central New York.  Our ministry work brings us to any number of churches in and around our city and area.  Sadly, each of these fellowships has seen their attendance figures lag.  This is happening in spite of the fact that the pastors and leadership of these churches we work with are faithful and devoted followers of Christ.

I’ve read and heard the many reasons for this decline.  I certainly can appreciate the fact that our world has changed and continues to at an accelerating rate.  Many people are working longer hours, leaving them with precious little time for anything else.  Others cite the extreme busyness of family schedules, which often take preference over regular Sunday worship time.  The list of reasons/excuses for not going to church is longer than ever.

Please understand that I write the above without an iota of judgment.  I am in the ‘people business,’ and have the privilege of knowing many folks who struggle through the hectic pace of life today.

If there is any judgment on my part, however, it is toward the church itself.  The drastically reduced numbers are due in large part to its inability/unwillingness to acknowledge the sweeping changes in our culture.

I also want to make it perfectly clear that I am not advocating whole-sale change of the church.  Today’s church, for the most part, is still the slow-moving organism it was 75 years ago.  The very demographics that make up the majority of them still in existence only adds to the problem.  By that I mean that the outreach programs of yesteryear are antiquated in today’s world.

Is there a solution to this decline? Is there any hope at all for the church to continue? Will it ever a significant part of a majority of people’s lives? Is there any hope?

My answer is a resounding YES! For evidence I ask you to consider how this entry began.  Each January we have documented proof that many, many people set out to make meaningful changes in their lives.  Be it weight loss, body toning or simply more social inter-action, throngs of folks flood the local fitness centers hoping to make these changes in themselves.  I conclude that it is in our nature to desire to make improvements in ourselves. We are not satisfied with our current state, and make, however fleeting, attempts to change our outward appearance.

Here in lies the opportunity for the church.  Am I suggesting that each one should include a weight room? Should congregants be encouraged to use stair masters or ride stationary bikes during the sermon? Of course not.

What I would suggest as the single best solution to the woes of the church is this: to proclaim the Name of Jesus Christ in all it undertakes.  Every church service, youth group meeting, outreach program, pod cast and every other thing it does must have the Risen Lord Jesus as its focus and reason for being.  Jesus is THE answer to all life’s problems.  In fact, if churches today would teach the truth of Scripture and model the love of God for ALL people, both inside and outside of its walls, it may well become the place where we could go to be truly transformed; from the inside out!

Jesus loved (and loves!) unconditionally.  He instituted His church to be that message bearer to all.  I believe that the local church doesn’t have to change to keep up with the times, but rather should immerse itself in what the Lord originally purposed for it: His love for all people.  In so doing, it too will experience the transformation that so many seek at the first of every new year.  As it does, the church will become the magnet that draws individuals to it.  May we all see the blessings of God on His church in the days and years to come. Amen!

Thanks for reading and as always, your thoughts, questions and concerns are welcome here.

Pastor Chuck

 

Call Waiting

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(Image courtesy of bing images)

A blog that I faithfully read is titled My Way Home. I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already.  It is not only excellently written, but the topics are timely and presented with a transparency I can only hope to attain someday.  It was in responding to a recent post there that caused me to offer this fuller explanation of how our ever-faithful God showered me with His patience, waiting for me to answer His call.

Before cell phones became a ‘necessity,’ most folks had a phone (or two) placed strategically in their homes.  One of the innovations of that era was Call Waiting, a service provided by the phone company that alerted to you to an incoming call during a call already in progress.  I know it doesn’t sound like much know, but twenty some years ago it was a big deal.

But enough about ancient phone technology, suffice to say I would ask you to keep the idea of Call Waiting in mind as you plow through the following.  As many of you know, I started my journey of recovery from alcoholism in 1991.  From a detox to in patient rehab; I then dove wholeheartedly into AA.  It was their teaching that to recover one must rely on a ‘power greater than ourselves’ that I came to know Jesus Christ as Savior.  I’d gone to church every Sunday as a kid and heard all the stories; they simply didn’t mean anything to me.  That is until I was faced with the prospect of a slow and lonely death if something didn’t change in my life.

As the length of time away from a drink continues to grow, so did my trust in Jesus.  I counted on Him to not only keep me sober, but also to live my life in a responsible way.  Little things that had always been beyond me, like working and paying bills, became things I could do with the Lord’s leading.

