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

The Freedom I Found in Giving

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Please, please, please understand from the very beginning of this: I AM NOT TRYING IN ANY WAY TO RAISE MONEY! I AM NOT SEEKING DONATIONS FOR ANYTHING!

However, I am going to proceed into a topic that is downright sensitive to many and clearly off-limits to many more: the giving of money.

To re-iterate, I share with you my experiences in the realm of giving only in hopes that others will find the joy I have when the power of the dollar loses its hold on you.

For a quick review, allow me to share some of the formative background of my approach to money and the acquisition of things. As a child, I watched my Dad work hard to supply his family with our basic needs and a few of our wants. He was happy to fulfill his role as provider, but was equally guarded about how any of his hard-earned would be spent outside of our home. The idea he installed was to take care of your own, and anything left over was to be saved for that rainy day that was sure to come. It was not disposable it anyway toward charity of any kind.

As I have chronicled before, my early adulthood was a travesty of waste and destruction brought about by my alcoholism. All childhood lessons regarding money were forgotten or ignored, and I accumulated a large sum of debt.

Coming out of that haze and into recovery, I was driven to pay back every dime I owed. I was blessed with employment that enabled me to make good money, meeting the needs of my own family while paying down the mountain of debt.

It was during this season of life that I was introduced to the idea of tithing. I found the idea of giving 10% to the church I was attending a novel idea, but one that had no practicality in my circumstances. Once I heard the part about giving some of my money, I apparently shut my ears to the rest of the explanation. By doing so I missed the entire point about giving back to God first because anything I had came from Him anyway. The Bible refers to this as giving to God the first fruits of our labor, I simply called it crazy. I mean, how could I give any percentage when we barely had enough coming in to cover expenses.

As I look back on those days now, I am ever so grateful that my wife Betsy did understand from the outset what this giving was truly about. She was able to slowly help me to see the selfishness and short-sightedness of my hold on to it at all costs approach to our finances.

God, as always, was gracious and patient with me as my heart softened. As I came to more fully realize that everything we had or earned was all because of His love for us, I came to understand why it was God calls us to give back to Him ‘off the top’ instead of grudgingly handing over leftovers.

It was now that He began to reveal to me the freedom that comes when giving to God unreservedly. Instead of viewing giving to the church as a burden that was going to further tighten our budget, I began to see how I was spending on not so necessary things. For example, the rationalization that our busy lives necessitated having take-out food 2-3 times a week was replaced with a spirit of cooperation that allowed us to plan and make family meals together. This not only saved lots of money, but it also fostered a much more unified front with regard to the family finances.

Throughout the ensuing years we have continued to tithe to the local church. Please understand that we hold to no formula of giving. Nor to do we believe that we are checking some cosmic box that will earn us favor with the Almighty. We do use 10% as a benchmark, but these days we often find we are blessed to give over and above that number. Again, not because we have to, but rather that we get to.

The freedom that I mentioned at the top has grown from this last point. Giving is an act of obedience, not obligation. With my heart positioned in this way, giving becomes a joy because I know that obedience to God in any matter brings joy to him. And my personal belief is that when we come to obey in these areas that were especially difficult to give up or move away from, His joy is even greater.

Please understand, we are not living some austere life as we follow God’s direction. To the contrary, we are blessed with so much more than we ever have had before. The thing is that the blessings these days are not measured in material wealth, but rather in the deep assurance of God’s sovereignty over our lives.

My advice to any who ask me about the topic of finances is this: Live within your means and always remember to thank God for all He gives you. My willingness to give back to Him sprung from the development of an attitude of gratitude toward all He provides me. I present no formula for success. But I do share with you the joy of the freedom that came (and stays) to my life when I placed the importance of God over the importance of money. The freedom I speak of has been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. The joy is in living this out in all aspects of life.

As always, any thoughts you want to share on this topic are welcome. I would enjoy some dialogue on this.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

You got the job!

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Can you remember your very first job interview? If so, do you recall the feelings that it inspired? I would be willing to wager some of the common ones were: Nervousness, outright fear, and uncertainty, to name just a few.

Then when it was finally over, came the wait, which produced more questions than answers. Did I get it, when will they let me know? If the wait dragged on, then came the inevitable doubt about how you presented yourself or your qualifications.

Thanks for taking this quick stroll down memory lane with me. Now that I have got those feelings stirred up, forget them. As followers of Christ we automatically get the job! The difficult part is not in getting the assignment, rather it is in the carrying it out.

I am speaking about the task(s) God would have us undertake once we have accepted His Son Jesus Christ as Savior. If you would, please read Matthew 25:14-30 for the basis of what I propose today.

The verses mentioned above contain Jesus telling the parable of the talents (a talent was a measure of monetary value). This parable is one in a series the Lord was telling in answer to the question of when He will return to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Jesus has already made it known that no one on earth can know the day or hour of His return. Instead of wasting time worrying or wondering when this will be, Jesus teaches that we should be about our God-given task so that no matter when He returns, He will find us ready for Him.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus explains that God gives us responsibility in this work according to the abilities He gives us. The first two servants are given 5 and 2 of these talents respectfully. Each man then goes to work at multiplying what has been entrusted to them. After a long time the Master returns. He is overjoyed that these two servants have done so well with what he has tasked them with.

It is the person who received only one talent that I can best relate to. In the parable he concocts some lame excuses for avoiding what he has been requested to do by simply burying the talent in the ground. When he is approached by the Master, he is rebuked for his poor attitude and unwillingness to use what had been given him to further the master’s business.

I was headed in a similar direction. From very early on in my Christian life I had been encouraged by my many folks to consider using what God had given me and enter full-time ministry. I heard things like, ‘You have a pastor’s heart,’ and, ‘I find you very easy to talk to.’

My response at the time to these obviously mis-guided people was ‘thanks but no thanks. I have too much on my plate at this time.’ I would then list the many things that I had to see to. This would quiet those well-meaning voices for a time, but none of my excuses could ever completely still the One that kept tugging on my heart.

These days, I am ever so grateful that God shows abundant patience with me. When I finally gave up rationalizing my disobedience away and embraced the talent God had given me, my life has been put on the path that I now know was the one God had planned for me.

Like the two who took what the Master gave them and went to work for him, I too have been invited into my Master’s joy. And yes, like in the parable where the obedient servants were then given more responsibility, I have more these days as well. As I remember who it is that tasks me in this way, and that He makes available to me all I need to accomplish it, the joy is on-going.

My last bit of advice on this topic is that you embrace what God gives you to do immediately. Don’t put it off. There are blessings to be had, both by you and those you will encounter. And even if you were not to realize a single blessing as you undertake your Kingdom call, you will have the deep satisfaction in your soul that you are simple being obedient to God’s greater plan.

Lastly, there will be no better place to be than at your God-given assignment should He come back to settle accounts today. I realize that some folks work best under a looming deadline and in the workday world that might be ok. Not so in the all-important call that God gives you. Grab and run with it today! As you do, may you find the indescribable joy that comes from knowing you are right in the middle of God’s will for you!

Be blessed and be a blessing today,

Pastor Chuck.

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

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Every summer my parents hosted a family picnic on the 4th of July and Labor Day. My aunts, uncles and cousins would all show up around noon. Each group would bring something for the feast that was about to occur. There would be ample amounts of salads, all the cookout meats you could imagine and on Labor Day, a big bag of clams to be steamed. As yummy as all these things were, there is one item than stands far above them all: Aunt Lucy and Aunt Mary’s Stuffed Macaroni.

If any of you, Faithful Reader, have ever enjoyed ‘everything made from scratch’ Italian food, you have some idea as to how delicious this was. Not only was it a treat to the tastebuds, but also in sheer volume. At each of these family parties my two little aunts brought their specality, smothered in sauce, in a black porcelain casserole dish that looked, to my young eyes, to be about half a city block long.

Best of all, as I think back on this, was that no matter how many aunts, uncles and cousins were there at the picnic, there was always a huge amount of this fantastic stuff left over; and Aunt Lucy and Mary always insisted on leaving it with us to finish up.

The running joke between my brother and me after the 4th of July version of the twice-a-summer gatherings was that the leftovers should just about make it to Labor Day, when we will be able to re-stock for the winter!

Alas, the stuffed macaroni never lasted quite as long as we hoped. But in these days thinking about them brings to mind a meal that never ran out and had much left over: The miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000 found in John 6:1-13.

Of all the recorded miracles performed by the Lord, this is the only one that is mentioned in all four gospels. Apparently, God wanted to make sure we all have the opportunity to read and consider it!

As with the other miracles we have already looked at, Jesus here draws no undue attention to Himself. Despite how He has been quietly doing the miraculous, throngs of people were hearing about Him. Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee, and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. (John 6:1-2 NIV).

 The author John tells us 5000 people were fed, though the actual number provided for that day was probably closer to 12 to 15 thousand when you include women and children in the total.

These numbers only add to the power of God displayed for as you read this account, the only food mentioned to share with everyone is 5 small loaves of bread and two fish.

As with all the words and actions of Jesus, John chapter 6 provides us with a variety of things we could consider and learn from. For the sake of brevity, let’s consider just two for today.

First, as awesome as the miracle of the loaves and fishes is, Jesus was using this as a teaching moment for His disciples. Faced with thousands of people, the Lord asks one of them, Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for all these people to eat?” (John 6:5 NIV). Philip, thinking practically, answers that even 8 months wages wouldn’t buy more than a mouthful for them all.

Then Andrew, who was Peter’s brother, steps up with a small boy who has 5 loaves of barley bread and two fish in his basket. Again, thinking inside the box, Andrew states, “but how far will they go among so many? (John 6:9 NIV)

Philip, Andrew and I dare say most of us lean toward thinking too small when we come asking of God. We are tied tightly to what we see and experience through our five senses. Because of this, our tendency is to expect God to respond within the limits of our understanding and experience.

Philip considered the financials and Andrew the practicality of miniscule resources to meet a huge demand. Remember, the disciples have up to this point seen water changed into wine, an official’s son healed over a great distance by the spoken word of Jesus and a man lame for 38 years restored to full vitality. Yet, in the face of another crisis, they thought and sought to act within a limited scope.

I am not sure about you, Most Appreciated Reader, but I know that I often fall into the same restricted view and expectation of God. What we all should do when bringing any request to God is recall what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesian Church, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20a NIV).

God is capable of infinitely more than we can possibly think of. We need to set our pre-determined limitations aside and pray for God to answer our prayers in His awesome and creative ways.

The other learning point for me in the miracle of the loaves and fishes is about be thankful. Before Jesus does what He does to multiply the food, He took the loaves, gave thanks and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted (John 6:11 NIV).

Jesus modeled for us the mindset (and heart-set) we all need: be grateful for what you have. With upwards of 15000 people waiting to be fed, Jesus gave thanks for 5 loaves of bread and two fish. What a tremendous reminder for us all to thank God for what He has provided for us. For it is not in relation to the amount of need presented, but rather it is the unlimited resources of our Creator that deserves our praise and thanksgiving.

Jesus served much more than abundant bread and fish that day. He once again brought His disciples (and us too) to a deeper understanding of who He is, and in so doing taught a valuable lessons on gratitude and how we need to raise our expectations of what God is capable of.

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

What, me worry?

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Many of my generation grew up reading Mad magazine. Therefore the iconic face of Alfred E. Neuman was not only easily recognized, many of us tried to play the part of being care-free about everything. Never much of an actor, I was not particularly good at hiding my worries.

Looking back, I realize that my worries were for the most part shared by my friends, we just wouldn’t show the weakness of uncertainty in front of each other. Hindsight has also revealed to me that my worries were quite similar to those of my adolescent peers: Girls, popularity, making money, getting a car, etc. Worrying about things seemed as natural as any other aspect of growing up.

I actually developed a much greater conflict over my worries once I became a Christian. I began to read the Bible and in so doing came across verses such as: Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (Psalm 55:22) and, When I am afraid, I will trust in you (Psalm 56:3).

I had naively assumed that once I had broken with my past life of debauchery to try my best to follow Jesus and His teachings, life would become a utopia. The worries of life, many of which still kept me awake at night, were going to simply melt away as bliss dominated my existence.

As the days of being a Christian turned into months and then years, my worries still far outweighed any times of care-free life. Oh, I had learned to put the brave face on, or maybe it was the smiling face of my childhood buddy Alfred E., when asked how things were in my life. But inside, the worries of providing for my family and how to be a good husband and dad were constant companions.

Thankfully, God knows me better than I do myself and His faithfulness knows no bounds. He continued to put caring people into my life who helped me, through the instruction of example, that living life with the confidence of God’s care and protection was possible.

My wife, Betsy, took the lead in helping me. Her calm demeanor was a direct result of her practicing her faith daily. Her long-term daily reading of the Scriptures opened up her heart and mind to the goodness of the Lord, and she lived it right in front of me, as she does to this day.

Eventually, I took up the practice of daily Bible reading. God, knowing that I am often a slow learner, has taken His time with me as I spent time in His word. The passage of Scripture that continues to help me with my tendency to worry first, pray later is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).

Clearly, God wants me/us to take everything to Him in prayer, not just the needs and emergencies that tend to crop up. The instruction to not be anxious about anything is virtually impossible to perfect, but we can more than counter that by continually going to the Almighty. The direction to do this with thanksgiving also quiets my worries. When I remember to be thankful to God, much of the urgency or unmanageability of a situation lessens.

The next promise that our faithful God fulfills when we humbly come before Him expressing our needs and desires, is to guard our hearts and minds. The original Greek word translated guard carries with it a sense of shielding one from trouble. Because it is God who does the shielding, this becomes so much more than merely deflecting a problem away. In His divine providence, God will literally shield our minds from dwelling on an issue, which in turns allows us to come to the realization that He has protected us. This level of trust in our loving God helps us to not want to bury our heads in the sand hoping things will change, but rather to seek the shelter that His loving arms can provide.

As with most everything I attempt, I find keeping one of the ideas from Alcoholics Anonymous in the forefront of my mind helps: to seek progress, not perfection. I still find myself worrying over things and projecting negative outcomes that rarely come about. The progress I’ve made is that I fall into this trap far less often than I used to.

So Alfred E., like you I really do not have to worry and blessedly, being that I’m real and you are a cartoon caricature, I can keep turning to this Awesome God who daily invites me to travel through life with Him. By taking Him up on this invitation, I can know that my heart and mind are protected by Him as He gives me a peace I will never understand this side of heaven. Not to worry, everything will be revealed on the other side!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Blessings to go

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As I have made mention of in the past, I am a person who is most comfortable in structured situations. I’m a planner, and as such like to have a back-up plan in place in case something goes wrong with my first plan. I work best from a list, using multiples ones each day to help me achieve what I need to.

You may rightly assume from the above that routine is something I embrace. Take the following as an example during these summer months as I return to my old painting job to lend a hand: Arriving home each day from work, the next day’s work clothes are laid out and lunch is made before showering. I find it comforting to know that these tasks are out of the way, allowing me to get into whatever is next on my home list for the evening. This also frees up time in the morning for devotional/bible reading.

Leaving my house to go anywhere also has a pattern that I follow: Wallet back left pocket, check. Phone front left pocket, check. Gates in place to keep the dog where she needs to be while I’m gone, check. Mask? Got it. You get the idea.

It occurs to me, however, that my leaving the house ritual has been missing something that I far too often leave behind: blessings! I was reminded of this in one of the devotionals I read this morning. It basically said that one should leave their home (or wherever) being intentionally ready to bless someone that you meet.

What a great idea! It’s another opportunity to share the love of God with the world around me. After all, I have been blessed beyond measure by the Almighty. Why not share some of that, in whatever form it takes, with the folks I encounter daily. Obviously, the blessing I share will vary upon each opportunity. The important point is that I remain mindful of all God has done for me and then be willing to share what I can of that precious love.

I realize this would look different to each of us. As I write this, I am not sure what it will look like for me. But I have decided this: Before going out my door, I am going to stop for a moment to get my heart and mind set in the ‘blessing way.’ I plan on doing this any number of ways. For example, I will realize that I have a warm and safe place to live. Carrying this thought with me may well prepare me to share with a homeless individual I meet.

Or maybe I’ll simply acknowledge the peace of God that reigns in my home, making me ready to share God’s peace with employees at the store I am going to.

Whatever the blessing you give away today, the world around you will be a little better off because of it. Now imagine if a majority of folks became intentional about sharing a blessing like this. Doesn’t that sound like something our world could use right about now?

If you have a moment, please share with me how you are going to carry this forward. Thanks.

Blessings to you (in case I don’t see you in person today!)

Pastor Chuck