Thanksgiving First

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While working on a sermon for the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my mind wandered back to early grade school times and the lessons we were taught about that first Thanksgiving. The pilgrims, we were told, gathered to have a dinner of thanksgiving, though by today’s standards the amount of food was paltry. That first Thanksgiving was more about being thankful for being alive as opposed to being grateful for an abundance of food.

As I continued to ponder the differences between now and then, I began to feel convicted about taking the blessings of God for granted. How often or how deeply do I reflect on the fact that my every day needs are met. I am faced daily with deciding what to eat, not wonder if I will.

With these thoughts in my mind, I decided I wanted to be more intentional and genuine in my thoughts, words and deeds with regard to being grateful. The idea struck me, as I continued to contemplate the first Thanksgiving, to put thanksgiving first.

As you who have been with me in the blog-o-sphere for a while might guess, I found the inspiration to do this in the Scriptures.

The Bible is full of passages that encourage the reader to be thankful. Here are just a few from the New International Version:

1 Thessalonians 5:18: give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 107:1: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 100:4: Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise

I could go on, but you get the idea; being thankful to God encompasses all of the human experience. Realizing this, I still was not sure if my being grateful for the blessings I receive does not sometimes get delayed because I am distracted by this or that.

To help me with this issue, I came across the solution in another favorite passage of Scripture of mine: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

Did you catch it? We are first told to pray instead of worrying. And then we pray with thanksgiving as we are making our requests of God. Don’t wait for an answer, instead be thankful as you pray. This is how we keep God in the forefront of our hearts and minds. Basically, we thank God for being God. And if I might add, the request we might make most often is that the Almighty increase our trust in Him.

The wonder of the promise here in being a thanksgiving first people is that we are promised the peace of God. Let that sink in a moment. The peace of God. It is given to guard our hearts and our minds according to this verse from the Letter to the Philippians. In my opinion, the primary role of God’s peace is guarding our hearts and minds from worry.

I pray for all of us that we become willing to be thanksgiving first people and that as we do, the Holy Spirit will draw us to a place of deeper trust in God. As this trust continues to grow, we will experience more and more of God’s promised peace as our tendency to worry becomes less pronounced.

So not only a Happy Thanksgiving to you all, but also one that grows you and me in our love and trust of God as we give thanks for all God has done for us and as we do, pray that God keeps our eyes open for the opportunities to share these abundant blessings with the world around us.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Improve your conscious contact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

An Attitude of Gratitude

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

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

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

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

Meditation for the Day

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

Prayer for the Day

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

The Freedom I Found in Giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Giving Thanks in a Socially Distanced World

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Thanksgiving in the United States is considered the traditional kick-off of the holiday season. How much of a season of good cheer it turns out to be is yet to be seen, however.

2020 has certainly been a year like no other. In this country we have seen civil unrest, Mother Nature at her worst, political upheaval and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amidst all the pain, suffering and uncertainty of the future, some might find it hard to be thankful at this time in history. I would not be one of them, however. My heart certainly goes out to those who have lost so much to wildfires and hurricanes. It breaks for those who have lost loved ones to sickness.

I whole-heartedly believe that true thanksgiving must spring from our hearts regardless of current circumstance. I can best accomplish this when I stay focused on the One who always deserves my humble gratitude, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I will be preaching a Thanksgiving sermon from Luke 17:11-19. I have given this message the title: Giving Thanks in a Socially Distanced World. This passage of Scriptures relates the account of Jesus healing 10 who were afflicted with leprosy. I hope that as you consider these verses, you too will be able to give proper thanks and praise more readily to our Lord.

I admit I had never used, thought of or even considered the term ‘social distancing’ before March of this year. Social distancing is now the norm. Keeping a minimum of 6 feet or more from others is considered the best way to slow the spread of Covid-19 down. It is not a new idea, however. Those 10 lepers seeking healing from Jesus used it as well: They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:12b-13 NIV)

Like us, you could say that the ten lepers were not having a good year either. Their condition was not only debilitating physically, but it made them outcasts from all people, family and friends included.

The lepers were living/existing away from their families. The family unit was very tight back then. Their absence would have been keenly felt, affecting the lives of the rest of that group. These 10 had an incurable disease and depending on its severity, a death sentence. Those family members would have had little to no hope of seeing their loved one again.

            This certainly helps explain the joy they must have felt when they were cured. The desire to let their loved ones know they we healed and back with them would have been very strong; strong enough to prevent them from even thinking about going back to thank the One who had healed them.

However, in our currently socially distanced condition, we can learn the most about giving thanks from the one who came back to Jesus. Gratitude, in my opinion, is an action word. Merely saying I’m grateful without a heart and /or actions to back it up is a bit shallow. The man who went back to Jesus modeled the action of gratitude. He changed direction, putting the giving of thanks above anything else he may have initially wanted to do. He thanked the Lord before going off on his new lease on life.

Practically speaking, how might you and I display the action of gratitude in a socially distanced world? Here is one suggestion: Take the time today to call someone you know that is alone. Let them know you are thinking of them. Ask if there is anything they need and express a willingness to fulfill that need if you are able.

As I think of it, truly giving thanks in a socially distanced world depends little on our current circumstances. Rather, the driving force of daily thanksgiving is God Himself. Merely scanning the Scriptures reveals many things to be grateful on a daily basis because of who God is and what He does.

Think of it as a fill-in-the-blank exercise: God I thank you for: ______________

Here are a few examples:

God I thank you for: saving me through your Son Jesus Christ

God I thank you for: your faithful love

God I thank you for: the fact I can pray to you.

Please notice that this list includes not one item having to do with things or possessions. Rather it is all about who God is and what He has done, is doing and will do. I firmly believe that the more we keep the eyes of our hearts open to see what God is doing in and around us, the more grateful for Him we become.

This is not to say we shouldn’t be grateful for the material blessings in our lives. We should be grateful to God for the gifts He bestows on us. I merely remind you to not lose sight that the material things, as wonderful as they may be, will one day be gone. Only God is constant. He is forever loving us, leading us, calling us to Him. Let nothing separate you/me from giving thanks to Him!

The 10 lepers kept their distance, yet still called out to the Lord. You and I have no restrictions to God’s availability. The only barriers to us knowing Him more intimately are put there by ourselves.

God does not demand that we thank Him. We can assume the other 9 lepers remained healed even though they did not come back to say thanks to Jesus. But the one who did return received an even greater blessing. He got to look into the eyes of Jesus. The Lord then blessed him abundantly by revealing what faith in Him can do. I believe this man’s healing went beyond his surface condition and reached his heart with the peace that only God can give.

 So run to His embrace. Know the depth of His love for you. As you do, you will find freedom to live a thanksgiving life every day that no social distance can keep you from.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

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

Blessings to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Chuck

I Must be Having Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

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