Footprints

 

Footprints-in-the-Sand-Poem.jpg

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Many of us are familiar with Footprints.  It hangs in many offices and fellowship halls.  It serves as a reminder that God keeps His promise to never leave nor forsake us, no matter how tough the going gets.

Like many things I get familiar with, however, the purpose of this poem gets put into the back of my mind.  I may see it on a wall, but won’t stop to read it because I already know what it says.

I caught myself walking by Footprints the other day as I hurried to my next appointment.  Allow me to tell you what happened next.  I recognized (and more unusually) listened to the still, small voice of God telling me to stop and look at it.  I did.  The words were the same as always, yet something appeared to me that never had before.

The premise of this beautiful piece is that God carries us Himself when we can no longer carry on.  I have known this truth in my life and have witnessed it many times in the lives of others.

Here’s what grabbed my attention like I had never seen this before: The depth of the Lord’s footprint never changes.  Regardless of how much of our burdens He collectively carries, He is not slowed in any way.  Also, His gait never changes.  The stride remains consistent.  He carries our burdens, never having to stop and re-adjust the load.

The Lord can, does and will carries us along.  The question becomes, why don’t we let Him?

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

image re-printed from onlythebible.com

No Foolin’

April Fool’s Day has come and gone again for another year.  For the most part, I enjoy the shenanigans that accompanies the first of this month, though I could have gone without seeing Mother Nature’s 6 inches of snow prank on us here in Central New York!

Those who know me are aware that I love to laugh, remaining always ready to laugh at myself first.  If laughter is indeed the best medicine, I must be a pretty healthy individual.

What I know for sure is that the joy that is in my heart, ready to bubble over at any given moment, has been placed there by the Spirit of the Living God, whom I trust without reservation for my salvation.

I say all this to preface what I would like to briefly share with you all today.  I was asked to preach at a local church this past Sunday, filling in for their pastor who was not available to do so.  My style, if you can call it that, is to deliver the message of hope from God’s word in the same way I attempt to communicate all the time: straight forward, down to earth and with a touch of mirth so that we take the message, but not ourselves, seriously.

The title I gave to my sermon was Truth and Consequences, pointing out from numerous places in the Scriptures the truth that there are consequences for all our actions, both good and bad.  I concluded my presentation with an invitation for anyone in the audience to see me afterward to discuss the truth and consequences of making/not making an informed decision about Jesus Christ’s call to salvation, having outlined the consequences of believing in Him or not.

As I stood at the front, an older gent, I’d put him at about 80 years young, came up to me.  I had noticed as I spoke how attentive he and his wife had been, interjecting a fair amount of Amens! to the various points I was trying to make.  What he said to me is what has inspired this entry.  As he thanked me for speaking, he said, “Now that was preaching like we used to hear.”

I asked him what he meant by that.  He simply told me that the message was clear: Jesus Christ is the way to salvation and that there are indeed consequences that affect us forever based on our decision to the Lord’s invitation to be forgiven.

Here’s what I am still pondering and I welcome any and all thoughts and opinions: If plainly speaking about the pros and cons of recognizing our need of a Savior is ‘old school,’ exactly what is being preached/taught in churches today?

I started this entry speaking of the joy I experience daily.  I love a good laugh, usually at my own expense.  I’ll often refer to my lack of height (Vertically Challenged), my inability to jump and overall lack of athletic skill (Prisoner of Gravity) or my lack of good looks (Face made for radio) to get the humor started.

It is with the same joy that allows me to be not so serious about myself that I attempt to spread the simple yet all encompassing Good News about Jesus Christ.  The line between harmless self-deprecating humor and the absolute importance of making the choice for Jesus is crystal clear however, no foolin’.

Thanks for taking the time to read this,

Pastor Chuck

The Fuzzy Line Between my Wants and Needs

In my role as pastor, I often find myself giving counsel to folks concerning their finances.  For couples, the stress of maintaining a budget at home can be overwhelming, especially in those cases where no budget is in place! This entry, however, is not going to be about Budgeting 101, as important as that is.  Rather, I would like to address what I perceive as being the major cause of financial struggle:  the blurring of the line between our wants and needs.

As usual, these thoughts pertain as much to me as anyone.  I find the above-mentioned line getting fuzzy far too often.  Here is a recent case in point: I enjoy reading very much, and in this season of life, I have much more time to do so.  I generally have two or three books going at once, with one pertaining to ministry, another to American History and the third being some kind of mystery novel.  Allow me to give a shout out to my precious wife at this point.  Betsy is our primary wage earner so that I can attend to our ministry full time.  Being blessed with the ability to manage my time well is how I can do this and still find time to read.

Part of this time-management skill includes the ordering of books on line, quite often through Amazon.  I like that I can type in an author’s name an instantly get all that person’s work to choose from.  That part of instant-gratification is helpful.  To the point of my want/need line getting fuzzy, however, I must consider how quickly I am going to receive my order.  If I subscribe to Prime, I can get them the next day, usually before 10 am!  The simple question is do I need it that soon or is it something I want because it sounds interesting/fun/new/different etc.  Seen in this light, I easily recognize that the line has gotten fuzzy and simply pay for traditional shipping, which will get my package to me in a reasonable time frame anyway.

I see another way the want v. need line can get blurred easily.  As I mentioned earlier, my wife is the one who brings home the bread to our household.  She has an incredibly demanding job that keeps her in the office 10 or more hours day, 5 to 6 days a week! Betsy has a deep faith in, and love for God which undoubtedly gives her the strength to meet the demands of her work life with such a cheerful and positive attitude.  Because she is so well grounded, I don’t see her struggle with her want/need line very much, if at all.

This is true even though she uses several different services that send her clothes to try on in styles she has selected in the profile given.  I enjoy that she gets to try different things (without me having to ride shotgun to the mall) in the midst of her hectic schedule.  What is even more wonderful is the ease with which Betsy simply sends back the majority of the items, because she does not need them.  It’s a great example of the clarity between what wants and needs should be.

Not surprisingly, examples can be found in the Bible that are written to help us clarify our wants and needs as well.  Psalm 37:4 tells us to delight yourselves in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (NIV).  This is really another place that speaks about our priorities in life.  David, who wrote this psalm, had experienced a vast amount of wealth and comfort in his life, as well as much strife and hardship.  The lessons of life had taught him that when he put the Lord first in his heart and mind, he found that all he had materially paled when compared to the relationship God had established with him.  Once he discovered the pure delight of God’s love, the rest of the desires of his heart fell in line behind this most important one.  He could see the difference between a want and need.

The Apostle Paul gives yet another example of how to prevent the wants/needs line from getting fuzzy when he wrote to the Philippians: And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 NIV).  Here too we can see that the Scriptures teach that when we seek God to fulfill all  we truly need, His inexhaustible storehouse will supply us fully.

How then does someone like me come to see the want/need line more clearly? The answer is that it starts and ends with God! The bible tells us that His care and faithfulness toward us never ends or even takes a break.  If I (or anyone) is seeking to fill life with instant gratification only to find these things quickly fading into non-importance, we need to better focus on our unchanging and all-powerful Creator.  By seeking Him first and always (see Matthew 6:33 for more on this!), we will realize that He is indeed the fulfillment of every need we have.  With this comfort in the bank, the wants of life can assume their proper place at the back of the line.

The issue is that most, myself included as always, don’t have a thriving relationship with God, usually because we don’t know Him all that well.  Thankfully, this is a correctable situation that can be rectified in two easy steps.  One: Pray like you believe someone is really listening (He is) and two, read more about Him (His entire story is available in print!).

Any relationship that is vibrant includes getting to know the other person more deeply.  It is an on-going proposition.  This means that all healthy relationships are two-sided.  With regard to the relationship God offers, He is all in all the time, which leaves it up to us to grow into our part.

I’m not one for making idle promises, so please don’t take the following lightly: If you will make the effort to deepen your part in your relationship with God, I promise that the line between your wants and needs will become easier to discern.  I speak from personal experience, having both lived in the blessing of intimate contact with God and knowing the loneliness of shunning Him as I try to fill the void by pursuing the things on my want list.  Trust me, having this line more clearly defined has been one of the greatest blessings to me, as I’m sure it can be for you!

Thanks For reading,

Pastor Chuck

Truth and Consequences

There was an old radio turned television show called Truth or Consequences that ran through the late 1980’s.    Wikipedia describes it this way: On the show, contestants received roughly two seconds to answer a trivia question correctly (usually an off-the-wall question that no one would be able to answer correctly, or a bad joke) before “Beulah the Buzzer” sounded (in the rare occasion that the contestant answered the question correctly before Beulah was heard, the question inevitably had two or even three parts). If the contestant could not complete the “Truth” portion, there would be “Consequences,” usually a zany and embarrassing stunt.

Whereas the TV show was built on the premise of an either/or with regards to truth or consequences, real life, as the title of this blog entry mentions, provides a more accurate description: Truth and Consequences.  The truth is that all of our actions result in consequences, either for us or someone/thing else or a combination of both.

King David, one of the biggest heroes of the Old Testament, would find out first hand that the truth carried a severe set of consequences.  Reading through the Book of 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12 is a case in point.  These chapters tell of his affair with Bathsheba.  Here’s the Pastor Chuck condensed version: David sees a beautiful woman as he looks out from the roof of his palace.  Giving no thought to future consequences, he has her brought to him for his pleasure.  The fact that she was already married to another man wasn’t enough to dissuade him.  She gets pregnant as a result and David then plots to have her husband murdered under the guise of putting him in the front lines of the war that was going on at the time.  This scheme succeeds and the King is then ‘free’ to marry Bathsheba.

Enter Nathan the Prophet, one of the bravest figures in the Bible.  He has received a message from God about David’s sins and is instructed to call the King out on them.  There are many accounts from back then where the messenger is killed simply because of the message he bears, but this didn’t stop Nathan from carrying out his orders.  He reveals to David that God does indeed know the truth of what he has done.  Because of these actions, there will the consequences, the worst of these being that the baby born from this was to die.  As this all comes to be, David admits his guilt and asks forgiveness of God.  It’s important to note that while forgiveness is granted, the consequences of the actions still happen.

Of the many lessons you and I are to take from this sad situation, probably the most important is to realize and remember that our actions and choices will all have consequences too.  Obviously in this space I am referring to the bad or poor choices we make, but let’s not forget the opposite: that our good and proper choices can have positive consequences as well!

As we come to accept the truth about consequences, the more vital issue becomes what are we going to do about them going forward.  I have shared in this space before about the ruinous life I lived as an active alcoholic.  My totally selfish and senseless life style left a great deal of damage in its wake.  One place specifically was in our finances.  I accumulated a heap of debt because of my choices.  This was just one consequence that I had to deal with as I came to understand the truth of what I had done.

When my wife and I began to pick up the pieces of our life together, we realized the enormity of this debt.  In 1991 dollars, I owed well over $100,000.  Filing for personal bankruptcy protection alleviated some of this, but not to the IRS and the State of New York.  By failing to pay income and sales tax on the business that I owed, there was a substantial amount of restitution to be paid.

To the point of this blog, what was I to do when confronted with this truth? Was I to take out the mail carrier for bringing these notifications and demands for payment like some ancient prophet who delivered bad news? Of course not! How about running away or simply ignoring them? That approach had never really worked for me in the past, so I had to assume it wouldn’t now either.  What then was left?

Something that was new to me; owning up to my responsibilities.  I had to face and accept the truth.  I had screwed up and there were consequences to be paid.  God, true to His always faithful character, led the way out from under the cloud of debt that I had caused.  Once I accepted my part in this, I asked for His guidance in doing the right thing to clear it up.  He did.  Not with a winning sweepstakes ticket or some huge inheritance, but rather He with supplied me the opportunity to go back to work.  With this blessing came the chance to learn how to deal with money in the proper way, paying my obligations and deciding to pay off the government agencies that I owed.

The grace filled ending to this chapter of my life was that God saw us through it all.  Nowadays, I consider myself one of the richest people I know, though my checkbook my want to argue that point! I count my riches in a different way these days, all because God in his mercy saw to point out to me the consequences of my actions.  As He did, He has changed my heart, and continues to do so.  Am I above consequences for my actions now? Of course not.  What I am, however, is more aware of the bigger picture of life going on around me, which helps me to look for and find ways to have the consequences of my actions today be much more positive and good for me and those around me.

Thanks for reading.  Please feel free to share any stories of truth and consequences that God has seen you through.

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

 

 

Selective Hearing

I don’t know if selective hearing is an actual diagnosis, but I have come across several examples of it in my life.  My Grandfather, after years of factory work, had real loss of hearing.  Yet there seemed to be times when it was worse than others.  If a conversation didn’t interest him, he would claim later that he hadn’t heard what was said.  However, if his beloved New York Mets were on TV, he could hear everything the commentators had to say.

Another type of the phenomenon of selective hearing falls under the sub-title of ‘hearing what we want to hear,’ regardless if it is actually said.  An example of this that remains firmly lodged in my memory is the time my partner at work and I were called into the superintendent’s office.  He regretfully had to tell us that our positions were being eliminated.  He expressed genuine sorrow over losing two good workers and promised to help us in any way he could to find other employment, without specifically pointing us toward any other jobs.

As my co-worker and I left the building we discussed what our options were going forward.  He then said something to me that stopped me in my tracks: “At least John said we could have those jobs in the warehouse if we wanted them.”  I was flabbergasted.  I’ve recorded above pretty close word for word was said at that brief meeting.  There was no mention of warehouse jobs being offered to us. My friend was apparently exercising selective hearing rather than facing the real prospect of losing his job.  When I pointed this out to him, he indignantly told me that I must not have been listening!

These things all came to mind this morning as I read 1 Samuel Chapter 8.  A brief summary of this chapter finds Samuel, a long-time and devoted servant of God growing old and less able to lead the people.  He assigns his two sons to take over, but they are corrupt.  The people then begin to clamor that Samuel appoint a king over them, just like all the nations around them have.  Samuel takes this as an affront to him, but God points out that it is Him the Israelite’s are truly turning their backs on by demanding a worldly leader.

Now to the connection to selective hearing: After God has told Samuel to appoint the people a king, the old prophet then relays to them what God has said will happen because they have chosen this course of action.  For the full run-down of what God’s warning was, go to 1 Samuel 8:10-18.  I summarize it this way: By choosing to snub your nose at God, your king will basically take away all your freedoms, making life burdensome, hard and without hope.

The people, choosing selective hearing of these things, would hear none of this.  But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:19-20 NIV).

This reads to me like the people not only were using selective hearing, but also were looking at the nations around them through rose-colored glasses! The neighboring nations they wanted to be like were usually led by tyrants, who took what they wanted and oppressed their own people without concern.  Yet this was somehow more appealing that trusting and following God.

How many of us, myself included, have tendencies like these? The old saying is that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  What we have seems to pale when compared to the greater things that are always just out of our reach.

What I/we lose sight of when we get to this place is the never-ending faithfulness of God.  He has promised to always be with us.  He will never forsake us.  His record for keeping His promises is a perfect 100%.  And though He is always there with us, at no time has He promised that by having faith in Him will our lives be lived on Easy Street.  In fact, our faith will at times cause us to suffer the scorn and ridicule of others.  In some places on the globe, it can cost you your life.

So why not ask for a king? Why not have someone else fight your battles for you with the only cost being the lost of all your basic freedoms?  That’s what the people basically said to Samuel.  We must not fall into this same trap.  Don’t allow selective hearing to obscure the full-measure of God’s care for you.  Taken in its entirety, the word of God promises a peace the world can neither supply or understand.  Our ever-present, merciful and loving God delivers this peace, if only we will give Him our complete attention.  As we do, we will hear His voice, in whatever form He chooses to let you hear it, unfiltered by selective hearing.  What you will hear will be beyond wonderful.  Keep your ears fully open to what He has for you; you’ll find the selection awesome beyond words!

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Thoughts about Ash Wednesday from a non-denominational pastor

Many of my dear sisters and brothers in Christ will be receiving ashes on their foreheads today.  As a non-denominational pastor, I’d like to share a few thoughts about Ash Wednesday means to me.

I was born to Roman Catholic parents.  They faithfully went to Mass each Sunday, dragging my brother and me along with them.  They also hit all the Holy Days of Obligation with us in tow.  That meant that we got ashes on our foreheads every year at the beginning of Lent.  At the time, all I cared about was that this was bringing us closer to Easter and a basket filled with chocolate bunnies.

As I got a little older, I listened to the readings at these gatherings, again without any real impact on my life.  As soon as I was old enough to decide whether I wanted to continue down my parent’s path of religious belief, I opted out.

Many years later life-changing things happened to me, and I found my self back in a church.  This time it was Lutheran.  These good folks also had a special midweek gathering at the beginning of the Lenten season where they, too, had ashes put on their foreheads.

By this time, thankfully, I knew more about the reasons behind this, which gave me a better appreciation of the symbolism.  My faith journey continued and my family and I landed in a non-denominational church.  I was, and am, still deeply moved by this approach.  When church life here is lived in the proper light, the non-denominational church answers to God and not the traditions of men.  Therefore, I found no Ash Wednesday celebrations among these good people.

More time has passed, and I am now an ordained pastor of a non-denominational ministry.  What may be surprising to some is that I will be assisting at an Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran Church this evening.  How did this come about, you might ask?

My wife and I have been blessed to become friends with the Pastor of the local Lutheran Church.  She is a dynamic person of God, whose devotion to the Word, to prayer, and to others is inspiring.  We met at an ecumenical gathering of local pastors who get together every Saturday morning at 7 to pray for revival in our area.

Pastor Wheatley has invited Betsy and me to participate at this evening’s service at her church: Betsy will lead us in song and I will help distribute ashes.  This is what got me thinking about this topic today.  Why me?  And why ashes?

Non-denominational or not, I have concluded that the receiving of ashes on this day is a very good thing to do.  The ashes themselves symbolize three things: our sinfulness, our mortality, and the hope we have in God through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The first two of these of go together; the bible teaches (and my life proves) that all people are hopelessly lost in sin.  Only God, in His mercy, can save us from eternal doom.  The ashes remind me of this fact today.  They also serve to refresh my memory about my own mortality; that no matter how good I feel physically today, at age 59, I am still much closer to the end of my natural life than I am to its beginning.  When this sobering thought is taken with the first point made, I am ever so glad for the third one!

The ashes, placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, are a visual reminder of the reality of the love of God for us all.  Jesus, God’s Son, chose to die an awful death on a cross in order that sinners (that’s all of us) could be saved.  Peter expressed it this way: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I can’t save myself, and no other human can do it for me either.  Only faith in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can.  The ashes on my forehead remind me of this awesome truth again today.  I’ll gladly hand them out and humbly receive them.  The only title I bear today is follower of Christ, for it is the only one that truly matters.

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

Get the gaff!

Looking back of some of my previous blogs, I notice that I often mention the winter weather that is happening here in Central New York.  It’s easy to understand really, especially if you hail from these parts.  In fact it’s been said that we only have two seasons in upstate instead of the normal four: Winter and July!

A bit of hyperbole, yes, but with a hint of truth.  This winter is another long one.  It started snowing for keeps in November and is still going strong as I write this on March 3rd.  Instead of my usual whine about the length of the season, I’ll start today by thanking God for the provision of a warm home, a safe vehicle to get around in and the wisdom to know when to stay home.  It’s in this more positive state of mind that I recall some of the enjoyment I have had in winter seasons past.

As a young guy, playing hockey on the snow-covered streets or football in a snowy field was always a blast.  As I got a little older, I would borrow my Dad’s snowshoes and go for long hikes in the Arctic landscape.  Another pastime I thoroughly enjoyed in my early  years was ice-fishing.  The above-mentioned cold weather made this an easily accessible hobby.  Once the ice got to a thickness of at least four inches, it was deemed safe to walk out on to ply our fishing skills.

As long as one had enough layers covering their body and warm, dry boots for the feet, not much had to be spent to go.  A short fishing pole(s), with line wound around two screws sufficed, and we could make them at home.  The only purchases necessary were for an auger to drill a hole through the ice, some bait (minnows) and to the point of this entry, a gaff hook.

For those of you who might not know, a gaff is a hook attached to a pole that is used to grab on to a large fish, making it much easier to pull up through the somewhat small hole that has been chopped in the ice.  My group always brought one of these along, but where my primary interest was in the smaller (and tastier) Perch and Crappy, I hardly ever needed its assistance.

That is not to say I never needed a gaff, however.  On one particular day, an older brother of one of my usual fishing buddies joined us.  He stated, loudly for all to hear, that he was only fishing for Northern Pike.  These are much larger than the pan fish I was after, as he mentioned to me more than once that day.  He set about his quest, placing his tip-ups, a fancier ice-fishing pole than my simple hand-made ones, over the span of the dozen or so holes he had dug.  Once set, he announced loudly that he wanted to know where the gaff was, for he would surely need it soon.

As luck would have it, good for me but bad for him, a large game-fish struck the bait on my line.  I quickly realized I would need the gaff to land this one.  I called to one of my friends who raced it over to me.  Together, we landed a nice-sized pike.  Needless to say, the older brother was none too pleased with this development.  He would soon be thrown into a tizzy as yet another big Northern hit my line! My partner and I struggled with this even larger fish, again needing the gaff to barely bring it up through the ice.  It’s a wonder the ice around us didn’t melt, there was so much hot anger coming off the older boy.

But alas, the point here is not to gloat on my successful (though thirteen-year-old me sure did) fishing trip that day, but rather to speak of expectations.  I had  assumed that the hole I dug and the gear I had with me would be all I needed, because they always had been in the past.  Because of the limits I had placed on my expectations, I was not prepared when the ‘big one’ hit my line.

Reflecting on that in these days of ministry, or just life in general, I wonder how many times I have missed an opportunity to speak a kind word or simply share some of the hope in the Lord I have, simply because I wasn’t prepared. Don’t get me wrong, I bring my ‘gear’ with me everywhere I go.  I read and study the bible daily and spent precious time praying to God each day. When things are proceeding as planned, I usually fare pretty well in the field.

However, it’s when something comes out of the blue that throws me off.  The unexpected/unplanned for event that makes me yell for the gaff, if you will.  To carry this metaphor a little further, it’s these types of surprises that make me realize I didn’t cut the hole wide enough to make room for what’s coming through.

It’s a matter of limited expectations on my part that causes these shortcomings.  Time and time again I tell myself to be ready for the unexpected, but when it comes, I’m still not prepared as I stay comfy in the familiar.  It’s as if I place restrictions on what I think God is capable of. And that’s the biggest gaffe of all!

How about you? How do you deal with the unexpected things life throws at you?

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Corrective Lenses

I remember the day long ago while riding in the backseat of the family car when I told my folks I couldn’t read the road signs we passed.  I was 10 years old and in the 5th grade.  My parents didn’t panic, they send a note to my teacher the next day asking that I be moved to the front row until they could get me an appointment with the eye doctor.  A week later I was given my first eye test (I could barely make out the large E on the top of the chart) and soon after those dorky looking black glasses became part of me.  Though thankfully the styles have changed, some 50 years later I am still wearing my glasses.

No surprise there, as that long-ago doctor had told my mother that I would need to wear them the rest of my life.  And if my blurry vision without them wasn’t reminder enough, my drivers license notes under Restrictions that I need corrective lenses to legally operate a motor vehicle as well.

Through the ensuing years I have gone to get my eyes re-checked when I notice things stating to getting fuzzy around the edges again and when advised to, I have purchased new glasses with a stronger prescription (and finally line-less bifocals to help in reading!).  I thank God for the technology and those who administer it so that weak-eyed people like me can have normal vision.

It is fair to say that my bad vision has been ‘fixed’ when I wear my eyeglasses.  When I think about this, I get a little better understanding of what the Bible says about fixing our eyes on the Lord. The author of the Book of Hebrews puts it this way:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 NIV).

Obviously, this is a different use of the word fix, but you get the idea.  Here’s my simple analogy: I ‘fix’ my weak eyes every time I don my glasses.  In regard to my faith, each time I stop to ‘fix’ my eyes on Jesus, I allow myself to see life with a clearer perspective.  Stopping to consider what the Savior of the world has done for a sinner like me gives me the ability to see the ‘eye-chart’ of life with greater clarity.  Though things will still be a little fuzzy around the edges, I can see perfectly through the eyes of faith that God is indeed in control.

Which brings me to the next thought about my vision as I ponder what the Apostle Paul wrote: For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV).  Is he saying I don’t need my corrective lenses after all? Did I waste all that money on exams and new specs all these years? Of course not! I would be foolish to go bumbling through life, tripping over unseen objects because I chose to not wear them.

But the Scripture plainly tells me to walk by faith.  Other translations render it we live by faith, so I rightly conclude, then, that it would also be foolish of me to stumble through life with compromised spiritual vision.  The question becomes: How to do this? I believe the answer lies in the ability to perceive more than just the surface of what is going on around me.  This is the fixing my eyes on Jesus part.

When all is well in my world, it can be quite easy for me to remember to thank and praise God for His care and abundance.  My spiritual vision, if you will, is operating just fine when I do this.  But what about when conditions are not to my liking? How do I see things if someone is in my face about something; or if my employer seems to be putting unreasonable tasks on me and no one else? How I perceive situations like these will go a long way in determining how well my eyes are fixed on Jesus.

For example, do I take immediate offense at being misused in the workplace? If I do, my eyes on squarely on me and my situation and the resultant affects on my life.  I’m not saying we have to be doormats, but I would suggest that we might make the effort to find out the root cause of the problem.  If that is not an option, here’s a better one: pray for the other person(s) involved.  For me, I find this very helpful because it takes my focus off of me and allows me to see the other person as someone who may have issues of their own.  Even better, I believe that all my prayers are heard.  What better way to find a solution to a problem or at least come to some common ground than by going to God Almighty, seeking His guidance.

Being honest, how well and often I follow my own advice varies from day to day.  What I gather from that fact is that my spiritual eyes need corrective lenses just as much as my natural ones do.  It only makes sense; with my glasses on, I pass every eye-test with 20/20 vision.  When I walk and live by faith, my spiritual vision is vastly improved as well.  I put my glasses on first thing each and every day and have done so for decades; now if only I could get into the same habit of fixing my eyes on Jesus!

How about you? Got any spiritual insight (pun intended) lessons to share? I’d love to see them.

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

OUCH! That Hurt!

 

Sarah Young: It is easy to make an idol of routine, finding security within the boundaries you build around your life.  Although each day contains twenty-four hours, every single one presents a unique set of circumstances.  Don’t try to force-fit today into yesterday’s mold. (Jesus Calling; HarperCollins Christian Publishing: 2004) February 17th.

What Ms. Young wrote for February 17th in her devotional Jesus Calling really grabbed my attention. You see, I find great comfort in routine; so much so that I am often zealous in protecting it.  In fact, as I ponder what she has written, I see how easy it can be to make an idol of routine.  As a pastor, I will often caution folks about the sly way things in our life can become idols in our hearts.  I usually define an idol as being anything that wants to bring attention away from God and toward whatever the particular thing is.  A thing becomes an idol when it assumes more importance in one’s life than it should.

I am beginning to see that I need to take my own advice! I have begun to notice several ways in which I have allowed the striving to maintain my routine to do this to me.  As I said, I really like the comfort of my routine.  This is a crazy world in which we live, and retreating to the comfort of the familiar is easy for me to do. I often see first-hand the ways in which the world today so easily turns lives upside down.  Nor am I personally immune from this.  Personal upsets such as loved ones being ill or injured, misunderstandings within my family and that ONE MORE demand on my time can all shake me from my cozy routine that I put such emphasis on maintaining.

As I continue to think about this as I type, I am wondering why it is that routine provides such comfort to me.  Am I really saying that I prefer the comfort of my snug little schedule over the opportunity to operate more fully under the divine guidance of the Lord?  Ouch if that is true!

For if it is, it means that I am relying more on my ability to manage life than I am on the always available and overflowing grace of God.  In other words, I’m saying “Thanks, but no thanks to you God, I’ve got this.’  Ouch indeed! How shallow and short-sighted of me.  How hypocritical of me, as one who teaches and proclaims the abundance of God’s care for people, to snub my nose at it.

Ok, God got my attention with this one.  Again, following what I guide others with, I have asked His forgiveness for my selfish attitude.  With this acknowledgement also comes a request that He keep me aware of my tendency to go self-reliant; that as I practice being more aware of His ever-present presence, I keep my eyes and heart on Him.  In this way I will learn to be more trusting of His ability to always keep me in His care, thus keeping me away from more OUCH! that hurt times of realizing I’m tearing off on my own again.

How about you? Do you struggle with control of your time like me? Or anything else you might want to share? I’d love to hear how you have/are overcoming these issues.

Blessings to you all,

Pastor Chuck

Stormy Weather

Regular readers of mine are aware than I often mention current weather conditions in these jottings.  That’s because winters here in Central New York are usually noteworthy.  Where I am sitting, Lake Ontario often releases what is known as Lake-effect Snow.  I’ll save you the science lesson and simply say that the relatively warmer air flowing over the cold water of the lake produces these events.  Proof in point: we received about 12 inches of new lake-effect snow over- night.

Those who know me personally are also well aware of my angst when it comes to TV weather-people and their inability to forecast these snows (and most any other weather!) with any accuracy.  Locally televised weather reporting spends the majority of its time telling us what the weather was like over the previous 24 hours.  I lived it and don’t need a recap.  Please just tell me what is ahead!

But I really don’t want to rant on about the nice folks that report the weather on television.  After all, they are doing their job the way they are told to and the current procedure seems to bring in ample advertising dollars.

Besides, I have lived in this area all my life and as a bit of a weather geek, I am quite capable of formulating my own forecasts.  There is little that happens in the local weather here that surprises me.  Storms, be they lake-effect or other types, come and go; so I will keep my snowblower, shovel and chainsaw in good working condition.

There are other storms that I am still blindsided by, however.  These would be the far less meteorological ‘storms of life.’ They often come from out of nowhere and can rage on endlessly, upsetting the quiet calm that I so love.  Much like Jesus’ disciples felt fear when a sudden storm came up while they were in a boat together, I can quickly become unsure of things as a storm of life blows up around me.

Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:24-25 NIV)

We know that at least four of the disciples were experienced fishermen, yet the text seems to indicate that all twelve were fearful for their lives.  Sudden storms were not rare on the Sea of Galilee, but even so, this one appeared to be bad enough to bring a feeling of certain doom to the group.

Obviously, the storm the disciples were in was an actual physical emergency, whereas the personal storms I referenced above are usually relational/personal in nature.  Regardless, the lesson to be gleaned in how to deal with them is found in the disciples reaction.

Note first that they were not hiding how they felt.  They were scared to death! Their urgent plea to Jesus reveals this.  Not hindered by concern over admitting the fear they felt, the disciples exercised their best option; they ran to Jesus.  There was no trying to turn the boat around or maybe into the wind to stabilize it, they rushed to wake Jesus to save them.

The bible says that after Jesus chastised his guys for their lack of faith, he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm (Matthew 8:26).  Even though the disciples lacked a measure of faith, nonetheless the Lord granted their request as He miraculously silenced the wind, thus calming the sea.

Oh that I would run post-haste to Jesus when a storm of life blows up around me! The disciples did and their problem was solved.  Do I believe things happened the way they are recorded in this passage? Absolutely! Do I believe Jesus can and does still speak into the circumstances of people’s lives when they run to Him seeking comfort? Indeed I do!

So why is it I don’t always follow the example of what the disciples did on that stormy boat ride when life throws a storm at me? Is it a lack of faith? Sometimes.  I know I trust my salvation completely on Jesus, no doubt.  But being honest, there are times when I think what is happening to me is somehow off of His radar and I’ll go tearing off looking for advice or a quick cure or just a metaphoric shovel to bury whatever it is that is troubling me.

The usual result of these efforts for my part is the opposite of what the disciples experienced when they sought the help of Jesus.  What can I do? I can put myself in that boat with them, meaning I can confess my fear, uncertainty, etc. and swallow my pride and say, “Lord, I’m going to drown” in this.  Please help me.”

How about you.  What fears do you have? Are there things you struggle with and yet don’t bring them to the Lord? Why? I’d love to hear from you and how/if God has calmed the seas of your life.