Sunday, April 16, 2017

His Grace is Enough: Resurrection Sunday 2017

His grace is enough.  

When I heard the gospel message that saved me back in 2010, I couldn't believe it. 

In my denomination I knew Jesus died on the cross to pay for the world's sin but the teaching and preaching I heard never taught me that the work that Jesus on the cross was enough to cover all my personal sins.  I was convinced that I was a sinner. They were good at teaching that.  I thought I had to be good to get in Heaven and I knew that I wasn't good so I followed my own selfish desires and forgot about the God who was powerless to do anything but send me to hell.  It was a hard dark road for a long time.  

But then I heard that Jesus did in fact die for my sin, sins past, present, and even future.  I was relieved and immediately said the prayer that saved me.  

His grace was enough!  

After I got saved I resolved to follow the Lord as much as possible even though I was still a drunk and sinner.  I started to read the Bible and saw that Christians were not supposed to get drunk... I was confused.  I thought I was forgiven.  

Well I was and God's grace would cover my sins til the day I died but I Am God's child now.  The Holy Spirit was in me and the same old drunkenness and sin wasn't as much fun. I felt I was doing wrong!  I drank for 25+ years and never had a desire to quit.  But  now I did.   Even though I knew God wanted better things for me I thought it was impossible to change. In 2015, my church started a Recovery ministry, I knew it was for me. I signed up and the rest is history. I'm over Two years sober today.  

When I saw that God was willing to do the impossible in my life, I said "What's next?"

Now I'm close to completing a book I have been writing based on the preaching of a local pastor.  God has healed me in more than one way. I'm out of debt. Life is good.  I am living the new life that is promised to believers in the Bible, a life of hope and victory over sin and death. 

On this Resurrection Sunday, I just want to thank God for what he is doing in my life and I want all who should read this to know that God loves you and He is willing to do the impossible in your life too.

Believe and Christ and follow Him.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Reasons I didn't. Suicide: Personal History.

Reasons I didn't. Suicide: Personal History.

            This weekend my teenage children marathon watched the Netfilx series, 13 Reasons Why, which focuses on the reasons that surround a teenage girl’s decision to end her own life.  The series is really well down and I recommend parents watch it with their kids and to talk to their kids about suicide and what’s going on in their lives so they can express the reasons that we live.  The series has some graphic depictions of violence, sex, and drug use and in recommending it I wasn’t sure at what age it would be appropriate.  The series reminded me of my own life and the conversations I have had with my own kids about suicide.  I try to be an open book so they can know what life is like.  Sometimes I don’t realize the impact what I’m saying to them has until one of my stories is repeated to me.  At those moments I have an odd mix of shame and pride as I try to re-qualify what it is I said and how “it wasn’t like it sounded” when in fact it most likely was.  

At age 13, I was a mess. I wasn’t athletically skilled.  Whatever moments of glory I had on the baseball field in my youth were not translating after age 12. I had some real moments of failure and embarrassment on the ball field that made any desire to play baseball totally disappear. I found comfort in food and had bottomless hunger at times.  So I was chubby or just plain fat.

I liked to play football and spent a lot of time playing it in the neighborhood. I liked it enough that I decided I would try to play pop warner.  I signed up but back then I was over the weight limit.  It was highly embarrassing because my older brother managed to make it but I didn’t.  So that ended any desire I had to play any sports ever.  

I think it was the summer before middle school that I and a friend in the neighborhood were so dissatisfied with our home lives that we both had the idea to just run away from home. I had ideas about jumping on a freight train and just leaving it all behind.   My friend ended up moving away and we lost touch pretty quickly.  Neither of us ran away as far as I know, not geographically anyway. 

I was at that transitional stage in life between elementary school and high school where hormones and emotions are running wild, where you’re no longer a little kid but you haven’t gotten past puberty entirely.  It also was a time where the friends in the neighborhood had all but disappeared.  A few had moved away and others were lost in childhood vendettas.   We also all went to a new school where I either got separated from the few friends I had, or we grew apart.

There was a lot of stress in going to middle school. Not only did I have to adjust to new people in class, back in my time, being bullied or beaten up was a real concern.  Fights were not common place but certainly not unheard of.  I was a fat kid so I wasn’t necessarily safe from insults or teasing.  I got my fair share in the neighborhood and at home.  I remember, early on in 6th grade, a kid giving me crap while we were in the boy’s room, in front of other kids.  I was bigger so I grabbed him and put him is a wrestling hold I had seen on T.V. until he begged to be let go.  The other kids saw it and after that I was never really bothered again. 

From that and other squabbles in the neighborhood, I guess you could say I am not innocent in terms of being a bully.  After that episode in the boys room though, I never put my hands on anybody again.  I like to think that I didn’t like the way it made me feel.      
            I was lucky in that I wasn’t picked on but I didn’t really have anything going for me so I didn’t really have any close friends.  So I know what it’s like to be lonely and frankly, when the alternative is to be an object of negative attention, loneliness can be okay. 
            So that’s the picture of me between 5th and 8th grade.  Somewhere in that time frame, probably around the time I was thinking about running away, I thought about killing myself.  The turmoil of life seemed to be too much and I figured I would get my Dad’s gun that he kept in his top dresser drawer and shoot myself in the head. 

            I remember one time, I think I was 13, going into my parents room and taking the revolver out of his dresser drawer, holding it in my hands.  He had a mirror on his dresser and I saw my reflection holding a gun with an anguished look on my face.  I don’t know if it was loaded, 99.9% sure it wasn’t, I never pointed it to my head, I don’t think.  Contemplating ending my life scared the daylights out of me.  So I put the gun back and I don’t think I ever touched it again. 

            I was in a state of turmoil in those days and I remember making threats to kill myself and my parents getting angry and they were very adamant that I was not to kill myself or even talk about it.  I think they may have said something close to “We’ll kill you if you kill yourself!”  Or “We don’t want to hear any of that stupid talk!” 

            As silly as it seems, I think I needed to hear that.  No matter how they said it they conveyed the fact that suicide was something that I was not to do.  So if it was the fear of death, subsiding hormones, or my parents’ warnings, I obviously didn’t kill myself. 

            I’ve told my teenage kids these stories to show them I know how hard it can be growing up. They have shared that the kids can be just as mean as they were in my day and have both felt like they were made fun of and had times where they felt isolated without any friends. 

            A few years ago my son Brennan, was in middle school (the wonderful years for all of us I guess) when he decided that homework was just something that he wasn’t going to do and sitting at his desk in class didn’t appeal to him either.  So he bad grades, and was getting detention for disobedience, and had even walked off the school grounds a few times. 

            On one occasion he told the faculty at his school that he wanted to die.  The school did the right thing. They called the cops and sent him to the local hospital for a psychological evaluation.   Brennan had no actual plans to kill himself.  He was being an angsty teen with issues with authority. The staff was required to keep him for a certain amount of time and his mother had to pick him up.  So he had lots of time to think about what he had said and what he was doing. 

            I took the door to his bedroom off of its hinges after that because we couldn’t “trust” him to be alone.  We talked about it, a lot. The troubles with the homework and discipline didn’t go away immediately but the next school year Brennan changed his ways.  He says that he decided for himself that what he was doing was stupid and hurting himself.  Since then he’s gotten good grades and has started participating in drama and has a decent sized role in the next musical production at the end of the month. 

I realize there is a lot to respond to in reading this. Lessons to be learned:

Lock up your guns.  Kids know where they are and they might know where the keys are too. Just saying, kids are smart. 

Talk to you kids.  Share your experiences so you’re not just a “parental unit” from the planet “Boring”. 

As dumb as it may sound, Tell them suicide is punishable by death!  Just kidding, express to them you love them and that they are not to take their own lives.    

Discuss that choices and actions have consequences that may have a farther impact than they think. 

Basically, we have to be there for our kids and treat them as human beings who may be going through the toughest times of their lives, human beings that need to know there is hope and love for them at home, and human beings that need to know there is reason to live and a future where things get better. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

13 Reasons Why

I had seen a few posts on Facebook about the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why”  and it was in the back of my head that I should tell my kids about it when my daughter, Haley,16, mentioned it to me.  So this weekend my son Brennan (15), Haley, and I all sat down to watch it. 

I love my kids and most of the television I watch is with them in my presence.  We have similar tastes and often go to the movies together.  I work, don’t get home until 5:30pm most nights, and am active with my church and my recovery ministry a couple nights a week. So the time I have at home is spent with them in our living room, watching T.V., or just hanging out.  I try to be there for my kids as someone to confide in. I often inquire about their lives but I also try to give them their space.  I am probably too transparent with my past because, since going into recovery two years ago, I am trying to educate them about life by sharing stories of my past and the pitfalls and traps that this world has to offer.  I often engage them in discussions about the different aspects of life and try to show them the contrasts in what the world tells them will make them happy and what really matters.  I advise them that the greatest wisdom is to follow Jesus and His advice by doing what is righteous.  It’s not an easy sell but since finding the peace that comes from being in relationship with Him and because I love them and want what is best for them, it’s hard not to proclaim it.  

I often proclaim it on Facebook too.  If this annoys you, good.  If it annoys you, it means you may need to make peace with God, because if you had peace with God, it wouldn’t annoy you.  Or if it did annoy you and you had peace with God, you would forgive me.    I only proclaim the Christian faith because I know, from experience, that it is true and I know if you embrace it you will find hope, peace, and a new life.  Don’t trust me?  Well, Jesus said:

John 5:24 (NLT)
24 “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.  Sorry, not sorry. Forgive me. 

Anyway, my kids and I watched “13 Reasons Why”, this weekend.   The show revolves around the events of a teenage suicide and her reasons for ending her life.  The show is told in flashbacks and it is thoroughly engaging and keeps you in suspense. 

My children and I watch the CW show, "Riverdale", which is a teenage suspense drama using the Archie comics as a character basis, and "13 Reasons Why" had a similar feel to that show (in it being a high school drama with elements of suspense and mystery), at first. 

“13 Reasons Why’ is a show all about the high school experience and its sometime darker aspects.  High school is the time where you make the transition from children to adults and that transition is filled with angst and confusion as everyone is coming to grips with who they are, where they’re going, and how life works.  So, 13 Reasons covers the familiar ground of high school cliques, alcohol and drug use, dating relationships, and sex.   

What sets “13 Reasons Why” apart from others shows is the way it progressively unfolds and reveals the how the events of one girl’s life lead to her ending it. The show is masterful in the way it slowly reveals the cast of characters and the part they each played in this girl ending her life.  The questions of truth, consequences, and accountability all come to the forefront as the viewer learns about each character’s actions and tries to determine just “how responsible” each person was in the perfect storm that ended a young girl’s life. So as the story unfolds we judge each character, including the victim, to try to make sense of it all.  Through the process the viewer will take sides, assigning blame and offering absolution. You may be surprised that your attitudes toward some characters are colored by your own history. You may be even more surprised that your attitudes toward some characters have the potential to make us another “reason”.   

 I am purposely giving no details of the specifics of the show but I would urge every school administrator, teacher, and parent to watch it with their teenage kids.  There are graphic situations with sex, violence, and drugs, so beware.    

All of these “reasons” that add up to tragedy, could be avoided through friendship.  As Christians, we are told to love our enemies. Sometimes the evil and dysfunction that repels us the most is fueled by ignorance, hurt, and loneliness.  If someone is “messed up”, “weird” or “stupid” there is probably a reason.  The challenge for us is to offer love and friendship to those who may seem the most unworthy of it, in hopes that we can give them hope and a way to change, a reason to live.     

Friday, April 7, 2017

God Can Heal: It ain’t Planter’s peanuts!

God Can Heal: It ain’t Planter’s peanuts!  

I’m somewhat of an introvert by nature and like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t complain about or share my personal problems with the world at large.   (I like to think that but who knows, depending on who you are maybe I have complained about my burdens to you. Feel privileged you’re in the inner circle!)   

As a Christian, the rule is to bear our burdens with patience and to trust in the Lord.  Our attitudes are to be of gratitude and the Old Testament example of the complaining Israelites, condemned to the dessert for 40 years never to see the promise land, teaches us to try to keep a positive outlook on life knowing that the Lord is in control. 

So about a year ago, I noticed me right big toe was swollen in the lower “knuckle?” area.  I thought that maybe it was just a callous at first but after examining it I realized that there was something inside the flesh that didn’t go away no matter how much dead skin I filed off with a pumice stone or massaged it.  I had lost some weight so I surmised maybe it was fat?  You know the old saying “a moment on the lips. a life time on the….big toe?   I know. It didn’t make sense to me either.  Then I thought that I had run a bunch of 5k’s in 2015, so maybe it was damage caused by running?   Wouldn’t that just be the way!  That’s what you get for exercising!     

But it didn’t hurt…really… not too much anyway.  So not wanting to complain or to burden others with my problems, like most people, I think, I ignored it.  I had a couple of other weird hard bumps in my feet that I had been ignoring so I would just ignore the toe as well. 

Like I said that was over a year ago.  I am good at ignoring things.  I ignored my alcoholism for 25 years or so what’s a year, right?  

Anyway, I decide to go for a run one day a few months ago and noticed my running shoe on the right foot was really uncomfortable.  Also I started to notice that after working all day, as a lineman, the big toe and those other bumps were giving me occasional pain.  It was harder to ignore. So I showed my wife and she told me to get it checked out because it obviously wasn’t normal. 
So I made an appointment and I was diagnosed with plantar fibromatosis, which is the more advanced form of plantar fibroma.    

What is plantar fibroma? 

         A plantar fibroma is a benign nodule that grows on the bottom of the foot and usually appears in the second through sixth decade of life. It is usually slow growing and measures less than an inch in size. More invasive, rapid-growing and multi-planar fibromas are considered plantar fibromatosis. Both of them are benign tumors made up of cells found in ligaments.

    The good news is that my doctor, Dr. Daniel Longo, of Hudson Valley Foot Associates had me in surgery in Monday April 3rd to remove these invasive tumors.  If you have feet issues, go see Dr. Longo.  He has done right by me.  So now I am recovering and something that goes beyond medicine has happened to me overnight. 

     With sickness and injury, Christians are encouraged to pray for healing. And I know from my own and others testimony that healing can come.  I prayed over my lumps to just melt away miraculously but that didn’t happen.  So I saw a doctor. Good idea.  Dr. Longo took out the tumors. 

       After surgery I was in a great deal of pain, and couldn’t get around without crutches because every time I moved my foot or put weight on it I felt like I stepped on a nail.  This was the state I was in last night when I dragged myself to Celebrate Freedom, my Christian Recovery ministry at Rock Solid Church.  

At the end of the night, the guys in my group prayed over me, and before I went to bed last night I said a prayer for healing to take the pain away.  I prayed specifically for the pain to subside, for the blood to flow in a manner to relieve the pressure, and for whatever was causing the pain to be healed.  I prayed over it my foot in the name of Jesus. 

I went to bed with throbbing pain but upon awakening I noticed it was gone. I stepped on it and the sharp shooting pain was gone. I rose and walked around the house praising the name of Jesus.  I ‘m telling you God can heal and He will heal.  You have to trust Him. You may have to be persistent in your prayers but if it is according to His will you will receive healing. I testified to my daughter, Haley, that I had prayed for healing and I have received it.  I’m not 100% and won’t be for some time but I don’t need the crutches anymore and the sharp shooting pain is gone. 

           My mentor, sponsor, and friend Bob has called God “the midnight surgeon”, that we can pray for an issue or struggle with a hard heart for a long time but if we are faithful to pray and trust in God, He can and will come and heal us, literally, overnight.  

I have experienced this “phenomenon” time and time again.  

God answers prayers according to His will.  In order to have God in your life you have to be in relationship with Him. 

Say a prayer of repentance, tell God that you are sorry for your sins and that you are going to go forward and live your life according to His Will. 

You have to surrender yourself to Him. 

You have to show Him you’re for real. 

That means you worship Him.

That means church.  Go to a church that teaches the Bible as the word of God. 

That means you read the Bible daily, as a form of worship and a way to learn about and grow closer to God. If your starting out for the first time reading the Bible,  \focus on the New Testament and the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

That means you talk to God through prayer.  You can use traditional prayers, and make requests for His intercession, but you also should talk to Him like you would talk to a best friend or a trusted counselor. 

Don’t do too much at once.  God will work with whatever you bring Him but you need to give it to Him voluntarily and willingly. 

Search your heart and the Holy Spirit will show you what needs to change. It’s not rocket science. We know what’s wrong in our lives. 

Find help.  Find community.  Invest yourself in your local church to build heathy friendships of trust and common purpose in Christ.  Join a “celebrate recovery” type of group where Christ is the center where you can learn what it means to live a life that is in relationship with God.  

It’s not about being good, nobody’s good.  It’s about being His and following Him.   

That means trying to be holy.  Don’t go nuts. 

If you need a church, in New York State in:  these are churches of whom I am familiar with the Pastor and know that they can be trusted to teach Biblical truth. 

 Columbia County:   Rock Solid Church 334 Union Street, Hudson NY 12534. 

 Greene County:  Light House Church, 18 North Franklin St, Athens, NY 12015  

Albany County:   City Harvest Church, 585 Central Ave, Albany NY 12206

Delaware County: Catskill Mountain Christian Center 629 Main St, Margaretville NY 12445

Ulster County: King’s Fire Church 865 Neighborhood Rd, Lake Katrine, NY 12449

Where you go to church doesn’t matter (It should be a Bible believing, Bible teaching church), what matters is that you are seeking a relationship with God. 

Matthew 6:33 (NKJV)
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Psalm 37:3-6 (NKJV)
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass.
6 He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday.

Will you receiving healing?  I don't know. That's for God to decide.  However, I do know that if you give your self to seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and make Jesus your Lord and Savior, you will not regret it.   Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you will be set free from sin and death.  If you invest in your relationship with God, you will know a peace that goes beyond understanding and will receive His blessings.