Keep Your Eyes on the Good Shepherd, June 2023

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3, NKJV).

In a recent devotional article, Joni Eareckson Tada writes, “A life that pleases the Lord is never a smooth road. Today’s Scripture tells us that our Shepherd guides us along the right paths—paths of righteousness. That is true, but sadly, we often shake off his guiding hand. His path might interest us for a while, but then we allow sin to beckon us down a detour… We are so prone to wander—so inclined to leave his path and run away from his lordship. But how gracious and patient he is with us! The psalmist David wrote, ‘He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust’ (Psalm 103:14, NIV)” (Joni Eareckson Tada, “Prone to Wander,” 18 May 2023, https://

Her particular reference to righteousness caught my attention. Outside of John 3:16, the 23rd Psalm is probably the most memorized and most familiar passage in the Bible. It is a Psalm of comfort that soothes our soul. It is a Psalm that con- nects us directly to the shepherd imagery used by Jesus: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11, NIV). Extremely soothing and comfort- ing, indeed.

However, the beginning of the Psalm reminds us of the covenant relationship that the Lord has established with us. In order to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” and to “fear no evil” and to eat a banquet “in the presence of my enemies,” I must follow the Shepherd “in the paths of righteousness.” This is a reality that we are not to take lightly. Only God has the authority to define righteousness (or holiness). Our human nature is to deny and defy righteousness, as revealed in Genesis 3. In a reference to Psalm 14:1-3, Paul wrote, “There is no one right- eous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10-11, NIV).

Thankfully, there is a cure. As God reveals in His Word, God gives us what we cannot attain: “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus

Christ” (Romans 3:22-24, NIV). In the sermon “Remember the Goal,” I concluded that “God wants us to be [in heaven]. In order to be there, we have to be able to ‘see His face.’ In or- der to ‘see His face,’ we have to ‘be holy, because He is holy.’ Because we cannot make ourselves holy, God will make us holy. That is the goal” (Pastor Chuck Layne, “Remember the Goal,” 25 September 2022, v=n_6ChDaZ_HU).

From the start of our restored relationship with God and throughout our spiritual walk with Him, our Good Shepherd guides along His paths of righteousness. No matter how far afield we may wander, His grace brings us back to His paths of righteousness, which is Good News indeed. But better news for us – the sheep in His pasture – is to keep our eyes on our Good Shepherd and to follow the path where He leads, for it is on His path that we receive His victory over the devastations of sin.

“And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6b, NKJV). Amen!

In the Bond of Christian Victory,

-Pastor Chuck-

Who can I encourage today? May 2023

“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, NIV).

I had the privilege of attending the Rochester High School per- formance of The Wizard of Oz. All of the hard work and long hours put in by everyone involved paid off as the audiences were treated to an enjoyable production of this long-lasting classic. I was reminded the evening that I attended the performance how often literature that becomes classic mirrors Bible lessons. The Wizard of Oz fits this observation. As each of Dorothy’s traveling companions are introduced, the audience learns something about their unique characteristics and their needs. Facing the challenges set before them, each member of the team uses his or her unique characteristic and talent to rescue the others and help them all reach their goal. Through- out their journey, they encourage one another.

This is an illustration of lesson after lesson preserved for us in the greatest work of literature of all time – the Bible. The word “encourage” means “to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence.” Christians are on a journey together. Upon accepting His merciful gift of salvation, He seals our pardon. Our journey then becomes one of submitting our lives to His will and dis- covering the ministries He has prepared for us. Because of our humanity, we still face challenges of uncertainty and, at times, discouragement. This is where genuine Christian fellowship makes its appearance and makes the difference.

Life creates multiple situations when we need to receive encouragement and situations when we need to give encouragement. One of the strengths of Christian fellowship is that through our common bond in Christ, we stand ready and willing to deploy every spiritual gift and personal experience we have been given in order to “encourage one another.”

In the devotional “Cheering Each Other On,” David McCasland writes: “A mile from the finish line of the London Marathon, thousands of onlookers holding signs lined the route. When spectators spotted a family member or friend coming into view, they shouted the person’s name, waved, and yelled encouragement: ‘Just a little farther! Keep going! You’re almost there.’ After running 25 miles, many competi- tors were barely walking and ready to quit. It was amazing to watch exhausted runners brighten and pick up the pace when they saw someone they knew or heard their name called out. Encouragement! We all need it, especially in our walk of faith. The book of Hebrews tells us to keep urging each other on. ‘Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of our- selves together… but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (10:24-25)… As we ‘see the Day approaching,’ let’s keep cheering each other on in the faith… Even if you have nothing else to give, you can give encouragement” (Our Daily Bread, April 13, 2008. Used by permission.).

As we proceed through the rest of the year, ask yourself, “Who can I encourage today?” Whether in the church or community, genuine encouragement is always in season.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

In the Bond of Christian Fellowship,

-Pastor Chuck-

Jesus Is ALIVE! April 2023

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20, NIV).

This month, the Christian Church once again remembers and celebrates the great and wonderful act of God’s love: the crucifixion, death, burial, and res- urrection of Jesus, which we know as Easter. As with any event that is regularly celebrated, we can lose contact with its importance because of its familiarity. After all, we are not like the disciples who were huddled behind locked doors in fear of Jewish or Roman authorities. We know the entire story; we have been through it many times.

Despite our familiarity with this event, it still breaks into our lives fresh and new. The disciples were completely transformed after they saw the resurrected Christ and received the Holy Spirit. Their fear was replaced with the power and might of God’s conquering love. Even though they received beatings, imprisonments, and all manner of persecutions, they never retreated from proclaiming the salvation message of the resurrected Lord.

The disciples’ testimony is our testimony, too. In the face of modern skepti- cism, the historicity of the life of Jesus is firmly established in both ancient and modern studies. The event which the disciples experienced is historical reality. It happened. In this way, our celebration of Easter is like any other significant historical event. But unlike any other historical event, the impact of Easter is as real today as it was at the time that it happened. The same salvation that the disciples received and experienced is ours today. The same measure of God’s love and power that was laid upon those disciples is ours today. The same message of light, hope, and saving love that encouraged and guided their lives is ours today.

This reality is what keeps our celebration of Easter as fresh and new as if it was happening to the original disciples again. Anyone who confesses his or her sin to God and believes that the death and resurrection of Jesus paid the penalty for sin receives the same merciful forgiveness that those living in the days of the crucifixion and resurrection received. Any believer in need of renewal and revitalization receives the same joyful strength as those who were in that room at the moment when Jesus stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

The Bible does not call believers to live in the past. The revelation of God has always been given to people in their contemporary settings. We are no holier if we live without electricity or medicine or computers or smartphones. It is futile to establish some kind of utopian past because such things turn out to be man-made illusions anyway.

But the Bible does call believers to remember the past. We remember that sin and death were defeated by the resurrected Christ. Since they were defeated then, they are defeated now. Since they were defeated then, they are defeated for all days to come. The same joy that the disciples experienced when they saw the Lord is our joy, too. The same victory that the disciples were given by the Lord’s resurrection is our victory, too. The same divine love that saved the disciples is the same divine love that saves us, too.

Since we have celebrated it before, Easter may be a familiar event in the life of the Christian Church. But it is certainly not an event that the born-again believer takes for granted. Because Jesus lives, we live, too. May God’s Easter grace, mercy, and love fill you with the joy, peace, and victory of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Jesus is alive!

In Christian Joy,

-Pastor Chuck-

Defending Your Faith, March 2023

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27, NIV).

“Do your kids know how to defend their faith?” “Ready to equip parents for cultural challenges?”

Those are the subject lines of two emails I recently received. The first is from Focus on the Family, and the second is from Alliance Defending Freedom Church Alliance. As you can probably guess, the topics of both emails are similar. They both offer resources that help equip families, pastors, and churches to better withstand the barrage of assaults on the Biblical Christian worldview from increasingly antagonistic nonbiblical humanist worldviews prevalent in our culture. I have noticed that God has been directing a variety of resources on this general topic to me for a few months. This has been a consistent manner throughout my personal and pastoral spiritual growth and maturity in which God directs me to specific areas of focus, so I am once again paying attention as best I can. The resulting question always becomes, “How can I best use these resources in both my personal life and in pastoral leadership?”

The first way is to recognize that this is a legitimate Biblical issue requiring our attention. The first and primary responsibility of anyone receiving the Gospel message is to personally believe that Jesus bore the cost of our sins on the cross, to confess our sins to God, and to accept His merciful forgiveness. This is salvation. Our next responsibility is to begin growing in spiritual maturity so that we become more and more the person Jesus wants us to be – to become Christ-like. Closely associated with this is our responsibility to serve Christ. Frequently, but not exclusively, this is lived out by serving others who are in need. As James put it, “look after orphans and widows in their distress.” There is an obvious literal application to this instruction, but there are figurative applications as well. Those in distress go beyond just orphans and widows: victims of natural disasters, crimes, accidents, illness, and wars; those suffering from mental disorders and birth defects; those in distress due to financial setbacks; homelessness; and a myriad of other situations. The list can appear endless sometimes, and there are multiple ministries that have been created to respond to these needs.

Actively joining in ministry “to look after orphans and widows in distress” is a meaningful way to serve Jesus. Nevertheless, serving without also growing in Biblical knowledge and wisdom leads us to the place where we find ourselves in this cultural en- vironment. Skeptics’ arguments about so-called Biblical error, faith-science conflict, and moral relativism are driving all too many away from the Christian faith. They are driving wedges into family relationships. They are creating government policies that make it more and more challenging for Christians to practice their faith in the public arena. The second part of James’s definition of pure and faultless religion is “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” We are able to do this only by developing and growing a Christian worldview. “Always [be] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, but with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15b, NASB). This is a challenge, but God does not leave us to face it alone.

“How can I best use these resources in both my personal life and in pastoral leadership?” The second way is to share the resources that the Lord sends me with those around me. Even though I know that I am not always prepared to give adequate responses to the challenges that skeptics raise using science, logic, and persuasive language, I know that there are others who are prepared. And Christians have access to more of those resources than ever before. The key is to familiarize ourselves with some of them. One of those resources God has recently directed me to is Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies by Hillary Morgan Ferrer (general editor). The word “defense” in 1 Peter 3:15 is translated from the Greek word apologia. It was used as a reference to a lawyer arguing for a case in court. “This is not arguing or being defensive in a negative sense. Instead, it refers to giving reasons to support a conclusion, and doing so in a way that, ideally, is persuasive in nature” (Hillary Short, “How to Be a Mama Bear,” Mama Bear Apologetics, p. 37). I have discovered from some to whom I have recommended this book that they already have it. But if you don’t and might wonder if it is a resource you can use, I have received permission from the publisher to copy and distribute an introductory chapter of the book. If you would like a pdf copy of the file, request it from me via email to pastor- or to the church email. It is also available in paper format (it seems funny writing that) at the church. If you cannot make it to the church, call and request that a copy be mailed to you. By the way, this is also a valuable resource for Dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and anyone seeking help in facing the attacks that our culture is making on those who seek to live out the Christian faith.

Another book that has had a big impact on me is The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between by Gregory Koukl. That sounds like a lot, but the beauty of it is that Greg is able to express all of this in a way that is easily readable. In fact, the book is only 198 pages – and that includes the end notes. This book’s impact on my thinking about the meaning of the Christian faith has been so significant that I tell others that if they read only one other book this year besides the Bible – and no matter how many resources we have that help us in our Christian journey, we always start with and stay in God’s Word – that The Story of Reality is that book they should read.

I hope that you find these resources helpful. There are many more available, of course. The important point to remember is to stay connected with God through His Word, through the fellowship in the local church, and through the many brothers and sisters in Christ who are able to apply their gifts, talents, and experiences in ways that help others be equipped to be faithful and effective Christian witnesses.

In Christ,

-Pastor Chuck-