31 Years later: One Day at a Time

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“But for the grace of God go I.” This phrase is often mentioned in AA rooms. It is a simple recognition of the fact that drunkenness or drug abuse would still plague us if it were not for the power of God’s grace to intervene on our behalf.

I joyfully profess that truth again today, May 3rd, 2022, as it marks the anniversary of the 31st year of my journey in recovery from alcoholism. I know in the very depth of my heart that it is God’s grace that has kept me sober all this time.

Yet it occurs to me today that this grace of God poured out for my benefit is not merely a defensive measure against picking up a drink. If it were so, I think one good dose of it back then would have been enough to set and keep me on this path. The grace of God is powerful enough to free a helpless and hopeless person like me so that recovery could happen and my drinking problem would stay in the past.

But I am discovering that God’s abundant grace is also a powerful and guiding force for life itself. Above and beyond recovery, as wonderful as that fact, the grace that pours from our loving God’s heart is constantly at work within us. It will transform us from selfish to being more selfless, if we allow grace more fully into our heart and mind.

Grace, by definition, is God’s unmerited favor. I/we cannot earn it and for my part, I certainly don’t deserve it. Still, God’s love is such that grace is offered to all; without condition!

The question/choice then becomes: What will I do with this awesome gift? For me, and over time, I am learning to allow this gift fuller reign in my life. As I do, I discover that God does indeed want only good for me. By allowing grace to permeate my heart, I find the direction and desire to follow God’s plan more willingly for my life. And why not? I have come to trust God without reservation to keep me sober, one day at a time. With this realization I am coming to know that God also has a plan laid out for me that if I choose to follow, with bring glory and honor to God and joy to me.

Be assured, there is absolutely nothing special or unique about me that has somehow broken the mold and earned God’s care and protection. God cares for and loves all creation simply because God is the Creator!

Because this love is equal to all, we all have the same opportunity to allow God’s grace to do its powerful and transformational work in each of our lives. One need not be an alcoholic or drug addict to experience God’s love. Rather, simply consider the possibility that God loves you, period. No past is so terrible to somehow stop God’s love from coming to you. It is only our reluctance to embrace grace that prohibits us from more fully knowing and living in it.

Today I celebrate not merely a milestone of time sober, but rather I give praise, glory and honor to the God who has brought me from death to life. I thank God for the chance to be more actively involved in living in grace. May you be encouraged to do the same!

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

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Masks

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We’ve been wearing and removing masks for a long time now. But it is not the N-95 type I want to talk about now. Instead, I ask you to consider some of the other masks we wear at times, masks that are not easily seen, but all too often just as real.

Sometimes I wear a mask to veil my emotions. It is an easy one to wear. You ask me simply, “How are you?” My reply, “Just fine, thanks.” Nothing too terribly earth shattering about this mask, unless we wear it as a defense mechanism all the time.

No, the masks on my mind today are the hidden ones, or at the least the ones that hide our true identity. A devoted follower of the Lord Jesus is to be growing in God’s likeness day by day. No mask should hide this progress. Yet, speaking for myself, I must admit that I do put on various masks from time to time that obscure the living God within me.

One of the many of these is: the mask of indifference. Wearing this one prevents me from being able to empathize with the hurting world and worse yet, can keep me from trying to help. Much like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, my preoccupation with something ‘more important’ can cause me to give a wide birth to a need I might see.

Another ugly mask I slip on from time to time is one of self-satisfaction. This mask keeps me satisfied in my little world, not wanting anything or anyone to change the status quo I have worked so hard to establish. It is like the old 2 filter HEPA mask I wore when doing industrial painting: I had my own ‘fresh air’ supplied and didn’t want anything to contaminate it.

This mask of self-satisfaction can easily be turned inside out to be worn as a mask of judgment. Behind this covering I can easily judge folks as being unworthy of my time or stuff. This mask would have me say, “If they would only work a job, they wouldn’t be so poor.” This makes it too easy to categorize people instead of searching for ways to help them in their immediate need and to work for change that would prevent systemic poverty.  Wearing this mask can prevent me from seeing others simply as another sojourner here on earth as I attempt to rationalize my lack of response to their need. An ugly mask indeed.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Much as the protective mask prevalent today hides some of our face, so these less obvious ones often hide our true heart and intentions. Wearing these less visible masks is in no way proper for a disciple of Christ.

Because we keep ourselves hidden behind these types of masks, we are hindered from truly seeing and loving those around us. To the extent we stay behind these veils is to the extent we do not care for creation. These masks can blind us to the needs of those we term as ‘different.’ Or ‘difficult’ or even ‘an enemy.’ They can prevent us from seeing the poor, the needy and the hungry. Perhaps even worse, wearing the mask that judges others may well keep us from seeing the shining face of Jesus on them.

Peter, John and James got an up close and personal look at the glory of God with no barrier at the Transfiguration. Peter’s reaction: “Let’s stay here!” is understandable, but not practical and certainly not why God allowed them to see the incredible sight of the Transfiguration. We do sometimes have ‘mountain top’ experiences in our walk of faith. There is a certain appeal to wanting to stay in that moment, to not risk losing what it is that is going so wonderfully.

But staying on the mountaintop is not what we are commissioned to do. We are to come down, hopefully with our faces aglow, sharing God’s love with the world around us.

Now I have never been witness to anything like the Transfiguration, or have I? For sure, I have not seen Jesus engaged in conversation with Moses and Elijah, but that fact should not dull my eyes to the activity of God around me.

For example, can I/we not see God at work when we marvel at a newborn child/grandchild? Isn’t God’s light shining brightly when we witness someone caught in addiction getting set free from it? Or when we see reconciliation where there has been long-term strife perhaps in family members speaking to each other after a time self-imposed separation. Or how about when someone is able to truly forgive another who has seriously broken trust with them.

Be it in examples like these or others you may have been privy to, I encourage us all to shine radiantly from a fresh experience with God. How? First, let’s discard all the masks I mentioned at the beginning. Being judgmental or uncaring are certain ways we can hide the love of God from others (and ourselves).

Next we need to overcome the fear that might be there. Ridding those negative masks may appear to make us vulnerable or at least more transparent. Recognizing these feelings does not mean we are held captive to them. Rather, letting the love of God shine from you radiantly is taking a step out in faith. I firmly believe that the God who has showered grace on us will not leave us high and dry as we do.

The God who loves you so much does not want you to be inactive in your reaction to that love. As God continues to come down to us through the Sacraments and the Word, so we are to ‘come down,’ if your will, and live our life of faith in the midst of our own context. Live into the love God has freely given you. Then let the love from God lead you in all you do, making your entire countenance glow. Don’t mask that in any way, but rather let that love shine as a beacon of hope for all. Amen.

Be Blessed and be a Blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Improve your conscious contact

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Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. Step 11 (of 12) from the Program of Recovery from Alcoholics Anonymous.

As many of your know, Faithful Readers, I have been blessed, by the grace of God, to live free from the bondage of alcoholism for nearly 30 years. Where once was a helpless drunk now stands a person living a sober life. I give God all the credit, for it is He who lifted me from the darkness of that former life into the light of His love, free from addiction.

I must also give credit to the program of recovery as laid out by Alcoholics Anonymous. The guidance offered by those who came before has helped me to live a life of personal growth, which I in turn try to share with others as was done for me. The 12 Steps of Recovery as explained in the book Alcoholics Anonymous have been solid guideposts for me all these years. Again, I learned much of what I share from those who took the time to help me get started and as we say in AA, ‘you have to give away what you have in order to keep it.’

Those 12 Steps that I mentioned were written in a specific order. They are meant to help a person get a foundation on which to base their recovery (Steps 1-3). The remaining 9 are more action steps. When followed honestly, they help us to deal with the wreckage of our past and give direction for a happy and productive life of sobriety going forward. In my opinion, there is no graduation day, as the working of the Steps into my daily life is an on-going process. This allows me to assess my thoughts and actions, while helping me to always remember that I am afflicted with a disease that is relentless. It wants me dead, but will settle for drunk. Continually working on the 12 Steps helps to safeguard me from slipping into bad thoughts or behaviors.

I write of this today because the 11th Step (quoted above), was brought up as a topic of discussion at an AA meeting I attended recently. As I listened to what was shared by others concerning Step 11, a few thoughts came to my mind. I shared some of them then, and would like to do so again here. I believe that these 12 Steps are vitally important for recovery, I also hold that they can be of practical help to anyone who wants to take an honest look at themselves with an eye toward becoming a better person, regardless of whether or not you struggle wit haddiction.

Step 11 is built on the premise that one has at least some conscious contact with a power greater than themselves. For me, as I have made abundantly clear in my blog, that power is Jesus Christ. It was the Lord who offered me the opportunity to live a sober life, and it continues to be Him who calls me to live a life that honors Him. I make no apologies for my faith, nor do I want anyone to think I water down what I believe in order to make it somehow more appealing.

Having said this for personal clarity, what the 11th Step teaches is that the offer to improve one’s conscious contact with a power greater than themselves is available to all. The key point is that for any lasting sobriety, a person must come to grips that they are totally defenseless against the ravages of addiction on their own. Hence the need for this Higher Power. It is a humbling thing, but by so doing we gain access to the awesome power that desires to help set us free.

Rather than go into a discussion of how one might accomplish the ‘prayer and meditation’ Step 11 advises, let me simply ask two more straight forward questions.

First, regardless of if you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, where do stand in regard to a Higher Power? If you do not recognize one, may I humbly suggest that you investigate the issue further. My journey through life has been made infinitely more peaceful, with life’s speed bumps included, simply because I have entered into a relationship with the God of my understanding, Jesus Christ.

This leads to my other simple question: If you have discovered this power made available to you, a power that wants only the best for you, why wouldn’t you want to improve your conscious contact with it? For me, the many challenges of life, as well as its rewards and joys, have been kept in proper perspective because of this relationship.

By recognizing my complete dependance on my Higher Power to get and keep me sober, I have come to trust Him more and more as the days have turned into years. Improving my conscious contact with Him has allowed me to acknowledge the areas of my life that still need work, as well as to be evermore grateful for what I have come know as His blessings on me.

My advice: Take/make the opportunity to improve your conscious contact with a power greater than yourself. It will only do you good!

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Powerlessness

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It was shocking and saddening to see the millions of people in Texas who had to brave the extreme cold without heat for their homes because of the recent severe winter weather there. Many prayers, mine included, went out for God to keep them safe and to provide the basics for survival. Many on the ground there did step up to provide what they could.

There is little in modern life that causes such great disruption to us than the loss of power. I can attest to this myself, as over the years both ice storms and electrical storms have knocked out power in our small city a number of times. When this occurred during the winter, keeping the kids warm was the priority and during the warm months trying to preserve food in the refrigerator and freezer took precedent.

In those cases, as well as the current one in Texas, as life-altering as being without power is, there remains the hope and even assurance that service will be restored eventually. Be it an inconvenience for 6 hours or a struggle for 6 days, some flicker of hope remains that things will again return to normal sooner or later when the juice starts flowing again.

But I had a reminder of a far more permanent type of powerlessness the other day. A man that I admire greatly asked that we might have a discussion of powerlessness at the AA meeting we were both attending. Though this man has in excess of 6 years of continuous sobriety, is a cancer survivor and survived the attacks of 9/11; this particular day brought powerlessness to the forefront of his mind as it marked the anniversary of the death of his sister from a drug overdose.

Powerlessness for the addicted is described in the first of the 12 Steps of recovery. We read this (and all 12 Steps) at the beginning of every meeting: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or drugs) and our lives had become unmanageable.

As we took turns talking about what this meant to us individually, it occurred to me again the complete powerlessness I have over my alcoholism. Unlike when the heat or the electricity go out, I have no hope that any sense of normalcy will ever be within my grasp. Being powerless tells me that if I should pick up another drink, I have no idea when or if the roller-coaster of craziness will ever stop. It is not the 10th drink that will get me drunk, as we are fond of saying, but the first one. For it is that one that unleashes the dominance of alcohol over my mental and physical being. Once imbibed, I am truly helpless and hopeless. I am in the dark with no hope of escape.

The great blessing I get to experience today is that I do not have to take that first drink. Discussions like we had at that meeting the other day serve as a tremendous reminder of what the hell of drinking was like. When I face each day honestly admitting my powerlessness, I become able to recognize that I have the greatest of all hope and power available to me.

A part of the AA Preamble, also read before every, meeting states: But there is one who has all power. That one is God, may you find him now.

Though not a religious program per se, those like myself with some understanding of who this God might be come to realize that He holds the only means of escape from the powerlessness of addiction. In Him lies the hope that ‘power’ can be restored. But make no mistake, this is not power given to me so that I can attempt to navigate on my own again.

Rather, it is a heaven-send invitation to tap into a source of power that never will be shut off. God gives it in abundance to those who truly want it for what it offers; the power to live addiction free.

For me, having had this power made available has done so much more than simply allow me to set the drink down. By humbly acknowledging my helplessness, God has stepped into my life with His life giving love. By doing so He has not only alleviated the physical compulsion to drink, but has also healed me of the mental struggle and anguish that accompanies an addicted life.

I share this today for several reasons. One is to honor my friend who lost his sister to addiction. By openly sharing his pain, those of us with him at that meeting were given the chance to again examine the reality of our own powerlessness.

I share this also as a beacon of hope. If you or someone you love is in the life and death struggle that defines addiction, please know that there is a way out. I testify that as God has poured out His infinite might into my powerlessness, and in so doing He has freed me to live a life filled with purpose and joy.

My experience teaches me that He has a never-ending supply of this power available. I have seen it at work in so many lives, and I see it still reaching people today.

Remember, you have not lost by admitting you are powerless. In fact, you have taken the first step toward a whole new, addiction free life.

Blessings to you,

Pastor Chuck

An Attitude of Gratitude

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One of the suggestions I took seriously as I entered into recovery from alcoholism was the need to develop an attitude of gratitude. This required a total realignment of how I perceived things, as I had for so long only seen the negative and dreaded everything that was to happen. Existing in this black hole left me no option toward optimism or thankfulness about anything.

It turns out that my early mentors in recovery were correct: I had to adjust my way of thinking to develop a new way of life. Though it has not been easy to maintain the gratitude attitude all the time, I am happy to report that it has become easier the longer I have stayed away from booze.

Another of the practical tips my newfound friends gave me was to purchase and read daily the Twenty-Four Hours a Day book, known affectionately to AAers as the ‘little black book.’ This book contains daily readings and insights from others in recovery as well as prayers that are designed to help the one in recovery to navigate another day clean and sober. Like so many of their other suggestions, I took them up on this and am so happy I did.

I do read from it every day. In fact, I have been at this so long that my original copy fell apart and was replaced two years ago. I would like to share an excerpt from today, January 22nd, that has reminded me again of the importance of maintaining an attitude of gratitude:

Meditation for the Day

I will never forget to say thank you to God, even on the grayest days. My attitude will be one of humility and gratitude. Saying thank you to God is a daily practice that is absolutely necessary. If a day is not one of thankfulness, the practice has to be repeated until it becomes so. Gratitude is a necessity for those who seek to live a better life.

Prayer for the Day

I pray that gratitude will bring humility. I pray that humility will bring me to live a better life. (The above is quoted from Twenty-Four Hours a Day, Hazelton Publishing, for January 22nd)

Learning to thank God one day at a time for this chance He has given me has helped me to be a more grateful person. Yet, this does not come naturally for me. I can still to easily lose my focus on what God has done for me if I allow myself instead to concentrate on what I do not have as opposed to what I do. I must remember that it is my choice to live in this gratitude. When I do, I have such a greater appreciation of the world around me, and my place in it!

When my attitude is wrapped in gratitude, I am truly a ‘glass half full person.’ Not only am I more optimistic about the world around me, but in recovery I know exactly what my half-filled cup has in it (either coffee or Pepsi!).

It truly is a matter of perception. With a grateful heart/mind, I can have a much fuller and better appreciation of things. And when I start to look at the empty space instead of what I have, I need to pour the contents of that proverbial glass into a smaller one, thus reminding me to focus on what I do have going for me instead of lamenting what I don’t.

How about you? What are you grateful for today? And if like me you struggle in this area sometimes, what do you do to pull yourself out? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Hi, My Name is …

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Hi, my name is Chuck and I am a pastor. Those of you familiar with 12 Step meetings may recognize this opening line. In truth, I am many things, included in which is the fact that I am an alcoholic, sober now for nearly 30 years by the grace of God.

I am also, as stated above, a pastor. My wife Betsy and I run a ministry out of our home. You can find out what we are doing for the Kingdom of God by going to www.lakesidechristianministries.org if you would like.

I am also a fledgling blogger. This is one of those activities that was not on my radar of things to do. It was the suggestion of my wife that I start jotting down some of the thoughts that rattle around inside my bald head. I am so happy I took her up on it, because blogging as become one of the highlights of the things I get to do with my time. WordPress has exposed me to some wonderful people. Though we are of varying backgrounds and beliefs, I have found this venue to be open-minded and fair. I cherish the friends I have made around the globe here.

As I said, being a writer was not on my to do list. In the past, writing has been an exhausting exercise for me. I think back now of the numerous papers that needed to be written for seminary and I wonder how I did it! Again, the encouragement of fellow bloggers has helped me to overcome much (not all) of the self-doubts I had. Thoughts like, ‘who wants to read anything I write’ no longer get much attention in my consciousness.

These same blogger friends encouraged me not to look at the numbers of ‘likes’ or followers and just keep writing what is on your heart. I must admit though, I do look at the numbers from time to time. As I glanced at them yesterday, I saw that the numbers of followers had jumped up noticeably. I am awed and humbled by this.

So, to those who have been with me so far on this journey, thanks so much! Your input and encouragement truly mean the world to me. For those who have recently signed up, here are a few pertinent facts about me that might spare you having to go back through all my blogs for context:

Betsy and I have been married for 37 years. She is simply the most wonderful human being I have ever known. I am blessed to walk through life with her. We live in a small town, Fulton New York. It is most famous for its lake-effect snow, as we get an average of 250 inches per winter (that’s over 20 feet!)

We have two adult children: Our oldest is Kenny. He is married to a sweetheart of a girl named Ashley. They live only 30 minutes away so we get to see them often. Kenny took over my old job as Facilities Painter at Le Moyne college when I stepped away from full-time employment to oversee our ministry as my primary focus. He learned the trade from me over the seven summers he worked with the summer paint crew there. These past 4 summers I have gone back to work with him from mid-May to the end of August (good thing I was a good boss to him now that our roles are reversed!)

Our youngest son Auger lives about 3 hours from us. He lives with his partner Mic. They make a great team, and we love them dearly. Over the past 18 months Auger has taken up the pursuit of his undergraduate degree in English, with an emphasis on creative writing. At no surprise to me, he is excelling at this. He has been gifted with the ability to write in ways that are so compelling on many levels. We are excited for what the future holds.

Betsy and I share our home with Violet, a standard-sized (70 pounds) Goldendoodle. You would not have to go back far in my posts to see one about her. She is, in my humble opinion, the best dog ever. The joy she brings to our home is immeasurable.

Our home ministry is quite active in the community. One rewarding activity is the bringing of bible studies on the road, going to peoples homes. This is especially helpful to folks who have had trouble in church settings in the past. Our ministry goal is simple: To be the hands and feet of Jesus and to meet people right where they are, just as the Lord did.

Betsy and I have a unique hobby, if you will: We sing our National Anthem at sporting events around the central New York area. We also sing O Canada when teams from north of the border to play here. We really enjoy doing this. It allows us to honor our country that we love, and we have met some really cool people in our travels.

There you have it, for now, newest followers. Again, thanks so very much for taking the time to read my stuff and to comment when so moved. I appreciate you all!

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

I Must be Having Fun

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“Times flies when you’re having fun.” We’ve all heard this and, hopefully, many have experienced it as well. I got to thinking about this old saying during my morning meditation time today. You see, today is rather important anniversary in my life: 29 years ago, May 3rd 1991, God placed me on the journey of sobriety. A journey He has kept me successfully on ever since. Let me start today by thinking Him for this inexplicable gift and life saving gift. I have been blessed by tremendous support from my wife, family and many friends over the years, but without God’s intervention, nothing would have been possible.

Nearly 30 years have, pardon the cliché, flown by in the wink of an eye. Hence my oft repeated phrase, ‘I must be having fun because the time is going by so quickly.’ I recall the earliest days of sobriety as I marveled at the men and women at AA meetings who spoke of their length of sobriety in terms of decades! Fresh from de-tox and rehab, those numbers seemed more like fantasy than reality. I can also recall thinking that if I were to reach those lofty heights of time away from I drink, I would be 60 years old. (Guess what Charles, you hit that number a few months ago!)

My message today is to encourage each of you to embrace the gift that today is. I realize that many, especially in these times, are struggling in ways never thought possible just a few short months ago. My prayer for you and me is that no matter what cards we have been dealt, we hold onto hope. Hope that not only brings a properly timed end to shutdowns, but also a hope that opens our eyes and hearts to the tender care of our Creator.

May these words from the Apostle Paul be a light in the darkness for you: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV).

Relying on God’s strength can help you to do so much more than simply endure another day; it can make it possible to experience the joy and peace that only God can give. God’s peace is not restrained by our circumstance. It is abundant and can overflow into your life. Admit your need to Him, whatever it is, and God’s faithfulness will not only see you through but will lift you nearer to Him.

Give it a try and see if today doesn’t zip by in warp speed as the joy of life lived by the loving lead of God fills your heart and mind.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Believing is Seeing

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As I prepared some post-Easter messages, I turned to John’s Gospel for some of his eye-witness accounts of the activities of Jesus after the resurrection, paying close attention to the interactions that the disciples had with their now Risen Lord.

As it does each time I read it, the reaction of Thomas, both before and after seeing Jesus, resonates with me. Here’s my paraphrase of those encounters: Thomas, who was not present with the others when Jesus first appeared to the group after His resurrection, did not believe his friends when they told him what had happened. That’s impossible and a crazy thing to say was probably what Thomas said when he heard this. Ever pragmatic, he goes on to claim that he will never believe unless he can put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in Jesus’ side.

In other words, seeing is believing for old doubting Thomas. As critical as I would like to be about him, an honest look in the mirror shows that I too have these same tendencies. It was as I read and subsequently communicated with the author of beautybeyondbones blog (I highly recommend reading it!) that this fact raised its ugly head again.

The author of that excellent blog (you can find it on WordPress) was sharing about the painful loneliness of in-patient treatment for an eating disorder and how this current lockdown from Covid-19 was bringing some of those feelings to the surface again. This brought back vivid memories of my time in detox and rehab so many years ago. Realizing that the shared pain of a similar path was helping me, I have decided to share some of my personal experience of those days in my life. My hope is that these words will touch a life like mine was by that brave author now quarantined in New York City.

Faith, as I often write about these days, is defined best in the Book of Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (NIV). Hence, my title today, believing is seeing. Though there are times and seasons in my life now when the certainty of what I do not see is clear, that was not always the case.

As your know, Long-time Reader, I have been a recovering alcoholic for nearly 29 years, all thanks to God! I realize I have shared some of the results of that horrible existence; such as the physical, financial and spiritual bankruptcies that resulted from my drunken life. Yet, I do not believe I have ever mentioned in any detail the struggles of those 7 weeks of in-patient treatment.

As I see I am already on page two on my laptop, I think I’ll focus this entry of the initial 3 week stay in the mental health wing of the hospital that oversaw my detox. Actually, to say that they just monitored my detox doesn’t quite speak to what that caring staff did for me.

Having already taken my belt and shoelaces because I had stated I might harm myself, the staff for the next 48 hours checked on me every 15 minutes to insure I was still breathing because the risk of pulmonary and/or cardiac arrest is heightened when the body is no longer receiving the vast amounts of alcohol it was used to. I will never forget the compassion in their eyes as they not only checked my vital signs but would also stay to hold my shaking hands or wipe my sweat-soaked brow.

I believe the heart-felt care they gave me helped me to be more receptive to the idea of living life without booze. On the third day of that life-changing lockdown, now that I was physically out of the woods, I was given some AA literature to read.

My eyes were drawn immediately to one sentence: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. To this day, I count that moment as the time I knew, without any doubt or hesitation, that this Jesus I had heard about in church as a child was in fact the Savior. My Savior! I asked Him in that moment to please help me. I was lost and so scared, desperate for a way out.

It was then, in His infinite mercy, that He touched me. As He did, He opened my eyes to know that believing was seeing and, all these many years later, our Precious Lord has continued to pour the gift of faith into me, ever honing my spiritual insight that I might see Him at work better as He helps me to believe more completely. Believing is seeing!

I pray that my experience may help someone in some small way to better see through their own eyes of faith today.

Blessings and be safe,

Pastor Chuck

 

Addition by Subtraction

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Sacrifice can be defined as the act of giving something up in order to get something else.  For us as humans, there still seems to be a bit of selfishness attached to that definition.  If my goal is to simply get something else, assuming it’s something better or of more value, my motivation is gain, not true sacrifice.

This of course is not true across the board of sacrifice, using the above definition.  I’ll use my own example of stopping the use of all tobbaco products, of which cigarettes were my favorite.  I truly enjoyed smoking them.  Even with all the evidence of the harm cigarettes would do, and the loved ones I had seen adversely affected by this habit, I puffed away.  Believe me, I understand better than many how addiction works, but to hide behind that defense didn’t get to the deeper truth: I loved to smoke no matter the supposed consequences.

Twenty years into my tobacco use, I began to re-think my approach.  The relentless march of time brought with it a growing awareness that I wasn’t going to last forever.  Yet, this dawning realization was not enough in itself to make me want to give up my treasured habit.

Much as I would like to tell you, Faithful Reader, that God sent an angel or a lightning bolt to grab my attention, the journey to finally getting free from tobacco was a slow and unexciting stroll.  At the heart (and lungs) of the issue wasn’t doubt that God could deliver me, He sure had from terrible alcohol abuse, but my reluctance to want to be rid of my smokes.

Quitting smoking for good, some 23 years ago now, most certainly seemed a painful sacrifice to me at the start.  Thankfully, time as allowed me a better perspective on what giving up tobacco has done for me.  For example, there is the significantly reduced likelihood of lung cancer.  And of course there is the monetary savings.  When I quit cigarettes, they sold for $2 a pack.  Smoking 2 packs each day, as I did, cost me $1460 annually.  I now put that money to far more constructive use.  Then there’s things that are also gone like that awful smell on my clothes that I couldn’t smell when I was smoking and the small burn holes in the upholstery of my car.  The balance is fully tipped toward what I have received from giving them up.

Which leads me to the greater over all point, that my life in faith in Jesus Christ is all about addition by subtraction.  Let’s start at the top: I believe He died so that sinners just like me could be forgiven and welcomed into eternity.  That’s the biggest plus I know! I have lost a life of sin and anguish because of God’s love.  There is no greater addition ever than that.

Others gains though subtraction include, in no particular order, the realization that I am not at the center of the entire universe.  I am less significant in my own eyes, and instead see that I am important enough to God that He gave His all for me.

Also subtracted from me was the mirage of perfectionism I often hid behind.  This permitted me to do nothing because I told myself I couldn’t do whatever it was perfectly, I simply wouldn’t do it.  As we say in AA, “self-serving will slip away.” As it has, the great addition has been the room this created in my heart to try new things.  For example: Reaching out to help others.  What a concept! I had no idea that doing for others, simply because I could, would be so fulfilling.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  The bottom line is this: My life is fuller now because there is so much less of me in it! I’ve always been good in math, but this formula took me a long time to start to comprehend.  I hope you get it more quickly than I did!

How about you? How has God added to your life through subtraction.  I’d love to hear about it.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this,

Pastor Chuck

There is Life in Hospice

Two years ago I was asked to join our local Hospice organization as part of their pastoral care team.  I was honored by the invitation and gladly accepted.  The Oswego County Hospice has long been recognized as an outstanding provider of care to the terminally ill and their families.  I have known many people who have worked or volunteered for them, and to a person they tell what rewarding work it is.  Helping to bring dignity to the end of life has been some of their most fulfilling work.  When I joined the team, I hoped to discover this for myself.

Truthfully, though,  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Not much of my training or experience had prepared me for what I assumed was to be a monumental task.  After all, much of my ministry background has had me with folks, both saved and not, who seemingly give little thought to their own mortality.  Our primary focus has spanned from helping people meet their daily needs to counselling and leading Bible studies.  All of these types of activities have focused on improving both physical and spiritual life.  This Hospice work was going to bring physical death squarely in my face

Thankfully, Oswego County Hospice has an excellent training program.  It taught me much concerning the physical aspects of the dying process.  This information would be valuable as I entered into the patient’s family dynamic.  Although I knew that each case would be different, I felt that the training I had been given had prepared me for what was ahead.

All this excellent training did nothing, however, to prepare me for the awesome power of God I was (and still do) see! How did God display His power you ask? Has there been miraculous healings of bodies? These are legitimate questions especially when asked in light of Psalm 77:14 where the author describes God as: You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples (NIV).

To answer these questions, I must reply that to the best of my knowledge, I have not seen tumors removed through the power of prayer.  Yet what I do give witness to is at least equal to, or perhaps even greater than, a physical miracle.  What I have seen is unquestionably a move of God.  In His mercy I have seen estranged families reunited and lost individuals coming to realize the full life that the Lord Jesus promises.

Allow me to share some of the ways God has moved through Mary (not her real name), her family, friends and even some strangers during her time under hospice care.

I met Mary a little over a year ago.  As with anyone under hospice care, she faced the certainty of impending death.  On my first visit, she asked me what was going to happen to her when the inevitable happened.  Given this wonderful opportunity, I shared with Mary the Scriptures pertinent to salvation and the promise of eternity in heaven.

As Mary listened, a peace came over her.  Though I did not know it at the time, she had been a regular at a bible preaching church years ago before slipping into what she referred to as ‘the wild side of life.’ Hearing the words of John 3:16-17 and Romans 10:9 stirred in her the truth she had known so long ago.  I could tell that the issue of life after death was settled in her heart.

It was what happened since that initial conversation that has showed God’s power at work.  Mary, with her faith renewed in the goodness of her Lord, has become a powerful advocate for Him.  At any given time in her home there are extended family members, neighbors and acquaintances present.  Each and every time I am privileged to be in her company, any and all others with her are invited to pray with us or to be prayed for by me.

One such occasion allowed me to pray for a young man, Danny.  One look at him as I walked in told me much about him.  He was in a dark place, wallowing in self-pity at the turn life had taken on him.  He was homeless and obviously on the downside of whatever he had taken most recently.  A friend of one of her grandkids, Mary let him sleep on the couch, no questions asked.  After she and I finished our scheduled meeting, Mary asked him if it was alright for me to pray with him.  With a ‘what’s the use look,’ Danny agreed.  We held hands and I prayed.

I don’t have a formula for praying, I simply attempt to quiet my mind so that God can work through me.  I prayed for Danny in this way.  In this case I have no recall of what I said specifically and when I finished, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  At my Amen, Danny looked at me with tear filled eyes and told me that what I had said moved him deeply.  I thanked God and him for allowing me to pray with him.

Though I thought of and prayed for Danny frequently, several months passed with no word about him.  As always, God is working even when I don’t know it! My next encounter with this young guy nearly blew me away.  He had a big smile on his face, was cleaned up and generally had the look of someone who knew he had come through something awful into something far greater.  He excitedly told me about his new job and the nice place he had found to live.  His life had taken a 180-degree turn, at he counted our first meeting as the place it started.

I relate this account to you my friends in order to tell you that God is indeed still in the healing business.  The lesson it teaches me is to be looking beyond what I consider needs to be healed and to anticipate the greater thing God is up to.  There is life and there is joy in hospice care, for all involved.  God is healing.  The bible says that nothing is too hard for God.  Oh, and by the way, Mary has been discharged from hospice!

Thanks for reading and be encouraged, God is working!

Pastor Chuck