I didn’t feel the need to go back to organized religion, for I had all I needed on a daily basis in this gift of sobriety.  I did not object, however, when my wife suggested we start going to church again, for the kids.  It is as I starting attending services regularly during this time that the story of Call Waiting began.

After being with this wonderful group of people that made up my new church family a short time, I became involved in various activities.  There was choir and bible study and fellowship dinners as well as other ministry activities.  I did many of them, enjoying a freedom in my spirit I had never known.

I also began to take an active role in caring for and about others.  Visiting folks in the hospital or those who were home bound became very important to me.  It seemed only right to give back in some way after having done so much damage caring only about me and my wants.  As I look back, it was during this time that God’s Call Waiting started to happen.

All of a sudden, it seemed to me, various people that I had contact doing these various ministry tasks started to tell me that I had a ‘pastor’s heart.’ I smiled and nodded at these kind words, thinking to myself they had me confused with someone else.  I was barely scratching the surface of learning how to take care of myself and my young family; surely this pastor business was not for me.

While hoping in my heart of hearts that these comments would die a peaceful death, they in fact became more frequent and were now being followed with questions like: “You really ought to look into this,” and the big one, “This is God’s calling for you.”

Well, I thought, if it was God calling, He was going to have to wait.  I had debts to pay and a wife and children I wanted to spend time with.  Being a pastor seemed at that time to entail lousy working hours with little pay.  I was all for helping out, when it was convenient, but not full time.  No, that call was going to have to wait.

If I’ve learned anything in this Christian walk all these years, it’s that you cannot out-wait God.  He left that line open all those years.  I eventually saw that there was a call on the other line, if you will, but I was still not picking up.

I am ever so glad He is as patient as He is.  For once I did answer the call to be a pastor, I have found some of the greatest blessings in those lousy hours and the pay scale is truly unmatched.  What God was calling me to is so much better than my own best plan could ever be, but He let me figure that out over time.

Part of me wants to apologize for leaving Him on hold for so long but yet the larger portion of my heart is grateful for His patience.  All that time that I thought I was doing my things my way; He was working on my heart to be able to trust Him more; which most certainly worth the wait!

How about you? What’s God calling you to do.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

There is Life in Hospice

Two years ago I was asked to join our local Hospice organization as part of their pastoral care team.  I was honored by the invitation and gladly accepted.  The Oswego County Hospice has long been recognized as an outstanding provider of care to the terminally ill and their families.  I have known many people who have worked or volunteered for them, and to a person they tell what rewarding work it is.  Helping to bring dignity to the end of life has been some of their most fulfilling work.  When I joined the team, I hoped to discover this for myself.

Truthfully, though,  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Not much of my training or experience had prepared me for what I assumed was to be a monumental task.  After all, much of my ministry background has had me with folks, both saved and not, who seemingly give little thought to their own mortality.  Our primary focus has spanned from helping people meet their daily needs to counselling and leading Bible studies.  All of these types of activities have focused on improving both physical and spiritual life.  This Hospice work was going to bring physical death squarely in my face

Thankfully, Oswego County Hospice has an excellent training program.  It taught me much concerning the physical aspects of the dying process.  This information would be valuable as I entered into the patient’s family dynamic.  Although I knew that each case would be different, I felt that the training I had been given had prepared me for what was ahead.

All this excellent training did nothing, however, to prepare me for the awesome power of God I was (and still do) see! How did God display His power you ask? Has there been miraculous healings of bodies? These are legitimate questions especially when asked in light of Psalm 77:14 where the author describes God as: You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples (NIV).

To answer these questions, I must reply that to the best of my knowledge, I have not seen tumors removed through the power of prayer.  Yet what I do give witness to is at least equal to, or perhaps even greater than, a physical miracle.  What I have seen is unquestionably a move of God.  In His mercy I have seen estranged families reunited and lost individuals coming to realize the full life that the Lord Jesus promises.

Allow me to share some of the ways God has moved through Mary (not her real name), her family, friends and even some strangers during her time under hospice care.

I met Mary a little over a year ago.  As with anyone under hospice care, she faced the certainty of impending death.  On my first visit, she asked me what was going to happen to her when the inevitable happened.  Given this wonderful opportunity, I shared with Mary the Scriptures pertinent to salvation and the promise of eternity in heaven.

As Mary listened, a peace came over her.  Though I did not know it at the time, she had been a regular at a bible preaching church years ago before slipping into what she referred to as ‘the wild side of life.’ Hearing the words of John 3:16-17 and Romans 10:9 stirred in her the truth she had known so long ago.  I could tell that the issue of life after death was settled in her heart.

It was what happened since that initial conversation that has showed God’s power at work.  Mary, with her faith renewed in the goodness of her Lord, has become a powerful advocate for Him.  At any given time in her home there are extended family members, neighbors and acquaintances present.  Each and every time I am privileged to be in her company, any and all others with her are invited to pray with us or to be prayed for by me.

One such occasion allowed me to pray for a young man, Danny.  One look at him as I walked in told me much about him.  He was in a dark place, wallowing in self-pity at the turn life had taken on him.  He was homeless and obviously on the downside of whatever he had taken most recently.  A friend of one of her grandkids, Mary let him sleep on the couch, no questions asked.  After she and I finished our scheduled meeting, Mary asked him if it was alright for me to pray with him.  With a ‘what’s the use look,’ Danny agreed.  We held hands and I prayed.

I don’t have a formula for praying, I simply attempt to quiet my mind so that God can work through me.  I prayed for Danny in this way.  In this case I have no recall of what I said specifically and when I finished, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  At my Amen, Danny looked at me with tear filled eyes and told me that what I had said moved him deeply.  I thanked God and him for allowing me to pray with him.

Though I thought of and prayed for Danny frequently, several months passed with no word about him.  As always, God is working even when I don’t know it! My next encounter with this young guy nearly blew me away.  He had a big smile on his face, was cleaned up and generally had the look of someone who knew he had come through something awful into something far greater.  He excitedly told me about his new job and the nice place he had found to live.  His life had taken a 180-degree turn, at he counted our first meeting as the place it started.

I relate this account to you my friends in order to tell you that God is indeed still in the healing business.  The lesson it teaches me is to be looking beyond what I consider needs to be healed and to anticipate the greater thing God is up to.  There is life and there is joy in hospice care, for all involved.  God is healing.  The bible says that nothing is too hard for God.  Oh, and by the way, Mary has been discharged from hospice!

Thanks for reading and be encouraged, God is working!

Pastor Chuck

The Fuzzy Line Between my Wants and Needs

In my role as pastor, I often find myself giving counsel to folks concerning their finances.  For couples, the stress of maintaining a budget at home can be overwhelming, especially in those cases where no budget is in place! This entry, however, is not going to be about Budgeting 101, as important as that is.  Rather, I would like to address what I perceive as being the major cause of financial struggle:  the blurring of the line between our wants and needs.

As usual, these thoughts pertain as much to me as anyone.  I find the above-mentioned line getting fuzzy far too often.  Here is a recent case in point: I enjoy reading very much, and in this season of life, I have much more time to do so.  I generally have two or three books going at once, with one pertaining to ministry, another to American History and the third being some kind of mystery novel.  Allow me to give a shout out to my precious wife at this point.  Betsy is our primary wage earner so that I can attend to our ministry full time.  Being blessed with the ability to manage my time well is how I can do this and still find time to read.

Part of this time-management skill includes the ordering of books on line, quite often through Amazon.  I like that I can type in an author’s name an instantly get all that person’s work to choose from.  That part of instant-gratification is helpful.  To the point of my want/need line getting fuzzy, however, I must consider how quickly I am going to receive my order.  If I subscribe to Prime, I can get them the next day, usually before 10 am!  The simple question is do I need it that soon or is it something I want because it sounds interesting/fun/new/different etc.  Seen in this light, I easily recognize that the line has gotten fuzzy and simply pay for traditional shipping, which will get my package to me in a reasonable time frame anyway.

I see another way the want v. need line can get blurred easily.  As I mentioned earlier, my wife is the one who brings home the bread to our household.  She has an incredibly demanding job that keeps her in the office 10 or more hours day, 5 to 6 days a week! Betsy has a deep faith in, and love for God which undoubtedly gives her the strength to meet the demands of her work life with such a cheerful and positive attitude.  Because she is so well grounded, I don’t see her struggle with her want/need line very much, if at all.

This is true even though she uses several different services that send her clothes to try on in styles she has selected in the profile given.  I enjoy that she gets to try different things (without me having to ride shotgun to the mall) in the midst of her hectic schedule.  What is even more wonderful is the ease with which Betsy simply sends back the majority of the items, because she does not need them.  It’s a great example of the clarity between what wants and needs should be.

Not surprisingly, examples can be found in the Bible that are written to help us clarify our wants and needs as well.  Psalm 37:4 tells us to delight yourselves in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (NIV).  This is really another place that speaks about our priorities in life.  David, who wrote this psalm, had experienced a vast amount of wealth and comfort in his life, as well as much strife and hardship.  The lessons of life had taught him that when he put the Lord first in his heart and mind, he found that all he had materially paled when compared to the relationship God had established with him.  Once he discovered the pure delight of God’s love, the rest of the desires of his heart fell in line behind this most important one.  He could see the difference between a want and need.

The Apostle Paul gives yet another example of how to prevent the wants/needs line from getting fuzzy when he wrote to the Philippians: And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 NIV).  Here too we can see that the Scriptures teach that when we seek God to fulfill all  we truly need, His inexhaustible storehouse will supply us fully.

How then does someone like me come to see the want/need line more clearly? The answer is that it starts and ends with God! The bible tells us that His care and faithfulness toward us never ends or even takes a break.  If I (or anyone) is seeking to fill life with instant gratification only to find these things quickly fading into non-importance, we need to better focus on our unchanging and all-powerful Creator.  By seeking Him first and always (see Matthew 6:33 for more on this!), we will realize that He is indeed the fulfillment of every need we have.  With this comfort in the bank, the wants of life can assume their proper place at the back of the line.

The issue is that most, myself included as always, don’t have a thriving relationship with God, usually because we don’t know Him all that well.  Thankfully, this is a correctable situation that can be rectified in two easy steps.  One: Pray like you believe someone is really listening (He is) and two, read more about Him (His entire story is available in print!).

Any relationship that is vibrant includes getting to know the other person more deeply.  It is an on-going proposition.  This means that all healthy relationships are two-sided.  With regard to the relationship God offers, He is all in all the time, which leaves it up to us to grow into our part.

I’m not one for making idle promises, so please don’t take the following lightly: If you will make the effort to deepen your part in your relationship with God, I promise that the line between your wants and needs will become easier to discern.  I speak from personal experience, having both lived in the blessing of intimate contact with God and knowing the loneliness of shunning Him as I try to fill the void by pursuing the things on my want list.  Trust me, having this line more clearly defined has been one of the greatest blessings to me, as I’m sure it can be for you!

Thanks For reading,

Pastor Chuck

Truth and Consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

 

 

How are the New Year Resolutions Going?

Did you make some New Year Resolutions as 2018 turned into 2019? As I write this on January 7th, 2019, I hope you are still going strong if you did.  Unfortunately, statistics on long-term completion of these types of plans aren’t cause for much hope.  My own experience with ‘New Me’ in the New Year resolutions have helped compile the negative numbers.  Diets, exercise regimens and pronouncements to get and stay in touch with family members have all faded, usually before January becomes February.  I can readily relate to any of you who have experienced these same types of short-comings.

As I mulled over my dismal record of changing negative behaviors in my life, I recalled something the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans.  If you have read any of my stuff in the past, you may have recognized I use the New International Version in my studies.  This is my go-to translation, but that doesn’t keep me from reading others (something I highly recommend to all my Bible reading friends).

By doing this, I found what I needed to read this time in The Message, an easy to read, paraphrased version of the Bible.  The verses I read from the letter to the Romans are rendered like this in it: I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions.  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. (The Message; Romans 7:18-19)

This description fits me to a T! I feel a need to change something in me, whatever it is, as a new year looms.  I then start, usually with great enthusiasm and not a little hoopla, that This Time I am going to do this! I have neither learned from, or have simply forgotten my past mistakes, making success with this year’s resolutions a certainty.

As noted above, my decision to make a change for the better turns out to be flimsy.  Whatever storm of upset or disappointment comes my way knocks all the wind out of my gung-ho start.  Before long, it’s only a month (or weeks) into the new year and the old ways don’t seem so bad anymore as I slip comfortably back into them.

I know I am not alone in failing to keep New Year Resolutions.  I’m confident that as you read this, you can relate to my struggles.  It leaves the question: What to do with this information?  The first two ideas that came to me are negative ones that I don’t advise anyone to take, like maybe I just won’t try to change anything will be my new plan.  At least that way I only have to deal with the consequences of what my poor choices bring me as opposed to acknowledging another failure on top of going back to the original activity.

Second, and worse still, my warped mind has fantasized about making resolutions that will be easy to keep.  For example, this year I will gain weight.  That’s easy for me, and I have a long track record of success.  Pass the cookies and ice cream please!  Or perhaps I will resolve to continue to avoid exercise; another area of strength, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Thankfully, God’s Word is having a greater influence on my decision-making process these days than my ‘poor me, I just can’t do it’ whining is.  The verses we are considering today are truly helpful.  First, they identify our struggle; we want to do better, but we are largely unable to create these changes on our own.  They go on to explain why this is:  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

With the understanding that something is broken inside of me that is causing my struggle(s), I’m then left with two distinct courses of action: Do nothing or do something about it.

I don’t recommend the first option.  Having tried it, nothing positive comes from it.  Lamenting that I can’t change (and adding, ‘No matter how hard I try,’ for sympathy), is really just giving up.  With this mind-set, I can rationalize to my heart’s content and wallow in self-pity until December comes again and enough guilt kicks in telling me to try, try again.  It is the perfect storm of a cycle I cannot break on my own.

Which leads to the highly recommended other option: making the change (yes singular, change) necessary to break the pattern.  It’s a simple solution, but necessarily an easy one; especially if pride prevents us from admitting our helplessness.

The answer is this: Have some humble pie; it has no calories and it will open the door of your heart and mind to receiving the perfect help that is always available.  I speak of course of our Loving God, who wants us to enjoy our relationship with Him to the fullest.  It starts by realizing He has to be the priority in this.  When you do that, many other things that have been out of alignment in your life will begin to straighten out.

As always, Jesus says it best.  In Chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains to a crowd of people that God the Father knows of all their concerns and is more than able to meet all their needs.  The Lord sums this all up by saying, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV)

God will indeed give you the desires of your heart, so long as your priorities are in proper order: God first, everything else after that! This is how many before us have learned to overcome the difficulties in their lives.  Trusting Jesus for salvation, as awesome as that is, only starts the life God has for us.  When we can humble ourselves to let Him have control over all the aspects of our lives, the need for a New Year Resolution becomes obsolete.  May we all experience this wonderful change that only God can orchestrate. Then we won’t have to swear off destructive, non-healthy behaviors, but instead ask only for more of Him in our life.  That is truly being done with the old to be filled with the new!

Thanks for reading!

Pastor Chuck

 

 

 

 

Have a Forever Happy New Year!

Happy New Year.  I’ve said it to plenty of people again this year with my heart in the right place, but when I stop to consider what I am really saying, it falls far short of I truly hope for them.

Mirriam-Webster’s Dictionary (does anyone other than me still use a hard- covered dictionary?) defines happy as: favored by luck or fortune.  Knowing and believing what I do about the two possible destinations that await each of us when we die, this wishing for a happy new year to those I meet rings shallow.

Please understand that I have nothing against someone experiencing some good luck in 2019.  If you golf, may a fortuitous bounce give you a hole-in-one.  If collecting coins is your hobby, may that rare find find you.  Or maybe by chance you’ll step on a $100-dollar bill on your next walk outside.  Whatever it is in things like this, I do indeed wish that you are favored by luck or fortune.

The pastor/teacher in me yearns for all of us to experience a far deeper and everlasting peace that none of these fleeting examples listed above can offer.  If you are reading these words and you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, I rejoice with you!  My 2019 greeting to you is that you take the time to come to know Him even better in the days ahead.  As you do, may you be filled to overflowing with the peace and contentment only He can provide.  Please don’t keep this blessing to yourself! It is meant to be shared with the world in which you exist.  I pray that you daily manifest the love God has poured out on you to others.  In 2019, may you be a true example of what a follower of Christ is to be.

Friend, if you are reading this and don’t know the salvation that Jesus died to offer you, my 2019 greeting to you is please consider it! At the top I mentioned there are only two destinations for us humans when our physical life ends.  It is an eternal reality: One is to live in bliss for absolutely ever in the very presence of God, the other is to live on forever with the knowledge that what you heard about, but never acted upon, was true.

Maybe that doesn’t sound too bad to you on the surface, but consider this: We’re talking about eternity here.  That’s a long time to ponder the hugest mistake you could ever make.  It breaks my heart to even consider the utter loneliness of that existence and the total inability to change your circumstance once set in it.  This is an isolation from all other life but even worse, it means you are forever separated from God; hopelessly lost forever.

I realize that is some heavy stuff to be thinking about on the first day of the new year, but so be it.  I believe you are worth talking to about this! And as strongly as I feel for you, God has an infinitely greater desire to be in relationship with you.

The Bible makes many direct references about God’s heart towards those who have not yet come to believe in Him.  One that says it clearly to me is this: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).

The promise mentioned here is that there will be and end of the world as we know it.  It doesn’t say when, just that it will happen.  God’s heart for you is revealed in the second part of this verse: He is patient, not wanting anyone to miss out and He even tells us what we need to do; repent (meaning to be truly sorry for our mistakes and failures).

His offer of eternal security remains in place until the Lord comes back again, another promise from the Scriptures.  I’m not claiming to have any inside-trader information of when that might be, only that it will.  Please, please, please don’t be left out when that happens.  Why not start this New Year with a brand-new you!  Not one that is sculpted at the gym or through dieting, but one that is eternally transformed by your Creator God.

Will this then be a ‘happy new year?’ Not it the sense of good luck or fortune, but it will have at its base an unshakable certainty that God’s love will care for you always.  I pray you consider God’s invitation and take Him up on his desire for you: to be happy, fulfilled, content, peace-filled, forgiving, etc. forever!

Blessings to all and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

 

Jesus is the Prince of Peace

(This is the 4th and final installment of a series I preached several years ago at Lakeside Christian Ministries.  Using Isaiah 9:6, we have previously considered how Jesus fulfilled this awesome prophesy of being the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Everlasting Father.  This entry wraps things us as we see how Jesus was/is the Prince of Peace.  My heart-felt thanks to all who have taken this journey with me!)

Isaiah 9:6 tells us: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

These awesome words, spoken some 600 hundred years before His birth, have come to life in Jesus Christ!  We have considered over the previous three entries how the Lord not only fulfilled this prophesy through His perfect life on earth, but that he continues to do so on the throne of heaven and through the work of the Holy Spirit here on earth today.

Today let’s consider Jesus as the Prince of Peace.

What a glorious and fitting title for Jesus: Prince of Peace. This as yet unborn Prince Isaiah predicted was to be a ruler in every way.  He would rule over military, religious and governmental spheres.  Jesus is this ruler now, and will be seen completely as such when He returns to earth at His Second Coming to proclaim God’s eternal victory over sin, establishing a kingdom that will last throughout eternity.

With Christmas only one week away, what time could possibly be better than now to see how we can come to know this peace Jesus brought/brings.  In fact, Jesus Himself is peace. It is not overstatement to say that this, along with salvation, are the greatest gifts the Lord came to give.

To get started, let us once again be clear about the true meaning of the word peace as it is used here in Isaiah 9 and in fact throughout much of both the Old and New Testaments.

The Strong’s Strongest Concordance defines this peace as: intact, whole; a peace that has a sense of security and safety.

I hope this gives you some clue as to the depth of the word peace as Isaiah used it.  Today, we tend to think of peace as having no hostilities or at the end of a war.  However, history has proved that a signed peace treaty does not necessarily mean there is true peace.  One need only consider the Treaty of Versailles signed at the conclusion of WWI to understand this as WWII came only twenty years later, officially ending a most non-peaceful period in history.

Thankfully, Jesus establishes a lasting and complete peace.  Consider the definition of the word peace again: intact, whole; a peace that brings a sense of security and safety.  Only our Lord, the Son of God, has the ability, strength and love to make His peace a lasting one.  His peace brings completeness to a person and a sense of wholeness.  There is joy and contentment in the peace Jesus gives to those who place faith in Him alone for salvation.

Let’s take a moment to compare and contrast the peace the world offers to the peace that Jesus gives.  The peace the world has to offer pales when compared to this heavenly peace.  First, worldly peace is something that is to be achieved, not received.  Worldly peace is based on resources and personal ability.  This type of peace relies totally on externals; what can I get or have that will bring me peace in my troubles.  It seems so difficult to get and then if finally grasped it becomes seemingly impossible to hold.  The world’s concept of peace is that of being something one hopes for but rarely finds.

Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, brings a peace that is opposite of this. The peace of God is dependent upon a relationship, not resources; a relationship with the Almighty.  This relationship is made possible by God’s desire to be at peace with us.  Unlike the world’s concept of peace being something to be earned, the Lord brings His peace as a gift that we need only receive through faith.  And perhaps most importantly, God’s peace can be realized in the midst of our trials and struggles.  We don’t have to be burden free before we can know His peace, in fact the troubles we face ought to reveal the power of God to bestow His peace.  In other words, we can experience God’s peace in the very height of our personal storm.

Jesus, because He is the Prince of Peace foretold by Isaiah, did a considerable amount of teaching on the subject of peace. Speaking to His disciples, He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

This in one of my all-time favorite scriptures, as it reveals so much about our Lord and the world in which we live.  Jesus doesn’t mix any words here, ‘In this world, you will have trouble.’ That’s a plainly stated truth, and one that we must accept as we live this side of eternity.  I’ve yet to encounter anyone, myself included, who has not had/does not have trouble in their life.  Notice Jesus words: “in this world you will have trouble.” Jesus knew the stuff that would happen in this sin-infested world.  Sickness, death and unexplainable tragedy befall each of us.  The question is not ‘where was God when this happened,’ but should be, ‘how do I find Him in the middle of what’s happening’ This is where faith must come in.  The rest of the Lord’s statement tells us to ‘take heart,’ because only He can overcome all the world throws at us.

How do we get this faith? By believing the truth that He has indeed overcome the world.  We joyfully celebrate His birth in this season.  To know His peace however, we must consider His birth in the greater context of why He came at all: His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.  This is the ultimate victory that has been achieved by Jesus Christ.  No longer is death the final verdict for people.  Instead, we can know that the Lord has secured our forever home in heaven by dying for our sins and then being raised from the dead. The result of Jesus’ sacrifice is the payment of the debt we could never repay.

This same Isaiah who boldly spoke of the coming Messiah was also clear as to why He would come to earth: But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and be his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) By this awesome act, the peace of God can be known by all!

This is what we are ‘to take heart in.’ The peace and comfort of eternal security is meant to see us through our worst trials and pain.  When we have peace in Christ, we can have peace through our turmoil.  Will this peace lessen our pain or our hurts? Maybe not in the moment; but if you will allow more of God’s peace into your heart, the more He will minister to you in your particular trouble and thereby make more or His peace known to you.

Here are some more incredibly encouraging words about the peace of God spoken by the Prince of Peace Himself: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV)

Like any gift, it must be received and opened to be truly appreciated.  During this Christmas season, part of the fun we have in exchanging gifts is simply in watching the other person open the gift we have given them.  It may be an over-simplification, but for a gift to be truly enjoyed, it must be opened.  Likewise, as we open our hearts to God, we can receive the blessing of the awesome gift of His peace.

Remember, Jesus does not give as the world gives.  He doesn’t, because the gift of peace He brings is not a thing to be grasped, it is the Lord Himself!  Pastor and author Ray Stedman explains this as he writes: when Christ Jesus makes peace — between individuals or between nations — that peace will be a satisfying, permanent, and genuine peace. It will be a real peace that will last and last. And it will be a totally satisfying experience. The problem with most of us is that we want to start by clearing up only the results of conflict. God never starts there; he starts with the person. He says peace is a Person, and in order for you to live at peace with someone else, you must be at peace with the Person of Christ. If you have his peace, then you can start solving the conflict around you. But you never can do it on any other basis. So the place to start, the origin of peace, is the settling of any problems between you and Jesus Christ. That is always the place to start.

I love the clarity this explanation brings to my mind.  I so often want to clear up the turmoil and any damage caused by it so that life can go back to an easy and even keel.  Doing this, even as it is well-intended, does not ultimately embrace or portray the peace of God.  But, as Stedman has so wonderfully written, we must have the peace of Christ first if we are to be peace-makers in our troubled circumstances.

Peace is often spoken of, especially at Christmas. It can be yours in Christ. Warning: this peace is not the same as complacency or warm, fuzzy feelings. Real, true and lasting peace comes only through faith in Christ.  The Prince of Peace, promised hundreds of years before His birth, has made the peace of God not only known, but available to all mankind.  Please don’t leave this most precious gift unopened.  Tear the paper and bow off it and relish not only in the gift itself, but cherish the One who gives it.  Remember, real peace is not earned, it is received.  The greatest giver of all time, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, is offering it to you!