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Saturday, March 12, 2016

AFRICA and BACK HOME

Bloggers blog right? or write? RIGHT!  
I have been gone too long. I need to share to tell you, and to remind myself, of all the wonderful things the Lord has done for me.


Well I made it back alive from my mission trip to Africa.  My life was never really threatened but we are never promised tomorrow and I suppose there were plenty of moments in my trip where my life could have ended:

 plane crashes (6 flights in total),

disease (Ebola screenings!),

street violence (I’m assuming Soldiers/police in downtown Harare and in the Shop Rite in Livingstone carry AK-47s for show),

falling to my death from a fool hardy trip halfway down a 500 foot gorge (I was wise enough to turn back when I realized that Crocs didn’t offer the best footing and that it wasn’t  worth it.  An exhausted companion who did the entire trek later confirmed “It was stupid!” Apparently the river below didn’t offer much more than the view from above, except swarms of mosquitoes and flies. )

However, the Lord watched over me and I am safely back home.



It was an incredible experience that I will never forget. The fact is dedicating two weeks of my life solely for the Lord’s purposes was one of the greatest things I have ever done.   I felt like I was my ideal self:  all my time could be categorized as working for the Lord or proclaiming the gospel and my personal testimony.   All throughout the trip I felt I was being led by the Holy Spirit. Every devotional or gospel message seemed to lead to the next in a purposeful unfolding that made everything I encounter seem truly momentous: AS IF IT WERE MEANT TO BE!!! 

The mission  team from my church were united in spirit and purpose with no division or conflicts which isn’t always the case with large groups of diverse people (16).  I found a new level of respect for Pastor Jaron Halsted and Pastor Mike Lambert as they ably lead and ministered to the group with great skill. 

The team spent a week in Harare Zimbabwe where we did concrete and tile work that would help support an orphanage that was funded by Pastor Ephiel Mukamuri of Logos Rhema Ministries. Pastor Ephiel welcomed the team into his home and was a most gracious host providing for all the teams needs during our visit.  While in Zimbabwe, I spoke at Pastor Ephiel’s church and two schools that he supports sharing my personal testimony and the Gospel.   We ended our time in Zimbabwe with a picnic with the orphans, dancing, and praising the name of Jesus in song.   


The team then went to Livingstone Zambia where we did brick and mortar work for a school that the Temple of Power church is building.  Pastor Nelly Chibwela opened up her home and heart to the team richly providing for our needs during our visit.   While in Zambia I preached at Temple of Power Church and at Pastor Buster Tembo’s House of Testimony Church.  Near the end of our trip the team crossed the border into Botswana for a day long Safari, where we took a river Safari and then hopped into trucks going into the bush!  The African landscape was graced by spectacular blue skies and sunshine as the team spied, herds of elephants, lions, wart hogs, baboons, crocodiles, hippos, impalas, lynx, and cheetahs.  Our final day in Zambia we went to the awesome splendor that is Victoria Falls. 




My time in Africa was well spent and I don’t regret it but in life sometimes things aren’t always so wonderful. 

The truth is my wife, who doesn’t share my zeal for missions or evangelism, was not happy with my decision to go to Africa.  I had made a determined decision to go regardless of her feelings and she barley communicated with me while I was away. What made matters even worse was that Michele suffers from recurring kidney stones and infections. She was hospitalized just before my trip but she was out when I left, granted with a subsequent appointment to remove a stint while I was to be away.  Things took a turn for the worse and she had to be hospitalized while I was away, another stint had to be put in.  She was extremely angry for what she sees as me abandoning her.  Upon my return , she was cold telling me she had contacted a lawyer in regards to getting a divorce.  She was also very ill. She refused to go to the Hospital that day but after a night of vomiting and not being able to keep anything down we were headed back to Albany Medical Center.    

While I was in Africa, I had left under the strain of a spouse who didn’t fully support me and I could understand why some people leave their families, or some people go into the mission field for good.  The problems of my life back home were gone, geographically distant and removed.   I really felt the urge to leave, find a nice Christian woman, and spend our lives being missionaries.  However, the Holy Spirit was leading me while in Africa. The messages I heard were about forgiveness, hope, and love.  I strained and prayed mightily for guidance but as much as I was taken with the life of a missionary and preacher that I had come to experience everything I heard told me to go back home and minister to my wife, to show her the love of Christ that has changed my life so much.  I sulkily agreed that this was what the Holy Spirit was telling me to do, so I reluctantly agreed to go home, apologize to Michele, and to begin to honor, love and obey her as our wedding vows commanded.  

So I apologized and started to do things to be there for my wife, reluctantly agreeing to stop going to Bible college to be there for her.   I took her to her doctor appointments and started doing things around the house to get things in order.  I still had fantasies about running off with some Christian woman and being a missionary but I decided to serve my wife regardless of my irrational feelings.  Understand me when I say I was really grieved about this conflict between my desires and what God was telling me to do but I also felt good about being there for Michele and getting the house in order (AS IF IT WERE MEANT TO BE).   

I’m happy to report that after days of speaking words of encouragement and serving my wife I had a revelation about my irrational thoughts.  I discovered that all my thoughts of running out of my marriage were just insane flights of fantasy that I had given power to by dwelling on.  I realized that in my mind leaving my wife and finding love elsewhere was built as an option to consider so I had opened a door to sin.  It’s the tenth commandment : You shall not covet (Exodus 20:17).  I was wanting things that weren’t mine and it was wrong.  As a married man, I was supposed to love my wife like Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25). I haven’t been faithful to my wife like I should have been.   God was calling me to repent.
I am happy to say that Michele has fully recovered from her infection and that she has forgiven me.  I have made it plain to her that I am going to love honor and obey her to the best of my abilities and things are going well. 

I was chasing after God relentlessly to the exclusion of my wife.  I felt the call to the mission field and went in faith.  My visions of a revival sparked by my visit to Africa weren’t realized but the Holy Spirit spoke to me. Apparently, God wanted to get me alone for a while to show me what was important. Galatians  5:22-23 says” But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” I have spent two and a half years learning about God and faith but hadn’t put the lessons I had learned into practice in my marriage.  God sent me to Africa to show me that He is awesome and ever present and to tell me to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in my life and marriage.  .

I know I will be challenged and I might fail sometimes. I know that I may never get my wife on board with the Spirit-filled Christian life that I want to live. She may tire of me and leave me but I am going to try to do God’s will for my marriage.

Pastor Mike’s wife, Sue Lambert, had to endure 8 years of marriage to him before he gave himself to the Lord. Now he is a Pastor!

In the Bible, Joseph was in prison for years before he was raised to prominence and saved his family and the entire nation of Egypt.   Moses spent 40 years in the desert serving the Lord and never set foot in the Promised Land.  Paul was rendered blind when Christ was revealed to him with no knowledge that his sight would be restored and he would go on to give his life spreading the gospel. 

The point is serving God isn’t without hardship and it is not about receiving a reward here on earth (Matthew 5:12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.). 


I am going to try to do what God would have me do in my life and marriage without the expectation of reward.  I am going to serve, honor and love my wife as an expression of my faith in Jesus Christ.  .    

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Faith on 2 Continents: Off to Africa




Well today is the day! In a few hours I will be on a plane off to Africa.  The last few weeks have been crazy: getting acclimated to a new crew at work, hitting a deer on the Taconic parkway, rushing Michele to the hospital with a kidney infection, doing 4 papers in 2 days for the Bible college, and being in a frantic state of mind preparing myself for the trip.  Many would say to call it off and just stay home but I received a call to go on a mission trip almost 2 years ago now.  I have faith that I Am supposed to do this.  Believe me at times I have doubted it  especially since Michele's medical problems but I still have this sense that I am meant to go.  So I go!  I have to trust and have faith. 

I have to trust that Michele will continue to heal and with the help of her friend, Sandy, get the care she needs. I have faith that my kids will be obedient to their mother and do their school work.  I have to have faith that God will watch over them while I'm away.  

I have to have faith in the plane! I have to have faith I will arrive and leave safely.   I have to have faith that I will do some good work for the Lord while I am in Africa.  I am not sure wheather the purpose I am going has to do with the people I meet, the work we will do on the schools and churches, my walk with the Lord, or all of the above but I have faith that God is with me in this.  

This exercise in faith of mine is no different from yours really. Although I am going an ocean away and things are uncertain for me, those who stay home are trusting that things will be good. They are trusting they and their family will remain healthy, will keep their jobs, will be safe, and they won't hit a deer on the way to work!   I can tell you, though even here in the safe U.S.A., these things are not certain.  

Only one thing is certain. God is good, he came to earth as Jesus Christ and He paid for our sins on the cross.  If you have faith in Christ, you will have eternal life with Him (John 3:16).  

In Matthew 28  18.   Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Christ has given me salvation and a new life. So I go.  God bless you all.  

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 https://dailyaudiobible.com/ 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.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: What a year!

A year passes and you look back at all the things that have happened and sometimes it’s a regular passage of time with few changes or challenges other than coping with the change of the seasons and growing another year older. 

2015 was not one of those years.  I reflected on my year and my journey today and was brought to tears of joy and was shaken by the unbelievable experiences that I had in 2015.  As David Bowie sang,  CH- Ch-Ch-Ch Changes, (turn and face the strange)….. CH –CH- Changes just gonna have to be a different man. 

The most significant change in my life is that in March I decided to pursue and surrender to Christ to the point that I decided to stop drinking and go into recovery.  I know that sounds strange but that really is what happened.  Granted after attempting to quit drinking in the fall of 2014 on my own and failing, I entered into a pretty low period of regular drinking and hopelessness wondering why if I was a born again Christian for four years I was still caught up in this viscous Jekyll & Hyde cycle where I knew drunkenness and my faith didn’t compute.  I had reveled in the forgiveness I felt after being saved but I fell into sin in some ways worse than I ever did before I was a Christian.   Much to my shame, I used my forgiven status as license to sin.  So in late 2014 and earlier this year, I sort of hit rock bottom.  I hurt others, myself, and my relationship with Christ. It was at this point that I didn’t care what anyone thought about me or my reputation.  I reached the end of my rope and was all in for Christ. I was going to put down the lust of the flesh and pick up my cross and follow Him. 
    
So I initially went into recovery for religious reasons.  I didn’t have a problem. I could quit drinking.  I was giving it up for my relationship with Christ.    BRAVO!!!  

You see, that was sort of a cop out.  “I wasn’t like the rest of these drunks and addicts who ruined their lives.  I have a job, support my family, and even go to Bible College. I’m trying to get closer to Jesus. I’m really more of a social drinker but I am willing to lay that down for Christ. ”  

You see this is denial.  Although I had the illusion of control over my “bad habit”, I soon learned that I was in fact “powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing”.  I could hold out for a while; just have a few drinks and stop here and there but that TENDENCY to get good and drunk was coming sooner or later.  I had a million reasons to drink: holidays, weekends, to celebrate virtually anything, to reward myself, to blow off steam, to deal with stress, game’s on!, etc.   The TENDENCY loved these reasons. It was my recognizing the TENDENCY that made me able to admit that I was powerless over my addictions and compulsive behaviors and that because of this my life (although sometimes organized, systematized, and regulated) was unmanageable.   

So I came out. I announced to the world I was in recovery and amazing things happened. 

I saw the presence of the Holy Spirit at work right in front of my eyes one night at recovery.  We had been at it for a few weeks and an older gentleman in our group (“Stan” age 70ish) was showing up but wasn’t sure about all this Jesus stuff.  We were getting started in our small discussion group and just going over the first couple of principles.    Principle 2 is “Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover.”  Stan wasn’t so sure about this but he let me continue to read the next one.  Principle 3 is “Consciously, choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control”.  To which Stan, said he wasn’t there yet.  We said that we respected that and continued along.  In attendance was “Brian”, a stereotypical addict, tattooed, intense, ex-con in his early to mid-20’s.  Brian, although his father was reportedly a pastor, had aspirations of being a heavy metal musician but had spent his life in addiction and incarceration.  Everyone took turns sharing their struggles.  Brian was discussing his girlfriend and how she suffered because of him and how he loved her. At one point Brian lamented how he wanted to quit cigarettes but couldn’t do it.  He said “If Jesus could just reach through the veil and tell me to quit. I could do it. “Breaking group guidelines; old Stan says something to the effect of “Son… you just…  (At which point Stan sort of brings his hands together and pulls them away from each other in an opening gesture)… let go and let God.”   This seemingly tame gesture hits Brian hard and has me saying “Stan… that’s exactly what we were talking about in the principles!”  Whether or not my comment was heard is hard to say because the next thing you know “Brian” is out of his seat and standing in front of Stan and says “Stan, you say you don’t know whether or not God cares about you but I’m telling you HE does! And we are going to pray for you, and you are going to pray to ask Jesus into your life!”   Stan hesitates for a second but quickly pulls himself out of his chair and starts praying to ask Jesus into his life!  The guys rise, join hands, lay hands on Stan and pray. Brian starts praying in tongues.  I reach out and lay hold of Stan and pray.  Meanwhile the group leader, my sponsor and Spiritual mentor Bob Costello, is in the other room dealing with new comers.  He’s been working with Stan from the beginning and Stan gets saved while he’s in the other room!  Stan is in his 70s and was in a bad place in his life.  He grew up on a farm and the tales he told of his childhood described a struggling existence where joy and love were not expressed but that night in the basement of Rock Solid Church he knew the love of Christ!  He was washed clean by the Holy Spirit and he was in awe of the power that had come over him.    Stan was struggling financially at the time, in danger in losing his farm.  Since coming to Christ though, Stan is no longer in financial difficulty and has started a foundation to help veterans that are struggling to readjust to civilian life after combat deployment. 

Brian never returned to recovery after that night.  Ironically, Brian, the son of a pastor, was used by God to lead an old man to Christ, who upon being saved made it his mission to help young men who are struggling to adjust to society, like Brian. 

Stan and I finished the 16 week recovery program.  Stan went on to do his thing with his farm and the veterans.  I went on to be part of the leadership team when our recovery group, Celebrate Freedom, started up again in the fall.  Three weeks in to the program, I picked up my guitar and lead the group in worship.  Just two songs a week; but man to use my guitar (which I had only played in my basement, alone, and usually under the influence) to give glory to God for what He has done in my life is something I would have not believed 12 months ago. 

Our group is on hiatus for a while but when we start up again, My friend, Bill Hamm, and I will be doing the teaching each week.  

In May, I earned an Associate Degree in Applied Science in Telecommunications Technology from Hudson Community College completing a course of study that took five years, going to school one day a week through my employer. 

Also that month, I earned my Associate Degree in Biblical Studies from Vision Christian Bible College & Seminary, taking classes at night one day a week for the past two years at Rock Solid Church, Hudson NY.  I just completed my first semester of my junior year as I pursue a Bachelor Degree. 

This year also saw my physical body transformed.  I started reading Men’s Health magazine and started exercising every morning.  I get up at 3:30 am and exercise while listening to an R.C. Sproul teaching about God each day. After my work out, I pray thanking God for everything I have and the earnest intension to surrender my will for His will for my life.  I pray for friends, family, and the pastors that have crossed my path. I pray for the persecuted church, those suffer throughout the world for their faith in Christ. I then pray for the lost, for the Holy Spirit to convict them of their sin and to bring them to Christ for their salvation.   I then read the Bible.  I then read a couple of prayers out of 2 devotional books I have. Then it’s off to work. 

I know it sounds intense. I share this though because God wants our relationship with Him.  The way to build a relationship is to spend time and to put in effort.  More than once this year the prayers I have made in the morning have been answered in an amazing way. 
 
I started doing the physical work of a lineman and walking on my lunch breaks during the summer.  In autumn, I start to run.   On September 26, I ran in my first 5k.  I have since run in 11 more.   Through nutrition, exercise, and faith, I have built muscle and have seen changes in my physique.  I have lost 45 pounds this year and I continue to train to be healthy. 

I have had spiritual breakthroughs in my understanding of Christianity and my relationship with Christ that I didn’t think were possible.  It is my goal to glorify and serve the Lord with rest of my life.   I have committed myself to a missionary trip to Africa in February where I will perform humanitarian work and where I will spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am not sure where God is taking me but after a year like this one I know it won’t be boring. 

I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to press in to your faith and surrender yourselves to Christ.  I wish everyone who reads this a very Happy New Year!  First Sober New Year for me in 25 years! God Bless You!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

MERRY CHRISTMAS 2015: I am certain

First and foremost, Merry Christmas to you my friends!  Anyone clicking on a link to read my blog, I honestly consider a friend.  In this, what is often, a cold and lonely world to know someone cares enough to listen to what you have to say is no small thing.  Even though we are all interconnected as human beings on this earth and we may be surrounded by friends and family, we may seldom speak about what we really feel or think.  So if you just stumbled upon this blog, are an old friend, or just want to see what I say next, thanks for checking in and I hope your Christmas was as peaceful and bright as mine was today. 

My last blog post was entitled uncertain times. I wanted to blog during the last 24 days since I last posted but I was surrounded by rumors and speculation of where I would be going and what I would be doing. If I had posted all my thoughts and anxiety during the last couple of weeks, you would have thought I was caught up in the heights of political intrigue or on the verge of a mental collapse. On the surface it was all business as usual but when you are going through a change it can cause you to worry and wonder.  Add to it the stress of preparing for Christmas, finishing classes for the semester, maintaining sobriety, and the pondering of questions of faith and purpose, and you can see where my mental dialogue may have been a little chatty and chaotic.   On the outside, I was all: “Whatever will be, will be.”  “It’ll be fine.”  

And you know what? It was fine. 

I now report to the Schenectady garage as a construction tech.  I took the truck I had been driving in Albany with me.   I am more suited for construction work so I am happy with this although I would have preferred to stay in Albany.  

So there you go. My employment situation spelled out in three simple sentences.  The content of those sentences could have been different but no matter what those sentences said about my job, I was going to have to be fine with them.  I get good pay and benefits. I have a family to help support and leaving the company doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now.  So whether it worked out to my liking or not, I was still going to have to go in.  That can be a distasteful reality to accept but even in my most paranoid and anxiety riddled moments, I was able to maintain my composure (never let ‘em see you sweat, right?) because of my study of the Bible and my relationship with Jesus Christ.   

During this time of contemplation, I grabbed hold of verses like:

Deuteronomy 31:6  “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

Hebrews 13:5  “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Genesis 28:15 “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”

I constantly reminded myself that wherever I went God was going with me. I wasn’t alone and I never will be alone again.

At one point, I had received some less than favorable news about my reporting assignment, to which my colleagues were outraged by the news but were more perplexed by my seemingly docile acceptance of my less than favorable fate. They expected an emotional outburst of anger I think but as a Christian I have been taught:

That I am to be obedient to authority:

Hebrews 13:17  “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

That I am to be content:

Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

That I am to be slow to anger:

James 1:19-20 “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Like I said above, regardless of what decision was going to be made about my job, I was going to have to live with it.  So I didn’t get angry because, for all I knew, this “bad” report was the final report. I was going to have to be obedient and content with it so I thought it best to wait and see if this report would be final, knowing that it very well could be. 

Even in the midst of possibly an unfavorable outcome, I had some peace knowing that I would do my best and that God was with me.  To be honest though I did pray for a change in circumstance and things have seemed to work out fine. 

One thing I learned during this time is that there is not going to be a time when things aren’t uncertain. I figured I shouldn’t speculate about what maybe and to wait until a decision was made before I wrote. However, I realize now that as temporary beings on this earth we are not promised tomorrow and we don’t know what the next day brings.  To live in fear is not to live. A runner runs. A writer writes.  To change what you’re doing on a daily basis because of some distant “what if” is not being true to yourself. 
I really wanted to write during this period but didn’t want to give power to my anxiety by giving a voice to them.  However, what I should have done was voiced my fears and remedied them with the word of God. 
2 Timothy 1:7 “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Psalm 34:4 “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”

Psalm 56:3 “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

So going forward, if I want to write I’m going to write. To be honest, it’s therapeutic.  It didn’t feel good to not tell my story.  You see because it’s not just my story anymore. I have the Holy Spirit living within me and my testimony is a testimony of the power, grace and love that I have come to know through my experience with Him.  When I fail to tell of what He has done for me, I am not giving the proper honor and glory that God deserves. 

Oh, first sober Christmas in 25 years is in the books! Sober for over 9 months. I exercise, pray, and read the Bible daily. This is all possible only through the power of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in my life. 

 I am moved to tears of joy in contemplation of all the Lord has done in my life and especially in consideration of the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ, during this Christmas season.  I encourage all who read this to seek God and make Him a significant part of your life with honor and service.   

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!



  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Uncertain Times -



Life is uncertain. Sure for the most part we know what is going to happen on a daily basis. We wake up, go to work, go home, eat an evening meal, relax, go to bed, and repeat.  However, at times, circumstances beyond our control change the game.  What you are doing tomorrow may not be the same as what you are doing today. 

In corporate America, the fourth quarter is time to reassess where you are and where you are going.  The last number on the calendar is going to change so it’s time to do something new.  A fresh new year means a fresh new start. It’s a great time to get better; a time to reorganize and possibly restructure.  In the overall scheme of things it is a simple change made on paper in the name of efficiency.  On the human level, people are redistributed.  For the vast majority of the work force nothing changes.  However for some it can be a whole new ball game. 

My department has been targeted for termination.  Don’t panic! We are just being reorganized.  Thank God I don’t have to worry about losing my job.  Say what you want but, Go UNION!   So that is good.  I am also pretty sure I will still be field technician in some capacity.  I am fully capable to do whatever I am called to do.  As the sole provider of my family, I have to be.  (To paraphrase an Oliver Stone quote “that’s why they call them “techs”; because a “tech” can take it, a “tech” can take anything.”) 

So in about a week I will be told where I am going.  I will have a new boss.  I may be doing the same job function, maybe not.  I maybe at the same garage, maybe not.  I’m pretty sure I’ll have the same truck, but possibly not.  So I am “sure” everything will be fine, possibly not. 

One aspect of these changes that is upsetting is that the cast of characters that I work with will change. After a few years together, you develop friendships and camaraderie that develops naturally from working together.  This isn’t the first time this has happened in my career and it is somewhat sad to have your path diverge from people you have spent a significant amount of time with.  You take these relationships for granted and at the whim of someone far removed from your situation, people are separated from your life.  I’m sure I’ll keep in touch, I’ll miss them, or maybe not…..   But regardless I’ll wish them well in their new situation. 

I also got some bad news on a personal front.  A friend in recovery has relapsed today.  Ironically, they were making significant progress and on the verge of a new situation themselves.  They were living with drugs and alcohol all around them in a lonely situation but they were resisting temptation.  They are due to move out there in a day or two and they fell from grace.  Moving is a stressful time?  Who knows? Maybe they thought that the drugs wouldn’t be around in the new situation and they had better get off while they could?  Maybe they thought they would have a going away party?  I am not condemning them. Recovery is not about perfection and relapse is a part of it as they say.  My friend is with their sponsor and I know they will give good advice and counseling. The fact that he confessed his relapse is a good sign I think. Hey we all make mistakes right?

I’m self-obsessed so my friend’s relapse makes me wonder if I’m doomed to failure.  The good news is “not today!” I joke about relapsing saying if I am going to fall it will be epic: multiple drugs, alcohol, & sex!  Scandalous! You know?  Like I have said before I am addicted to things that don’t exist, like a situation where that would happen and I would feel good about it.  You see, I have 25 years of experience of the lies of getting drunk or high and I now have some understanding that these things don’t make me happy and they cause more trouble than they are worth.  

Situations like my uncertain work future and my friend’s relapse make me glad that I have faith in Christ.  In the past, I would have turned to booze at least to say goodbye to another chapter of my career if not to bury my anxiety.  If I had been trying to stay sober in my own power, I would have probably felt utter hopelessness at my friend’s relapse and gotten wasted; failing on purpose just to avoid the inevitable by self-destructing.   

You see, my focus really is on my faith in Christ.  I don’t know what God’s plan is for my life.  Right now I’m trying to learn more about Him through prayer, through service, through meditation on His word, and by going to Bible College.  I look forward to my trip to Africa where I will surrender two weeks of my life in service to Him.  So I don’t know where I’m going to be working by the end of the year, I don’t know if my friend will back at recovery on Thursday, or if I will fail someday but I do know that where ever I go Christ goes with me and that has made all the difference. 

 This world has temporary remedies but the answer lies in the Truth, Jesus Christ.  I encourage all who read this to seek after God.  It can start with a simple prayer to ask Him to come into your life.
I know what suffering is. I know life is hard. I was so full of myself. I found peace by becoming empty for Christ. I made room for Him and He has shown me amazing things.  I wish you the all the best.