It was shocking and saddening to see the millions of people in Texas who had to brave the extreme cold without heat for their homes because of the recent severe winter weather there. Many prayers, mine included, went out for God to keep them safe and to provide the basics for survival. Many on the ground there did step up to provide what they could.
There is little in modern life that causes such great disruption to us than the loss of power. I can attest to this myself, as over the years both ice storms and electrical storms have knocked out power in our small city a number of times. When this occurred during the winter, keeping the kids warm was the priority and during the warm months trying to preserve food in the refrigerator and freezer took precedent.
In those cases, as well as the current one in Texas, as life-altering as being without power is, there remains the hope and even assurance that service will be restored eventually. Be it an inconvenience for 6 hours or a struggle for 6 days, some flicker of hope remains that things will again return to normal sooner or later when the juice starts flowing again.
But I had a reminder of a far more permanent type of powerlessness the other day. A man that I admire greatly asked that we might have a discussion of powerlessness at the AA meeting we were both attending. Though this man has in excess of 6 years of continuous sobriety, is a cancer survivor and survived the attacks of 9/11; this particular day brought powerlessness to the forefront of his mind as it marked the anniversary of the death of his sister from a drug overdose.
Powerlessness for the addicted is described in the first of the 12 Steps of recovery. We read this (and all 12 Steps) at the beginning of every meeting: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or drugs) and our lives had become unmanageable.
As we took turns talking about what this meant to us individually, it occurred to me again the complete powerlessness I have over my alcoholism. Unlike when the heat or the electricity go out, I have no hope that any sense of normalcy will ever be within my grasp. Being powerless tells me that if I should pick up another drink, I have no idea when or if the roller-coaster of craziness will ever stop. It is not the 10th drink that will get me drunk, as we are fond of saying, but the first one. For it is that one that unleashes the dominance of alcohol over my mental and physical being. Once imbibed, I am truly helpless and hopeless. I am in the dark with no hope of escape.
The great blessing I get to experience today is that I do not have to take that first drink. Discussions like we had at that meeting the other day serve as a tremendous reminder of what the hell of drinking was like. When I face each day honestly admitting my powerlessness, I become able to recognize that I have the greatest of all hope and power available to me.
A part of the AA Preamble, also read before every, meeting states: But there is one who has all power. That one is God, may you find him now.
Though not a religious program per se, those like myself with some understanding of who this God might be come to realize that He holds the only means of escape from the powerlessness of addiction. In Him lies the hope that ‘power’ can be restored. But make no mistake, this is not power given to me so that I can attempt to navigate on my own again.
Rather, it is a heaven-send invitation to tap into a source of power that never will be shut off. God gives it in abundance to those who truly want it for what it offers; the power to live addiction free.
For me, having had this power made available has done so much more than simply allow me to set the drink down. By humbly acknowledging my helplessness, God has stepped into my life with His life giving love. By doing so He has not only alleviated the physical compulsion to drink, but has also healed me of the mental struggle and anguish that accompanies an addicted life.
I share this today for several reasons. One is to honor my friend who lost his sister to addiction. By openly sharing his pain, those of us with him at that meeting were given the chance to again examine the reality of our own powerlessness.
I share this also as a beacon of hope. If you or someone you love is in the life and death struggle that defines addiction, please know that there is a way out. I testify that as God has poured out His infinite might into my powerlessness, and in so doing He has freed me to live a life filled with purpose and joy.
My experience teaches me that He has a never-ending supply of this power available. I have seen it at work in so many lives, and I see it still reaching people today.
Remember, you have not lost by admitting you are powerless. In fact, you have taken the first step toward a whole new, addiction free life.
Well, um, not really. But I did have a pretty cool experience under ‘the lights’ yesterday. As many of you know, my wife Betsy and I have a unique hobby: We sing our national anthem at sporting events and other activities around the Central New York area. We’ve been doing this since the attacks of 9/11 as way to show our support and appreciation for all those who put their lives on the line for others.
Also, if you’ve been reading this for the past 6 weeks or so, you know that I am a huge proponent of getting vaccinated against Covid-19 when it becomes available to you.
Anyway, back to the bright lights, these two areas of passion in my life brought about the opportunity to bring them both to the forefront. A community action group called, Health Care Equity Task Force got wind of our talents and support of the vaccine and invited us to be videoed singing our rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. After we did this, and because I have received both of the shots, they had me sit down for a taping of my thoughts about this particular vaccination.
Pondering this experience the following morning, I began to see the connection between our presenting of the anthem and getting vaccinated. As I said above, we sing to honor this country that we love. That’s not to say I/we are naively unaware of the many challenges facing America today. I do not filter my view through the lens of any political party. I stay informed on the issues and daily pray that God will intercede on behalf of our land with a sense of His peace and leading.
Given the platform to perform the national anthem, we do so because, flawed as it is, this is still the greatest country on the earth; and even more so, we recognize that a vast number of people we will never know personally have and are performing duties and functions that protect us all. We sing to honor, respect and remember.
Getting vaccinated against Covid takes the same approach for me. Yes, I do not want to contract this thing, but I primarily have gotten the shots to serve others. I will never know, nor do I need to know, the positive affect my getting vaccinated is having. The point is, in my opinion, to put yourself in the place of others. By putting their well being at least on a par with my own, I tend to see the simple necessity of receiving the shots as doing the next right thing for others. I did it for the common good, as I attempt to honor, respect and remember all.
Be blessed and be a blessing,
PS: I will let you know when and where the video is to be released, most likely sometime this spring.
Because it was summer vacation, I was allowed to stay up to watch as Astronaut Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon. I heard him say, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” At 9 years of age those words did not mean a whole lot to me. I was simply awe struck that what seemed crazy or at least implausible was actually happening. There truly was a man on the moon.
As the years rolled on from my childhood, I have often made it a point to watch that first walk on the moon as it is replayed on its anniversary each year. As time has passed, I have come to understand and appreciate what Armstrong was saying as he stepped onto the lunar surface for the first time.
I thought about that famous quote the other day as I received my 2nd vaccination against Covid-19. Please understand, I do not put myself anywhere near the level of that famed astronaut. But as I looked around the large room where the others who had just been vaccinated sat for their 15 minutes of observation, I clearly saw the connection to July 20th, 1969.
Each person in that room had personally taken the small step toward helping themselves and their fellow humans. Individually, my being vaccinated will not have a far reaching effect, as my circle of contacts is quite limited. But that is not the point, and it was not was Neil Armstrong was saying either. Together, as we each take the small step to be vaccinated, we are coming together to help make the ‘giant leap for mankind’ in the fight against this pandemic.
So please, Dear Friends, take that small step when the vaccine becomes available to you.
As it was with my first shot, I had zero side-effects from the second, not even a sore arm.
I spent the majority of my 40 plus hour work weeks as a painter. The last twelve years of time-clock life I was the Facilities Painter at Le Moyne College, a Jesuit school in Syracuse New York. This last gig was by far the best. I was hired to start the department and it was basically left to me to organize and complete all the paint work on campus. It was a perfect fit for my personality. God has wired me to be an organized self-starter, and this played very well in this job.
Of all the fond memories I have of being a Dolphin (Le Moyne’s nickname), working with the summer crew of students was the very best. Those twelve summers allowed me to meet and interact with some fine young women and men. We shared lots of laughs as we completed the re-paint of all the dorm rooms on campus each year.
I am blessed to still be in touch with a number of “my kids,” as I fondly called them. Many have assumed prominent and interesting positions since graduating from Le Moyne. There are many schoolteachers in this group, as well an occupational therapist, several nurses and even a Funeral Director, to mention just a few.
The summer paint crew consisted of between 8 to 12 students each summer; so it is safe to say I worked with at least one hundred different students during my time there. Most had never held a paint brush when they started with me, making the first several days with them a challenge, to say the least!
It was always my intention to give my charges more than simply painting lessons, however. Working side by side with them for three months gave us the opportunity to get to know one another. The pastors heart within me cherished the times when our discussions went beyond assignments and into the realm of the eternal. Though I attempted not to be overt in my style, when questions pertaining to Jesus and/or Christianity came up, I did my best to answer in meaningful ways.
As in most cases in life, and maybe especially in ministry, we seldom get to see much if any fruit from our labors. I am ok with this, for ministry to me is all about God and His love for all people. If He should choose to use my words or actions to reach another person with His message of hope, may He get all the glory!
That is not to say that I do not wonder about the impact I may have had on my summer kids.
The other day, as I was looking at the gift they gave me as it hangs in my office, God gave me a blessing. You see, the picture I shared with this entry is what my crew of students gave me on their last day of the summer of 2016, just shortly before I left Le Moyne College to go into ministry fulltime.
If you would look at the picture again, you will see that each of them signed it (some with the nicknames I assigned them!) and attached a paint brush they had dipped in gold paint. The caption they wrote touched my heart with God’s affirming message about my efforts with them: Your brush has touched our lives.
What a blessing! These young folks, with grades, loans and many other things to occupy their minds, took the time to let me know what they thought of the time they had spent with me. As I looked at what they had given me, I felt a renewed sense of encouragement to carry on with what God has given me to do.
I share this with you today, Faithful Reader, so that you too may experience some encouragement. Yes, the days can seem long and this particular year can appear to be unending, but please hang in there, you just never know when what you say or do is reaching someone in a positive way.
Continuing with our look into the miracles performed by Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John, we find the second one in Chapter 4:43-54. Before we go any further, let me help clarify something you may have noticed if you have read the first four chapters of John. Though we are about to consider the second recorded miracle, there have been others performed by Jesus since He changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana that we talked about last time.
To bring us up to speed, let’s briefly consider where Jesus has been and done since He left that wedding. He first left Cana for Jerusalem where He celebrated the Passover. The author John tells it this way:
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. (John 2:23 NIV).
The beginning of Chapter 3 reveals a conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling counsel. This man sought out Jesus to learn more about Him.
“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him. (John 3:2 NIV).
After explaining to Nicodemus why He came (John 3:16), Jesus left Jerusalem for the countryside where He spent time with His disciples. He and His group then headed back toward Galilee, passing through Samaria where the Lord has the wonderful encounter with the Woman at the Well. I’m passing by that encounter, rich as it is with things to teach us, to get to the miracle we shall examine. This one can be found in John 4:43:54. As is always the case, reading it from the source is always the best way to go, but in the short-term, here is what happened. A royal official from Capernaum heard that Jesus was back in Galilee. He went to Jesus, begging the Lord to heal his son who was near death.
Taken out of context, Jesus’ initial response to the official seems a bit harsh, much as did the way He responded to His mother about the lack of wine at the wedding. Jesus was not calling out this man in particular, but rather the local Jewish community. Remember, just prior to meeting this man Jesus had been in Samaria, a place and people that the Jews held in great contempt. Yet many there embraced Jesus’ teaching and put their faith in him; yet there was much resistance in Jesus’ own territory to Him and His message.
The heart of this miracle is revealed in the next few verses. First, the royal official, having heard what Jesus said about the locals only wanting to see something spectacular to wow them, then says to Jesus, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” (John 4:49 NIV)
I respect this father’s heart! His son’s well-being was all that was on his mind. He had heard of the things Jesus was doing and sought Him out to restore health to his son. He wasn’t arguing the point with Jesus. His sole focus was the health of his child.
The compassionate heart of the Lord then shines forth, Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” (John 4:50 NIV). Jesus does indeed love us all with an eternal, inexplicable love. Here we are given evidence of its power.
As significant as this is, it is the official’s response that I would like us all to ponder. The man took Jesus at his word and departed (John 4:50 NIV). Remember, this man had traveled a full day to seek out Jesus on behalf of his son and from the conversation he had with the Lord, we can safely assume he spent less than 5 minutes with Jesus. Yet, at the mere words of Jesus this desperate dad left to return home. More incredible is the fact that as of that time, this man did not believe nor know who Jesus truly was.
God’s awesome power to heal is made known to this official as he approaches his home. His servants rush out to tell him the wonderful news that his son is better. He then puts the timeline together to realize the fever left his son at the precise moment Jesus told him his son would live. We then learn that this man and his entire household put their faith in Jesus because of what has happened!
God heals on so many levels! By healing the boy physically, Jesus healed that whole family eternally. The family had not seen Jesus, but they had seen the results of His love and power.
This leads to the question I ask both you, Most Appreciated Readers, and me to ponder: How much do you believe without seeing? Asked another and more pointed way: Does your faith in Christ allow you to see Him at work around you, even though your physical eyes give no clue?
Please feel free to share your thoughts and insights with us all. Thanks.
We’ve all heard the adage, ‘hindsight is 20/20.’ Even though our look back can still be skewed, things are often clearer as we consider the course of past events.
Joseph, the son of Jacob, was an important figure in the Book of Genesis. As one picks up his story near the end of that book, you find that his father is now dead, and his brothers have come to him to apologize for the contemptible way they had treated him. For review, Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, which caused his older half-brothers to be extremely jealous of him. They plot to kill young Joseph but instead settle on selling him into slavery.
Joseph had many trials as a slave; to say nothing of being abandoned by his family. Genesis records the ups and downs of his life. Finally, he becomes a very powerful person in Egypt, rising to the number two person in power there, subject only to Pharaoh. He plans for and then administers the food he had set aside during a wide-spread famine in such a way that many lives are spared.
The narrative tells of Joseph brothers coming to beg food. They do not recognize him as their brother. Still, he takes care of them. Sometime later, after their father Jacob has died, the brothers come to him again.
Here is the account of part of what Joseph said to his brothers at that meeting which can be found in Genesis 50:20:
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (NIV)
Here we see clear evidence that Joseph had 20/20 vision as he looked back over the events of his life. He recognized that everything that happened to him was part of God’s overall plan for his life. Joseph makes a great testimony to the sovereignty of the Almighty.
The question I ponder as I consider Joseph’s life is this: Did he have that same insight about God’s plan as the bad things were happening to him? Was he able to keep his chin up and say, “It’s alright, God is working out part of His great plan through what is happening to me.”?
If I put myself in Joseph’s place, I do not see me saying those things as they occur. Being threatened with murder and then abandoned by my family would most certainly evoke anger with a dose of desiring revenge sprinkled in.
However, I will gladly admit that the passage of time has helped to attune me somewhat with God’s plan as it has unfolded in my life. I can see more clearly now that much of what I have gone through, self-inflicted as it was, has been used by our Heavenly Father to mold me into a more useful instrument for Him today.
I have concluded that we are not given the day to day thoughts of Joseph for good reason. This allows us to work through our own stuff. What needs to be constant is our focus on God, not on our circumstance.
God is true to His word. He is working all things for good: His good! We ought to be honored and humbled that He chooses to give us a role to play in the grand scheme of things. I’m not saying this makes everything easy to go through, but experience is helping me to learn that the more I trust God in the midst of the storms of life, the less turbulent are the seas.
The apostle Paul sums this up for us in his letter to the Romans in verse 28 of Ch. 8: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)
The word translated as know used by Paul in this verse carries with it the idea of coming to know and understand something and then to put that information to use. For me, and hopefully you, Faithful Reader, this is a great teaching point. We are to see our current circumstance or those formational parts of our lives as being parts of God’s greater plan. I do not know why this often includes going through trials and pain. But I can say from my own experiences that it is the seasons of pain and uncertainty that have been the ones that have brought me closer to Him.
Admittedly, I usually don’t come to the point of understanding until I’ve gone through what it is I am going through. I am learning through them all to trust more and more in God’s care, which is, I believe, the point Paul makes as we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
Seen in this light, the occurrences of our life are not just random and scatter-shot, but are actually all part of an intricate plan sculped by our all-powerful and knowing God.
Today, I am grateful that with the help of my eyeglasses my vision looking forward is 20/20. Yet even more this, I am eternally grateful that God is revealing to me that His care, love and protection are infinitely perfect today as they were yesterday and will be going forward.
As I read through the 16th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, I was struck by the question Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” As always, context is important to get the full flavor of what the gospel writer wants to convey. Here, Jesus is walking toward Jerusalem for the last time. The Lord knows this and what is to come. Therefore, Jesus is trying to get His disciples up to speed so that they will be better able to respond to the incredible things to come.
Before I read the disciples response, my mind began to ponder this question: ‘What if it was asked about me?’ Who would people say that I am?
The answer, I suppose, would depend upon who and when you asked. If the question were asked of any of my drinking companions during that dark time in my life, they would say I was ‘fun-loving, carefree and always looking for the next good time.’
If posed to others from during that period you would hear, ‘irresponsible, self-centered and thoughtless.’ Both answers from these various groups would be true.
As I have shared with you many times, Dear Reader, I am blessed that God lifted me out of the deadly mire my life was in as He restored me to a life of sobriety.
If folks were asked that question of me these days, I would hope the answer would reflect a growing concern for others and a life lived transparently as one who makes the effort to faithfully follow the Lord Jesus.
Interesting as this self-reflection is, by far the more prominent question (and our response to it) is the one posed by Jesus: “Who do you say I am?”
I am sure the responses would be as varied as they were when Jesus first asked the question. Be that as it may, how you answer that question is of eternal importance: to you!
So if I may, Dear Reader, allow me to ask for Him: Who do you say Jesus is?
It was heartening to see so many other bloggers taking time on this Memorial Day Weekend to share their heartfelt thoughts about the importance of remembering those who gave their life for the protection of our country. As I wrote yesterday, I join my heart with yours in expressing my deepest gratitude to them all.
The preacher in me would like to take this opportunity to remind us all, including me, to remember Jesus. He too gave his life; not for the service of any one country, but for all humanity. The sacrifice that Jesus made makes it possible for sinners just like me to be welcomed into sweet fellowship with Him. The salvation that God offers is entirely from Him. I/we can not earn, nor could we ever truly deserve it on own merit. Jesus, motivated by pure love, bore the punishment that each of our wayward lives should bear.
And if that were not enough, His resurrection from the dead that we celebrate each Easter seals the deal: Jesus has won the ultimate victory over death. Whereas the brave men and women we remember during this time each year gave their only life and died, Jesus, who also died, is alive!
If, Dear Reader, you have a relationship with our Living Lord, I rejoice with you; asking only that you call to mind frequently the price Jesus purchased you with.
However, if you’re reading this and Jesus is nothing more than a historical or maybe mythical figure, I simply ask you to seek Him out. The Bible promises that He is available always to anyone who calls out to Him. Search your heart and mind and consider if there is an emptiness there that you just can’t seem to fill. If there is, won’t you consider asking Jesus to fill that void. My own experience with this process proved that there was nothing He couldn’t or wouldn’t do to fill me to overflowing with His love. I assure you He can and will do the same for you!
Once you accept the Lord’s invitation to salvation, you will find that remembering Him will bring great joy.
As I prepared some post-Easter messages, I turned to John’s Gospel for some of his eye-witness accounts of the activities of Jesus after the resurrection, paying close attention to the interactions that the disciples had with their now Risen Lord.
As it does each time I read it, the reaction of Thomas, both before and after seeing Jesus, resonates with me. Here’s my paraphrase of those encounters: Thomas, who was not present with the others when Jesus first appeared to the group after His resurrection, did not believe his friends when they told him what had happened. That’s impossible and a crazy thing to say was probably what Thomas said when he heard this. Ever pragmatic, he goes on to claim that he will never believe unless he can put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in Jesus’ side.
In other words, seeing is believing for old doubting Thomas. As critical as I would like to be about him, an honest look in the mirror shows that I too have these same tendencies. It was as I read and subsequently communicated with the author of beautybeyondbones blog (I highly recommend reading it!) that this fact raised its ugly head again.
The author of that excellent blog (you can find it on WordPress) was sharing about the painful loneliness of in-patient treatment for an eating disorder and how this current lockdown from Covid-19 was bringing some of those feelings to the surface again. This brought back vivid memories of my time in detox and rehab so many years ago. Realizing that the shared pain of a similar path was helping me, I have decided to share some of my personal experience of those days in my life. My hope is that these words will touch a life like mine was by that brave author now quarantined in New York City.
Faith, as I often write about these days, is defined best in the Book of Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (NIV). Hence, my title today, believing is seeing. Though there are times and seasons in my life now when the certainty of what I do not see is clear, that was not always the case.
As your know, Long-time Reader, I have been a recovering alcoholic for nearly 29 years, all thanks to God! I realize I have shared some of the results of that horrible existence; such as the physical, financial and spiritual bankruptcies that resulted from my drunken life. Yet, I do not believe I have ever mentioned in any detail the struggles of those 7 weeks of in-patient treatment.
As I see I am already on page two on my laptop, I think I’ll focus this entry of the initial 3 week stay in the mental health wing of the hospital that oversaw my detox. Actually, to say that they just monitored my detox doesn’t quite speak to what that caring staff did for me.
Having already taken my belt and shoelaces because I had stated I might harm myself, the staff for the next 48 hours checked on me every 15 minutes to insure I was still breathing because the risk of pulmonary and/or cardiac arrest is heightened when the body is no longer receiving the vast amounts of alcohol it was used to. I will never forget the compassion in their eyes as they not only checked my vital signs but would also stay to hold my shaking hands or wipe my sweat-soaked brow.
I believe the heart-felt care they gave me helped me to be more receptive to the idea of living life without booze. On the third day of that life-changing lockdown, now that I was physically out of the woods, I was given some AA literature to read.
My eyes were drawn immediately to one sentence: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. To this day, I count that moment as the time I knew, without any doubt or hesitation, that this Jesus I had heard about in church as a child was in fact the Savior. My Savior! I asked Him in that moment to please help me. I was lost and so scared, desperate for a way out.
It was then, in His infinite mercy, that He touched me. As He did, He opened my eyes to know that believing was seeing and, all these many years later, our Precious Lord has continued to pour the gift of faith into me, ever honing my spiritual insight that I might see Him at work better as He helps me to believe more completely. Believing is seeing!
I pray that my experience may help someone in some small way to better see through their own eyes of faith today.