A Day is Like a Thousand Years

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According to the most recent statistics from hospicenews.com, the average length of time a person was under hospice care in the United States was 77.9 days during 2018. That is just a tick over 2 and a half months. I have always had an affinity for numbers, as I find they help me in my expectations and plans.

This is well and good for most of the mundane activities and sports that I enjoy. However, I have found that God pays little attention to the conclusions that we draw from our statistical findings.

Never up to this point in ministry have the words of St. Peter rung more true to me: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:8 NIV)

This tells me that it is God who created time for us. He is outside of its restrictions and constrictions. But we, like all living things, need the passing of minutes, days, weeks, etc. to help us mark time for the things of this life. In His infinite wisdom God set time in motion the way He has for our benefit. He works to a far different schedule than us, hence the helpful description of time passing by Peter as mentioned above.

I mention all this as a little background as I now tell you about Mrs. M. She was one of the first patients I had as a Pastoral Care Provider for our local hospice organization. When we first met, she had been given the prediction from her doctor that she had 2 to 4 months to live, well within the established length of time for most hospice patients.

The thing is, this was going to be an great example of God not heeding our statistical knowledge. I was invited into Mrs. M’s home in March of 2018! I just received word late last evening that she had been called home to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her expected 2.5 months of hospice care turned into just over 3 more years of life!

And please understand, she was not merely checking the days off as they went by. In those early months after I first met her, she was still mobile and enjoying many of the things in life. She spent time with her large and extended family members, went shopping and got out to play her beloved bingo as well.

But most importantly, Mrs. M. spent much of that time deepening her relationship with Jesus Christ. It was an honor for me to be a part of this.

To be clear, in my role as Pastor in hospice, my primary focus is to provide spiritual care for the patient and any family member that chooses to join. I am not to be overtly Christian in my approach, but rather simply listen with care and provide support in ways that are appropriate to each situation.

That is not to say I cannot share faith, but that I cannot lead with it. However, there are not restrictions placed on me should the patient have questions, thoughts or concerns about Christianity.

Mrs. M. made this abundantly simple for me. At our first meeting, after introductions around, she asked me, “What happens to me when I die?” Talk about an open door to expressing and sharing the love of Christ! As I began to explain what the Bible teaches us of our need for a Savior, I learned that she had trusted Jesus for her salvation by accepting His forgiveness for her sins some years ago. Like many folks, however, her knowledge of the possibilities of what that relationship with Jesus could mean to her in the here and now was limited.

From that point on, our once or twice meetings per week were mostly spent on exploring the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the Scriptures. What I was so honored and humbled to see was how Mrs. M. lived out these truths. As her many visitors stopped into chat when I was there, she never missed the opportunity to invite them to join us in discussion and prayer. The love, compassion and care she lavished on these folks, regardless of how she was feeling on any given day, continues to inspire me to be my best for God when I am given the chance to.

Watching God bless Mrs. M. in so many ways is one of the greatest gifts He has ever given me. As a matter of fact, after 12 months, the hospice agency re-evaluated her condition and released her from their care. She remains the only graduate of hospice this side of eternity I have ever known!

This ending with hospice did not cut our relationship short, thankfully. By this time, my wife Betsy and I were in there home on Sunday evenings leading bible studies and worship. As time went on, more and more family and neighbors were invited to join Sunday Night Church, as she lovingly called it. Again, the abundance of God’s blessing is incredible.

I have learned so much from her over these past 3 years with the single most important one being to follow the instruction of God: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

I conclude these thoughts today by asking for your help in carrying the love of God forward as my dear Mrs. M. did without reservation. Please take the time today to let someone know how much you care for them. It does not need to be anything special, maybe just a call or a walk across to street to check in on a neighbor. Or perhaps there is a family member you are in tension with. With the love of God in your heart and mind, be the one to set the those issues aside long enough to simply let them know that you care about them.

Thank you and may you be inspired by Mrs. M. as I have been.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Thank You, Jesus

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There are so many thoughts running through my mind this Resurrection Sunday as I consider again just what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for the world. The joy, awe and wonder are as fresh this morning as they were the many years ago when the Savior revealed to me His plan for saving my life, eternally. And yet, there is a sadness in me as well as I consider those near and dear to me who have rejected the love of Christ. Amidst the abundant joy in my heart there are sections that are broken for these people. In many of these cases I have attempted in my limited way to share what God has done for me with them in hopes they would grasp the availability of that same love for themselves.

But this is not a day for discouragement! Today my sole focus is on the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. With this in mind, I would like to share a list (by no means in total) of the things I am grateful for because of the saving power of God as it has been revealed through Christ’s ultimate victory over death. As you read, I ask you to do two things. First, reflect in your own way the ramifications of Jesus’ resurrection on your life. And secondly, be intentional about living out a life of thanksgiving for the incredible gift He has given you, so that others may be attracted to God’s light through you.

Where do I start such a list of things I am thankful for because Jesus rose from the dead to forgive us? The totality of His mercy shown to sinners like me (us) is mind-boggling. So in no particular order, here goes:

  • Thank you, Jesus, for taking my place on that cross. You bore my sin in your body out of obedience to the Father and your love for me. Because of Your resurrection, You have defeated death and offered eternal life to all. You knew that there was no earthly way I/we could earn or deserve the Father’s mercy. So instead you demonstrated grace saturated in love to bring us to God.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the hope you bring to us because of the above. You have not only supplied, at great cost to Yourself, the way out of our eternal predicament, but because You have, I can be filled with hope in the here and now. I do not have to wait until physical death to be with You. Instead, because of Your love, I can be in a nurturing relationship with You now! This developing relationship carries with it the security of Your ever-present care and protection, for You have promised to never leave nor forsake those who follow You.
  • Thank you, Jesus, of your on-going obedience to the Father, even after Your resurrection. By appearing to over 500 people, You made it known beyond doubt that You had come back to life.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for fulfilling the promise of sending the Holy Spirit after You ascended to heaven. And thank you, Holy Spirit, for Your on-going fulfillment of the Father’s work here on earth. You make the Scriptures come to life and You encourage the Church to fulfill its part in God’s plan as well as You move individual members to walk in obedience to Him.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the many, many people You have placed in my path that have helped me to see You with greater clarity. These Saints are far to great in number to list individually here, but if you are/were a part of my life in Christ, I praise and thank God for you.
  • Thank you, Jesus, for the opportunities to serve You and make Your name known in the world today. Please help me to always remember that obedience to You is a matter of great joy to You, as it should be for me as well!
  • And thank you, Jesus, for the Scriptures. They truly are alive and active, filled with the very essence of the Father. May I/we in our gratitude for them continue to learn from them.

As I said, this is by no means a completed list, but I do believe it gets to the heart of the matter: I/we owe a debt to our Savior that we cannot repay. Yet out of His ever-loving heart, He has paid it for us. May we, in the lingo of today, take this love and ‘pay it forward’ in humility, love and gratitude.

May the blessings of the Resurrection of Jesus be deeply known to you today,

Pastor Chuck

Prayer: Monologue or Dialogue? — Hidden Arrows

Dr. Eastman was one of my seminary professors. He has continued to be a blessing to me in the years since. His love for our Lord and depth of knowledge of the Word have long inspired me to emulate his life. Please take a moment to read his compelling thoughts on prayer.

Thanks

Talk about honesty! One of my seminary students admitted,  “My past practice of prayer…has been mostly a monologue.” He then made a simple yet powerful case for centering or contemplative prayer: “I am attracted to it because it will help me grow in my commitment to listen more to God…” Can you identify with that? […]

Prayer: Monologue or Dialogue? — Hidden Arrows

Happy New Day!

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Allow me to add my voice (blog) to the many who have extended blessings to you as we venture into the year 2021. I pray for all of you, Most Appreciated Readers, that God blesses you with His peace as He draws you into deeper relationship with Him in the coming days, weeks and months.

As I have written over the span of 2020, my heart goes out to all who experienced loss during the Covid-19 pandemic. Be those losses personal, financial or relational, I do indeed hope that the new year brings some measure of relief to you.

But it is to those who thought that somehow by turning the page of the calendar things were going to suddenly improve that I write to today. Much the same as someone trying the ‘geographic cure’ we talk about in the 12 Step programs, little relief is truly found just because it becomes January of a new year.

One of the things that is stressed in those recovery rooms is the importance of staying in today. To do this, one must not allow the burdens of the past to become backbreaking. Likewise, the expectations of the future, both good and bad, must be kept in perspective as well. Think of it like this: The past is a cancelled check, and the future is a promissory note that never comes to maturity because it is always Today.

Simply put, we learn from the past without dwelling on its mistakes and we plan for the future, without casting our anticipated results in stone.

There is a passage in Psalm 119 I would like to share with you that continues to be godly counsel to me as I attempt to live out these things I have mentioned above.

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 23the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 119:22-24 NIV)

These verses tell me several things that are of great encouragement. The rejected stone is a prophecy of Jesus. The Lord fulfills this as He becomes the capstone (or final) building block of Father God’s salvation plan for all of humanity. Meditating on the wonder that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection stirs all types of thoughts and emotions in me. I will boil them down to this: Complete awe that God would do this for undeserving sinners like me, and unspeakable joy that He has made life eternal possible because of His taking my place on that cross.

With my heart and head again re-directed toward God’s love and care for me, I can endeavor to carry out what verse 24 says as I realize that this day (which references both the day of salvation and this very day in which we live), has been created by God Himself. With this understanding then comes the attempt to be obedient to rejoice and be glad in it.

A quick check of the original Hebrew is helpful. The word translated rejoice carries with it the meaning of having a joyful attitude and being excited about the prospect  of the day. To be glad is to take delight in; not just in what may come, but in the very existence of this day.

It occurs to me that each of us as individuals will have to determine how we rejoice and are glad. I believe the common denominator though will be our own willingness to do so.

This will require more than a glass half full/empty mentality. I/we have to make the determination to rejoice and be glad in this day, simply because it was created for us. If we can do this, the circumstances of any particular day will have less power to sway our feelings and reactions. Basically, as in all things of faith, we must anchor ourselves to the Lord in complete trust. The more we are able to this (with His help, btw), the better our focus remains on Him, who is the true reason for our rejoicing and gladness.

So rejoice and be glad in the immeasurable and awesome love of God this day. He desires only good for us. Make this (and every) day the happy day is has been created for. Will it be all sunshine, unicorns and rainbows? My experience tells me no. But that same experience is teaching me that the true reason for rejoicing and gladness never changes, and I find great comfort in that as things swirl crazily around in the world.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

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

Just when you think you have seen it all…

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There is an elementary school near where Betsy and I live. Each September as this school re-opens, the traffic department of our police force sets up a portable speed detector. A fairly quiet street during the summer becomes quite busy with buses and parents dropping off and later picking up their kiddos. My observation is that the large flashing numbers do indeed slow many motorists down.

As I said, this is a yearly occurrence, and I suspect that unless schools go to 100% virtual learning, it will continue to flash its warning to the drivers passing by our home in the ensuing Septembers.

That being said, it came as no surprise when the traffic folks set one up just beyond our driveway last week. Nothing new, right? True, until yesterday morning.

Betsy and I are early risers. We enjoy a long walk almost every morning with our Golden doodle Violet. Yesterday was no exception until we turned the last corner to come home. As we did, we saw a group of 4 joggers/runners taking turns sprinting at the speed sign to see who could go the fastest! They were enjoying themselves and we shared a chuckle with them (Violet really wanted to join in!).

As we finished our walk, Bets and I both agreed that was something we had never seen before. Trying always to be open to blog ideas/sermon illustrations, I wondered how this might fill the bill. I did not have to long.

I got to thinking about Peter, James and John as Jesus led them up a mountain to experience what the Bible calls The Transfiguration. You can read about it in Chapter 17 of Matthew’s Gospel for the full account. But for now, imagine those three disciples following Jesus up a path when suddenly:

He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

And if that were not shocking enough:

Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (Matthew 17:2-3)

Now there was really something no one had ever seen before! The lessons and applications from this passage of scripture are far too numerous to go into any depth on this platform, so I will leave you, Dear and Appreciated Reader, with just one: Peter, James and John had known Jesus for some time at this point. They had seen miracles and in the chapter just before this, had been part of a discussion that revealed Jesus to be the promised Messiah. Knowing what they did, they were still blown away at these events (who wouldn’t be!).

My questions for you and me: No matter how well you might currently know Jesus, would you still be awed by an event like the Transfiguration? Does your heart and mind have room left in them for Jesus to do something you have never seen before?

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this. If I do not get right back to you, I’m probably just down the street trying to improve my running speed.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

God Answers our Prayers!

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When we last met, Dear Reader, the discussion had to do with the question of whether or not God hears our prayers. This is an extremely important question for anyone who would venture into a communication with the Most High God. Because of its importance, the Almighty gives us clear answers that He does indeed hear all prayers offered to Him. If you recall, I offered just a few of the myriad passages from the Bible that clearly state that God hears what is spoken to Him in prayer.

However, the next logical question, “Does He answer every prayer?” does not come with such a distinct answer. To be clear from the start, I wholeheartedly believe that our Heavenly Father does answer our prayers. The confusion on this point comes from us: What are our expectations? Do we trust God to answer? How do we know it’s Him answering? Why do I have to wait for an answer? Is ‘No’ sometimes the answer He gives?

These are valid questions that people have been asking with for centuries. As I said, I believe that God does answer every prayer. He is omnipotent; therefore He has the ability to do this. God is love; therefore He has the heart to answer them all.

The responsibility to receive/understand/accept the answer falls squarely on our shoulders. Far too many people, in my opinion, keep God in a small box, calling on him only when they are faced with some great or sudden need. This shallow approach to faith seems to think that God is far off somewhere, doing who knows what, and that He has a magic button to push to fulfill our request when we send it.

No, God is not a cosmic yes-man. Rather, He is magnificent beyond words and completely beyond us. Yet, His desire is for us to get to know Him as best we can. His heart is for us to enter into a loving and caring relationship with Him. Within this relationship is the on-going invitation to speak to Him through our prayers.

By being intentional about spending time to develop the relationship with God on our end is how we can get to know more of the depth of God’s character. The better we know Him, the easier it becomes to trust Him. Our ability to trust will coincide with the depth our relationship with God. Would you trust a stranger with your hearts deepest desire? Of course not. Don’t keep God at arms-length in your life. At the risk of over-simplifying the profound depth of God’s desire for us to deepen our relationship with Him, consider this: We cannot learn to trust Him until we begin to trust Him.

As our relationship with the Almighty grows, we begin to have the ability to better discern how He is answering our prayers. Seeing ‘No’ as an answer becomes a little clearer, if not easier to take. Again, trust is the key. God, who is outside the restriction of time you and I live under, knows the future. With this knowledge, He is the best (and only) one capable of seeing all the repercussions of what we are asking.

A growing faith will develop more of this important trust. This then helps us to be a little more patient as we await a particular answer to prayer. I far too often still want what I want when I want it. I am learning, ever so slowing, that God always has my best interest in mind. Because He does, His answer, be it “yes, no or let’s wait on that,” is exactly what I need.

Be assured, I haven’t gotten to this place in my relationship with God overnight, and I still have miles to go before I get to the depth I believe He wants me to get to. My encouragement to you is this: No matter where you find yourself in your faith life, be intentional about growing closer to God, for as you get closer to Him, you get closer to the answer(s) He has for you.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

One More Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Chuck

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

Get the gaff!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck