Masks

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We’ve been wearing and removing masks for a long time now. But it is not the N-95 type I want to talk about now. Instead, I ask you to consider some of the other masks we wear at times, masks that are not easily seen, but all too often just as real.

Sometimes I wear a mask to veil my emotions. It is an easy one to wear. You ask me simply, “How are you?” My reply, “Just fine, thanks.” Nothing too terribly earth shattering about this mask, unless we wear it as a defense mechanism all the time.

No, the masks on my mind today are the hidden ones, or at the least the ones that hide our true identity. A devoted follower of the Lord Jesus is to be growing in God’s likeness day by day. No mask should hide this progress. Yet, speaking for myself, I must admit that I do put on various masks from time to time that obscure the living God within me.

One of the many of these is: the mask of indifference. Wearing this one prevents me from being able to empathize with the hurting world and worse yet, can keep me from trying to help. Much like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, my preoccupation with something ‘more important’ can cause me to give a wide birth to a need I might see.

Another ugly mask I slip on from time to time is one of self-satisfaction. This mask keeps me satisfied in my little world, not wanting anything or anyone to change the status quo I have worked so hard to establish. It is like the old 2 filter HEPA mask I wore when doing industrial painting: I had my own ‘fresh air’ supplied and didn’t want anything to contaminate it.

This mask of self-satisfaction can easily be turned inside out to be worn as a mask of judgment. Behind this covering I can easily judge folks as being unworthy of my time or stuff. This mask would have me say, “If they would only work a job, they wouldn’t be so poor.” This makes it too easy to categorize people instead of searching for ways to help them in their immediate need and to work for change that would prevent systemic poverty.  Wearing this mask can prevent me from seeing others simply as another sojourner here on earth as I attempt to rationalize my lack of response to their need. An ugly mask indeed.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Much as the protective mask prevalent today hides some of our face, so these less obvious ones often hide our true heart and intentions. Wearing these less visible masks is in no way proper for a disciple of Christ.

Because we keep ourselves hidden behind these types of masks, we are hindered from truly seeing and loving those around us. To the extent we stay behind these veils is to the extent we do not care for creation. These masks can blind us to the needs of those we term as ‘different.’ Or ‘difficult’ or even ‘an enemy.’ They can prevent us from seeing the poor, the needy and the hungry. Perhaps even worse, wearing the mask that judges others may well keep us from seeing the shining face of Jesus on them.

Peter, John and James got an up close and personal look at the glory of God with no barrier at the Transfiguration. Peter’s reaction: “Let’s stay here!” is understandable, but not practical and certainly not why God allowed them to see the incredible sight of the Transfiguration. We do sometimes have ‘mountain top’ experiences in our walk of faith. There is a certain appeal to wanting to stay in that moment, to not risk losing what it is that is going so wonderfully.

But staying on the mountaintop is not what we are commissioned to do. We are to come down, hopefully with our faces aglow, sharing God’s love with the world around us.

Now I have never been witness to anything like the Transfiguration, or have I? For sure, I have not seen Jesus engaged in conversation with Moses and Elijah, but that fact should not dull my eyes to the activity of God around me.

For example, can I/we not see God at work when we marvel at a newborn child/grandchild? Isn’t God’s light shining brightly when we witness someone caught in addiction getting set free from it? Or when we see reconciliation where there has been long-term strife perhaps in family members speaking to each other after a time self-imposed separation. Or how about when someone is able to truly forgive another who has seriously broken trust with them.

Be it in examples like these or others you may have been privy to, I encourage us all to shine radiantly from a fresh experience with God. How? First, let’s discard all the masks I mentioned at the beginning. Being judgmental or uncaring are certain ways we can hide the love of God from others (and ourselves).

Next we need to overcome the fear that might be there. Ridding those negative masks may appear to make us vulnerable or at least more transparent. Recognizing these feelings does not mean we are held captive to them. Rather, letting the love of God shine from you radiantly is taking a step out in faith. I firmly believe that the God who has showered grace on us will not leave us high and dry as we do.

The God who loves you so much does not want you to be inactive in your reaction to that love. As God continues to come down to us through the Sacraments and the Word, so we are to ‘come down,’ if your will, and live our life of faith in the midst of our own context. Live into the love God has freely given you. Then let the love from God lead you in all you do, making your entire countenance glow. Don’t mask that in any way, but rather let that love shine as a beacon of hope for all. Amen.

