Finding the True Balance in Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Chuck

 

 

 

One More Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Chuck

What was I thinking!

See the source imageimage courtesy of Bing Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Chuck

Figuring it all out?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

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

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

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.

Serving others in a self-serve world

Have you heard the joke about Walmart? It goes like this: Due to poor holiday sales, Walmart has decided to close 500 of their super-centers in the U.S. Because of these closings, up to 10 cashiers may lose their jobs.

Those like me that prefer having a human being as a cashier certainly can get a chuckle from that one.  When I’m shopping there (or anywhere that has self-checkouts, to be fair), I marvel, and sometimes grumble, that only two lanes are staffed while the do-it-yourself area teems with people.

Our culture has certainly become convenience driven.  Not only can we check out our groceries without help, when’s the last time you actually stepped inside a bank or have even written a check, for that matter.  Our paychecks are directly deposited and our bills are paid with electronic fund transfers.  Also for my ease, with credit/debit card in hand, I can purchase almost any item I want on line.  Just the other day I ordered flowers for my wife, found and purchased a book I was wanting to read and bought a steamer to help me remove wallpaper, all from the comfort of my office at home.  Self-serve is simply an accepted way to do things these days.

Please understand me, I have no problem using these modern conveniences.  They save me time and hassles.  The greater concern I have for me and others is this: with all the self-serve options available to us, am I/are we losing the sense of what it means to serve others? To be sure, this isn’t really a new problem for humankind.  Though they didn’t have the world available through their electronic devices, even the disciples who followed Jesus when He walked the earth struggled with this ‘serve me first’ mentality.

In Mark’s gospel, Chapter 10:35-40 we find two of them, James and John, selfishly asking Jesus for special treatment in the age to come.  They wanted to sit at either side of the Lord when He took His seat in heaven.  Truly a brazen request.  My first thought was this: Did they think this was a ‘first come, first served situation? I liken it to those hearty souls who camp-out over night to get in line to purchase the best seats for a big concert.

In His wisdom, Jesus deals with James and John diplomatically.  He tells them that what they ask is not for Him to give and that they really don’t understand what it is they are asking for in the first place.

The other ten disciples are less kind when they get wind of the request that was made by their peers. The bible says they were indignant that such a bold thing could be asked.  I wonder if part of their anger was that they didn’t think to ask first?

Whatever the case, Jesus uses the situation to do some wonderfully clear teaching on what it means to be a servant. “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44 NIV) In essence, Jesus’ message to the disciples is this: You need to take your accepted notions of what you think you deserve or have earned and turn them upside down.  Serving is to be the goal and purpose of life, not being served.

To make sure His point was being understood, the Lord added, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Here, Jesus ups the ante, if you will.  He reminds them of who He truly is, the Son of God.  Yet His heavenly position is not used to demand their praise and worship, rather it is a springboard to fulfill the Father’s purpose.  Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth to be a servant.  In truth, He is the ultimate servant, for He willingly suffered and died at the hands of men so that the Father’s salvation plan would be made known.

The call of servant-hood for every follower of Jesus Christ ought to daily move our hearts with compassion when considered in the light of what the Son of God has done for us all.  He, who deserves all our honor, praise and worship simply because of who He is, opted to set that all aside so that He could model what a servant’s heart looks like and who it is we are to serve.  Jesus served out of love and obedience to His Father.  Our one true purpose in this life is to follow His example.

How we do that will look different for each of us, but their will be a common thread running through it all: Serve others above serving ourselves.  To do so we must break free of our self-serve mentality.  Of course your time and schedule are important.  But are they so vital as to the exclusion of everything and everyone around you? Take Jesus’ instruction to heart in practical ways.  Stop and look around you.  If you do, I guarantee you will see places and people where you can be a servant.  I’m not saying you will see it in the checkout line that is seven deep, but then again, maybe you will!