For God So Loved the World, February 2023

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3, NIV).

Anyone who stops to contemplate the complexity of a human being can only be awestruck by the creative power of God. Our physical structure, comprised of so many microscopic cellular parts working together in a way that results in a functioning body, is amazing enough. Add to that, though, the ability to think and reason, and the concept of humanity is staggering!

But God did not stop there. Not only did He create a functioning body with thinking skills, He bestowed upon His creation emotion. Combined with the other facets of creation, God made the human being the crowning glory of His creation: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day” (Genesis 1:27, 31, NIV, italic added).

One of our most powerful emotions, love, is celebrated in the month of February as Valentine’s Day, so it is appropriate to consider its meaning and application. Scripture is clear enough on the matter: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God… We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:7, 19, NIV). Love that does not start here becomes distorted, misused, and abused. Even though cel- ebrating love as romance on Valentine’s Day can be whimsical, it pales in comparison to true love.

The Apostle John loved to write about love. The high point of love, he tells us, is that “we should be called children of God!” Spiritually, everyone is an orphan until he or she accepts God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. The image of an orphan is a universally frightening specter: abandoned, lonely, impoverished, and unloved. Into this bleak landscape, when we are at our most helpless state, God sent His Son. Through Him, God sent every one of us His personal Val- entine’s Day message:

For God so loved the world, That He gave His only Begotten Son That whoever believes In Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Small wonder that John was so fascinated by love! God’s love extends far beyond the limits of human romanticism. God’s love heals, transforms, and restores. God’s love takes us from the orphanage and places us in the household of God. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

In Christ,

-Pastor Chuck-

Do the Good That God Has Taught Us, January 2023

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this city or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not know that will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:13-17, NIV).

You may very well hear me say more than once that I have long been amazed at how much difference there can be between one year and the next simply because we turn the page of a calendar. Yet, it always happens, for better or for worse, that one year is remarkably different than another. Who could have ever imagined how different 2020 would be from 2019? Or from any other year we have experienced?

We are moving once again into a new year: 2022 becomes 2023 with another flip of a calendar page. Like any new year, we carry many hopes into it. Not the least for Rochester First Baptist is the prospect of a new pastor and pastor’s family. As God reveals His will to both this fellowship and the person who will be called, continue to pray for the pulpit search committee: wisdom, discernment, patience, and encouragement.

Pray also for our nation and the ongoing seismic cultural shifts happening all around us. Long-held moral principles are being redefined or eliminated altogether. Theologians in some arenas challenge Biblical integrity. The Christian faith is under assault from a variety of cultural sectors for proclaiming <gasp!> values and ethics and moral standards. What is a Christian to do?

There are a lot of overwhelming issues going on. My thought is, “Do the obvious: trust God and obey Him.” The portion of Scripture from James 4 speaks volumes: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” This isn’t meant to send us plummeting into the depths of guilt-trip despair. It is a simple sentence of instruction meant to encourage and motivate us to accomplish that which God has empowered us to do. I can think of a lot of disciplines from which to choose an illustration; I’ll pick something from my submariner days. Everyone on the boat had at least one designated job (we really had way more than one). In order for the boat to be operated smoothly and safely, everyone needed to do his designated job(s). But if we stopped at the boundaries our individual jobs alone, we were still likely to run into problems. Each of us also had to know how to do someone else’s job as well. Why? Because if a crisis struck, such as flooding or fire, anyone in the vicinity of the casualty needed to respond immediately. Waiting for just the “right” person to arrive on the scene could be deadly. The crisis could develop into a catastrophe if those at the scene did not respond quickly. Since we always thought that not being able to surface the submarine would be a bad thing, all of us tried not to ignore doing the right thing; i.e., “doing good.”

So here we are in a world filled with conflict, immorality, and poor ethical teaching. What are Christians to do? Do the good that God has taught us. Apply what God has taught us. Jesus welcomed people into the Kingdom of God. When they learned that they were actually welcomed, sinners took some remarkable steps. They repented! They changed! They became Christ-like in their speech and behavior! What a concept – do the good that we know that we ought to do.

In spite of liking to be prepared for the future, I have found that I am not very good at predicting the future. Neither have I found anyone who is. None of us are surprised by that, are we? James 4 indicates that we will not be so fortunate as to find someone who will be able to predict the future. We do not know what will happen tomorrow. Is that what matters to James? Not at all. Notice that James has nothing against planning. It just matters whether our plans conform to the Lord’s will or not. And if the Lord requires that our plans change, then so be it. God’s point is that whether He allows us to follow our plans or not, this basic element of obedience is never removed: do the good that God has taught us to do. “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Make this year special by applying that which God has taught no matter the circumstances.

Have a Blessed New Year!

In Christ,

-Pastor Chuck-

Merry Christmas! December 2022

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what
the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:17- 20, NIV).

“I can’t believe that it’s time for Christmas already!” I’ve made that exclamation before, and I will no doubt make it again. So have you. For most of us, this is not an expression of wonder and excitement. Instead, it is probably a groan. Unless you are a child, heading into the Christmas season means picking up a frenzied pace. It means shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking, and preparing for travel or for guests. None of these are bad, of course, for they all represent an expression of our love for others. Nevertheless, they all combine to make us look back after the event and ask, “What happened? Christmas zipped by so quickly that didn’t get to enjoy it!” That seems to be the perspective of Christmas from the adult viewpoint.

The perspective from childhood is a bit different. If I recall accurately from my own childhood, I couldn’t wait for Christmas to get here. It seems like it took forever to arrive. It was a marvelous time of the year as new sights, smells, and tastes abounded almost every day. And waking up to Christmas morning itself… well, who could improve on an experience like that?

So… what happened to that sense of wonderful excitement and anticipation? Adulthood and all the things that go along with it. Yet, whether adult or child, I am convinced that God delights every time that we stop and consider and ponder the wonder of His creation. I recall a Christmas devotional that reminded me of the importance of wonder.

“Elmer Kline, a bakery manager in 1921, was given the job of naming the company’s new loaf of bread. As he struggled to come up with something ‘catchy,’ he found his answer in an unlikely place. While visiting the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he stopped to watch the International Balloon Festival. Later he described the sight of the beautiful hot-air balloons launching into the Indiana sky as one of ‘awe and wonderment.’ The thought stuck, and he called the new product Wonder Bread. To this day, the packaging for Wonder Bread is brightened by colorful balloons” (Bill Crowder, “Wonder,” Our Daily Bread, December 24, 2006).

The only reason that Christmas fails to fill us with “awe and wonderment” anymore is because we allow our self-imposed pressures to crowd out the shepherds’ announcement. What could possibly fill us with more “awe and wonderment” than the birth of the Christ-child?

This year, I encourage you to purposefully set aside time to experience once again the wonder of Christmas. It may be early in the season, or it may be later. Ideas that come to mind include: reading Luke 1-2; listening to favorite sacred music of the season; helping someone in need; attending a Christmas program. You no doubt have additional ways to bring a sense of genuine wonder and joy back into the season, if only for a moment. If God can break into the lives of ordinary folk two thousand plus years ago, He can do so again. Celebrate Christmas with wonder at His love and His coming.

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

Merry Christmas!

In Christ,

Pastor Chuck

But Thanks Be to God! November 2022

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:54-58, NIV).

As we move into the month of November, I find myself returning again to the background of the Thanksgiving holiday we will celebrate. Each time I consider our annual celebration, I am amazed at the conviction and resolve displayed by those settlers at Plymouth, known as the Pilgrims, with whom our Thanksgiving traditions are inevitably intertwined. Let us be clear about the stark differences between their Thanksgiving and ours. The Pilgrims did not look forward to an established holiday with a prepared feast, protection from the elements in modern homes, and anticipation of football games on big screen, high-definition televisions.

In their first winter in the harsh land, nearly half of the original 102 Mayflower passengers died. Imagine the magnitude of this historical fact. A small community where everyone was known by everyone else. Among those who perished, then, were close friends, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, parents, and children. Imagine the grief, and then imagine the limited amount of time to grieve for there was much work to be done to support those who survived. How did they cope? The most straightforward answer I can find is that they lived the faith they professed. Christianity was not an abstract philosophy; it was reality. It was life.

There are many who picture the Pilgrims as stern, harsh, unyielding people with no humor. That is an uncharacteristic and unfair image. They were human beings. They sought protection from pain and hardship. They knew sorrow and joy. And they knew the source of their joy.

In 1 Corinthians 15. Paul declares plainly and bluntly that death has been overcome. In Christ, death yields to victory. In spite of their human weaknesses, the Pilgrims believed these verses and lived these verses. This Scriptural testimony was as real to them as any in the Old Testament describing God’s blessings poured out on the Israelites. Death, therefore, did not have the final say in their lives; however, the Word of God did. As a result, they persevered through some of the harshest conditions we can possibly imagine. They persevered not with resignation, but with the assurance that their labor in the Lord was not in vain.

With such an assurance, they gave humble thanks to the Lord who conquered death. In November 1623, William Bradford, Governor of the colony, issued an official proclamation that included this summons: “Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house… there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

Even though our celebration traditions have changed over the centuries, may we never forget the original reason behind Thanksgiving Day. “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Have a

Blessed Thanksgiving!

In Christ,

Pastor Chuck