Growing Pains

In 2009, when we lived out in Southern California, I had the opportunity to meet Kirk Cameron. Some of you may know that the actor is significantly invested in the cause of Christ and that God has given Kirk a specific passion for Biblical evangelism. In “real life,” Mr. Cameron is just as kind and engaging as you might imagine from his public persona. For those of you who don’t remember, Kirk’s acting career began at the age of 14, and he was an avowed atheist until the age of 17.

Kirk and his wife Chelsea have six grown children. In a recent interview, Kirk shared a quote from one of his daughters: “It’s the same boiling water that softens potatoes that hardens eggs. It just depends on what you’re made of.” I like that.

If you really think about the humanity of Jesus, it causes you to recognize that we – even on our best days – fall far short of being the best version of ourselves. If you analyze it theologically, Jesus is fully human, yet fully God. That means that Jesus, unlike anyone else in the universe, is the perfect human. He shows us the best of humanity. When we read an account in the Bible of an interaction that Jesus had with another person, we know that what we’re seeing in the words and actions of Jesus is nothing short of perfect love. Not only are we not like that, but we don’t know anyone else like that either. We’re far from perfect, and I certainly don’t have to convince you of that fact.

So when you and I love another person – no matter how hard we may try – we love that person imperfectly. We may exhibit some self-sacrificial love on occasion, but our best actions are always tainted by some degree of self and sin. “What’s in it for me?” is a question I’m asking even when I don’t know I’m asking it. Inherent selfishness is simply part of being a flawed human, and one who is more closely connected to Adam than I would ever want to admit.

So … here we are … trying to love like Jesus … but not getting it exactly right. Maybe you’re like me in that, just when you think you’re making some progress in the saga of sanctified selflessness, you notice some other area of your life where you’re holding on tightly to the idols of pride and control. I think of those spiritual frustrations – the internal conflict between who I want to be and who I know I am – as growing pains. It can feel like a vicious cycle at times, but you and I have to stand by faith on God’s promise that He’s going to finish the good work that He began in us when we first trusted Christ (Philippians 1:6). Even when we are not, God is faithful.

And if we have growing pains, well, we must be growing. We can praise the Lord for that! What I want you to think about today is shoring up your identity as a Christ-follower so that – when the temporal frustration tries to invade your soul in the form of debilitating discouragement – you can refuse to be derailed by what feels very much like an insurmountable spiritual failure. I’m firmly convinced that the enemy wants all of us to declare ourselves “total flops” so that we’ll give up on the race which we’ve been called to run for God’s glory.

Expanding just a tad on Kirk’s daughter’s quote, I’ll share with you here three simple thoughts for your time of personal reflection, just as soon as you get the chance to think deeply on this subject.

  1. The challenges are coming; it’s not a question of if I will face tough challenges to my identity, but when I will face those challenges. Pressure is everywhere around me, and most of it is negative and contradictory to my core identity in Jesus. I need the Word, regularly. I need fellowship in prayer, regularly. I need fellowship with other believers, regularly. I need gracious but firm accountability, regularly. There are some means of grace available to me, right now, which can keep my heart from hardening under even intense pressure. The Holy Spirit Himself desires to fill me with such strong Christ-identity that I will stay humble before the Lord, humble before my adversaries, and humbly open to truly hearing – when I need it most – the reassuring voice of God.
  1. Spiritual setbacks can be discouraging, but I can choose to translate them into learning opportunities. From time to time, we all get so busy and distracted that we fail to see the pitfalls which are before us. We yield to temptation, or we carelessly set ourselves (or others) up for trouble – because we have let down our spiritual guard. It happens to all of us, and it will happen more than once this side of heaven. I must ask the Lord to show me where things went wrong, and what my role was in that (it’s always there to one degree or another). Then I can confess, repent, learn, grow, and move on in a healthy way.
  1. I have one on my side who is far more invested in my crossing the finish line than I, and I can trust Him completely. He is my Friend who sticks closer than a brother. When I come under the discipline of God, that discipline is only a manifestation of His unyielding love toward me, and an expression of His relentless care for me. He will never leave me or forsake me. Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross on my behalf, my heavenly Father’s favorable opinion of me is unchanging – He is always with me, always delighting in me, and always for me!

Those truths just might help you make it through a growing pain or two, friends, and hopefully, they’ll help you keep all of your growing pains in their proper (and not larger-than-life) perspective.

I’ll quote my friend Kirk before I sign off for today: “If you don’t know what you’re made of, don’t look to your environment or your industry or other people to give you an identity. There was somebody who made you – ask Him. And you can be sure that the ending of the story is gonna be fantastic.”

I like happy endings. I love happy endings. Hollywood can’t promise them, but our glorious Savior – risen from the dead – can! So, despite these pesky growing pains – here’s to our guaranteed happy endings!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Higher Things

As I watch people try to interpret the events of our day, a common descriptor comes to mind: confusion. It seems that lots of people – from the elites of business and academia, to church leaders, to seasoned politicians, to the voices of popular culture – are struggling to adequately answer the “why” questions behind what’s happening in the world, and what’s happening here at home. To me, this phenomenon seems widespread. I see people explaining, for example, why there are no groceries on the shelves. I may be wrong about this – and I’m open to your input on it – but the body language and facial expressions of those offering the explanations seem to indicate anything other than: “I’m totally sure about this.”

And I’m not questioning any one person’s desire to tell the truth, but I’m simply saying that the truth seems harder and harder to find. We see this perhaps most prominently with the confusion surrounding COVID, but that seems to be just the tip of the cultural iceberg. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by mass confusion in these times, as God’s Word so clearly describes “the god of this age” (or “the god of this world”) as a blinder and deceiver (2 Corinthians 4:4). Perhaps part of Satan’s strategy is to foster confusion in multiple segments of society so that spiritual truth will be harder to discern as well. If you can make people skeptical of everything, they’ll be skeptical of Christ’s claims too.

But what about those of us who are the redeemed of the Lord – what about the Church? This might be a really great time for us to reassess our sources of authority. We’re impacted more steadily than we want to admit by the mantras of the world, and it’s critical that we protect and strengthen our resolve to be guided by the Truth. Again, I notice a growing skepticism, unfortunately. Could it be that we’ve become more swayed by the world than the Word? Only you can answer that question for yourself, but I hope you’ll take the time to think about it.

Because here’s the deal: you and I have been called by the God of the universe to look to Christ for our authority and our marching orders! We are not our own, but we are His. Ours is a higher calling, and our affections are to be set on higher things. We have received not only the knowledge of God in some generic sense – “hey, take a look at that sunset” – but we have received the fullness of the message of the gospel: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our rags have been exchanged for His riches! What glorious good news!

And, friends, that good news changes everything. So … hear me out … since we’ve got the greatest thing (technically, He has us), we’ve got to lessen our hopes in lesser things. Let that sink in. Here’s what I mean. You and I can’t expect the media pundits or “the news” or the cultural commentators to get everything right. It’s not going to happen. We can’t expect the government to get everything right. It’s not going to happen. We can’t expect Hollywood to get everything right. It’s not going to happen. We can’t expect the medical community to get everything right. It’s not going to happen. We can’t expect academics or lawyers or even the Supreme Court to get everything right. It’s not going to happen.

Why would we who believe the Bible ever come to count on all those things? Well, quite simply, life is easier when all those things are working as we think they should. And sometimes, by God’s common grace, they do work. Oftentimes they do work, in fact, and oftentimes they work well. But I think that you and I are in a season of reordering our expectations, and a season of coming to terms with the inherent limitations of everything in our lives but God.

Perhaps we didn’t realize it, but we’ve let some idols get a little too close to our hearts. Chuck Colson nailed our problem with this simple description: “What people once expected from the Almighty, they now expect from the almighty bureaucracy. That’s a bad trade for anyone, but for the Christian, it’s rank idolatry.” So let’s repent, here and now, of our inordinate love for – and reliance upon – lesser things.

Here’s what I’m thinking. Once we lessen our hope in lesser things, we can set our hearts on higher things.

Pressing on with you,

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Infinite Heart

The other Charles in your life used to say it like this: “God loves the church with a love too deep for human imagination; He loves her with all His infinite heart.” That was Charles Spurgeon, in case you’re unfamiliar with the quote.

I don’t know about you, but that thought thrills me! Here we are – rebels and hypocrites to the core – and yet the Lord of the universe has chosen to lavish upon us a grace of inestimable value and limitless power. Simply stated, Christ loves you and me for two reasons, and for two reasons only: 1) It is His very nature to love because He is love, and 2) He has chosen to love us. Christ’s love for us has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with our behavior or performance. Nothing.

At first, I’m humbled by that reality. It puts me in my proper place, and fast. There is no room for my foolish pride. But beyond that initial reaction on my part, the truth of God’s grace sets me free! It enables me to pursue God for who He is because I recognize that He has already pursued me. I don’t have to wonder about whether or not He wants to hang out with me: He does!

But you and I tend to be so darn nearsighted. We’re such a foolish people. Let’s get real for a minute … knowing what we know about the foibles of the church – any church – is it not tempting to wonder why in the world God didn’t commission angels to do our job? Angels seem much more reliable, and much less prone to wander. They seem much less likely to fight over the color of the carpet, and much less likely to embarrass the Lord by their rude and ungracious behavior. Yet, Christ didn’t choose the angels to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. He chose us. We are His people. His body. His bride. His church.

And the most amazing part of all: we’re loved! Deeply, deeply loved. In spite of a billion flaws, and worse, God simply loves the church. That’s what the great preacher from London was trying to communicate.

It was the “Lord Protector” of the British Isles, Oliver Cromwell, who commissioned the painter to portray Cromwell with all of his facial blemishes and imperfections. That’s where we get the English expression “warts and all,” and you and I ought to be so glad to discover that we don’t have to impress God. He already loves us. Our desire should be to please Him, but not to earn His favor. That acceptance and approval, for which we all secretly or not-so-secretly long, have already been accomplished in and by the Lord Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-6).

So, in Christ, you and I are free. Free to live our lives, and to run our race. Free to love. Free to serve. Free to give ourselves away for a higher glory. I don’t have to impress you. You don’t have to impress me. We don’t have to impress God.

Because of Jesus, you see, our Heavenly Father is already impressed. Just let that sink in for a second.

Friends, the love of God makes all the difference in the world! I’ll hop the pond one more time and share a soul-stirring quote from John Owen: “A man may love another as his own soul, yet his love may not be able to help him. He may pity him in prison, but not relieve him, bemoan him in misery, but not help him, suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul … But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effective and fruitful in producing all the good things which He wills for His beloved. He loves life, grace and holiness into us; He loves us into covenant, loves us into heaven.”

Just a few minutes ago, I was thinking about getting upset over some very upsetting things. What a waste of time that would be! So I will let that go, and instead, I will rest in the undeserved Love that is writing the story of my life. Do that with me, will you? Let it go! For, in its place, infinite love awaits. Infinite – infinite – love from the God of the infinite heart.

In 2022 and for eternity, may such grace lead us home.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Who Needs a Friend?

Americans are lonely. Really lonely. The coronavirus pandemic has only intensified an epidemic of devastating isolation in our nation. In fact, research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education indicates that 36% of Americans are reporting feelings of “serious loneliness.” And, as if that stat weren’t alarming enough, the number rises to 61% among young adults. Another poll from May, conducted by the Survey Center on American Life, indicated that the percentage of men who say that they have “no close friends” has quadrupled since 1990. Cigna conducted a survey in which 54% of Americans affirmed this tragic statement: “Nobody knows me well.”


Sadly, there’s a verse in the Bible that makes nearly everybody chuckle (2 Corinthians 13:12): “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” I’m convinced that we chuckle out of sheer nervousness. We live in such a sexualized culture that it’s nearly impossible for us to imagine relational intimacy apart from sex. That’s too bad for us, actually, because we were made for relational intimacy. I am convinced that you and I were made for intimacy simply because we were made human. Intimacy with others improves our physical health, our emotional health, and our psychological health. Intimacy strengthens us for the rough patches of life and provides support for us when otherwise we would have little resilience – so intimacy improves our spiritual health as well. In countless ways, intimacy helps us grow and thrive.

Friends, intimacy helps us feel alive, and gives us the sense that we can be more than we ever imagined! I don’t have to tell you that the powerful drive for intimacy can lead to love and war, and everything in between. You may remember Johnny Lee’s country hit from 1980, “Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places.” Apparently, we’re still doing it.

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis observed that “those who cannot conceive of friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a friend.” I think he was absolutely right. And, by God’s grace and for His glory, we’ve got to do what we can to fix this – especially in the church. The time is now, and the stakes are high – in my humble opinion.

On October 24, The Atlantic published a startling article by Peter Wehner entitled “The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart.” (I landed on the article through the Ethics and Public Policy Center.) It nearly stopped me in my tracks, and I’ll share with you four compelling quotes from that piece: “The aggressive, disruptive, and unforgiving mindset that characterizes so much of our politics has found a home in American churches” … “But there’s more to the fractures than just COVID-19. After all, many of the forces that are splitting churches were in motion well before the pandemic hit. The pandemic exposed and exacerbated weakness and vulnerabilities, habits of mind and heart, that already existed. The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture” … “Churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith” … “Many Christians, though, are disinclined to heed calls for civility. They feel that everything they value is under assault, and that they need to fight to protect it.”

Here’s why I’m including those portions of that article: they simply remind us that everything around us – including many of the current characteristics of a typical local church – are actively working against any and every notion of genuine friendship. Simply stated: friendship is under assault. Sounds just like the devil to me: divide and conquer.

So what are we to do? I’ll outline seven simple suggestions for 2022.

  1. Admit to God that you need friends. Real friends. Pour out your heart to Him on this subject. Ask for His forgiveness for the isolationism which you have created by your own pride and phony self-worthiness. (We’ve all done it, and we all need to repent of it.)
  1. In every human relationship, keep Christ front and center. When He is the main thing, I’m far less likely to make it about me. Humility, though never easy, goes a long way toward fostering the kind of climate in which healthy relational intimacy can thrive, and in which tribal hostilities (sometimes in the church thinly-veiled preferences) can be properly left at the door.
  1. View every friendship as a sacred trust. In a very real sense, because of the immense value of friendship which I have attempted to outline in this blog posting, your relational intimacy with others is of eternal value. Pray for it. Work at it. Cherish it.
  1. Pray hard for your friends. Our most durable friendships go the distance only when our souls are knit together through intercession. That’s nothing short of a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit! In our darkest hour, when we’re truly struggling to love and to feel loved, God often uses the sacrificial prayers of our sisters and brothers to rebuild in us the Christ-esteem which seems to have escaped us. As a friend to a fellow struggler, our job is to remain “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  1. Stand up for your friends when they’re under assault. It will be far easier for you to walk the path of least resistance in this regard, but don’t settle for that. We need each other when the going gets tough. In fact, that’s sometimes when you discover who your friends really are.
  1. When you drop the ball on a friendship – which we all do – pick it up again. Don’t let even a long season of less-than-perfect performance forge your future. We’re supposed to be the grace-people, after all, so do your best to get back in the game. So go ahead and send that “so sorry I’ve let you down” text today. Likewise, when your friend drops the ball, be Christlike by forgiving your friend whether they ask you to or not.
  1. Thank the Lord for your friends! For the friendships you can already identify, and for the new friendships that Jesus is already forming behind the scenes, give Him thanks and praise. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).”

Who needs a friend? We all do.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Wild and Sweet

“Peace on earth, good will toward men.”

At the end of a particularly trying year, I share with you some particularly hopeful words. Those seven words were penned in 1863 by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Christmas Bells. The poem became a famous Christmas carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, which served to further popularize the words of Luke 2:14. That beautiful verse in the Christmas story records what those stunned shepherds heard in the night skies over Bethlehem: the good news of the birth of Christ miraculously announced by “the multitude of the heavenly host.”

Such holy fanfare was highly appropriate, for God had kept His word. Just as Isaiah had prophesied, the “Prince of Peace” had come! But we don’t get very far in any of the Gospel accounts before we realize that the peace brought by Jesus was not, and is not, the kind of peace that people expect. John particularly nailed it: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”

So I suppose that leaves us wondering what the peace of Christ is really all about. I’ll explore that in our last few days before Christmas.

The peace of Christ is spiritual peace. It is peace with God, after all, which means that it is intrinsically supernatural in origin. By the cross and resurrection of Jesus, God’s grace accomplishes for and in us a reconciliation the extent to which we never could have dreamt. Perhaps I should describe such extraordinary peace as supranatural instead. Especially in our most chaotic seasons, amid the chaos and clamor of whatever stripe, does not such peace sound like music to our ears?

The peace of Christ is otherworldly peace. It doesn’t get enacted into law. Nor is it ushered in by a conquering army, or secured by a powerful military. It is entirely and exquisitely divine. But it embraces us in our desperate inability to create peace on our own. Once I am born again and have peace with God, I can begin to experience peace with others. Not only that, but the omnipotent Spirit of God is able to make me, within my tiny sphere of influence, a peacemaker for God’s glory.

The peace of Christ is extravagant peace. No amount of money in the world can procure it. It is in fact utterly priceless. As you and I count our many blessings at the close of 2021, I hope that our hearts well up with praise when we think about all that “God with us” has done to make peace for us both a present reality and a future inheritance. Again, Isaiah captured it: “Of the increase of his … peace there will be no end.”

Longfellow’s “chant sublime” from an era of Civil War strife included the words “wild and sweet” to describe the hopeful sounds of peace. It’s interesting to me that newer versions of the song have changed the lyrics to “mild and sweet.” I like the older lyrics, personally, because I don’t ever want to lose sight of the untamed and uncultivated nature of genuine peace.

Peace is not of us. In fact, it is innately foreign to us. We are rebels and fighters by nature. If I am ever to know the peace that surpasses understanding, then my sinful human nature must be wrestled to the ground. My old ways must be killed, or they will kill me. Only a Sovereign God can accomplish such an impossible yet marvelous thing.

In the form of a tiny baby, that Warrior God has come to earth! He has loved us to death–His and ours–that we may have life. He has lavished upon us the sweetness of His abundant grace. Where there was no peace, He has made peace with and for us.

So I pray for you a Christmas wild and sweet.


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Of Luke and Linus

Etched in our memory ever since, Charlie Brown set the stage in 1965: “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” You likely know the message of the seasonal classic well. As the storyline unfolds, and thanks to Linus, Charlie Brown eventually discovers “what Christmas is all about.” For many of us, it’s a holiday favorite. We appreciate the simple story, and most notably its direct quote from Luke 2, but we also recognize the emotional dilemma disclosed by Charlie Brown en route to the skating pond: “I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

We all prefer an overdose of merriment, but there’s nothing uncommon about feeling triggered or depressed during the Christmas holidays. In this fallen world, there are plenty of bonafide reasons for that. Don’t even get me started about the mental healthcare crisis in America. Add in the most destructive weather event in Kentucky’s history, and it might not be a stretch to predict more than our fair share of “bah humbug” this year. Acknowledging the depression caused by shorter days alone, Marissa Miller wrote in The New York Times: “All I want for Christmas is a nap.”

So what I want to propose today is that we allow ourselves to feel whatever we’re feeling. After all, fake happiness never helped anyone. And, strange as it may sound, some of the help we need might be found in the Christmas story itself. Let’s remember what really happened. God’s people were living in hopelessness and sorrow. The Roman Empire was ruthless. And God’s people were living in powerlessness and pain. They saw no way out because there was no way out.

In fact, the people didn’t even understand the depth of their predicament. Their sin was an even bigger problem than their sorrow. But that’s precisely the wonder of Christmas! In the form of a tiny baby, good news for the whole world was on the way. Born among us to show us the extravagant love of God the Father, God the Son was lying in a feeding trough. But you and I know that He was destined for a cruel cross.

Certainly, the resurrection of Jesus is already in view, but don’t miss my point: sorrow has a prominent place in God’s story. You may be thinking that you can’t even relate to Christmas this year, but I’m suggesting that your present sorrow just might be your ticket to the most powerful Christmas you’ve ever known. Remember the people living in darkness. Recall the personal, fearful valleys through which Mary and Joseph had to walk. And remember those startled nighttime shepherds of whom the Bible testifies: “and they were sore afraid.”

Linus was absolutely right. Ultimately, it’s the angel’s “fear not” that is the only way out of the mess we’re in, emotionally and otherwise. But while it’s still more than a little messy this side of heaven, I pray that the “good tidings of great joy” will see you through to a brighter day.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Joseph, Full of Grace

Friends, as you prepare your heart for Christmas, I want to direct you to a single verse today. It’s Matthew 1:19, and it packs a powerful punch: And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

Now, before you jump to any conclusions about an angel having visited Joseph to reassure him, I’ll simply remind you that the verse I’m referencing is before the angelic visitation. Even before there was any miraculous encounter for Joseph, Joseph’s character was such that he chose to show mercy to Mary. I find such grace both extraordinary and revolutionary.

You may remember that Mary and Joseph were betrothed. Much more official than what we think of as “engagement” today, betrothal was the legal equivalent of what was then the first stage of marriage. So by this point they were already “husband and wife” in a sense. In this betrothal period, they had not celebrated their union with a public feast, or physically consummated their marriage. But sexual relations with another would have been adultery, and it certainly would have appeared to Joseph that Mary had wronged him in this way. (Thus the need for the angel to straighten things out.)

From one key verse in the Christmas story, we discover something amazing: Joseph wanted to protect Mary in any way that he could. Small-town scandals were absolutely awful, then as now, and Joseph wanted no part of creating that for the young woman who was to have been his bride. It would appear on many levels that Joseph chose to honor a gracious God by demonstrating undeserved grace – by restraining himself from giving Mary “what she deserved” – and I think that we can all learn from Joseph’s righteous and selfless example. According to the law, Joseph had grounds to demand that Mary be stoned to death, but Joseph was a man of compassion and mercy. Despite his legal grounds for retribution, Joseph wanted to make sure that Mary was not made into a public spectacle of any kind. I think we can safely conclude that noble Joseph – despite his broken heart – truly loved Mary.

Friends, we know that love is really love when it overcomes anger. Let’s not sugarcoat this story: at this moment in time, Mary is the person who has wounded Joseph and shattered his dreams. You and I know that Mary did not commit the sin of adultery, but Joseph doesn’t know that yet. The culture of that day was a culture of honor-and-shame. Marvelously, even in his fear (which we know from the next verse), he chose to honor Mary – and to protect her from shame. This was perhaps the most vulnerable moment of Mary’s entire life. And, instead of judgment, condemnation, or revenge – which would have been the normal and natural course of human emotion and behavior – gentle Joseph showed her love. Supernatural love.

And Joseph’s life will be marked by such powerful love. In sheer obedience to God, he will take a pregnant Mary to be his wife. The public embarrassment and humiliation must have been overwhelming at times. I wonder if the stigma ever evaporated, and I doubt that it ever did entirely. And Joseph will go on to face even more stringent troubles. He will learn of Herod’s diabolical plan to kill Jesus. So this simple carpenter from Nazareth will be forced to flee from a murderous dictator and his army … to somehow make a way, as best he can, for his little family to get safely down to Egypt … and to face with steadfastness there the harsh demands of a strange people and government which undoubtedly landed squarely in Joseph’s lap.

Joseph will raise Jesus as His own, choosing by faith to work through and overcome all of the complex and difficult emotions that would come with that scenario for any man. But it will not be about Joseph, friends, any more than it will be about you or me. In fact Joseph will be nearly unknown in the New Testament.

When I grow up, I want to be like Joseph.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Beauty of December

When it comes to the approaching holidays, C.S. Lewis wasn’t much on the frenzied consumerism of Christmas, but he called the birth of Jesus Christ “the central event in the history of the earth.” That’s quite a statement. I share it with you now that December has knocked on our door, and my hope is simply this: that you and I not miss the moment.

You see, friends, we can miss the moment while trying to find the moment. This time of year has a habit of deflecting our vision in such a way that the twinkling lights seem brighter than the Light of the world.

I urge you to notice the spectacular change of seasons. If we lived in Miami, we might not be able to take in as much of God’s December artwork, but you and I have no excuse to miss it here. The migrating birds. The icicles protruding from the rock formations. The soon-coming snow.

I urge you to notice the places of needed grace. All around us are neighbors who are struggling and suffering. I always say that there’s pain in every pew. Christmas may feel like a time of indulgence for some, but for many it’s a painful reminder of what they’re missing: a loved one, a job, or a happier day gone by. For those of us in the body of Christ, this ought to be a time of intentional and incarnational ministry (we’re privileged to serve as Christ’s hands and feet).

I urge you to notice the sunsets. Simple but profound. Last night’s was extraordinary in fact, with its billowy pastel cloud formations, as Lone Oak Road appeared to be wandering off into colorful Narnia. All you have to do is open your eyes.

And, while you’re at it, I urge you to notice the smiles on the faces of the children with whom we’re privileged to share the season. For the little ones in our midst, these are special moments indeed. Show up. Be present. Give eagerly of yourself. We will blink, and they will be grown.

And early December means that winter will soon prevail. Just today I added a heavy coat to the supplies in the trunk of my car. We might have to bundle up, but let’s not miss a single opportunity to behold the glory of God. Of winter’s unique display of God’s grandeur and majesty, and also His providential care for us, Nichole Nordeman sings:

Everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath
And still I notice You
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter …

Here’s the thing: strangely but surely, buried beneath the coldest and starkest landscape, is the certain promise of spring. “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!” The glories of resurrection are as real now as ever.

So while we wait on all things to be made new (Revelation 21:5), savor these moments of beautiful December. They are spectacular moments, as is the God who grants them to us, one by one. And savor the Savior who has come to earth: HE IS CHRIST THE LORD.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Little Things

This week we’re all mindful of the attitude of gratitude. We know something of how important it is to be thankful, and we know something of our natural propensity to be anything but.

When the returned exiles of Israel began rebuilding the temple, many of the older people wept. They still remembered the glory days of Solomon’s temple, and the newer temple project seemed like it was going to prove itself to be utterly disappointing by comparison (Ezra 3:10-13). They wanted to hang on to Jerusalem’s former glory, but they realized that those days were not to be relived. Zechariah’s response to the people’s widespread disappointment (4:10) is powerful: “Whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice!”

That gets me thinking about my own nearsightedness when it comes to matters of faith. I can talk up a storm about trusting God, you see, but it’s an entirely different thing when I actually have to trust Him. Perhaps you can relate.

So this holiday season I’m making it my aim to focus on “the little things.” By God’s grace and for His glory, I’m going to notice God’s goodness in the more hidden corners of my world, and in the places of my life that look less like a big splash and more like a subtle whisper.

I’m thankful for old friends. You know who you are. You’ve always been there for me. I know I can count on you, no matter what. Simply remembering what we’ve been through together, over many years now, warms my heart. (I’m not crying. You’re crying.)

I’m thankful for my quirky and beautiful little family of three. Some days we’re a trip, but every day we’re a treasure. We can complete each other’s sentences, and sing each other’s songs. We’ve got each other’s back. We’re on each other’s team. We’re not giving up on each other, but we’re choosing to cheer each other on until we cross the finish line.

I’m thankful for the work that I’m privileged to do. It’s hard work, and it drives me nearly crazy at times, but it’s a high privilege to be called to it. I’m even thankful for the multifaceted frustrations of pastoral ministry, for I know that in my Lord’s good providence they shape and sanctify me. No tear is wasted. No sleepless night is ultimately unprofitable.

I’m thankful for closed doors. (Yes, you read that right.) I’m thankful to know a God who knows better than I. I’m choosing to believe what I’ve always said I believe: His ways are not my ways. I’m choosing to savor the sweetness of a Savior who loves me too much to always give me what I want.

And those blessings are just for starters. By the way, if you’re reading this, I’m inviting you to join me on my simple journey of gratitude.

I have a hunch that one day we just may look up and realize that the little things were really the big things.


Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Missing the Marx

No, it’s not a picture of Santa Claus. Far from it.

The Acton Institute reports that about a third of all young adults in America have a favorable view of Marxism. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s hard to believe, but true. Someone, somewhere, is successfully propping up a whopper of a lie. And the recent statistics confirm for us the unfortunate news: it’s working.

And here is the problem with rewriting history so that Karl Marx comes out smelling like a rose: every form of Marxism works against the inherent dignity of every person. Because Marxism demands fascism, you see. It is a worldview guided by the following cardinal rule: “If we like it, it must be made mandatory. If we dislike it, it must be banned.” It is the end of freedom. So, for example, commonsense gun legislation isn’t enough – all guns must be banned. Legalizing same-sex marriage isn’t enough – everyone must be a proponent of it. Respectful tolerance in the public square isn’t enough, because – if you disagree with me on any point – you must be shouted down, silenced, and canceled entirely. Those are the rules of the game, but it’s no game.

My guess is that Marxism looks attractive to the historically naïve because – at first glance – it feels like a viable way in which all people can be treated “equally.” But nothing could be further from the truth. Where Marxism really takes root, there always arises incredible inequality in the form of an elite class of government authorities who speak the language of equality, but who enshrine the mechanisms to ensure a ruling dictatorial class. How do they justify this? Well, simply put, they are so self-deceived that they are firmly convinced that they know better than the unenlightened populace beneath them. So the state gets bigger and bigger and bigger, all in the name of progress, while personal liberties fly out the window – until sophisticated thugs rule the roost. This tragic pattern has repeated itself in history over and over again, under the influence of many different people who thought their version of it was right. You’d think that we’d know better by now, but apparently, we do not.

And we must never forget that Marxism is a jealous god. It will never tolerate any notion of the one true and living God! We must never forget that Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong made certain that they be regarded as God. If you disagreed with that idolatrous assessment, then you deserved death – the ultimate cancellation. Sadly and catastrophically, Marxism is the end of reason, the end of critical thinking, and the end of cultural flourishing. As a philosophical, political, and moral system, it is entirely anti-God. The utopian dream of Karl Marx has become nothing short of a global nightmare, as regimes built in his image have killed more than a hundred million people in the last century, while misguided ideological tyrants led the way.

I don’t have to tell you that anti-God is never the right way. Marxism, and all of the belief systems which flow from it, elevate man. Humanism becomes the be-all-end-all. It’s absolutely morally bankrupt. In fact, Marxist forms of government have failed miserably in every single part of the world in which they’ve ever been tried, and yet – somehow, strangely – Marxism still beguiles leading intellectuals, academics, politicians, and religious leaders here in our corner of the world.

Marxism is a false religion. Someone needs to be elevated, but it’s not us. You see, it is only the gospel of Christ which elevates God to His rightful position: JESUS IS LORD OF ALL!

Prejudice exists. Racism exists. Oppression exists. Indeed, all of these awful realities are realities indeed, because this planet is fallen to the core. But the solution is not Marxism of any stripe.

In his famous essay, Vladimir Lenin called religion “opium for the people … spiritual booze in which the slaves of capital drown their human image.” I would submit to you friends, the precise opposite: it is only the knowledge of God that can deliver us from our present cultural crisis. It is only the truth of Christ’s gospel that can promote any sense of human dignity within our current cancel culture. And it is only the love of God that can speak peace to our profoundly troubled world.

When I think of our young people being robbed of their right mind, and being cunningly convinced to believe a deadly lie, it breaks my heart. Just like in Jeremiah’s day, people are choosing to put their hope in “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (2:13), and leading many others toward the same place of spiritual bankruptcy. But you and I have the weapon of prayer, and that’s a powerful weapon! So arm yourself for this pivotal moment … draw upon the evidence of history … love with resurrection passion those who are trapped in deceit … and wait joyfully upon the Lord who does marvelous things …

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts