Sunday, January 17, 2016

Not so Fast: A fine line between Spiritual Renewal and Condemnation.

Well for anyone who actually reads my blog regularly (I guess that would mean anyone having read it more than once lol! ); I apologize for the 2 week hiatus.   My last entry was a memorial to my friend, Jim McEathron and it took a lot out of me emotionally.  

On the heels of my last entry there was another significant loss to the body of Christ.  On January 3rd, Pastor Vaughan Jarrold died unexpectedly.   I only had the pleasure to hear Vaugh preach and teach on a few occasions but was deeply impressed with this mighty man of faith.  I was so impressed with Pastor Vaughn that when he invited people to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit a couple of years ago at Rock Solid Church, I eagerly stepped forward to receive it.  I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect but when Vaughn spoke over me I was filled with the Spirit and did speak in tongues.  It freaked me out at the time and I know people don’t understand it but I credit the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues for giving me direct experiences with the Holy Spirit and for being the catalyst for my spiritual growth and my ongoing victory over alcoholism.   Although I only had limited exposure to Vaughn, I am forever indebted to him for the impartation of the Holy Spirit’s baptism and the gifts and victory that have followed it.   I didn’t know Vaughn’s wife and family but my thoughts and prayers were directed towards them in the wake of his passing.

After New Year’s Day, Rock Solid Church observes a period of fasting and prayer to encourage spiritual renewal for the upcoming year.   The fasting and prayer are completely voluntary and you set your own guidelines.  After the stress of my job changes, the holiday season, and possible symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (where is the sun!), I was really looking forward to placing my focus on the Lord and doing a Bible study I had been intending to do.   

The fasting period was from January 4th to the 6th and with my busy schedule of morning exercise, prayer, commute, and work I discovered it was relatively easy to not eat during the day.    At night I stayed out of the kitchen and retired to my basement retreat to get into the Bible Study.   My general attitude and demeanor during this time was that of an Augustinian monk, complete with pullover hoody to keep me warm in the chill of the basement.  I think next year I will read by candlelight and do some Gregorian chants to up the ante. 

The Bible study was about Spiritual Warfare focusing on Ephesians 6:10-20 where the Apostle Paul encourages us to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”  It is a powerful study about Christians preparing themselves with truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, prayer, the word of God, and the assurance of their own salvation to with stand temptations and overcome the challenges the face as Christians.   
 I wish I could say I made great progress with my study but the truth is that I didn’t get too far.  Distractions popped up and I was so tired that I only managed to study for a little over an hour the first two nights of the fast.  However, although my study was incomplete, the insights I had were eye opening.  

According to the study, “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age…” but having fasted I felt the struggle was “against flesh and blood”, mainly my own! I had cravings to eat but then I realized that the cravings were not particularly physical in nature.  I stayed hydrated and my body wasn’t screaming for food.  All the demands for food seemed to be coming from my mind, out of habit, or just a compulsion to act or fill a moment with activity.  After the first day I realized I could live without eating constantly and I didn’t have to be a slave to answering mental cravings and compulsions.  

Going into day two of the fast I felt such relief and reflected that this could be what Jesus was referring to when he said in Matt 11:28 “I will give you rest.”  When we put aside the demands of the world and our own flesh and press into our faith, we can experience a clarity and peace that is only possible when we are directing ourselves to follow the Lord.  I was deeply impressed by how trivial my normal concerns and interests were when put in comparison with the things of the Lord.  I felt that there was nothing nobler than to seek and follow the will of the Lord for my life.  
With this perspective I examined my thought life, internal dialogue, personal narrative, or whatever you want to call it and I was deeply convicted of how mundanely selfish and sinful I am.  My introspection revealed what I considered to be a somewhat base reptilian instinct to serve myself and my selfish desires with little or no thought to consequences for myself or others.  Worse yet my reflections on my thought life revealed a historical tendency to indulgences in irrational and potentially damaging fantasy.  Mostly theses fantasies would stem from mental musings of “What would you do if”, “If you could do anything…”, and “If I wasn’t …” I realize these are probably normal mental diversions but I realized that they were a waste of time that encouraged irrational thought and discontentment.  So I would end up hoping for things that can’t happen or if pursued had the potential to destroy life I have come to know.  The major problem with this form of mental diversion is that the truth of who I am and what I have is lost.  I have realized that a lot of the crazy things I have done in my life have been the result of long periods of mental musings where desires over ruled common sense.  The great thing about realizing all this was that I now had the insight to break these trains of thought as they arise by focusing of who I am in Christ.  At the end of day two, I felt like I was really making progress. 

So on day three of the fast, the last day, I figured I had it made in the shade.  I had my busy day of work ahead of me to be followed by Wednesday night worship at the church and then straight to bed. Bam! Next morning = big breakfast of a spiritual champion!  So I was feeling great. I had a major insight into my thought processes and I saw myself overcoming all distractions to serve the Lord but then I told one of the guys at work that I was fasting and immediately I thought of Jesus’ comments regarding the Pharisees and fasting in Matthew 6:16-18, which basically says to keep your fasting to yourself; don’t make a public display of it.   By telling my co-worker I was fasting, I felt like I had been overcome with pride and whatever spiritual progress I had made was lost!  The condemnation came fast and quick after that.  After going home, I figured I blew so I ate.  After I ate I felt that I was a hypocrite and I couldn’t go to church which would be a prayer fest of faithful fasters!  I was a total failure!

The fast has been over for 10 days and I am happy to report that I got over my “failure” and I had a revelation that Jesus isn’t looking for perfection.  The gift of salvation is through faith in Jesus and what He did, not me.  It was a free gift and I can’t pay it back with my “good” behavior.  

I realize now that the spirit of condemnation that overcame me was not a spirit from God.  It is the works of Satan that tempts and that would have Christians condemn themselves.  I was focused on pressing into my faith in Christ.  Who would want to stop that? Ironically, I was doing a study on Spiritual Warfare only to end up a causality of it.  However, I am thankful for the insights I had during the fast and will try to use this experience to take up the whole armor of God in my defense in the future. 

I hope all who read this are well and I would encourage you to embrace your faith in Christ by getting into the word of God and attending a Bible believing Spirit filled church. I invite anyone in the Columbia County area to attend services at Rock Solid Church in Hudson NY, at 8:30 and 11 am Sundays, and 7 pm Wednesdays.      

I would also recommend listening to the Bible for free through the website or download the Daily Audio Bible App for your smart phone or tablet.  I started using it on the first of the year and it is a great way to get the Word in your life. 

Until next time…. God Bless You!


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot....Good Bye Old Friend: Remembering Jim.

I only knew Jim McEathron for a short time but I am happy to say that he is my friend and brother in Christ.   

I met Jim at Rock Solid Church a couple of years ago because we were both regular attendees of the services there.  As I recall we both were participants in the living nativity that the church did at the Winter Walk in Hudson New York.  I was a Roman Soldier and I think Jim was too. 

Now Jim was a scruffy looking guy who you could tell had been through some hard times in his life. I had assumed that he was significantly older than me.  Let’s be honest he looked a little rough and when you add Bible carrying-religious enthusiasm to a rough exterior you may wonder if the person is mentally balanced.   I’m a little introverted at times and was somewhat standoffish in meeting new people.

Jim was friendly though and I quickly gathered he wasn’t insane.  He was a devoted follower of Christ.  He attended services on Sundays and Wednesday nights and was an enthusiastic participant during worship.  He was active in the Wednesday Night Bible classes, adding to discussions, and often quoting scripture and contributing significant insights. 

After Winter Walk, we would exchange pleasantries and greetings at church.  I knew his name so I would stop say Hi when we saw each other on the street or at a local store.  I even saw Jim at prayer the one night I went during the January fasting of 2015. 

In February, Bob Costello announced the beginning of Celebrate Recovery and Jim was on the leadership team.   When it was announced, I knew this program was for me and I knew I was all in.  I knew Jim and told him that I would be attending and he was very encouraging. 
After a few weeks, the recovery program starts to discuss getting the support of an accountability partner or sponsor and I immediately thought of Jim as someone I could turn to.  They say Celebrate Recovery isn’t therapy but for me it was. I had shared all my dark secrets and sins to the guys at Recovery and Jim was always there to offer his support and encouragement.  So after the teaching on accountability partners and sponsors, I exchanged phone numbers with Jim. 

One of my accomplishments of 2015, was celebrating the completion of an Associate degree in Applied Science in Telecommunications Technology from Hudson Valley Community College.  At the end of the previous semesters, my classmates and I would get together for lunch to celebrate another term over.  At the last lunch, I had enthusiastically drank more than a couple of beers.  So here I am, a few months sober and anticipating going into a social situation where drinking is an option, and in my head, an expectation if not an obligation.   It felt like the most normal thing in the world to throw care aside and drink deep in the celebratory atmosphere.  I was worried I was going to throw away my sobriety.  So I called Jim. 

I can’t recall Jim’s exact words but he talked me through it.  We discussed my options.  He suggested that if I was incapable of going in and just having lunch without drinking that I should just not go.  He told me it was my decision whether or not I drank.   He asked about the last lunch and whether absolutely everyone drank or if it was just a few.  I admitted that it was just a few that drank with enthusiasm, some only had one or two drinks, and some of the class didn’t drink at all.   Jim was showing me that not everyone drinks to excess and some don’t drink at all.  I was to for now on to consider myself as one of this last group: don’t drink at all.   I told him I thought I could do it; Just eat lunch and leave without drinking.   Jim made me promise to call him if I felt the urge to drink and to call him when I was done with lunch.   He wanted to make sure I made it through okay.  

That was the day I discovered, I could go to lunch with people drinking, laugh, joke, and have fun without drinking myself.  This may seem a simple thing for most but for me it was a milestone for sure.   I did it because Jim was there for me. He used common sense and scripture to show me that I was a new creation in Christ and that the habits of the old man really could be left behind.   I had a great time at the lunch and couldn’t wait to tell Jim when I got back in my car.  He congratulated me and I thanked him profusely for his guidance.   
After that day Jim was my friend, accountability partner, and brother in Christ.  He supported me in my recovery when I was extremely vulnerable.  He counseled me regarding my sobriety, faith and thought life. Jim always brought me back to the word of God to show me who I was in Christ and what I should do.  We talked on the phone regularly supporting one another. 

Shortly after this, Jim’s health took a very bad turn. His liver was diseased and without a transplant he would die.  Through tears Jim announced that He was going to Florida to see about getting treatment and possibly a transplant.   He was worried about his health but he was greatly saddened having to leave his church and the recovery group.   After Jim left we talked on the phone a few times and he shared that the transplant wasn’t going to happen but he was trying to be positive and saying that everywhere he was going he was wearing his I Love Jesus that and he was sharing the gospel with the doctors down there.   I was greatly saddened by what this meant but proud that Jim was staying faithful. 

A few months ago Jim returned to New York.  I remember seeing him at church for the first time in months and rushing to embrace him.  His countenance was somewhat jaundiced and you could see he was in a great deal of pain but he smiled and hugged me tight when he saw me telling me that I looked good.   I told him that I was on the leadership team for Celebrate and invited him to come. 

Jim was in a lot of pain but he did come to group one more time.  It pained me greatly to see that the disease had taken so much out of him and I could see he wasn’t going to last much longer.  That night I hugged Jim and told him I loved him knowing I wouldn’t see him again.  I started praying for God to take him home.  

In December, Jim went to St. Peter’s Hospital.  On December 22nd, Jim died. 

Obituaries list who you are related to, who died before you and who you left behind.   They sometimes tell you where you went to school, where you worked, and what your hobbies were.   They rarely give you any idea of the deceased’s status with God.  Jim’s tells of his active participation in his church, his love of the Bible, and his time ministering to people in recovery. 

When I heard the news of his passing, I was sad but immediately thought that Jim was in heaven with Jesus and that his suffering ended the moment his life passed here on earth.  I pushed away my tears and laughed thinking of Jim restored and new in heaven with a smile from ear to ear dancing on the streets of gold. 

 I miss my friend but he helped me when I needed him and I know he is in a better place now. 

Jim didn’t just die and cease to exist.  Jim went home to be with the Lord in paradise. 

I’ll see you there. Brother.   

For those reading this, please don’t be remembered for your love of a baseball or football team, a hobby, or where you worked.  Be remembered for the love you had for God and how you shared it with others, like my friend Jim did.   

Colossians 3:1-2 “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.