Be Blessed and be a Blessing,

Pastor Chuck

30 Years later, 1 Day at a Time

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30 years ago, May 3rd, 1991, was a Friday. Though I had no idea at the time, it was to be the anniversary of my new life in sobriety. As I have documented here before, I am an alcoholic. To be sure, I had no idea of that fact 30 years ago. In fact back then, I wasn’t looking for some way to stop drinking, I only wanted to get out from under the load of trouble I was in. My sick mind thought I might gain some sympathy if I could pass off the mess I had made of things, as in my own words at the time, “Maybe I drink a little too much.”

That may well be the understatement of my life! Yet, as AA has taught me, it is not the amount of alcohol that I consumed but rather what it did to me when I drank that is the problem.

The effect was that over 15 years I had become morally, physically and spiritually bankrupt. I was a wreck, on the fast track to an early grave and an appointment with eternity that would be spent apart from a loving God.

But on that Friday morning all those years ago, all I was aware of was how awful I felt physically. As bad as the stomach pain and shakes were, nothing compares with the devastation I felt as my Dad, with my wife riding shotgun, drove me the 90 minutes to the nearest treatment center that had an open bed. Not a word was spoken and I was left to my clouded thoughts of impending doom.

With my focus still solely on me, I had no understanding of the pain they were in or of their concern for the future. They were hurting at least as much as me. Blessedly, they jumped in fully to support me in the journey I was about to embark upon from the very start.

And what a journey! Of primary importance is this: In the small examination room I found myself in the detox were all sorts of literature from Alcoholics Anonymous. As I glanced at it, I saw the reference to a Higher Power. In that moment, the Lord revealed Himself to me as that Power by letting me know that He was with me and would see me through. I count May 3rd not only as my sobriety date (for I have not had a drop since, by the grace of God), but eternally more importantly as the date that Jesus Christ poured out His forgiving grace on me, thus assuring me of my forever home with Him.

Now that journey has completed 30 years. I lack the words to properly thank God for what He has done and continues to do for me. I started this day as I woke up asking Him to do for me what I cannot, that is to stay sober. Then I asked Him to help me see His will clearly today, that I may do and say things that bring Him honor. At days end I plan to thank Him again for what He has provided me.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my wonderful wife Betsy for her unwavering support of my recovery. I might have done it without her, but in no way would I have enjoyed it as much as I have. Her faith in God helped mine to grow. She continues to live that godly example out day by day, thus encouraging me to do the same.

To the many folks who have and are praying for me to stay sober, you have my deepest gratitude. Your belief in me has made me believe in myself.

To the countless friends I have, both past and present in AA, please know that I love you. Your sharing of life’s challenges and rewards have been a constant support for me as I too face them. I have found your willingness to be transparent about the struggles of life in recovery has shown me how to do the same. And for those times you have called me out, thanks so very much. You have cared enough to want to help me see the blind spots I sometimes put up, those times when I was being less than honest with myself and you. May the 30 years God has given me be an encouragement to you to hang in there for one more day.

30 years, wow! I remember clearly thinking in my early days of my AA experience about the long-term sobriety of some of the ‘old-timers.’ I was 31 when God set me on this path and I recall thinking at that time when one of these icons mentioned that kind of length of sobriety that I would be over 60 years old if and when I got there.

 Well guess what, I’m there! And for whatever time God has left for me to continue on this journey, I pray that He will keep me ever hungry for more of Him, that I may grow in this life He has given me in order to give Him thanks and praise and to continue to share the Good News of His transforming love with all.

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

My name is Chuck, and I am an alcoholic. I am also a loved child of God, forever grateful for His overflowing mercy to an undeserving sinner like me.

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

Powerlessness

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(image courtesy of bethesda4recovery.com)

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.

Blessings to you,

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

Happy New Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Hi, My Name is …

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Hi, my name is Chuck and I am a pastor. Those of you familiar with 12 Step meetings may recognize this opening line. In truth, I am many things, included in which is the fact that I am an alcoholic, sober now for nearly 30 years by the grace of God.

I am also, as stated above, a pastor. My wife Betsy and I run a ministry out of our home. You can find out what we are doing for the Kingdom of God by going to www.lakesidechristianministries.org if you would like.

I am also a fledgling blogger. This is one of those activities that was not on my radar of things to do. It was the suggestion of my wife that I start jotting down some of the thoughts that rattle around inside my bald head. I am so happy I took her up on it, because blogging as become one of the highlights of the things I get to do with my time. WordPress has exposed me to some wonderful people. Though we are of varying backgrounds and beliefs, I have found this venue to be open-minded and fair. I cherish the friends I have made around the globe here.

As I said, being a writer was not on my to do list. In the past, writing has been an exhausting exercise for me. I think back now of the numerous papers that needed to be written for seminary and I wonder how I did it! Again, the encouragement of fellow bloggers has helped me to overcome much (not all) of the self-doubts I had. Thoughts like, ‘who wants to read anything I write’ no longer get much attention in my consciousness.

These same blogger friends encouraged me not to look at the numbers of ‘likes’ or followers and just keep writing what is on your heart. I must admit though, I do look at the numbers from time to time. As I glanced at them yesterday, I saw that the numbers of followers had jumped up noticeably. I am awed and humbled by this.

So, to those who have been with me so far on this journey, thanks so much! Your input and encouragement truly mean the world to me. For those who have recently signed up, here are a few pertinent facts about me that might spare you having to go back through all my blogs for context:

Betsy and I have been married for 37 years. She is simply the most wonderful human being I have ever known. I am blessed to walk through life with her. We live in a small town, Fulton New York. It is most famous for its lake-effect snow, as we get an average of 250 inches per winter (that’s over 20 feet!)

We have two adult children: Our oldest is Kenny. He is married to a sweetheart of a girl named Ashley. They live only 30 minutes away so we get to see them often. Kenny took over my old job as Facilities Painter at Le Moyne college when I stepped away from full-time employment to oversee our ministry as my primary focus. He learned the trade from me over the seven summers he worked with the summer paint crew there. These past 4 summers I have gone back to work with him from mid-May to the end of August (good thing I was a good boss to him now that our roles are reversed!)

Our youngest son Auger lives about 3 hours from us. He lives with his partner Mic. They make a great team, and we love them dearly. Over the past 18 months Auger has taken up the pursuit of his undergraduate degree in English, with an emphasis on creative writing. At no surprise to me, he is excelling at this. He has been gifted with the ability to write in ways that are so compelling on many levels. We are excited for what the future holds.

Betsy and I share our home with Violet, a standard-sized (70 pounds) Goldendoodle. You would not have to go back far in my posts to see one about her. She is, in my humble opinion, the best dog ever. The joy she brings to our home is immeasurable.

Our home ministry is quite active in the community. One rewarding activity is the bringing of bible studies on the road, going to peoples homes. This is especially helpful to folks who have had trouble in church settings in the past. Our ministry goal is simple: To be the hands and feet of Jesus and to meet people right where they are, just as the Lord did.

Betsy and I have a unique hobby, if you will: We sing our National Anthem at sporting events around the central New York area. We also sing O Canada when teams from north of the border to play here. We really enjoy doing this. It allows us to honor our country that we love, and we have met some really cool people in our travels.

There you have it, for now, newest followers. Again, thanks so very much for taking the time to read my stuff and to comment when so moved. I appreciate you all!

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Life is Happening in Front of, not Behind You

Violet

Another walk with Violet, another illustration on life. Violet, I’m sure most of you know by now, is our Goldendoodle. Unless it is a downpour, my wife Betsy and I take her for a 1.5 mile walk every morning.

Violet, in my somewhat jaded opinion, is simply the best dog ever. She is everything I could hope for in a pet: a wonderful disposition, smart and non-shedding (those of you who have had Basset Hounds know how good this can be!) All in all, Vi is very low maintenance.

This is not to say that she has no faults at all. Her need to have absolutely everything (wind velocity and direction along with proper barometric pressure) in order so she can go number 2 can be frustrating. The other quirk my dog exhibits is the inspiration for this post: Violet frequently (and for no apparent reason) will whip her head around to look behind while continuing to walk forward. This peculiar behavior has caused her to walk into more than one car bumper on our strolls.

Being one who talks to the dog like she’s human, I have tried to explain to Violet that life is happening in front of, not behind, her. If she would only stop looking back so much I tell her, she could avoid the painful bumps on her skull. While my discussions on this point have revealed little change in Vi’s frequent over-the-shoulder glances, I have been trying to apply this same principle to my life.

One of the teachings from 12 Step recovery says that we do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. (From AA’s Big Book.) Simply stated, this tells me to learn from my past mistakes to reduce the likelihood of repeating them. To shut out all the memories from my dark past, then, would be a mistake, less I forget the lessons I have now gleaned from them.

For the most part, I have had success with this. By keeping some of the pain I caused in my consciousness, I am reminded daily of the devastation I am capable of but certainly do not want to inflict or go through again.

However, there are certain events or conversations, no matter how old they are, that will still pop up in my head, trying to gain my full attention. Things that I thought I had dealt with will seemingly be there out of blue. Hurts, both real and imagined, will come swimming to the forefront of my thoughts. These tend to keep my focus on things past rather than on what is in front of me.

Most of the time, I realize that these random intrusions are just that, random. Part of not shutting the door on the past does make it possible for other things kept back there to want to creep out. Staying aware of this happening often allows me to quickly put them back in their proper place.

When I do not quickly put these thoughts back into the past however, if I decide to linger over them, I risk joining Violet in bumping into something right in front of me because my focus was on what I thought might be behind me.

Like Vi, I need to remind myself that life is currently happening in front of me, not behind. If I will but properly use and learn from the experiences of my past, I can usually avoid bumping my head when I did not have to.

Life’s joys, challenges and yes, mundane daily occurrences are all happening before my eyes. Things to enjoy, challenges to be met and rote things to be done can all be further experiences to help me learn and grow in this life. But I must face them all, head on, without spending undue time trying to walk forward while staring backward.

Like most opportunities to learn, this one is a process for me. There are times when I wonder how I could have ever stumbled by looking back, and there are times when I wonder if I will ever get my focus back to where it needs to be.

God, in His mercy, is always ready to guide me back into His light. He will minister to my heart regarding those things in the past that vie for attention when they have already been forgiven by Him. When I live this out, I avoid many unpleasant bumps to my noggin.

As for Violet, I guess I will just have to be diligent for her as I remind myself that some of her lumps on the head have helped me avoid some of my own!

How about you? I’d love to hear how you have dealt/deal with the thoughts of the past as you try to navigate the present.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

“Who do you say that I am?”

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image courtesy of thriftbooks.com

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?

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

What, me worry?

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(image courtesy of jokes-battles.wikia.com)

Many of my generation grew up reading Mad magazine. Therefore the iconic face of Alfred E. Neuman was not only easily recognized, many of us tried to play the part of being care-free about everything. Never much of an actor, I was not particularly good at hiding my worries.

Looking back, I realize that my worries were for the most part shared by my friends, we just wouldn’t show the weakness of uncertainty in front of each other. Hindsight has also revealed to me that my worries were quite similar to those of my adolescent peers: Girls, popularity, making money, getting a car, etc. Worrying about things seemed as natural as any other aspect of growing up.

I actually developed a much greater conflict over my worries once I became a Christian. I began to read the Bible and in so doing came across verses such as: Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (Psalm 55:22) and, When I am afraid, I will trust in you (Psalm 56:3).

I had naively assumed that once I had broken with my past life of debauchery to try my best to follow Jesus and His teachings, life would become a utopia. The worries of life, many of which still kept me awake at night, were going to simply melt away as bliss dominated my existence.

As the days of being a Christian turned into months and then years, my worries still far outweighed any times of care-free life. Oh, I had learned to put the brave face on, or maybe it was the smiling face of my childhood buddy Alfred E., when asked how things were in my life. But inside, the worries of providing for my family and how to be a good husband and dad were constant companions.

Thankfully, God knows me better than I do myself and His faithfulness knows no bounds. He continued to put caring people into my life who helped me, through the instruction of example, that living life with the confidence of God’s care and protection was possible.

My wife, Betsy, took the lead in helping me. Her calm demeanor was a direct result of her practicing her faith daily. Her long-term daily reading of the Scriptures opened up her heart and mind to the goodness of the Lord, and she lived it right in front of me, as she does to this day.

Eventually, I took up the practice of daily Bible reading. God, knowing that I am often a slow learner, has taken His time with me as I spent time in His word. The passage of Scripture that continues to help me with my tendency to worry first, pray later is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

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).

Clearly, God wants me/us to take everything to Him in prayer, not just the needs and emergencies that tend to crop up. The instruction to not be anxious about anything is virtually impossible to perfect, but we can more than counter that by continually going to the Almighty. The direction to do this with thanksgiving also quiets my worries. When I remember to be thankful to God, much of the urgency or unmanageability of a situation lessens.

The next promise that our faithful God fulfills when we humbly come before Him expressing our needs and desires, is to guard our hearts and minds. The original Greek word translated guard carries with it a sense of shielding one from trouble. Because it is God who does the shielding, this becomes so much more than merely deflecting a problem away. In His divine providence, God will literally shield our minds from dwelling on an issue, which in turns allows us to come to the realization that He has protected us. This level of trust in our loving God helps us to not want to bury our heads in the sand hoping things will change, but rather to seek the shelter that His loving arms can provide.

As with most everything I attempt, I find keeping one of the ideas from Alcoholics Anonymous in the forefront of my mind helps: to seek progress, not perfection. I still find myself worrying over things and projecting negative outcomes that rarely come about. The progress I’ve made is that I fall into this trap far less often than I used to.

So Alfred E., like you I really do not have to worry and blessedly, being that I’m real and you are a cartoon caricature, I can keep turning to this Awesome God who daily invites me to travel through life with Him. By taking Him up on this invitation, I can know that my heart and mind are protected by Him as He gives me a peace I will never understand this side of heaven. Not to worry, everything will be revealed on the other side!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck