Call Waiting

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A blog that I faithfully read is titled My Way Home. I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already.  It is not only excellently written, but the topics are timely and presented with a transparency I can only hope to attain someday.  It was in responding to a recent post there that caused me to offer this fuller explanation of how our ever-faithful God showered me with His patience, waiting for me to answer His call.

Before cell phones became a ‘necessity,’ most folks had a phone (or two) placed strategically in their homes.  One of the innovations of that era was Call Waiting, a service provided by the phone company that alerted to you to an incoming call during a call already in progress.  I know it doesn’t sound like much know, but twenty some years ago it was a big deal.

But enough about ancient phone technology, suffice to say I would ask you to keep the idea of Call Waiting in mind as you plow through the following.  As many of you know, I started my journey of recovery from alcoholism in 1991.  From a detox to in patient rehab; I then dove wholeheartedly into AA.  It was their teaching that to recover one must rely on a ‘power greater than ourselves’ that I came to know Jesus Christ as Savior.  I’d gone to church every Sunday as a kid and heard all the stories; they simply didn’t mean anything to me.  That is until I was faced with the prospect of a slow and lonely death if something didn’t change in my life.

As the length of time away from a drink continues to grow, so did my trust in Jesus.  I counted on Him to not only keep me sober, but also to live my life in a responsible way.  Little things that had always been beyond me, like working and paying bills, became things I could do with the Lord’s leading.

I didn’t feel the need to go back to organized religion, for I had all I needed on a daily basis in this gift of sobriety.  I did not object, however, when my wife suggested we start going to church again, for the kids.  It is as I starting attending services regularly during this time that the story of Call Waiting began.

After being with this wonderful group of people that made up my new church family a short time, I became involved in various activities.  There was choir and bible study and fellowship dinners as well as other ministry activities.  I did many of them, enjoying a freedom in my spirit I had never known.

I also began to take an active role in caring for and about others.  Visiting folks in the hospital or those who were home bound became very important to me.  It seemed only right to give back in some way after having done so much damage caring only about me and my wants.  As I look back, it was during this time that God’s Call Waiting started to happen.

All of a sudden, it seemed to me, various people that I had contact doing these various ministry tasks started to tell me that I had a ‘pastor’s heart.’ I smiled and nodded at these kind words, thinking to myself they had me confused with someone else.  I was barely scratching the surface of learning how to take care of myself and my young family; surely this pastor business was not for me.

While hoping in my heart of hearts that these comments would die a peaceful death, they in fact became more frequent and were now being followed with questions like: “You really ought to look into this,” and the big one, “This is God’s calling for you.”

Well, I thought, if it was God calling, He was going to have to wait.  I had debts to pay and a wife and children I wanted to spend time with.  Being a pastor seemed at that time to entail lousy working hours with little pay.  I was all for helping out, when it was convenient, but not full time.  No, that call was going to have to wait.

If I’ve learned anything in this Christian walk all these years, it’s that you cannot out-wait God.  He left that line open all those years.  I eventually saw that there was a call on the other line, if you will, but I was still not picking up.

I am ever so glad He is as patient as He is.  For once I did answer the call to be a pastor, I have found some of the greatest blessings in those lousy hours and the pay scale is truly unmatched.  What God was calling me to is so much better than my own best plan could ever be, but He let me figure that out over time.

Part of me wants to apologize for leaving Him on hold for so long but yet the larger portion of my heart is grateful for His patience.  All that time that I thought I was doing my things my way; He was working on my heart to be able to trust Him more; which most certainly worth the wait!

How about you? What’s God calling you to do.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

When Your Words Don’t Help; Try Listening

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Like many, I suppose, I could stand to work on my listening skills.  As a pastor, I often get to hear many of the struggles, pain and uncertainties that people are going through.  Yet hearing and listening are two different things, are they not? It occurs to me this morning that I hear with my ears, but truly listen with my heart.

For me, the difference is in how deep I allow what I hear in.  For example, when my mind immediately jumps to what I will say in response, I am merely hearing what is presented.  And even though my response may be helpful, it probably will not approach the deeper core of the situation; because in using only my hearing, I fail to engage my heart.  This makes it difficult for me to empathize, because I have placed the goal of simply answering above connecting.

Recently, a family to which I have ministered for over a year suffered the loss of an adult child to a drug overdose.  This close knit and multi-generational family is devastated, as you can well imagine.  Using only my ears to hear over the previous two weeks, I have heard their pain as they attempt to make sense of a senseless loss.  Even with my best intentions, simply hearing and then responding has been of little help.  My attempts to bring comfort have yielded few results.

Last evening, as my wife and I met with several of these dear folks, God got my attention.  As the theme of pain and uncertainty was once again talked about, I began to listen instead of just hearing.  Rather than allowing my mind to work itself into a frenzy formulating a response, I kept it quiet. This allowed more of the depth of their suffering to reach my heart.

At the urging of His Spirit, I then shared with the family that I had no answer for them.  But what I did have, I offered without reservation.  Rather than offer a solution to end their pain, I simply acknowledged the depth of their despair while encouraging them to not give up on God during this time.

I realized this morning that as I listened to them last night, I could offer the best help I have available: me.  I assured them that should they call or want to see me, I would be there.  Listening, rather than merely hearing, allowed me to be open to a different approach, one that was so much more personal and I believe helpful.  As Betsy and I left them, I saw hope begin to glimmer in the midst their pain.

I would love to read any suggestions you may have on how to become a better listener should you wish to share them.

As always, my deep appreciation for taking the time to read this,

Pastor Chuck

Of Empty Jars and a Fuller Faith

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The thoughts for this blog are taken from the message I have prepared for Sunday September 1st, 2019.  They are based on a passage from the Old Testament found in the Book of 2 Kings 4:1-7.  It is the account of a widow who is about to lose her two sons because she cannot pay a debt she owes.  What unfolds in this passage is wonderful story of God’s provision.

When preaching this message, it is my intention to go verse by verse as I attempt to help folks see how God, ever faithful to keep His promises, can grow faith in the hardest of times.

For you, Dear Reader, I’ll be touching on highlights here (should you want to hear my soothing tones discussing this in fuller detail, please go to our website, www.lakesidechristianministries.org and click of the dropdown menu audio/video).

As always, it is good to get some background/context to the passage of scripture being considered.  Elisha, who had been the prophet Elijah’s assistant, has now assumed the leadership position after Elijah has been taken up to heaven.  He is the man of God the widow seeks for help.  As prophet, Elisha would have others working and ministering under his guidance.  One of these people had been the widow’s husband.

It’s also helpful to remember that the accepted custom of that time in ancient Israel was if you were unable to pay your debt, some or all family members would be forced to be servants of that creditor.  In essence, they could be sold into slavery to cover a debt.  If she lost her sons, there would be no one left to work the land.  Her very bad situation was going to spiral even further downward.  She would be destitute.  You get a better sense of her desperation by knowing these things, I thinkAt this point, she would be seeing more of empty jars than anything that might grow her faith.

In her grief, pain and uncertainty of the future she seeks out the prophet. (Folks even then looking for a fix/cure on their own level instead of going first and directly to God.)  Elisha had already worked miracles in his ministry; no doubt the widow would have known, hence her seeking him out to do something about her situation. She spells out her issues to Elisha, who may or may not have already known about what she was up against.

After the widow spells out her problems to him, Elisha asks if she has anything at all to work with to pay the debt. “Nothing,” she replies, “except this little but of oil.”  To us this would be like having one dollar to our name when we owed one million.  Her situation looked hopeless, having more to do with empty jars than a flowing faith at this point.

The Prophet then gives her some strange instructions.  She is to go to all her neighbors, asking to borrow empty jars.  It is at this point we can she the widow starting to walk in faith.  This was a very humbling thing to do.  By going to all her neighbors, they would certainly know something was wrong.  No matter how they might talk about her, she was grasping at the chance to save her boys.

After collecting the jars, Elisha’s instructions don’t get any less crazy sounding.  The widow and her boys are to take them into their house and close the door.  Once they were alone, she was to start pouring the little oil she had into these empty jars.

Common sense would tell us this is futile, a heart hoping for God to do something wonderful would start pouring.  She did, and the Bible tells us the oil does not stop pouring until all the jars are full!

God has always been in the multiplying business.  Thinking about this takes me back to grade school grade school and learning the multiplication tables.  Each of these always showed that anything times zero was always zero.  That’s good for a mathematics table, but it doesn’t fit God’s character.  God continues to make something where there once was nothing!

This account was meant to grow the faith of those involved, not their pocketbooks! As you ponder it (and may I encourage you to read/re-read again 2 Kings 4:1-7), may I ask, “How can God enlarge your faith today?” You don’t need to be in the dire straits this widow was.  In fact, we should learn from her example and not wait as long as she did before seeking help. Don’t fall prey to the prideful feelings that you can a: work everything out yourself, or b: be to ashamed to admit something is messed up and you need help.

Take a spiritual inventory of what you have in the Lord and where your walk is currently with Him.  This will help you to see what you have in Him as opposed to how little you have on your own.  Let your faith grow as you ponder what God did for this obedient woman.  Difficulties might seem huge and having a kitchen full of empty jars seem of little use.  But our God will meet our deepest needs, if only we admit/ask Him to sustain us.  He’s done it; He’s doing it.  Do you have the faith He can do it for you?

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Finding the True Balance in Life

I have written recently that Scripture encourages us to be living in the day, rejoicing and being glad to God for the unique gift that it is.  Wonderful instruction.  But I wonder, am I the only one who has trouble doing it? Good, I’m not alone!  Staying in the day has been an on-going problem.  Many of us seemed to be living in a state of constant fatigue, never getting enough rest because of the seemingly insurmountable amount of stuff that has to get done.

Take comfort, as I do, that Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, understands that we get ourselves into this condition.  We look in vain for a semblance of balance to our days.  But if we will look to Him, He is waiting to give it to us.  In Matthews Gospel, Chapter 11:28-30, the Lord explains it this way:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and I will give you rest. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (NIV)

Let’s examine this a little more closely to find how each of us can experience the truly balanced life Jesus offers.  First, realize that the offer is made to all you who are weary and burdened.  All means all; there is nothing you’ve done that cannot be unburdened to the Lord.  All are equally welcomed to come to Him.

“Come to me” is a call to action on our part. Trade in the old, tired ways for the new life Jesus is offering.  Acknowledging, then, that we play a part in experiencing this rest, what are we to do?

First, admit our need of this balanced life.  If we’ve honestly looked, we’ve seen that we need to have it.  Also, it’s ok to admit “I’m tired.”  There’s no shame in that, as matter of fact many of us succumb to pride when we push on through fatigue thinking we can overcome any obstacle if we work long and hard enough. I don’t know about you, but this particular approach leaves me more fatigued and stressed.  Instead, we ought to remember that Jesus has ‘overcome the world.’ He’s the only one who could.  Humbly go to Him seeking this rest.

And most of us aren’t just weary, but ‘burdened’ as well. What are you burdened by today? Finances, health, children, work, the state of the country/world, etc.? Plenty to be burdened about and they quickly become too heavy if we try to carry them ourselves.

Once we have acknowledged that we are indeed weary and burdened, Jesus then tells us more that we need to do! But it will be so worth it as we do.  When Jesus said for us to take His yoke upon us, it is really an act of our will.  Are we willing to pick up what He offers?  If we do, He promises to take the brunt of the weight, thus making it possible to stand up under what is left.  It really is an invitation to learn from Him.  It’s like He’s saying, “You’ve tried the rest, now try the best!” Look over your track record with dealing with problems and difficulties on your own, or in your way or power.   If your past success rate is as low as mine in doing things your own way, you can see that we all have some things to learn.  Hence, once yoked to Jesus, we are to learn from Him; the One with the strength, wisdom, the One on the inside.

Again, there is still more action required, because of our faith, on our part.  Here it is:   We are to stand in His truth, and ask Him which ways we are to go.  Your soul can and will know the rest God offers; and during the walking out of faith in Him, not merely at the conclusion of a hard day’s work.

Lastly, this yoke Jesus is talking about is not easy because He expects less from us, rather it is light because He carries so much of the load!  In the same way, our burdens don’t lighten or go away simply because we follow Jesus, but again because He carries the majority of the load, they become so much lighter and easier for us to carry.

Jesus has told us again today that He will give us rest.  His offer is true and reliable.  He will give it, if we seek Him for it.  It really all boils down to a question of faith: Is what God’s Word says applicable to us today?  If you believe that it is indeed ‘active and alive,’ the answer is again yes.

With the truth of God activated in your heart and mind, you can know and experience the wondrous truth that Jesus Himself provides the ‘rest for our souls’ that we need.

On this day, and every day, keep all that you do centered on the Lord Jesus.  As you do, you will find that the rest He gives doesn’t just come at the end of our physical activity, but in fact is present and available to us all the time.  As you let this truth take root in your heart, you will find that Jesus Christ has and is your balance in abundance.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this,

Pastor Chuck

 

 

 

My Mom’s Committal Service

My mother passed away after a long battle with dementia Tuesday of this week.  Later this morning I will have the honor of leading her committal service.  I’ve posted here some of what I will say during that time.  It is my hope that you, my faithful readers, may find comfort in these words as well; for we all know the pain the physical death brings to our families.

I will begin the service by reading Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; you rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (NIV)

I will then deliver this short message:

It is always with a certain amount of sadness when we gather at times like this.  Life, as great as it can be, holds the final card over our physical lives.  Experience teaches me, and I share with you, that healing begins as you feel your emotions in these times.  Each of us had a different relationship with my mother, and regardless of the depth of that relationship, there is now a void.  The spot in your heart that she occupied is now empty, leaving us sad and wishing it didn’t have to be this way.

As we process our grief, we now share the responsibility of keeping mom’s memory alive, as we share our stories of the good times and the positive influence her life has had on ours.  That can be somewhat easy today, as we gather in support of one another.  As we share our memories, we will readily laugh today as cherished things from our shared past will be re-visited.  This is a good thing as it helps us all to begin to process our grief.

The more difficult times will be when we are alone.  This is when the sadness, the reality of the loss can seem at its most powerful.  When you get to that place, please call to mind the words I read a moment ago.  Our ultimate comfort comes from the Lord.  His perfect love is tailor made to each of our hearts.  He promises to always be with us and He is faithful to keep that promise.

My last piece of love-filled advice is to remember what the psalmist wrote about death: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .  I walk, there is a sense of movement through it.

These words encourage us to not wallow in our grief.  As I said at the top, feel your grief.  Let others know how you are feeling.  Cry as you need to, but please keep your feet, your heart, and your mind, moving forward.  This is not to say we are trying to block memories from our past with mom.  No, keep them alive as you continue living your life.  Yes, it is now one person less than it was and collectively we mourn that fact today.  But she remains alive within us as we all make the effort to remember our mom in the love you have for her.

Always, I thank you for taking the time to read what I post and I covet your prayers during these difficult times.

Pastor Chuck

 

Sometimes the Answer is Right in Front of You

Sometimes the answer is right in front of you. It didn’t take Violet long in this heat wave to find the coolest spot in the house, right in front of the fan!
Many times I find myself struggling for answers. I can research a topic so much Google sends me emails to make sure I’m alright. I can ask 100 different people for their input and opinions, hoping to find a solution. I often get myself to that proverbial place of not being able to see the forest through the trees.
Thankfully, God puts up with my mental gymnastics. He is always there to catch me as I fall. Usually it’s a simple reminder that He has promised to never leave me nor forsake me.
He is and has all the answers I will ever need. Thanks for the help Violet!
Pastor Chuck

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Love Is

“Tis the season!” Not that season, it’s wedding season and I have been invited to join two friends in matrimony this weekend.  Being a late starter to the ministry game, this will be only the third marriage ceremony I have presided over.  Though the sample size is small, and the others have been so nice, this weekend’s celebration rings closest to my heart.

The groom and I have been friends for nearly thirty years and I have known his intended for the last ten of those.  Knowing this couple well allows me to see the power of love at work as it molds two into one.  As they have shared their life with me, I can witness to the tender care God provides.  They are deeply in love, which after all is what this marriage thing is supposed to be based on.

Speaking of love, they have selected the ‘Love Section’ of 1 Corinthians 13 to be read during their ceremony.  This is a most popular portion of Scripture to be read at these happy times, and I’ll gladly share these words with all present once again.

 

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The Apostle Paul’s letter describes God’s perfect love.  His love.  That’s the only perfect love I know of.  I make this claim based of the way the word ‘always’ is used in describing love.  Only when speaking of God is the word ‘always’ truly what it says it is.  Saying we will always do/be/say just isn’t accurate.  We aren’t perfect, God is.  When He says always, it is always!

If, however, any of us, this weekend’s bride and groom included, aspire to complete this list of descriptions of what love is perfectly, we are going to be disappointed.  Seeking perfection in the human realm is a fool’s game.   Looking for perfection in the another often prevents us from examining ourselves with a more critical eye.  My preference is normally for the easier softer way; in this case being critical/judging another instead of making changes in my own behavior/thought process to more readily accommodate the needs of someone else.

So, what is love? After all, it is what we’ll be celebrating tomorrow.  Simply put, love is taking the example of God’s perfect love and incorporating it into the very fabric of our everyday life.  I can boil that down to doing this: Every chance you get, put the another’s feelings, thoughts desires at least on a par with your own.  Personal or secret agendas do not hold up well when the desire of your heart is to fulfill the desires of your partner’s heart! That’s what love is.  We accomplish this, with many goofs along the way, by being patient.  By being kind.  By not being rude or self-seeking.  We are loving at our best when we make the effort to not get angered easily.  We are maturing in love when we no longer keep a scorecard of ‘wrongs’ done against us. When we love truth, there is no room for the evil of lies. When we live in trust, when we keep our hearts and minds filled with the hope that God gives us.  By loving others in this way, we get ever so closer to the heart of God, which is love.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

One More Day

What an absolutely gorgeous day has dawned here is Central New York.  The sun is shining brightly in a cloudless sky as the temperature hovers in the mid-70s.  It has the look of a quintessential summer day!  In no particular order, my plans for this day include officiating at an outdoor wedding, mowing the back yard and walking our Goldendoodle Violet several times.

This is a perfect day, and that it comes on a Saturday is simply an extra bonus! We have lived through and a long and cold winter and an exceedingly wet spring to get to this mid-summer classic.  Factoring in all those dreary weather days makes realizing that today is a real keeper easy to do.

Yet, am I that shallow to allow the current weather conditions to dictate how I feel about this day? Didn’t God create all the days? One of my favorite bible verses assures me that He did: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 NIV) I believe the point of this verse is to remind me that it is Who has created this day that I ought to be rejoicing in, not whether or not it fits my mold of what a nice day is!

Not that I intend to beat myself up about this.  Like many, I fall prey to the rut of the everyday life, where tasks and deadlines often make it impossible to get outside, regardless of the weather.  These are wonderfully busy times, and I do not want to complain about what God has got me doing, but time sure is flying by.

There is a fine line, however, that I would like to write about; that being the tendency many of us have for taking for granted these wonderful daily creations called Today.  For me, the maintaining of a comfortable routine is probably the biggest culprit.  Rather than simply thank God for what He has provided within the context of this set of twenty-four hours, I crowd Him out by surrounding myself with those people and things that keep me smugly satisfied with my place in life.  Here I am minimally challenged, and life chugs on it its predictable and somewhat controllable pace.

As a pastor/preacher I attempt to teach folks to consider the bigger picture.  Maybe I need a refresher!  Eternal life is God’s greatest gift to His kids, and folks have told me I explain it to them in ways they can understand and relate to.  Having faith in the finished work of the cross of Jesus Christ is how we step into this forever place of love and assurance.  I believe this with every fiber of my being as I present the biblical case for eternity.  My oft stated purpose is not to lead folks by the nose, but to give them enough information that they can make their own informed decision about Jesus.

Part of this teaching includes the wonder of each twenty-four hours that God gives us.  Each day, tailor made by the Author of all, is full of opportunities to thank and praise Him.  Yet it is here that routine can often cause the gradual loss of awareness of the special gift of today.

As usual, an example from my work experience helps to make my point.  One of the most interesting and well-paying hourly jobs I held over the years was at the James A. Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Plant.  My job title was Buildings and Ground Attendant, a name that barely scratches the surface of what us ‘grunts’ had to do.  You name it, from lawn care and snow removal to gathering contaminated protective clothing to assisting the operations staff as they moved spent fuel bundles, we basically did whatever was needed to be done to support the safe operation of the plant.

Like I said, these were high paying jobs.  When our funding finally got cut and several of us got let go, I was earning $21 per hour (in 1997).  Of course, this level of pay did not come without its risks.  Any time you were in the actual power plant, you had one constant companion, radiation.  The plant, run by the State of New York at that time, had a highly trained staff of radiation technicians, whose primary function was to keep the rest of us aware of the dose rates in the various place we might be working, thus limiting our exposure.  But coming in contact with radiation was a given to all who worked there.

To keep an accurate count of just how much dose we encountered, every employee was subject to a whole-body scan on the first day of employment.  This established a baseline against which further scans could accurately assess how much radiation each employee was exposed to.  On a person’s last day of employment, the whole-body scan was taken again.  From this the Nuclear Regulatory Commission establishes what your lifetime dose exposure has been.  They send you a letter within six weeks of this exam telling you the results and ending with the cheery statistic of how much you can expect your life expectancy to have been shortened by the radiation.

My final scan resulted in the NRC informing me that I could expect to live one day less than I would have otherwise because of my work at the plant.

“One day, that’s not so bad, so long as it comes at end,” I often quipped.  Fast forward to today, some 23 years since I frequented the inside of a nuclear plant.  That’s quite a few one more days I have lived.  It occurs to me that I have let a fair number of them slip by, barely noticed.  It seems like there will always be one more day when you are younger.

As I approach the fourth (of four) 20-year slices of life pie, as my oldest son describes it, the reality that there is a finite number of days left to me is quite clear.  The question becomes, what do I do with this fresh insight?  One thing I won’t do is waist time lamenting the fact that I have let so much of it go by.  There is nothing to gain in doing that, and certainly more to lose, like another day! Today I choose to keep the door to the past just open enough to learn from past experiences, in hopes of putting this precious today to better use.

I’m not saying I’m about to go hog-wild, living at some reckless pace as if this were indeed the day the NRC told me about.  No, just the opposite.  I believe a slowdown is in fact what is needed.  To truly embrace what God’s gift of today is, I have to idle back so as to not miss so much of the goodness He has surrounded me with.

Like other aspects of my faith walk, this is a simple, but not always easy thing to do.  It’s really not about focusing on things or people, as wonderful as they are, that God has put in my life.  The key to rejoicing in this day He has made is to heighten my awareness of Him.  After all, He has made the arrangement for me through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ to be with Him forever.  This is a great day to enjoy that awesome truth, and if it is the last one on earth, so be it.  The best is yet to come!

As always Faithful Reader, thanks for spending some time with me,

Pastor Chuck

What was I thinking!

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(The idea for this entry came out of our Saturday morning prayer group as God downloaded it to my wife Betsy’s spirit.  As she shared it with me, I jumped on that wonderful insight to guide my thoughts for this time)

One of my favorite accounts of God doing over-the-top stuff in the Old Testament can be found in 1 Kings Chapter 18.  In this chapter we read about the Prophet Elijah calling out the 400 or so prophets of Baal, one of the main false gods of the time.

The extremely condensed version goes like this: Elijah had become fed up with King Ahab’s leading of the people astray by worshiping this Baal character.  Basically, Elijah tells the king to make a choice, either follow Baal or the God of their ancestors.  He even makes it a visual choice.  Elijah advised Ahab to gather the prophets of the false god and prepare a sacrifice.  If Baal answers their petitions, he will indeed be the god.

Elijah, full of faith in the God of Israel, allows those poor guys to go first.  They prepare the bull on their altar and begin to loudly plead with Baal to do his thing by bringing fire down to consume it.  This goes on for some time which causes Elijah to speculate, tongue in cheek, that perhaps their god is sleeping and can’t hear them.  The ever more frustrated prophets of Baal become greatly agitated and even begin to cut themselves in a show of devotion to the empty deity they are praying to.

Elijah finally says it is his turn.  Just to make it interesting, he tells the Baal followers to douse his sacrifice three times with plenty of water.  They use so much in fact that the Bible says it filled the trench around the altar Elijah had prepared.  As you may have guessed, Elijah then calls of the name of the God of heaven who promptly answers by sending a consuming fire from heaven that burns up both altars with the sacrifices on them.  Elijah then commands the people who saw this powerful display to gather up the 400 hundred prophets of Baal and put them to the sword.

I share all this as introduction to my main point for today, that being what Elijah did next.  You might assume that after an affirming display like he had just witnessed, Elijah would be going all in and all out for God.  Well, don’t assume.  Reading on in the narrative we find Elijah hiding out in the desert, the very next day, afraid for his life after he learned that Ahab’s wife, the evil Queen Jezebel, has sworn to kill Elijah for what he has done before the sun goes down that day.

I can understand the fear Elijah felt, but not so much the pity party he throws for himself.  The Bible says that he came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.  “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4 NIV)

I have struggled with his reaction for quite some time.  How could he so quickly feel as if God was going to leave him alone after what he has just seen done the day before! Obviously, we can’t know what was going on inside Elijah’s head and heart, but perhaps that’s not the point.

No, I believe the point is to relate to Elijah rather than judge what he said.  Now, I haven’t called any fire down from heaven lately, but that’s not to say I haven’t seen God at work doing wonderful things around me.  In fact, I have witnessed God do two healings that should have me shouting about it on the rooftop of our home.

Instead, I find myself at my laptop at 4 am unable to sleep (again) because of the poison ivy covering my right arm and leg.  Using all my willpower not to scratch as I wait for the morning dose of medicine to kick in, I find myself lamenting what I am currently going through.  My itchy limbs have all put driven the mighty work of God from my mind.

OK, being troubled by some nasty poison ivy doesn’t quite compare with a queen swearing to kill me before the sun goes down today, but I hope you catch my drift.  I, like most of us if we’re to be honest, am self-centered to the core.  My current situation almost always takes position in the forefront on my mind, whatever it is.

I’ve been at this Christian life for quite a while now but it’s times like this that make me wonder what, if anything, I have learned along the way.  I stop myself right there! For this is yet another veiled ‘pour me’ line of thinking.  Though I’m no Rhodes Scholar or Mensa candidate, I have learned much on this journey as a follower of Christ.  Most importantly, that God is faithful even when I am not at the top of my game.

This morning, that realization leads me to once again ask our always faithful Lord to forgive my self-indulgence on the pity pot.  My prayer is a simple one, and you may join me if feel so moved:

Dear Jesus, Thank you for all you have done for me and around me.  Please forgive my shortness of sight and thinking.  Help me to stayed better focused on you, the Great Sustainer of my life.  Give me the courage and opportunity to speak often of your Greatness.  Help me to rise above current circumstance that wants to distract or discourage me.  May I never forget how much you love me, itchy limbs and all.

Though I know Jesus knows me by name, I sign this for you, Faithful Reader,

Pastor Chuck

Figuring it all out?

 

As many of you know, I stepped away from full-time secular employment in September of 2016 so that I could devote all my time to our home-based ministry.  This was not a decision we made lightly.  Much prayer and not a few sleepless nights preceded this step.  In fact, my wife Betsy and I nearly took this leap in 2014.  At that time, after carefully going over our home budget, we decided to wait, using the time to downsize and pay down debt.  We were, we thought, figuring it out.

In the Spring of 2016, still waiting for God to show when it was time to make this life-altering decision, we had a prophetic word spoken over us.  The prophet, a man new to the area and whom we had never met, began to pray over us.  He started by calling Betsy by name! Looking back, I’m sure God did this to make sure He had my attention (He did!). The prophecy stated that we were to step out in faith into what God was calling us to by reminding us how He had cared for us in every way through the years.  Armed with this affirmation, we decided to act in faith.  We had it figured out.

I handed in my notice in March of 2016.  This was a job I thoroughly enjoyed at a place where I felt appreciated and was more than adequately compensated for my efforts.  On the very day I told my employer of the decision to leave, our ministry received an anonymous donation of $1500! You can imagine the joy and humility that was in my heart as I opened that piece of mail.  It was with great assurance that we had figured it out at last.

Our home ministry, Lakeside Christian Ministries, was actually birthed from a prayer group/bible study that had met regularly for seven years at our residence.  Again, after much prayer, four of us who served as core members through all those years, believed it was time to start having Sunday services here.  With much anticipation, because we had it figured out, we envisioned our home becoming too small to suit our needs.  This home church was going to reach those who had fallen away from consistent worship attendance.  Though the ensuing two years had times of blessing from the Lord with a few folks giving it a try, the meetings eventually petered out until it was just Betsy and I gathering in our living room to worship.

The two of us went back to our ever-faithful God in search of direction.  We sought only the what and how to of whatever He had planned for us.  At long last, we figured out that we were never going to figure it all out! Yes, we wanted His direction, but what we prayed for fervently was the obedience to simply comply with the opportunities he presented.

And has He presented some! Betsy and I now serve the kingdom in several ways.  Through our friendship and connections with other ministries here in our small city, we let it be known that we were available to help their churches with both worship music (one of Betsy’s many giftings), preaching (something I get charged up about) and leading Bible studies should there be illness or vacations, etc. A number of these fellowships have taken us up on this offer.  This facet of our ministry continues to be a blessing to all involved.

We have also been asked to bring Bible study to people’s homes that are not currently affiliated with any given church.  This has proved a wonderful opportunity to present the gospel on ‘neutral turf,’ if you will.  These folks seem much more at ease and ready to talk and ask questions in their own living rooms.  We have a new group planning to start in September of this year that will examine the Book of Daniel.

Without a doubt, God has showed us that the easiest, most clear way to have things figured out is to simply follow the example of Jesus.  For the most part, Jesus met people where they were, when they were there.  The wonderful account of Jesus and the Woman at the Well in John Chapter 4 has served as our blueprint.  We now meet on a regular basis, often more than once a week, in some of the apartments in what is considered the darkest part of our town.  Our task and approach is simple: to present the truth of God in both word and deed.  We have discovered that by investing time in the lives of these folks on an everyday type basis, they have developed a deep trust in us.  With this trust, we are able to present and explain what the Bible has to say on many different topics.

Having been meeting in that area for over a year now, we have seen God grow much fruit.  People that were at first solely focused on themselves and their wants/needs, are now finding life enriched as they reach out to others to lend a hand.  More importantly, we have the privilege of watching their faith grow before our very eyes.  Our times of prayer are rich with the Spirit of God as He leads us all into deeper knowledge of Himself.  The Almighty has answered the prayers of two of these saints by healing their cancers.  The first has the doctors astounded, as this was a terminal diagnosis.  Yet this week’s blood work for this person revealed no trace of cancer! The other miracle occurred when a person’s liver cancer was simply gone, leaving no trace of scar tissue on the organ.  God is moving, for His glory.  There is no other explanation for it.

So, what we have figured out is that God already has everything figured out!
When we walk this truth out in humble obedience, He continues to shine His light on the path He has for us.  This is wonderful but at the same time occasionally difficult for us as both Betsy and I are hands on, do it now type of people.  Figuring out how to do things and solving problems is how we are wired and yet God is using us in these ways, go figure!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck