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-


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-