Multigenerational Melody

I’m ready to sing a new song.

I don’t have to tell you that, from time to time, our congregation experiences the stresses and strains associated with multiple generations coming together under one roof. And we’re not alone. But today I’m here to tell you that what sometimes feels like our Achilles’ heel is actually our greatest opportunity for experiential grace. How boring would we be if we all saw every issue from the same perspective! We are a family after all. And sometimes families choose to work through issues so that love can prevail. It’s well worth the effort.

And, if you will allow me, I’d like to offer my pastoral perspective in the form of seven proactive ways that we can be stronger together. Stronger! Together! Don’t you like the sound of that? I hope it’s music to your ears.

Never assume that a difference must be a “Biblical” difference.

Regarding the core of who we are – as gospel people – our message never changes. But our methods do change, and must change, and will change. More than once. At any point when we’re at odds with each other, we’re likely to decide that our “opponent’s” position is inherently “wrong,” while failing to recognize that the source of our conflict is not even a matter of right vs. wrong. Said another way, sometimes church conflict feels like theological conflict when it is not.

Everybody’s voice matters, even the one I don’t want to hear.

Simply put, we need each other. The Bible is replete with reminders to us that we should learn from one another. That’s how all of us grow up into spiritual maturity. As a body, we need every part. When every part does its part – that’s when our symphony is the sweetest.

Watch for moments to celebrate somebody else’s preference.

This can feel so unnatural for us at times but think of all the ways in which people have shown love to you simply by loving what you love. Maybe your spouse chose to enjoy a vacation suited more to your interests. Maybe a parent supported you in pursuit of a sport or activity, or even a career, about which they had no knowledge whatsoever. Maybe the Holy Spirit just brought to your mind a time when somebody in your life decided to sacrifice their preference in order to accommodate yours.

Savor the small-but-real victories which happen along the way.

Sanctification takes a lifetime. It’s one tiny step at a time. And sometimes it includes a couple of steps backward. So enjoy the breakthroughs … the sparks of selflessness … the signs of progress. Humility and peace often take time. So take time to notice any momentum in the right direction. Whether you’re old, or young, or in between, if you’ve grown in appreciation for those other folks (whoever they happen to be) – thank God.

Outdo one another in showing real honor toward each other.

We’re working toward something that is bigger than any one of us, and bigger than all of us. The word “harmony” in fact means “the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords having a pleasing effect.” I can’t strike the best sound on my own, and neither can you. But, together, we can produce a masterpiece. So talk each other up! Cheer each other on! Toot each other’s horn! Sing each other’s song!

Never give up working together for a splendid path forward.

What was once the intergenerational divide can be the multigenerational melody. Listen for it. Pray for it. Wait for it. And settle for nothing less.

Get back to the joy of CHRIST, who is our common identity!

As always, our Lord Jesus is our Hope. Our Unifier. Our All.

I’m ready to sing a new song. How ‘bout you? Christine Pohl says it like this: “There is nothing more Spirit-filled, in our polarizing times, than disagreeing with each other while resisting the force to demonize each other.”

And Paul said it like this (Colossians 3:14-17): “… put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

When it comes to our beloved church family, rest assured: we will never see everything the same way. And I’m so, so glad.

Sing on!

Pastor Charles

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Red Carpet Reminder

You may know John Rhys-Davies as Gimli from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. He’s not just an actor, but he’s a rationalist. By “rationalist,” I mean a person who claims to base their most important convictions on reason rather than religion. Rationalism is a particular epistemological perspective known for its intellectual rigor.

Rhys-Davies, originally from Wales but residing much of the year in New Zealand, is also a self-professed “skeptic.” That’s why I find his recent red-carpet comments in Hollywood to be quite intriguing. While attending the Movieguide Awards, Rhys-Davies remarked that “Christian civilization” has made the world “a better place,” and that the world owes Christ-followers “the greatest debt of thanks.” Quite frankly, I find those observations both fascinating and convicting.

We normally don’t look to the Avalon Theater for kudos of any kind, but when the actor was asked about the use of his voice for an animated version of Pilgrim’s Progress, here are his words: “I find myself constantly defending Christians and Christianity.” He cited particularly the abolition of slavery as an accomplishment brought to the modern world by the widespread influence of Christianity. From the cruelly oppressive Roman Empire onward, Rhys-Davies linked the rise of democracy and liberty to the spread of the gospel: “I have a right to believe and not what the Emperor tells me. From that whole idea … the equality that we have has developed.”

And here’s the whopper from our rationalist friend: “To dismiss Christianity as being irrelevant is the detritus of rather ill-read minds.” Wow! That’s better Christian apologetics than most of us have heard all year.

That leaves me with one glaring question, friends: Are you and I living up to our reputation?

For over two millennia, fervent followers of Christ – inspired by the example of the teaching of none other than Jesus of Nazareth – have marched at the forefront of slow-but-steady efforts to alleviate poverty and suffering, cure disease and serve the afflicted, and advance knowledge and understanding among people groups where such seemed next to impossible. Our foremothers and forefathers were not known for copping out, but they ran when they were weary. They stood and fought for the freedoms of others when it was uncomfortable and undeniably costly. They ministered when they had nothing left to give.

We don’t get a pass just because the world doesn’t like us. God can raise up a defender for us, if we need one, and often from the most unlikely places. Anybody remember Gamaliel?

Truth is, the evangelical movement of the last three hundred years – with a focus on personal conversion to Christ through the preaching of the gospel – has brought about the greatest social welfare and the greatest government reforms the world has ever known. Rhys-Davies is absolutely correct! This is no time for us to slink off into the shadows while assuming that the world and its systems are a lost cause. We’re still salt and light!

You and I must never forget that Christianity’s greatest moment of triumph – ever – was a bloody cross. But, at the time, it was marked by neither joyful celebration nor public approval. Shockingly, those who appeared to be the gospel’s strongest adherents were nowhere to be found in that dark hour. You see, our faith is death first, and then resurrection! Our core doctrine is counterintuitive. Failure and success are inverted. The last are first. The King is crowned with thorns before He’s crowned with honor.

Perhaps the gospel of Gimli is worth a glance. Just maybe we have a sleeping giant on our hands.

Yours by grace,

Pastor Charles

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END IT

I hope you can join us Sunday for what has become our annual “Shine a Light on Slavery” Day at First Baptist Paducah. Our morning worship service will be dedicated to creating awareness about the global crisis of human trafficking, as well as exploring how Christ’s gospel would have us respond. Sometimes the church is called to action. This is one of those times!

If you’re unfamiliar with why the “END IT” movement exists and is gaining steam, there are four important statistics which I’d be privileged to bring to your attention, based on current estimates from several different fronts in this battle for basic human dignity.

40 million.

The latest number I’ve seen is 40.3 million in fact. As I write this blog post, that’s how many people – each one an image-bearer of Almighty God – who are being held against their will. If human civilization has a dark underbelly, this is it, friends. I wanted to start with that gargantuan number just in case anyone reading considered this issue trivial or insignificant. The problem is enormous. And assessing the full scope of human trafficking is nearly impossible because so much of it goes undetected year after year. Experts label this “the hidden figure of crime.”

150 billion.

You probably guessed it: money drives this monstrous train. That’s the estimated yearly revenue, globally, that is generated by human trafficking and its multiple criminal tentacles. Now you know why fixing this is no easy task. But we can’t do nothing.

71%.

That’s the percentage of modern-day slaves who are women and girls. This crime forcefully exploits women, men, and children. Just as we seek to protect the unborn, we must seek to protect the born. When I was in D.C. with hordes of young adults recently, the thing which most struck me was their desire that the Church apply a consistent ethic to the moral issues of our day.

1 in 4.

At least a quarter of all modern-day slaves are children. If that stat doesn’t break your heart, I’m not sure what would. In fact, the average age at which a U.S. teen enters the sex trade is 13. Many victims are runaways who were abused as children. We’re talking about vulnerable children whose very personhood is being steadily eroded by a horrific industry specializing in sin and shame. Surely you and I – as the Lord’s redeemed – are called to care for those around us who are helpless, marginalized, and silenced.

I thought of one more number that may move you.

87%.

That’s the percentage of nations where slavery exists, despite the laws against it on their books. And I may be underestimating because the United Nations reports that human trafficking impacts every nation on Planet Earth. When you think about that, even for just a second, it becomes clear that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12).

I could use your prayers this week, that I would be able to capture both the heart of the problem and the heart of Christ. Thank you for being the kind of faith community that seeks to apply the saving gospel of Jesus to every sphere of creation and culture.

May Christ be exalted!

Pastor Charles

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Love 4 Peeps

Last week I had the privilege of joining with more than 100,000 others in Washington, D.C., to celebrate life. I came home refreshed by many things which I observed, most notably by the amount of young people who are thoroughly committed to protecting the sanctity of human life. In fact, 200 college students literally led March for Life 2020.

On the eve of the March, I was able to meet with pastors and other leaders – from across the nation – who are desirous to help evangelical Christ-followers embrace a worldview that is comprehensively PRO-life. By that, I mean that our desire is to model a love for all people simply because all people are created in God’s own image. This ought to translate into our profound respect for the unborn, the aged, and everyone in between. PRO-ALL-life.

Many of these young adults traveled thousands of miles to march with us. On top of that, there were swarms of kids, from high school students all the way down to toddlers accompanied by their moms and dads. Estimates are that at least a quarter of the participants were college-age or younger, with half the entire crowd younger than 30. An unbelievably young generation is embracing the pro-life ethic if my personal observations are anywhere close to accurate.

I enjoyed one particular conversation with a 21-year-old college student who explained to me that she had come to our nation’s capital simply because “life matters.” She declared herself neither Protestant nor Catholic – “non-religious” in fact – but was among a bunch of young people who now wear the label “secular pro-life.” They see disrespect for human life as human rights abuse, as well they should. Though this was my third March, it was my first time to take notice of this obviously enlarging constituency in America. It seems to me that science and technology have actually bolstered the pro-life movement.

I don’t live in a bubble, and I know that not every national poll among Millennials and Gen-Z’ers supports the pro-life optimism which I’m expressing today. But all I can do is share with you my personal observations and inferences. I’ve been called “perpetually glass-half-full” more than once, so I’m willing to own that. But I am encouraged, friends, and I want to encourage you. I believe that something good is happening. Perhaps it’s because I believe that a good God reigns over all of human history. Even now.

If you’re part of our church family, you know that we spotlight the global crisis of human trafficking every February in our END IT service. In my message on February 9, I’ll attempt to answer this simple question: “Why do we care?” My answer may surprise you, but I’ll give you a hint: if we’re going to celebrate the unborn, we ought to celebrate the born!

Next year I hope to take several of you – older and younger – with me to D.C. Marching with you would make it much more fun for me. You see, I’m PRO-YOU-too. So start saving your pennies, FBC college group …

Pastor Charles

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In High Demand

I’ve been on LinkedIn for years. I guess I just like being connected. Though I don’t post anything there, I try to pay attention to trends.

So, just to be honest, I had to look up “blockchain” this morning. Since I’m being honest, I kind of get it – and I kind of don’t. Whew. Hopefully, this isn’t the feeling one gets when the world is passing them by! Anyway, blockchain is a hard skill that’s in high demand for 2020. Since I wasn’t even sure about my spelling of “cryptocurrency,” I don’t qualify. Obviously. I’m also “out” in the categories of cloud computing and AI. ‘Nuff said about all that. I’m feeling irrelevant. And some days it feels like irrelevance on steroids.

But what caught my eye also was 2020’s list of hottest soft skills. You interested?

Creativity.

Persuasion.

Collaboration.

Adaptability.

Emotional intelligence.

In that order.

So that’s when it hit me: Christ-followers ought to be good at all of these!

Our Father is the Creator of everything (John 1:3), and we’re made in His image (Genesis 1:27). Our gospel message is the very power of God (Romans 1:16). We’re called to “consider others better than ourselves” (Philippians 2:3). We are servants of all (First Corinthians 9:19). Can’t get more “adaptable” than that.

And please don’t write off that last one: emotional intelligence. Harvard Business Review reports that more than 3000 scientific articles have been written on emotional intelligence. We won’t even try to count the books. This one matters, friends. Our EQ matters. I won’t tell you what “EQ” means so that – if you don’t know – you’ll do some needed homework on the subject. Let’s just say: we are all thinkers and feelers.

It goes back to that whole image-of-God thing. My fellow pastors and I are still studying Peter Scazzero, who words it like this: “We are intellectual, social and emotional creatures just as God is.” Scazzero also says that most Christians are emotionally stuck. That can’t be good.

When we don’t grow up emotionally, we create distance between ourselves and others. We inflict pain on others, even those we love. We overlook our own sinful and selfish behavior under the pseudo-biblical guise of: “I don’t care about feelings, only facts.” Jesus said no such thing. But, when the gospel of Jesus has its way in us, everything changes. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Now it’s making some sense.

One more Scazzero quote, free of charge: “We have the Holy Spirit and God has already wired us for growth and change.” Let’s make this the year when we learn to love as we’ve been loved.

You’re in high demand for 2020! So shine, y’all!

Pastor Charles

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All This Time

Three-time Olympic gold winner Aly Raisman is retiring, at the age of 25. The amazing gymnast will not compete in Tokyo, but she will be there to “cheer everyone on.”

You may remember that Rio was Raisman’s most spectacular international meet. That was in 2016.

From the time she was a little girl, Aly dreamed of becoming a gymnastics superstar. Tragically, she was victimized by former national team doctor, Larry Nassar. Nassar groomed Raisman and other promising athletes by presenting himself as a friendly ear. You’ve heard some of the horrific stories, and the amount of abuse that took place at Nassar’s hands is in fact staggering. The USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal included assaults of at least 250 young women and girls, and one young man, dating back to 1992. If you want to know more of Aly’s story, you can check out her autobiography entitled Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything.

Upon announcing her retirement, Raisman gave few details about her plans, but she implied that her life’s work from here on would be an investment in others who’ve been sexually abused. I was glad to read those news reports. What might be considered a premature retirement for Aly just might become a whale of a blessing for many others who have lived in – or are living in – the darkness of abuse. I love it when God makes victims victors!

In 2012 Christian and pop singer Britt Nicole captured God’s grace in the midst of childhood vulnerability …

All this time
From the first tear cry
To today’s sunrise
And every single moment between
You were there
You were always there
It was You and I …

I know You’re for me
And You’re restoring

Every heartache and failure
Every broken dream
You’re the God who sees
The God who rescued me
This is my story …

You’ve been walking with me

All this time

You and I don’t always understand life’s shadows. They’re scary and real. But the God who created us is able to restore every broken moment for the glory of Christ, and for our good. We don’t always know how He’s going to do that, but we take God at His word (Romans 8:28). After all, whether we realized it or not at each step along the way, our Lord has been walking with us all this time.

Sometimes in life, “going for the gold” takes on entirely new meaning. Go for it, Aly! May our Sovereign God use the darkest hours in your past to shine the light of freedom into the lives of many who need your example of resilience and hope.

Pastor Charles

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Fromm Here to Eternity

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Jake Fromm in fact. He’s a junior who plays quarterback for the University of Georgia, and he’s one of the top quarterbacks in college football. Fromm led the Bulldogs to a 12-2 record this year. They went on to win the Sugar Bowl. What I noticed was a tweet by ESPN’s Holly Rowe: “For the New Year, let’s all be shining a light in this world like @FrommJake.” That caught my eye.

Ms. Rowe had come to the conclusion that Mr. Fromm is “the world’s most positive person,” and – when she asked the 21-year-old about the reason for his optimism – the response she got was this: “The Holy Spirit in me! I’m trying to live out the most godly life I can do. I’m trying to influence others and hope they can see Christ in me.” Apparently Holly was overwhelmed by that answer. Perhaps we should be too.

According to the Stanford Research Institute, 87.5% of people’s success can be traced to their positive attitudes. I certainly don’t champion “the power of positive thinking” in the sense that “positive thinking” has a power all its own; in fact, those ideas nearly always end up exalting self and promoting humanism at the expense of the gospel. But I am persuaded that there is great benefit in seeing each day through the lens of our kind and loving God’s sovereignty over the world around us. It helps us persevere when the going gets tough. It helps us respond more graciously (both internally and externally) to unexpected circumstances and out-of-the-blue changes that come our way. It helps us flee jealousy, resentment, and bitterness. It helps us forgive. Come to think of it, a big dose of optimism – under the Lordship of Christ – sure can go a long way.

Think about that for a minute. When you and I live consciously under the umbrella of the goodness of God and His constant care for us, we are healthier people. Christ-centered optimism makes us healthier people in nearly every way. Surely that must be part of our calling here on Planet Earth – where we’re created and commissioned to shine brightly amidst the darkness. In light of the public platform which the Lord is enlarging for Jake, I hope that his optimism is contagious for God’s glory. Your optimism, and mine, matter too.

Holly Rowe went on to write of Jake: “Honestly brought me to tears today with his positive, lovely spirit. Many blessings to this young man. @GeorgiaFootball should be so proud to have him leading this team.” I wouldn’t mind something like that being said about my spirit. Wouldn’t you feel the same if it were said about your spirit? Whatever work God has in store for us in this new year, let’s do it all with that spirit. Such a “positive, lovely” human spirit would give honor to the Holy Spirit, if I may say so myself.

It’s certainly not the Bible’s simplest book to interpret, but Ecclesiastes 3:9-11 includes a fascinating thought: “What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart …”

2020 is here. Eternity knocks. Whether you’re tossing a football or tossing a salad, the time is now. Right now matters forever. Light it up, y’all!

Pastor Charles

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Passion 2020

I won’t write much this week since it’s late at night after an exhausting but wonderful day. We’re here in Atlanta for the Passion Conference, and I’m sending a few pics so that you can taste the excitement of 65,000 young adults gathered at the Mercedes Benz Arena to worship Christ and ring in the new year!

The teaching has been inspiring, and largely focused on encouraging a generation which has grown largely disconnected from each other, despite the limitless “connections” of the social media age. This is the demographic which reports feeling record levels of isolation and sadness. You might think that we’re living in post-Christian America, and we are, but there’s been little evidence of that here at Passion. Instead, we’ve witnessed a throng of young people eager to worship, serve, and transform the culture with the gospel.

The worship has been powerful and energetic beyond my ability to describe here, so I’ll encourage you to seek out a personal report from somebody in our FBC contingency who made this journey with us. You will be blessed by what you hear!

I want to thank those of you who helped make this possible. Some of you funded your kids or grandkids. Others of you financed last-minute bus transportation. Others have prayed for us. As always, our church family has loved and provided, so thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I’ll close by wishing you a Happy New Year! Because of Jesus, the best is yet to come.

Pastor Charles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Upon His Shoulders

It’s not just a truth for Christmastime, but it seems especially glorious during this season of the year. Regarding the coming Messiah, multiple centuries before Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, Isaiah let it be known (9:6): the government shall be upon his shoulders.

Isaiah recorded this prophecy at least a century before Israel would be hauled off to Babylonian captivity. God’s people had experienced a long list of failed monarchs ruling over them, and the resulting fallout had been nothing short of dreadful. It was about to get even worse, though such was undoubtedly unfathomable to the folks in the pews. And, though the prophet was sitting amid the rubble of all of that chaos and turmoil, he could see by faith a time when God Himself would rule the nations with perfection.

You and I tend to get all worked up over current events. When it comes to politics, when our candidate prevails, we feel a sense of victory. But that hard-fought win all too often fades into a gnawing sense of disappointment on both sides of the aisle. That same lapse into futility can be observed when it comes to nearly every area of our lives, and to nearly every sphere of the world which we inhabit. It can feel like a transcultural slide into despair. Friends, Christmas reminds us that human solutions will always fall short. That’s why we need a Savior.

And, if you’ll allow me to drill down even further into the nuts and bolts of our souls, you and I tend to get bogged down in depression whenever the more personal challenges of life appear to be getting the best of us. Simply put, most of us don’t do well with overwhelmed. But Christmas reminds us that, though we are in fact more fragile than we ever imagined, One has come to carry our burden for us … all the way to the cross. And then we remember God’s promise through Isaiah that the weight of the world will rest on Christ.

Why was this baby who would be the Savior of the world born in Bethlehem, anyway? Because the then global superpower was hungry for even more tax revenue. So Joseph had to sign up and pay up. That’s just the way it works when you’re not in charge, whether you’re in Rome or in Reidland. When you’re not Caesar, you render unto Caesar. What does this remind us? Just this: no chapter of human history, nor any chapter of our own lives, is futile when Jesus is Lord.

And Jesus is Lord! Christ lived for us and died for us. And the cross is not the end of the story, but the empty tomb! Christ lives for us!

For some if not most of us, 2019 has been a wearying year. But take heart, friends: “the government shall be upon his shoulders.” To know that is to know more than enough.

Christ the Savior is born. Merry, Merry Christmas!

Pastor Charles

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Cool as Cruise

Not.

I’m simply not as cool as Tom Cruise. Know you’re shocked.

In 2020 we’ll be treated to Top Gun: Maverick – here’s a pic from the new trailer. “Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell” is reporting for duty on his Kawasaki Ninja GPZ900R – you may remember the bike from 1986. And don’t say I’m too old to be cool just because I can remember that. Tom Cruise is older than I – and he’s only a little more cool. Anyway, in the film, Pete will be the new flight instructor at the Top Gun school. This time, though, he’ll have to battle drones.

Did they think I wasn’t available to take this role? Honestly. At least they could have called and asked. We could have fully funded next year’s budget for First Baptist Paducah. And beyond. Oh well.

Young adults are leaving our American churches in droves, friends, and the tendency is to conclude: we’re just not trendy enough! Surprisingly, though, recent research indicates that Millennials want “real” over trendy. They don’t want us to be closed-minded – that’s for sure – and neither do the Gen Z’ers right behind them. But younger adults are looking for authenticity. Said differently, if we’re not as cool as Cruise, they don’t want us pretending that we are.

If we can’t explain every connection between the Bible and science, they don’t want us pretending like we can.

If we’re struggling with sin on a daily basis (and who isn’t), they don’t want us acting like we have it all together.

These generations despise hypocrisy and self-righteous judgmentalism. So should we, friends. So should we.

I’ve been thinking about this. Maybe there’s a difference between cool and cool. Maybe “cool” can be cool because it’s truly of value. It’s highly desirable. If that’s the case, then the gospel of Jesus is incredibly cool! In fact, I would go as far as saying that authentic Christianity – lived out among God’s people – is as cool as it gets! This would be the kind of faith walking that includes such rare commodities as truth-telling and forgiveness-offering and coming clean and all the other forms of radical grace that only Christ can do in – and through – us. Totally cool.

I rarely quote from Eugene Peterson’s The Message, but I’d like to now (Luke 14:1-6):

One time when Jesus went for a Sabbath meal with one of the top leaders of the Pharisees, all the guests had their eyes on him, watching his every move. Right before him, there was a man hugely swollen in his joints. So Jesus asked the religion scholars and Pharisees present, “Is it permitted to heal on the Sabbath? Yes or no?” They were silent. So he took the man, healed him, and sent him on his way. Then he said, “Is there anyone here who, if a child or animal fell down a well, wouldn’t rush to pull him out immediately, not asking whether or not it was the Sabbath?” They were stumped. There was nothing they could say to that.

Then our Messiah went on to tell the Parables of the Wedding Feast and the Great Banquet. Surely our takeaways would include these: 1) Humble yourselves before it’s too late; and 2) Stop making excuses, but go tell everybody that Jesus is Lord.

Maybe I don’t have to be cool because Jesus already is.

Maybe the coolest me is the me God created, and the me whom God is conforming to His own likeness, in spite of me.

Maybe the coolest of cools isn’t fighter-jet independence, but welcome-to-our-sometimes-crazy-but-joyful-in-Jesus-where-there’s-always-a-seat-for-you-on-our-big-ole-bus interdependence.

Off to find my Ray-Bans. Pray for me.

Pastor Charles

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