“Do you want to get well?”

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The third recorded miracle recorded in John’s Gospel is yet another encounter between the Son of God and an individual. You can (and should) read all about in John 5:1-13. As a matter of fact, please read it after you are done looking at this blog, for it is a particularly good practice to check for yourself the scriptures someone is teaching/writing about. This helps you verify what is being considered and more importantly, opens your heart to what Holy Spirit may be wanting to reveal to you.

For the all-important context, an undisclosed amount of time has passed since the end of Chapter 4 where Jesus had spoken a word of healing over the royal official’s son.

In Chapter 5, Jesus is now back in Jerusalem for one of the Jewish feasts. The Lord walks to one of the gates of the city where many sick and invalid folks are. There is a pool of water in that place that many believe has healing powers, if only they can be the first to get in when the water is stirred up.

The Bible describes this collection of folks at this pool like this: Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. (John 5:3 NIV).

I must admit that I have wondered from time to time why Jesus didn’t just speak the words of healing over that entire gathering. Certainly, He has the power and compassion to do so, yet the Lord sought out only one person at that time. Though I cannot pretend to know why, my guess is that Jesus wanted this interaction to be personal; showing us that He can/will be personal with each one of us as well. More about that in a bit.

The author tells us that the man Jesus spoke to had been an invalid for 38 years and undoubtedly had been brought to this supposed pool of healing many times. Jesus addresses this fellow with what seems to be the most obvious of questions: “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6 NIV)

Whether the man thought the answer was implied because he was there we don’t know. What we can be certain of is that the lame man went directly into his litany of how he has no one there to help him get into the water when it is stirred, thus preventing him from partaking of the possibility of healing.

What a human-nature laden response that is! How many times, Most Cherished Reader, have you and I gone into a blow by blow account of our ailments when asked how we are. It seems that at times we simply want the whole world to know every ache, pain and problem we have. Maybe I’m looking for strength in numbers through your sympathy when I engage in this activity. But no matter my reasoning, I am not helping my condition in any way by merely re-hashing what the issues are.

In the case of our invalid friend at the pool, Jesus does not bite on the invitation to commiserate. Instead, the Lord simply tells the man to get up, pick up his mat and walk. The healing is immediate as John tells us this man who had been waiting for so long for help does just that!

Jesus then slips quietly away, once again allowing for the glory of God to be revealed rather than any flashy spotlight to be shone on Him.

Reading on, we find that neither the Jews he encountered or the newly healed man himself had any clue as to how or why this miracle has occurred. The people, instead of rejoicing that this crippled man was now somehow walking among them, pointed out he was breaking a Sabbath rule by now carrying his mat around as he walked on rejuvenated legs!

The former lame man was clueless as well: The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there (John 5:13 NIV).

So why did Jesus select this one individual for healing at that time? Until we see the Lord face to face to ask Him, we won’t know. If I may be so bold, however, allow me to propose two possible explanations as to why this played out the way it did.

First, as I mentioned above, Jesus had to get through the wall of defense the crippled man had built up. His pain and misfortune had become familiar daily partners; so much so that they were what he mentioned to Jesus when asked directly if he wanted to be healed. Don’t you and I do something similar from time to time? It is as if we are more comfortable talking/lamenting/complaining about our problems than we are in doing what we can to lessen or remove them.

Though this first possible reason puts an unfavorable light on how we sometimes deal with adversities, the second reason I propose is teeming with grace and mercy from the Lord. From the many, many people who were desperately waiting for healing, Jesus personally presented Himself to just one at that time. I point this out not as a lament for those still waiting, but rather as evidence of Jesus’ level or personal care that He makes available.

Did/does He have the power to heal them/us all with one spoken word? Absolutely! But here, as in other cases, Jesus is stressing the eternal value of entering relationship with Him as opposed to merely supplying a band-aid to the issue at hand. I know that my tendency after recovering or feeling better is to forget about what was wrong and how I got over it. Jesus desires to help us all on a much deeper level than just alleviating our pain.

As wonderful as the physical healing is or would be, the eternal significance of the personal relationship Jesus offers cannot be overstated. That is why, in my opinion, Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle John to record this particular healing event, for it highlights the personal way Jesus reaches out to all of us, one at a time!

I pray that you and I come to that place that allows us to know the personal invitation of Jesus Christ. If that entails healing from sickness or infirmity, may it be to His praise and glory! But most importantly, may we, after this type of encounter with the Lord, walk from it with the comfort and assurance of God’s personal love for each and every one.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Forgiven and forgotten: A lesson learned from a 20 yard dumpster

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Last week my wife Betsy and I rented a 20 yard roll off dumpster. Though we are no hoarders by any stretch of the imagination, two decades of living in the same, relatively small house does manage to collect and store lots of stuff. Most of it was deemed essential at one point (or thought it would be in the future), hence the slow increase of clutter in our garage and the storage space above it.

Betsy took some time off from her job so that we could work together on this project. On Wednesday, the empty container was left in our driveway.

That first afternoon we moved the heavy and cumbersome things from the garage into the container. We got a later start that planned on Thursday and by that days end we had completed just the downstairs area, leaving the more difficult upstairs work for Friday.

Friday morning we cheerfully and carefully started getting things down the ladder and out to the dumpster and several short hours later, the job was done!

As encouraging as I hope this is to you if you are faced with de-junking your home, especially if you were born during the Kennedy administration, the pastor/preacher in me feels compelled to share the two points God has laid on my heart about this task we undertook. I say from God because on my own I do not think I would have equated filling a dumpster with old things with God’s forgiveness of our sins!

Let me start with the Scripture that came to mind as I pondered all this:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11-12 NIV).

Much as I watched the company truck haul our old stuff away, God forgives our sins (when we come to him humbly asking Him to do so). The drivers job was to take the dumpster away, not fill it for us. So too we must come before our merciful God seeking His forgiveness. The Apostle John describes it this way:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 NIV).

Like the things, some new, some old, that were cluttering up our living spaces, unrepented sin in our hearts keeps us separated from the closeness God wants us to know in Him. By cleaning out the garage and upstairs storage area, we can now walk safely through them. No longer is the thought running through my head that someday I must get rid of all this. It is gone because we hauled it to the light of day and then had it all taken away.

There is so much learn about God’s forgiveness! I hope, Precious Reader, you can glean some of the joy and excitement I am experiencing through this expression of how God continues to work in all who are willing to do their part. Betsy and I decided it was time to jettison the old, space-filling things, and then watched as they were taken away.

As I think about this, what a blessing forgiveness from God truly is. Psalm 103:12 tells us that He removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. Just how far is that? Picture a globe and start moving east. You are always moving in that direction. Moving east never becomes starting to move west. God is telling us that He removes our transgressions to a point beyond measurement!

And one more thing. Much as I do not have to worry that the full dumpster will someday re-appear in my driveway, once God forgives things they are forgotten, (on His part). Our human frailties seem to want to examine that old useless and potentially harmless stuff. Not God! He spoke this truth through the Prophet Jeremiah as He described what the New Covenant of His forgiveness would be like:

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34b NIV).

God has promised to take away our sins. As proof look only to the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ that was shed for the remission of sin. We experienced a great reminder of this eternal truth as we watched the dumpster of unwanted things taken from our presence.

Having a clean and spacious garage is cool; remembering again the depth of God’s mercy and grace as evidenced by His willingness to forgive, however, is beyond compare.

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Believing is Seeing

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Continuing with our look into the miracles performed by Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John, we find the second one in Chapter 4:43-54. Before we go any further, let me help clarify something you may have noticed if you have read the first four chapters of John. Though we are about to consider the second recorded miracle, there have been others performed by Jesus since He changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana that we talked about last time.

To bring us up to speed, let’s briefly consider where Jesus has been and done since He left that wedding. He first left Cana for Jerusalem where He celebrated the Passover. The author John tells it this way:

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. (John 2:23 NIV).

The beginning of Chapter 3 reveals a conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus,  a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling counsel. This man sought out Jesus to learn more about Him.

“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him. (John 3:2 NIV).

After explaining to Nicodemus why He came (John 3:16), Jesus left Jerusalem for the countryside where He spent time with His disciples. He and His group then headed back toward Galilee, passing through Samaria where the Lord has the wonderful encounter with the Woman at the Well. I’m passing by that encounter, rich as it is with things to teach us, to get to the miracle we shall examine. This one can be found in John 4:43:54. As is always the case, reading it from the source is always the best way to go, but in the short-term, here is what happened. A royal official from Capernaum heard that Jesus was back in Galilee. He went to Jesus, begging the Lord to heal his son who was near death.

Taken out of context, Jesus’ initial response to the official seems a bit harsh, much as did the way He responded to His mother about the lack of wine at the wedding. Jesus was not calling out this man in particular, but rather the local Jewish community. Remember, just prior to meeting this man Jesus had been in Samaria, a place and people that the Jews held in great contempt. Yet many there embraced Jesus’ teaching and put their faith in him; yet there was much resistance in Jesus’ own territory to Him and His message.

The heart of this miracle is revealed in the next few verses. First, the royal official, having heard what Jesus said about the locals only wanting to see something spectacular to wow them, then says to Jesus, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” (John 4:49 NIV)

I respect this father’s heart! His son’s well-being was all that was on his mind. He had heard of the things Jesus was doing and sought Him out to restore health to his son. He wasn’t arguing the point with Jesus. His sole focus was the health of his child.

The compassionate heart of the Lord then shines forth, Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” (John 4:50 NIV). Jesus does indeed love us all with an eternal, inexplicable love. Here we are given evidence of its power.

As significant as this is, it is the official’s response that I would like us all to ponder. The man took Jesus at his word and departed (John 4:50 NIV). Remember, this man had traveled a full day to seek out Jesus on behalf of his son and from the conversation he had with the Lord, we can safely assume he spent less than 5 minutes with Jesus. Yet, at the mere words of Jesus this desperate dad left to return home. More incredible is the fact that as of that time, this man did not believe nor know who Jesus truly was.

God’s awesome power to heal is made known to this official as he approaches his home. His servants rush out to tell him the wonderful news that his son is better. He then puts the timeline together to realize the fever left his son at the precise moment Jesus told him his son would live. We then learn that this man and his entire household put their faith in Jesus because of what has happened!

God heals on so many levels! By healing the boy physically, Jesus healed that whole family eternally. The family had not seen Jesus, but they had seen the results of His love and power.

This leads to the question I ask both you, Most Appreciated Readers, and me to ponder: How much do you believe without seeing? Asked another and more pointed way: Does your faith in Christ allow you to see Him at work around you, even though your physical eyes give no clue?

Please feel free to share your thoughts and insights with us all. Thanks.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

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

“Who do you say that I am?”

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As I read through the 16th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, I was struck by the question Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” As always, context is important to get the full flavor of what the gospel writer wants to convey. Here, Jesus is walking toward Jerusalem for the last time. The Lord knows this and what is to come. Therefore, Jesus is trying to get His disciples up to speed so that they will be better able to respond to the incredible things to come.

Before I read the disciples response, my mind began to ponder this question: ‘What if it was asked about me?’ Who would people say that I am?

The answer, I suppose, would depend upon who and when you asked. If the question were asked of any of my drinking companions during that dark time in my life, they would say I was ‘fun-loving, carefree and always looking for the next good time.’

If posed to others from during that period you would hear, ‘irresponsible, self-centered and thoughtless.’ Both answers from these various groups would be true.

As I have shared with you many times, Dear Reader, I am blessed that God lifted me out of the deadly mire my life was in as He restored me to a life of sobriety.

If folks were asked that question of me these days, I would hope the answer would reflect a growing concern for others and a life lived transparently as one who makes the effort to faithfully follow the Lord Jesus.

Interesting as this self-reflection is, by far the more prominent question (and our response to it) is the one posed by Jesus: “Who do you say I am?”

I am sure the responses would be as varied as they were when Jesus first asked the question. Be that as it may, how you answer that question is of eternal importance: to you!

So if I may, Dear Reader, allow me to ask for Him: Who do you say Jesus is?

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

Hey God, are you listening to me?

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Generally when I, or I suspect most people, ask another, “Are you listening to me,” we want to make sure our point was received or to get a positive response way more than simply wondering if what was said was in fact heard.

I believe the same principle applies when we pray. Our desire is to not only get the Almighty’s attention, but also to get the response to our prayer that we want.

I am also aware that many followers of Christ have spent lots of time earnestly praying for others as well as themselves. I have been asked more than once by these folks if God really listens to our prayers. I realize that the companion question to this is, ‘Does God answers all our prayers?’ Though I am confident that He does, the purpose of this particular blog is to address the inquiry of whether or not God is listening to our prayers.

Though the anecdotal evidence I have gathered through years of ministry point to a resounding ‘Yes!,’ that God is listening, I believe going to the one true source, the Bible, will give us the clearest and infinitely more reliable answer. Please know that the following in no way exhausts the truth found in Scripture pertaining to God hearing our prayers, but it is my hope that these few examples will eliminate any doubt lingering in your heart or mind (Spoiler alert: God is always listening!)

Clear proof that God is listening can be found in the Book of Daniel, Chapter 9, verses 22- 23 record this message being delivered to Daniel by the angel Gabriel: “Daniel, I have now come to give you understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.” (NIV)

Notice how quickly the answer was made; as soon as you began to pray. There is no call waiting with God, no need to leave a voice mail, He is listening.

Here’s an example of one of those long time, devout people I mentioned earlier found in the beginning of the Gospel of Luke learning that God is always listening. Zechariah, who was to become the father of John the Baptist, had been praying to God for a son. He continued this fervent prayer even though he and his wife Elizabeth were now quite old. As we soon learn, age and circumstance pale in the face of the Almighty’s power and plans. One day, as Zechariah, a priest, was about his duties in the temple, an unnamed angel appeared to him: When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” (Luke 1:12-13 NIV)

Once again, prayer was heard. There is so much more to consider here in this particular passage, but I’ll leave it for another time except to say isn’t cool that the angel knew both Zechariah and his wife by name? This tells me that our prayers are not going to some faceless call-center, but rather are being received personally and with great care.

That is just two examples of prayers being heard. I take great encouragement from them (even if an angel has not been sent to me to deliver the answer!). As if the evidence of Daniel and Zechariah having their prayers heard were not enough, Jesus Himself shines the light of truth on the matter. Immediately before calling His friend Lazarus back to life, the Gospel of John records Jesus saying the following about being heard by the Father: So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42 NIV)

Jesus, in complete assurance of what He said was heard by the Father, spoke those words for the benefit of the crowd gathered there and for us. God is listening, always.

Here is one more example, this time from Father God Himself. In 2 Chronicles Chapter 6, there is recorded a long prayer that King Solomon prayed as He and the people dedicated to God the newly completed temple. Please take the time to read this prayer as it is a wonderful example of what our heart position should be when we approach the Almighty in prayer.

Then in Chapter 7, we read that the dedication is over and the people have been dismissed to their homes. It is then that God appears to Solomon and says, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.” (2 Chronicles 7:12 NIV)

No angel was sent to Solomon with an answer. Rather, God Himself delivered the message that the prayer offered had been heard.

As stated earlier, this barely scratches the surface of biblical evidence of God hearing prayers. But, you might be thinking, Daniel and Zechariah were notable characters. Maybe their standing moved their prayers up the line faster than those of ordinary folks like you and me.

Not to worry. Our limited and finite abilities as humans to take in information influences how we think God can. Never forget, He is omnipotent. He is limitless, we are limited. Because of His infinite capacity to care for us, He is able to hear all our prayers as we pray them.

I hope these thoughts on whether God hears us when we pray brings you some comfort in this regard. Next time we’ll consider if God answers all our prayers. Until then, keep on praying: God is listening!

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

Unity, Liberty, Love

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Worldwide pandemic and the growing unrest in America have shattered the cozy bubble many Christians have been living in. It’s one thing to think of the poor and downtrodden and maybe even give a little money toward some helpful cause; but it is quite another when the very real threat of serious illness could await your next trip to the grocery store. The same goes for reading about oppressed people from long ago: Seeing it played out in real time before our eyes on our newsfeeds and in front of our eyes in our streets brings the reality of abuse to the forefront of the heart and mind.

With our bubble having been burst, what are we Christians to do? One thing we most assuredly cannot do is run from the issues, looking for some place we can bury our heads (and hearts) so as to not have the uncertainty of these times disrupt our quiet, peaceful and non-caring lives. Living like that helps no one, ourselves included.

What, then, is the body of Christ to do in the face of a world spinning more and more out of control? With so many people and causes that need our attention, how do we even begin an attempt to be a positive influence for Christ in the chaos surrounding us?

In my opinion, if the Church (that is all who profess faith in Christ) is going to have a lasting impact for God in today’s world, it is of the utmost importance that we begin with a clear and discerning look at ourselves. I found this helpful guideline regarding our attitudes and actions in the study notes of the NIV Application Study Bible from Romans Chapter 14:1-4: Our principle should be: In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in everything, love.

This honest appraisal hopefully will lead us to a clear decision: that we must move forward in Unity as a body to be best used by the Lord in today’s world. Unity can be a confusing word, especially if one were naïve enough to believe that all Christians around the globe (or even across town) are going to suddenly and completely agree on everything.

Yet, with regard to the above-mentioned essentials, I believe it is necessary that we do move ahead in complete unity. What are the essentials? I enjoy noted bible teacher, author and pastor Alstair Begg’s definition of what is essential for all believers. Begg says that from the Scriptures we find the essentials as being the main stuff is the plain stuff and the plain stuff is the main stuff. What wisdom in that definition! Here are just a few of the verses that fall clearly under this category:

John 14:6: Jesus speaking: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Paul writes in Romans 10:9: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Peter speaking in Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:18: For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

I could gladly go on, but you see the point. On this essential we must be unified. Salvation by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). For the individual Christian as well as the church in its many expressions, the body of Christ needs to have this baseline as our rallying cry. Jesus is Savior for all. He is the ultimate equal opportunity giver. His life, death and resurrection are the proof of His undying, equal love for all. All. All are invited to partake in what He has to give. All. When the believer, individually or corporately has this unshakable truth in them, they are prepared to be used by God for the furthering of His plans and goodness in the here and now. As He spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah so may years ago, “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It is essential that we go forward trusting in God’s plan as we seek His guidance to follow and act our part in it.

Almost as important is the Liberty we express to our fellow believers who may have traditions, music, or styles that are different from what we know and participate in. As long as the essentials are held in the absolute highest regard, liberty can be given with greater ease and assurance in the non-essentials. For example, your worship experience may be much more exuberant than mine. Liberty to you. As long as the Lord Jesus is being praised, it matters not if it is through dance or a strictly adhered to liturgy. Far too often we Christians get to bickering with each other over non-essential things. Shame on us! This is a wasting of time to prove my way is better than yours. Meanwhile, the world watches and wonders what is so special about church. When we are seen as combative with other Christians, we lose any credibility with the world as far as being a place to put some hope in.

When we can extend liberty instead of harmful or destructive debate over non-essentials, we certainly can gain ground for the kingdom of God. But, this can be a difficult step. It requires humility. It requires a proper perspective on the ‘main stuff.’ When I feel myself hedging away from the center, I try to remember to ask myself, “Who is be edified by this argument or confrontation?” My honest reply is usually either me or the cause I am supporting. Neither of these are proper. Acting or thinking in these ways is not in accordance with the last point: Love

All of the above goes for naught if we fail in the ‘new’ command gave us: Love one another.” (John 13:34). Jesus did not leave this instruction as a mere suggestion, like something we ought to try to see if we like. No. To love others as He loved us is a command.

“A command sounds pretty rigid” you might be thinking. And if you attempt to follow it without whole-heartedly embracing it, that is how it will appear. I believe  the call to love one another, especially for the follower of Christ, is the manifestation of living out the unity and liberty I have been speaking of. And, I also believe it is imperative that we do so because quite simply, how are we going to show real love to our hurting and lost world if we cannot love one another?

One last reservation that creeps up on many: ‘I just cannot love everyone,’ for whatever your reasons are. I respond, ‘That’s ok.’ I am in no way suggesting we walk about our world like saints with hands folder in prayer, mouthing empty words of no meaning or value. Rather, I am saying that as devoted followers of the Son of God, our lives ought to be overflowing with His love for us. Living and walking this fact out will allow for the love of God to flow through us, helping us when we feel we cannot love another.

Unity, Liberty, Love. May we make these the battle cry as we march into our personal mission fields.

Blessings and peace to you all,

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

Salt and Light?

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Jesus taught in many different ways, knowing full well people had many learning styles.  That fact hasn’t changed in over 2000 years! For me, the Lord’s teaching through parables has always been easiest for me to understand.  I find the connection between the characters in the stories and the truth Jesus was teaching easy to find.  Conversely, His teaching through the use of metaphor hasn’t been as clear to me.  Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing, as it make me slow down to consider what was said.  It is this pondering process that leads my entry into the blog-o-sphere today.

The bible records Jesus speaking in Matthew 5:13-16 this way:

“You are the salt of the earth.  But if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (NIV)

Salt and light? How can I be salt or light?  Even realizing this is a question put in the form of a metaphor, I’m still not sure what it means.  Allow me to share with you what my pondering has revealed thus far.

To be salt as Jesus has commanded, I continue the metaphor in that I must be ‘seasoning’ to the world around me.  Much as salt brings out or enhances the flavor of some foods (like corn on the cob!), so should I strive to have that kind of influence in my world.  Health questions aside, I must be a salted potato chip, something with some zest, as opposed to a bland unsalted one if my life of faith is to look appealing to someone else.

Salt in the days when Jesus walked the earth was a primary preservative of meat.  Yet to be of any value, it had to be rubbed in to be of any use.  Salt left lying next to a slab of fresh meat doesn’t help at all.  This applies to our life of faith as well: If I stay secluded in my office, I am not adding any spice to my community as a whole.

Jesus then goes on to say that His followers are also the light of the world.  Light is such an important theme throughout the Scriptures.  God’s light removes darkness as it  reveals His loving and compassionate heart.  Those living in darkness can’t see this.

Jesus would later tell everyone that He was the light of the world and that whoever followed Him would never walk in darkness. (John 8:12) He is the light, no question.  Yet you and I can and do walk in darkness, physically.  But Jesus is talking about our spiritual, not our physical walk.  Following His great light illuminates everything.  Rather that worry about what this might expose, how about considering what this light can reveal to/for us? Has anyone ever said to you, “I don’t want to give up this or that” to become a Christian.

I can remember thinking that way, especially when it came to smoking cigarettes.  Was I going to have to give them up now that I knew Jesus had saved me? No, I didn’t have to quit them or any other vice I might have been enjoying.  Rather I came to understand that following Jesus is all about addition, not subtraction.  Becoming His follower gave me peace like I’d never known.  It gave (and gives) me assurance the world can’t come close to giving.  These minuses just don’t register when compared to the pluses (and BTW, I’m going on 23 years without a smoke!).

In the verses at the top, Jesus says we are the light of the world and not to hide this fact.  Alright, but how do I do this? Simply put, by living out this faith we claim for all to see.  Scripture is once again filled with examples of how we can accomplish this.  We can see to the need of orphans and widows (James 1:27) or by tending to the needs of the hungry, giving clothes to those in need and remembering to help out our own family as well (Isaiah 58:7).

Joyce Meyer has summed this salt and light question up in a way that helped me: The Bible says that Christians are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. On the job, in the grocery store, even among unsaved friends and family members, God’s people are there to bring seasoning to an unsavory situation.

If being salt and light has been a question in your heart and mind, I pray these musings have helped to clarify it some.

My sincerest thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck