Starting something new brings out different emotions in different people. For some, new equals scary. The many unknowns tend to take the imagination in all sorts odd directions. Fear of failure can be nearly paralyzing. Sleepless nights as the new approaches are not uncommon, leaving one to want to stay snuggled in the familiar.
For others, new equates with adventure. The possibilities seem endless and the desire to get started has every nerve ending pulsing in anticipation. With different people to meet and challenges to overcome, a new project or direction is certainly not to be boring.
I find myself landing squarely in between these two examples. Being honest, there is some trepidation but also a pull to get started, to see just what God is leading me toward.
I share these thoughts as I begin a new chapter in ministry. Those who have been with me in the blog-o-sphere for a while know that I have been pastor of a home based, outreach oriented ministry. To be clear, this is not going away, but the realities of the pandemic have severely limited our access to so many we used to minister to.
Faced with this happening, I sought out God through prayer for direction. Faithful as He always is, a new path soon emerged. I have started this week serving as an intern on the staff of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Baldwinsville, NY, just a few miles down the road from our home.
Betsy and I have belonged to and worshiped at the Lutheran Church here in Fulton for a number of years. With the encouragement of the wonderful pastor there, I began to explore ways that I might become more active, in an official capacity, within the Lutheran Church.
This led to my being accepted into their Candidacy for Rostered Ministry program. Taking my education and experience background into account, those overseeing me suggested a take some courses at a Lutheran seminary (on line!) and to work on staff at one of their churches to learn the ins and outs of daily parish ministry.
Hence, the Here We Go at the top. The lead pastor at St. Mark’s is a blessing to that congregation and to me too! I have been welcomed with abundant grace. The details of my duties are still being worked out, but I am certain that God is in the middle of them all.
So there you have my update, Dear Reader. If you are a praying person, I humbly ask that you include Betsy and me in your prayers. We simply want to serve God and bring glory to His name.
I am blessed to be a part of a blogger chat group that meets via zoom on Saturday mornings. One of the regular attendees, Alicia, has a recurring problem: She burns her morning toast (a lot!). Though she does not claim to be the world’s greatest chef, Alicia finds this on-going issue frustrating; probably because it occurs more often than not.
As the discussion turned to failed attempts in the kitchen this morning, talk of Alicia’s toast problem surfaced. It was as I listened to what happened that God nudged with some Spirit-filled advice for her. You see, the root cause of her burning bread was not the toaster, but rather the fact that in an attempt to use her time constructively, Alicia goes off to do other chores while the toaster does its thing. Invariably, one task leads to another and the inevitable burnt toast pops up.
The words of the Prophet Micah popped into my head and in them I believe is the end of all of Alicia’s failed toasting: But as for me,I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7 NIV)
The God-given answer seems clear: Stop all other activity and wait by the toaster form your meal! Knowing as I do that Alicia wants to make every second of her day count, I then counseled her to use that time of waiting to praise God. Maybe a short gratitude list of things she is thankful for. Or perhaps spend those few minutes while waiting for her toast to pray for her kids and husband. Using time in this way is certainly productive, with the side benefit of not having to throw out burnt toast.
As I like to do, I then apply this advice to myself, looking for areas where I allow busyness to cloud or even block my awareness of God around me. Having identified a few, I will take the same Spirit advice I shared with Alicia and apply it to myself. Very rarely is a thing to do so important that I cannot slow down to simply be in God’s presence. He already knows my heart, so why not bask in His wonderful presence. Doing so will make whatever is pressing at hand fall into a clearer perspective.
Like Micah, I will watch in hope, knowing that God has only good for His children. I will wait for God my Savior, for waiting for Him is better than anything I might accomplish on my own and I will cherish the knowledge that He hears me. And not only hears, but listens with a loving heart that will direct me in His ways, if I only will open myself to Him.
So I tip my cap to the last burnt toast Alicia ever makes, and join with her as we proclaim the greatness of the God of the Universe!
Waiting for something can be quite difficult. The more important that something is to us, the harder the wait usually. Maybe it is that long-awaited get-away vacation or the opportunity to reunite with an old friend. Perhaps, like often happens here in the Northeast US, the waiting for warmer temperatures seemingly takes forever. The wait for these types of things, hard as they can be, hold the promise of something positive when they do arrive.
But what about the waiting when the outcome or result is not known? I am thinking know about those of us who spend time praying for the healing of family, friends, co-workers, etc. We pray, seeking God’s mercy for these folks, but often we see little to no change for the better.
If this describes you, may today’s short blog entry serve as encouragement for you to hang in there. Reading Chapters 3 and 4 from the Acts of the Apostles got me to thinking about this. In Chapter 3, Peter and John meet a man crippled from birth. This person is carried to the gate of the temple courts to beg for food or money every day. Peter, when he has the crippled man’s attention says, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6 NIV). Instantly, this man is given the ability to walk.
This healing was instant when it happened, but it was a long time coming for we find out later in Chapter 4, verse 22 that the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old. (NIV)
Here is another example of an instant healing that was a long time coming. Jesus was in Jerusalem for one of the religious feasts when He encountered a man hoping to be healed by the stirred up water at the Sheep Gate. The Bible says of this man, One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. (John 5:5 NIV). John then tells of the conversation Jesus has with this individual and then of the Lord’s speaking a word of healing over him. As He does, this long-term physically handicapped person is instantly healed.
These are just two examples of people who had to wait what had to seem to them like forever before they got relief. But God did move on their behalf.
Like them, we are all captive to the passing of time as we understand it. God is not. He moves in perfect ways, in perfect timing, to His perfect will. This is of course far from our grasp.
So what are we to do? My encouragement is to hang in there! The Scriptures are full of examples of God’s faithfulness. His love and mercy are evident on nearly every page. We also have some experiences in our own lives where God has done something wonderful, just not on our schedule.
We also must remember that because God is outside of time as we know it, we will never fully (or even partially) understand His plans. But hang in there. Keep on praying and seeking His favor or blessing for someone. God’s track record is impeccable. The writer of the Book of Hebrews says this best: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23 NIV)
I have been at this ministry thing for quite some time now. It has been a challenging time in many ways; challenges that without God’s constant help and support I never could have withstood. It has also been a time of countless blessings. These have come in every shape and type imaginable. The joy and peace God has bestowed on our efforts in His name fill my heart with gratitude.
Suffice to say, I have experienced a large range of emotion in doing Kingdom work. Please note that I did not say the full range of emotion, because I experienced a new one to me yesterday.
Allow me to give you some background first. As many of you are aware, Lakeside Christian Ministries primary purpose is to meet people where they are, sharing the Good News of God’s love for them. Jesus met folks this way and we see no need to improve on or change His method.
As I have mentioned in the past, we have had a long-standing relationship with a group of people who live in one of the low-income housing projects here in Fulton. We gather on Sunday evenings for fellowship, a bible lesson and prayer. This time has been one of the biggest blessings God has given me. The warmth of love and the desire to know more about God there has been wonderful. We are humbled to be placed where God is moving hearts.
You may also remember that this part of our ministry was birthed from a Hospice patient who had wanted pastoral care. God formed a connection from our very first meeting (more than three years ago!) that grew into various other family members, neighbors and the occasional stranger coming to their apartment to be prayed with or merely talked to about Jesus. Many interesting questions came from these encounters that led to mini-sermons that weekend.
Sadly for us, this dear Saint was called home to the Lord a month ago. We rejoice that she now is living in the fullness of joy with the Savior, but we miss her here.
The concern Betsy and I had about providing continuity at her passing was seemingly assuaged when one of the neighbors who would join us from time to time on a Sunday, invited us into her apartment. Wonderful, we thought.
However, prior to what would have been the second week gathering at her place, she left me a voice mail saying she had other things going on and would not be available. I returned her call, assuring her that we understood and looked forward to seeing her again the next Sunday.
Yesterday (Thursday), I received another voice mail. This one was quite different in tone. She told me that we could no longer gather in her apartment and that she was simply not interested in spending any more time with us.
Wow, I thought as I played the recording. This is a new one. A feeling of rejection came over me. Selfishly, I thought of myself first. Hadn’t I given of my time to be with her? Didn’t I make every effort to listen kindly to all questions and concerns? I felt rejected, there is no other way to put it.
Praying about this last evening and again before bed, I sensed God ministering to my heart. The Lord certainly knows a thing or two about rejection, even telling His disciples that they would be rejected because of Him. In His gentle way, God was leading me out of any self-pity I had so that I could refocus on Him. I prayed for this dear lady and drifted off to sleep.
This morning I awoke to a new sense of hope that only could have come from the Lord. I am assured to the depth of my heart that God’s plan is going forward in Fulton and that He would have us be a part of it. I repented of my self-centeredness and asked Him to show the way!
And though it has not yet been confirmed, I believe we will have a new place to minister this Sunday. One of the long-time attendees has recently moved from those apartments to a senior high-rise here in town. Something tells me we are heading there next!
Please stay tuned. I will let you know what God is up to here!
Thanks for reading. Please pray for our ministry that we honor God in all we do.
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.
Our pastor preached on John 3:14-21 this morning. Included in this passage is the familiar verse John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)
Pausing at these words, she then likened a life without Jesus to a car with a dead battery. This car, without a life-giving boost of electrical energy, will sit. It simply cannot function. Pastor Diane then went on to say that we can picture the forgiveness that Jesus offers us as jumper cables. They provide the connection between the power necessary to bring life to the lifeless vehicle. I love this analogy!
Throughout my early adult years and through my 30’s I drove a series of what we call here in Upstate New York winter rats. Generally speaking, these vehicles have seen better days. Road salt usually has eaten through a fair part of the body, while years of hard driving and neglectful maintenance have rendered them less than reliable modes of transportation. Their one positive is that they are inexpensive to purchase.
Because these cars I drove during these times were not consistently dependable, and after a few times of having to call someone to come jump my dead battery, I purchased a booster pack.
This neat invention allows a person to jump start their own car without the help of another vehicle. The booster pack has its own set of pos/neg cables, so as long as you keep it charged up, it is available at a moments notice to transfer the life giving power within it to the dead battery.
As often happens with me when I get to thinking on these things, I carry the picture of jump-starting a car to my own life. It becomes easy to see that my life before Jesus was as dead as they come. Oh, I had all the working parts, but they existed without purpose or meaning. My spirit was without life. I was, without question, destined for the scrap heap as yet another vehicle that would no longer run.
God, by His wondrous grace, did for me what I could not: He attached His ‘cables’ of life to my dead terminals. He used the precious blood of the Savior Jesus Christ to bring life, true life, to me. Now I know that despite the various dents and faded paint on my ‘car,’ it is going to run forever because God has poured His eternal life into it.
As if that were not enough, I can picture God’s jumper-cables as more than a one and done connection. His power is absolute. It is unending and always available. All I need to do is recognize when my ‘battery’ starts to run low on power. I can then simply ask the Lord to plug that energy into me again. He has provided several options as to how I can do this.
I can get re-charged by reading the bible. The word of God has come from His very essence, therefore it contains all the power of the Almighty. I can also make this connection with God through prayer. He is available 24/7. All I need do is to come humbly to Him, speaking what is on my heart and listening for He has to reveal to me. Spending time in worship is another way I get a fresh influx of God’s power into my life. Praising Him simply for who He is and what He has done/is doing helps to align my spirit with His.
How about you? Do you have ways that help you connect to God’s infinite power. I would love to hear about them!
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!
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.
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? […]
“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14b NIV)
The above quote may well be the best known verse from the Book of Esther. It truly is a compelling story. Found within its 10 chapters are intrigue, irony and selfless bravery. Any of these topics would be more than enough material for an aspiring blogger, but today I just want to focus on that one verse I started with.
If you are not familiar with this short book (you can find it between Nehemiah and Job in the Old Testament), and not wanting to be a spoiler, suffice to say for my purpose today that Esther, through a series of events, has been placed by God in a position to be of great help to her native people.
It is in correspondence with her cousin, Mordecai, that we come across this pearl of wisdom that we are contemplating. Mordecai is doing his best to encourage Esther to use her standing as Queen to influence that King to spare the Jews. Hence, her cousin phrases his request in such a way as to help Esther see the possibility of coming to their aid.
None of us, I feel safe in saying, find ourselves in a royal position this day, as Esther did. That should not, however, prevent us from evaluating the circumstances that we do find ourselves in, looking with an eye and heart to be of service to someone else.
I mean, these days in which we find ourselves are indeed ‘such a time as this.’ To say they are unique does not adequately describe the challenge of global pandemic. Yet in the spirit of Mordecai’s encouragement to Esther, what is to say that you and I are not in our particular circumstance so that we can be a help to another.
And unlike Queen Esther, you and I do not have the weighty problem that faced her: the extermination of her race. This should take some of the pressure off us, but not the responsibility, to our fellow humans.
The question this begs then is this: What can I do ‘for such a time as this’ to carry the desire to be of service to others into action? I will list 3 off the top of my head, and would surely love to see your additions to the list. In no particular order, here we go:
Get the Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available to you. As I’ve stated before, one person getting vaccinated is not that big a deal, unless you get sick or cause some else to. But if we come together as caring people, placing the welfare of others at least on a par with our own, we can win this battle if we get the shot(s).
If, like many of us, you find a little extra time in your day these days, be intentional about setting a side part of this bonus time to spend for someone else. May I suggest you take a moment to pray for somebody you know that is struggling, or perhaps take a moment to call/text/email simply to let them know you are thinking of them.
Last one from me, for now anyway: Expand you frame of reference. For example, where I live is quite rural. There is little to no cultural differences for miles around. Because of this, I know virtually no one who is Muslim and even less of their faith. Since the pandemic, with its lockdowns and shutdowns, I have taken the time to read and research their faith. I do this so that if/when the time comes when God puts a Muslim in my life, I can speak intelligently and with some understanding of their beliefs in hopes of building a bridge to the one true faith in Christ.
Your turn, Most Appreciated Reader, where is God leading you ‘for such a time as this?’
I write this two weeks after getting the first of two Moderna vaccinations against Covid 19 and am glad to report that none of my God-given appendages have fallen off nor have I sprouted a third eye (or anything else, for that matter).
Let me be clear at the outset, I am aware and understand that some people have heath issues that make getting vaccinated a risk to them. As always, I encourage folks to follow closely the instruction and direction of their medical care providers.
I write this today to those who may have a more general misgiving about this particular vaccination. As I stated in an earlier blog, I did some research and more importantly spent some time praying about this. My prayer was specific in that I asked God to reveal to me any reason I should hesitate to receive the shot. I have been blessed to be a person of prayer for some time now and have come to have a deep trust in the God I pray to. So when nothing negative was revealed to me, I gladly rolled up my sleeve.
Trusting in God was not only key in my decision to get vaccinated, but it is also my default setting whenever there are decisions to be made in my life. “That’s great for you, your a pastor guy,” you might be thinking. Believe me, my calling has no special bearing in getting heard from above. Really, the trust is built as it is in any relationship: Getting to know the other person in a deeper way.
I know of only one way in which to do this; that is to take the time needed to nurture it. With other people, it usually involves asking questions, listening to the responses and watching to see if what is said matches up with how they live their life. If I see inconsistencies, I will withhold the appropriate amount of trust.
But if their sincerity is matched with integrity, the door is wide open to walk through. I have applied this same approach with my relationship with God. I have found that He is who He says He is and His working in my life and the lives of countless others has backed up what He has promised.
I started writing this earlier in the day solely to encourage you to be thoughtful about getting vaccinated against Covid 19 when it becomes available to you. I firmly believe it is the next right thing to do, not only for yourself, but also those with whom you share life.
But as I wrote, I seem to have moved into another recommendation: to seek out the God of heaven. And not just to seek His guidance about getting the shot, but also to encourage you to step out in faith and develop your end of the relationship He offers you. He is there and patiently waiting, even if I should develop something untoward like an eyestalk.