Expect Better

As my last few posts have been fairly weighty, I thought I’d go with a lighter fare today. Sometimes one needs a dark, bold roast and other times one simply wishes to enjoy a lighter brew of beans. Both are good and certainly have their place in any coffee drinker’s life.

On the subject of coffee, my wife and I discovered something about ourselves earlier in the week. I mentioned when I began this blog that we cannot really consider ourselves coffee connoisseurs because we simply do not have the money to travel the world sampling the best coffee that various nations have to offer. (Although, we certainly appreciate people like Hugh Jackman who are able to do that for us. Have you tasted his Laughing Man brand coffee? Go get some immediately after reading this blog.) However, despite our lack of capital, my wife and I happily accept the mantle of coffee enthusiasts. In addition to that label, it seems that we have earned ourselves another badge.

As we were walking through Sam’s Club the other day, we came across the aisle with the coffee. As we passed by two well-known brands, my wife and I both scoffed at them. As we proceeded on, I had an epiphany and turned to my wife and said, “Oh. I believe we have both ascended to the level of coffee snobs!”

Yes, my friends, regular coffee just doesn’t do it for us any longer. We enjoy going out to various places that sell whole beans so that we can bring them home and grind them and sample new and rich flavors. Our taste and appreciation for coffee has expanded over the years. In fact, my daughter once worked for a particular coffee house and one day I noticed that they had a little quiz set out for patrons. There were several different types of beans on display and the challenge was to match the brew to the bean. The only senses one could use were sight and smell. I was quite pleased with myself when I got them all correct.

When I say that my wife and I have become coffee snobs, I do so with a bit of tongue-in-cheek. As I said, we have simply expanded our palate for coffee. We expect better than what we once accepted in our lives. Therein lies the life-lesson; as we continue on in the journey of life, we should be expecting better of ourselves as time goes on. What was once acceptable in our attitudes and behaviors should eventually be scoffed at as rather pedestrian. We should not settle for just “better than is used to be”.

It might interest you to know that God holds better expectations for us the longer we live and the longer we walk with Him. In the Book of Hebrews chapter 5 verse 12, there is a disappointment voiced to that particular group of disciples for their lack of growth. It reads, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” The problem with these particular believers was that they had grown a little, but then settled on a plateau and lost the drive to climb higher. The admonition to them was that there was far more to be gained and that they were, in fact, missing out!

My encouragement to you today is to expect better of yourself than where you have reached thus far. Do not grow weary in your quest of becoming more. If you are a disciple of Christ, I can guarantee you that you have plenty of room for more growth. Our goal is to be conformed to Christ. That, my friend, is more than a lifetime’s worth of growing.

One might suggest that this particular blog post would be better suited for the beginning of a new year. I respectfully disagree. Why do we relegate personal challenge and growth to the start of a new year alone? We can choose to press ahead at any point during the year. My admonition to you is to do that very thing now! Do not settle for where you are at because it is better than where you once were. Press ahead and discover how many richer levels in life are to be had.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

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Where was God When I was Wronged?

It is the age-old question that has been asked in various forms, but is essentially the simple quandary; If God is so good, why does He allow evil things to take place? This question is typically asked concerning the general presence of evil and suffering around the world, but for some, it is a deeply personal state of perplexity. For individuals who have experienced some sort of heinous evil done to them, the question is not one of a broad enigma to be solved, but of a deep feeling of abandonment or even, dare I suggest it, betrayal.

Before we continue, let me clarify that we are addressing tragedies and acts of evil that people experience through little or no fault of their own. We are not speaking of consequences brought about by stubborn and rebellious personal choices. In those cases, simply obeying God would have probably kept one out of a horrible experience.

Now, unto the dilemma of why a good God allows evil to exist in the world. Generally speaking, the question itself is a bit problematic. It assumes that God should come in and make right what we as humans are determined to make wrong. We live in a world plagued by our own sin and rebellion against God. Evil exists in the world because we keep putting it there. What we really want God to do is remove the consequences of our sinful behavior. It’s like kindling a campfire on one’s own bed and then getting upset because the mattress becomes engulfed in flames.

“But,” one may ask, “what if I did not kindle the fire, but I am the one who got burned?” Well, that’s the rub of evil. Sin does not behave like a self-ingested poison that only infects the consumer. Sin acts more like a grenade which can maim those who weren’t even involved in pulling the pin. The sins of others have always adversely effected bystanders – sometimes immediately and sometimes with later results. This is one of the many reasons that the Lord holds such an intolerance towards sin.

Of course, such knowledge gives little comfort to the one who has suffered at the hands of someone else’s evil. “Where was God when I was wronged?” It is somewhat futile to try and give direct answers to such a question, because the answers are as varied as the circumstances. What is more, is that even if we received a full explanation of why, it doesn’t mean we would understand it at the time, nor does it mean the pain inflicted would be relieved.

In the Gospel of John chapter nine, an account of Jesus healing a blind man is recorded. The disciples of Christ asked why the man was born blind to which Jesus responded, “… that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (John 9:3) Imagine now, that someone would have told this man when he was young, “I know being blind is tough and even unfair, but someday God is going to use your affliction to help others see who the Christ is and they will find salvation in Him!” I suspect that would have meant little to a thirteen-year-old boy who probably just wanted to have sight. However, the day that his affliction was used to reach the masses is probably one he would not have traded for anything else.

There are, of course, numerous examples in the Bible of people who suffered through little or no fault of their own and wondered at one point where God was when they were wronged. We could mention the stories of Job, of Joseph, of David, of the Prophets and Apostles, and on and on. However, there is one account more pertinent than all of those. As Jesus Christ hung on a cross, dying an agonizing death for no crimes of His own, even He exclaimed, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) Even the Son asked the question of the Father in the moment of anguish, and Jesus was privy to the entire plan! He knew the purpose of His unfair suffering. My point is that the Lord understands because He Himself has been through it.

The big difference between the accounts of the people of God suffering unfairly or even that of the Lord Jesus Christ, is that we know the outcome of their stories. We, however, are only part way through our own stories. We may be in the midst of the suffering chapter (which can often seem like an unending chapter) or we may find ourselves currently in the aftermath of the suffering chapter. What has not been reached yet is the triumph chapter. Do not close the book early simply because you do not currently understand the whys. You have not reached that chapter yet, but you will.

I realize I have made several Biblical references already in this post, but if we’re going to address a question about God, it is best to go to His word and not rely on someone’s idea of how things are when it comes to God. Therefore, I would humbly ask that you allow me one more Scripture reference as I close this contemplation up.

Romans 8:28 reads, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” That is not to suggest some nonsense about the universe working everything out in the end for us. What the verse is declaring is that if we dedicate our lives to the Lord, He will make even our worst experiences into magnificent tools for good. I am convinced that many a tragic event has remained as nothing but tragedy because the one who suffered, hardened their heart against the very God who can give beauty for ashes.

This life is not easy and for some, it is down-right difficult. However, if you truly want an answer to the question, “God, why did you allow this to happen to me?” you will have to change your question to, “God, what are you now going to do with what happened to me?” When you set your mind and heart to the attitude of that question, you signal to God that you are ready for Him to take you through the process of turning tragedy to triumph.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

The Trouble with God

Imagine that I led you into a dark room and closed the door behind you. From the other side of the door I apologize for the darkness but inform you that I will explain where you are. From that point I may go on, in great detail, about the new coffee shop you are standing in. The place is filled with comfortable couches, freshly baked pastries, and several brews of exotic coffee. My descriptions are so vivid that you begin to believe that you can almost smell the aroma of the exquisite coffee blends. You start to gain excitement as you anticipate indulging in the delicacies that this coffee shop has to offer.

Or perhaps, instead of a coffee shop, I begin to describe a room that is more akin to a dungeon. I begin by articulating graphic descriptions of the various tortures that await you. I explain to you that you are now a prisoner and the days ahead will be filled with hopelessness and dread. Your heart begins to pound as you feel the blood drain from your face and panic grips your soul. A chill runs down your spine as you swear you can now feel the dankness of the dungeon.

Suddenly, you are aware that someone else is in the room with you. Is it the barista?! Is it the torturer?! Then a very calm and confident voice says, “Don’t listen to him. None of that is true.” The light abruptly comes on and as your eyes adjust you find that you are standing in an empty room consisting of basic drywall and laminate flooring. The man with you in the room looks at you slightly disappointed and walks out without saying another word.

Now, if you were given the coffee shop description, you may be disappointed. However, if you were given the torture chamber narrative, you would certainly be relieved. Either way, as a detailed description was given, your mind began to run amuck with the absence of sight, so much so, that you could almost detect certain expected stimuli with your other senses.

The scenario above illustrates a situation that we can sometimes find ourselves in while on life’s journey. Human beings have an uncanny knack for self-deception. Simply look at a man wearing a bad toupee. He certainly didn’t wear it out in public because he thought his hair-piece looked horrendously counterfeit. The term fake news has been coined in recent years, but mankind has been creating false narratives from the beginning. On occasion, our version of events can be played out in our minds so often and for so long that we actually begin to believe the fabricated account over the veritable truth!

Sometimes we create comforting mirages. We can spin epic fairytales around very basic happenings in our life that we actually believe. I often observed this type of thing play out among teenagers when I was a youth pastor. A young person would convince themselves that they had found the love of their life and build a fantasy around that individual that none could dispel. When the inevitable collapse of the relationship would happen, true vision would slowly creep into the hindsight evaluation of what things were really like while they were together.

There are other instances where we craft tales that bring justification to poor lifestyle choices. It is rather strange how our recollection of events can change over the course of time. I once knew a man who would tell me the most fantastic and traumatizing stories about his life which would, in turn, be used to explain away certain destructive behaviors. While I am certain that he had faced some difficult circumstances, I was also certain that his stories had taken on some poetic license, to say the least. The strange thing was that I feel confident that he believed every tale he told as if it were absolute fact.

It is a strange thing to realize that we often love the fantasy worlds we create and we grow quite aggravated when others attempt to burst our bubbles with truth. I have witnessed people of all ages vehemently fight to preserve the lie that they have created. In some instances, they no longer even recognize that it is a lie; their recollection so corrupted in their own memories.

Enter God. The trouble with God is that He is an exposer. He is the One who will turn on the light and say, “None of that is true.” The Book of Hebrews chapter 4 verses 12 and 13 read, “12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

The fact that nothing is hidden from His sight and that He even knows the intents of our hearts can be extremely frustrating when we have created a particular narrative for ourselves that we have become convinced is now the truth. This has led some to steer far away from God and His bubble-bursting ways. What we often fail to realize (or perhaps our pride keeps us from acknowledging) is that our determination to hold on to the lie, places us in a prison of our own design. In the end, we only hurt ourselves.

I want to encourage you today; stop seeing God as the spoiler of your dream-world (whether it is a good dream or a nightmare) and embrace His exposure of the truth so that you can be free. Until you humble yourself and let the Lord turn on the light, the darkness you remain in is your doing. Stop settling for the dark.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

A number of years ago I sat down with a young man in our church who was very upset with another leader in the church. His primary grievance was that he felt that the leader showed him no respect. After listening to this young man and getting a picture from his point of view, I attempted to expand the very narrow vision of his recollections and began to cite the many, many incidents of him not only showing disrespect to the leader, but several episodes of downright belligerence and malice towards the leader and his family (the most recent of which prompted the very conversation we were having). The young man defiantly justified all of his actions with this response, “Well, he (the leader) needs to earn my respect.”

If you have any sense of maturity in you, reading that response probably caused you to cringe. As I continued to converse with this young man, I attempted (to little avail since he was so intrenched in his own arrogance) to realign his warped sense of reality. He felt that the leader – the one placed in authority over him and given responsibility for him – should have to earn his respect, but that he himself should simply be given respect outright by any and all. The hubris emanating from him was such that it acted as a protective barrier keeping him from receiving any knowledge, logic, correction, or just plain common sense.

Respect seems to be a rare gem these days. Customers are rude to people in customer service. Customer service representatives are rude to customers. Drivers are rude to others on the road. Children are rude to parents. Subordinates are rude to their superiors. The young disrespect their elders and people are absolutely obnoxious to others on social media. It is obvious to me that we need more coffee shops where people can pull themselves together and respectfully converse over a fresh cup of coffee.

We really need to rediscover the art of respecting one another. That art begins by giving respect, not looking for it from others. When we communicate with condescending tones towards others, we shouldn’t be surprised when we receive rebuke in return. It is absurd to verbally assault someone and then expect them to respond with a curtsey and kindly thank us. There is a better, more mature, way to treat people and get one’s point across. This should begin by respecting positions of authority or age.

We are told in 1 Timothy 5:1, “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers”. This is not to suggest that one can only teach or, as necessity may demand, even correct someone who is younger. Nor is the verse telling us that there is nothing one can learn from someone younger than ourselves. Indeed, I have learned from younger and older alike. As a pastor, it is my task to teach both those who are younger and older than I am and, on rare occasions, bring correction if it is required. In fact, Timothy, to whom the Apostle Paul addressed this epistle, was a young pastor leading a congregation of believers who were of various ages.

The point being made is that respect needs to be given to those who are older than us if we wish to articulate a position or facilitate the reception of a message. If you begin a dialog with someone with the intent to teach or make a point and you are the younger, it does you no good to come off like a schoolmarm scolding the elder. Think about it this way; would you receive correction from a five-year-old if they spoke down to you like you were somehow inferior to their five-year intellect? Even if that child was correct on that one particular matter, it would not make them equal in authority to you or the respect that is due to you given your age, experience, and/or possible position of authority. By giving respect where it is due because of position and/or age, one will earn respect in the sight of others all around.

You cannot decide the behavior of another, but you can choose the way in which you will conduct yourself. However, if enough people start offering respect to others then perhaps, just maybe, our society and our conversations will return to some sense of civility. It is certainly a worthwhile goal to strive for anyway.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

Love May Get You Hated

I’ve been considering the subject of love recently. In particular, how one can honestly show love to an individual who is participating in destructive and/or self-destructive behavior without giving the impression that the behavior is being condoned. Our society’s imbecilic idea of love would have one smiling and blowing kisses to people as they drive themselves over a cliff. That, of course, is not love, but rather, a cowardly act of self-preservation that wishes to avoid the unpleasantries of upsetting someone. That is not what I was looking for.

I remember being a little child and believing that, at times, my mother didn’t love me because she refused to condone my foolish behavior. How could she hate me so much as to suggest that what I wanted to do was wrong? It was, of course, an infantile outlook on love. As one matures, however, one begins to recognize that love is far grander than simply hugging people as they stubbornly head off into harm’s way. Being a parent myself, I now recognize the emotional sacrifice my mother made as she bore the brunt of my anger so she could truly love me.

Love is a powerful gift, but the reception of love is truly a fickle thing. There are times when someone we love is inviting catastrophe into their life and one cannot simply show up with a Hallmark card and a bouquet of roses. Yet, showing up with shackles and a baseball bat, intending to beat sense into the person is too far onto the other end of the scale. How does one show love to an individual who is living in a self-imposed cataclysm?

I was looking for more than a simple cliché quip set to the background of sunlit skies and majestic mountains. I needed something real, something practical, and above all, something Scriptural. As I pointed out in my last blog post, God is love. Therefore, if I want to learn how to love, even in the most difficult of circumstances, I need to go to Him and not search for some empty spiritual fluff.

If anyone in history has ever displayed love in the type of scenario my thoughts were centered upon, it was, without question or equal, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus loved others perfectly, and it was not always the way our society would respond to well. The Lord showed tender mercy where it was needed, but He also condemned sin unashamedly. And lest we think that He only had strong words for the “religious” lot, let us remember that the woman whom He rescued from a justifiable stoning under the Law, was also told by Him, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) We should not suppose that His final words to her were said with a sweet smile; more like a sobering look of, “Do not squander the mercy shown to you this day. I love you, but you need to stop this wrong behavior.”

One of the most notable things about the love that Jesus showed to everyone, was how often it got Him hated. Not everyone loved His love. In fact, the Lord clearly points this out in John 7:7 when He said, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” Jesus was well aware that if He wanted to show true love to all, He would have to deal with the hatred such love could generate – similar to what my dear mother prepared herself to endure when she denied her young son carte blanche on every impulse.

You see, real love is not based in thoughts of, “What kind of return will get out of this?” or “How will this make me feel?” Real love is anchored in truth; not the arbitrary relative truth that our society wishes to embrace, but absolute truth. The truth that there is right and wrong and that wrong actions bring about bad consequences. Truth that can be expressed with compassion, but may bring a stinging backlash against a person nonetheless.

Real love will sacrifice and take the pain. It will not attempt to avoid the pain by pretending all is well or by refusing to clearly warn another of the danger of their choices. In fact, real love can be so painful at times, that people would much rather settle for the counterfeit version that fabricates the mirage that all is well.

Real love speaks truth, not rudely, but compassionately. Nonetheless, that truth, no matter how compassionately it is delivered, may be returned with hatred. Real love may hurt and it may even leave scars upon the person giving that love. The Lord Jesus Christ knows that all too well; His body still retains the scars of His love given to us.

There is no warm and fuzzy answer here when it comes to showing love to one who is on a path of self-destruction. If you truly wish to love them, then you had better prepare yourself for pain. If you are not willing to endure that pain, then simply smile and say nothing… but stop pretending that you love the person. If Jesus “loved” like that, we’d all be hell-bound with no hope.

If you are facing this type of difficult situation today, my prayers go with you. Be strong, be truthful, love like Jesus does, and don’t be shy about shedding some tears in your coffee. Bring your pain before the Lord in prayer as you endure the hatred you may receive for your love, and He who shed His blood for you will see you through.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

I Want to Know What Love Is

Perhaps, like me, you remember your mother acquiring a pack of silly cards for you to pass out to your grade school class for the Valentine’s season. Or maybe you remember your junior high or high school promoting a carnation fund raiser whereby one could purchase carnations for fellow students that they liked. I recall those years, going through the hallways with my hands empty as others carried full bouquets of white, pink, and even red carnations that they had received. I always hated that season. However, I’m not looking for pity for the past, because I am very happily married now. I would much rather experience living love now each day, than having only memories of carnations to hold on to. (Keep that in mind if you are a teenager now.)

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that can provoke a wide range of expressions. For some, it is a day to publicly celebrate the love of their life (or the current love of their life). For others, Valentine’s Day is a day to publicly express feelings of bitterness and jealousy over not having a current love of their life. And still for others, the holiday is nothing but a mechanical obligation that must be observed in order to keep the peace.

In short, the Valentine’s celebration is an entire holiday surrounding the idea of love… or at least some version of it. The thing is, do we really know what love is? There are many people who talk about love these days, but have little problem directing hatred towards those with whom they disagree. These people often act as though they are an authority on love and yet fall far short of love’s genuine display. We should really contemplate how such fickle creatures as humans could possibly hold the corner market on love.

Perhaps the most arrogant display of love-expertise that is touted is when a society who ignores God, for the most part, then declares what God means by commanding us to love. I recently saw a comic online depicting Jesus speaking with some preachers. The caption read, “The difference between Me and you is you use Scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what Scripture means.” The statement is actually true. The flaw in the comic was its application as some sort of rebuke towards the preachers or Christians in general.

God is love; that’s what 1 John 4:8 tells us. He is love. God doesn’t just know love, He is the actual personification of love. Therefore, God’s word is spoken from the One who is love. However, we are not love nor do we fully comprehend love, so we need to read and study His word to properly determine what love really is. If we try to use our skewed understanding of love to determine what the Scripture is saying about love, we end up perverting love into some sort of abomination of man-made design. We must look to God to properly apply love, not take our version of love and apply it to God.

Human beings will mask all kinds of things under our perversion of perfect love, which is personified in the nature of God. Adultery is often excused as love (and indeed, an adulterous couple may have actually fallen in love), but adultery is still a sin. Feelings of love don’t sanctify the sin and make it pure before God. And such are many things which we try to cleanse by applying the label of love, but they are based on our version of love and not God who is love.

Truly, there are many things that human beings love which God despises. “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, italics mine)

If one considers the way that a child perceives love, we begin to gain a picture of how we pervert love. A child often views love as being given permission to do whatever they wish. Nearly every child throughout history has at one point believed that their parents hated them simply because they were denied license to act on their impulses. Of course, parents understand that real love sometimes mean saying no. Unfortunately, though we mature, we do not always lose that warped concept of love; we only transfer it to God. Therefore, if God says no or if God’s word declares some action we love to be a sin, we throw a temper tantrum (albeit a mature, adult temper tantrum) and basically declare that God’s word is promoting hatred. Once we feel like that, there are only two options; reject God’s word or “reinterpret” His word to make it say something else (i.e., using our version of love to interpret Scripture).

There is much more that can be said, but I shall end with the following thought: If you really want to know what love is, study God, study the Life of Jesus Christ – and study without a preconceived idea about love. You will find that love is merciful and kind. You will find that love treats the least with as much value as the greatest. You will also discover that love rebukes and corrects and has a definite standard of absolutes. Love, you will find, is also not a feeling, but it is often an act of one’s will that at times actually defies our feelings. Above all, you will discover that love will honor God and His high and holy standard. True love will never compromise that for the ever-changing standards of men.

Now, allow me to encourage you to go out and treat someone you love to a cup of coffee… or maybe someone who could use some love today. Happy Valentine’s season!

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

Snowed In

It happens on multiple occasions over the winter season here in Pennsylvania. The weather reports an impending snow storm and a mad rush to the grocery store ensues. Shelves are cleared of all kinds of items, but especially milk, eggs, and bread. Personally, I think the first staple that needs to be stocked up on is coffee. Enjoying a good hot cup of coffee while watching it snow is one of life’s simple pleasures.

This scenario is played out in many other northern states as well over the winter months. The rather funny part about all of this is that, with today’s infrastructure, it is highly unlikely that one will be snowed-in for days on end. Even when I lived in a very rural area for a number of years, most roads were cleared within twenty-four hours of a snow storm. Yet, the mere mention of snow has people preparing to be buried for days and setting up supplies in their homes like some sort of apocalyptic bunker to endure Snowmageddon.

However, with roads being cleared and things being back to normal typically within a day’s time (not to mention the often inaccurate weather forecasting), one wonders what the reason is for all of the panic. I’m going to make a suggestion. Listen and see if this resonates with you. I believe, for many people, it’s not really panic people are experiencing, but instead, it is hope.

I believe many people are not as much experiencing fear of being snowed in as they may be of hoping they are snowed in. Why? Because our society runs at such a high pace and we are constantly trying to cram more tasks into our schedule that we want something to cause a shut-down so that we can stop. We are desperately looking for a break and we need something to make that happen. We require a reason to be confined to our homes and our pajamas with nothing but snacks and Netflix to be concerned with.

All week, every week, we run and run and run. Our jobs demand time and overtime with little consideration that we work in order to live, not live in order to work. After work, however, kids must be shuttled to several different extracurricular activities all the while doing their hours of homework during the car ride (because we are also training them to become busy little bees like us). Of course, there are also tasks that must be done at home and to the lawn and the volunteer work and so on and so on. We’ve become so busy that we now praise the ability to multitask thinking that doing several things at once is somehow better than concentrating on one thing at a time and doing it well.

The fact remains, however, that we were not made to run at this pace and though we wear our busy schedules like some sort of badge of honor as we attempt to declare ourselves more busy than our peers, we really don’t enjoy it. We need a break. We want something to stop the cycle and give us a respite for a day or two. Hence our hope in an impending snow storm. We internally smile at the idea of not being able to leave the house for work or take the kids somewhere. We imagine a day of sweatpants and movies to watch or books to read while wrapped up in a blanket with a large cup of coffee. The best part of this daydream is that it all comes to us guilt free because we cannot go anywhere. We’re snowed in!

The simple fact is that we need to rest and reset, and we need to do it more often than once or twice a year. This is how we were designed. Therefore, when the Lord formed the nation of Israel, He gave them a command requiring rest. Exodus 20:8-10 reads, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.”

God scheduled a weekly day of rest for His people. It was a day to be made holy to God and a day to rest from one’s labors without feeling guilty about getting nothing accomplished. Of course, over time the command was twisted into something to create strife so that a man could not even walk a certain distance without breaking the Sabbath. Today there are those who demand the Sabbath can only be on Saturday (as it is the seventh day of the week) instead of Sunday when early Christians started observing it marking the day of the Lord’s resurrection. But as Jesus plainly told His critics, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

Now, we do not live in a society that observes a Sabbath. Our culture is all about filling the schedule. Yet, even disciples of Christ don’t really observe a Sabbath any longer. Many cannot seem to keep a regular week day, like Sunday, holy unto the Lord. Church gets pushed out for other things on the schedule and even if church is worked in, there are often tasks and appointments and events to be attended right after the last amen. The Sabbath is rarely holy and it is rarely a day of rest.

If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ living in a culture that observes no Sabbath, you are going to have to be the one who makes that happen in your family. Society is not going to do it for you like ancient Israel’s society did. You have to choose to hollow the day, make worship important, and then create a day of rest from all the typical tasks and activities of the week. That will certainly come at a price, but if you do it correctly and consistently, you may not have to hope for a snow storm to provide it for you. With all of our busyness, we need a day each week to reflect back upon God and then to rest from the demands of our schedule. Just think about that for a bit.

Until next time, may your coffee, your contemplations, and your Sabbaths be rich and fulfilling.

I Deserve to Be Happy

Nearly every foolish, selfish, and destructive choice has been rationalized by these five words; I deserve to be happy. Those words are trumpeted like a battle cry from the carnal mind that desperately wishes to charge into some action to satiate one temporal appetite or another. One can almost hear the tempter whisper, “You worked hard today, you deserve this inebriation… again,” or “You feel neglected, you deserve an evening of pornographic indulgence or perhaps even an adulterous affair,” or “You had a rough week (or life), surely you deserve this particular vice.” Now, before you slam your coffee cup down and march out in feigned offense, allow me to refresh that mug and do me the kindness of hearing me out.

Let us begin by pointing out that it is a rather egotistical proclamation to make of oneself to declare, “I deserve to be happy.” The implication is that one has somehow earned happiness and is now, in fact, owed happiness. There are people in the world of whom I might say, “They deserve to be happy.” Such individuals would typically be of the sort who, through a lifetime of sacrifice, have unselfishly served others. Of course, the kind of person I’m referring to has likely already found happiness in their service. So, while I might say that someone of exceptional service to their fellow man deserves to be happy, I would never claim such a mantle for myself.

Please do not misunderstand me. I want to be happy. I would prefer to be happy. Even the Declaration of Independence recognizes the right of every individual to be free to pursue happiness, but to demand that I deserve it is quite another thing.

Why would one believe they deserve to be happy? Perhaps they have done some good deeds. To that I say, “So what?” If your deeds were done so that you may reward yourself then it can hardly be said any longer that they are good. Perhaps the individual has experienced hardships in life. However, everyone has experienced some sort of hardships in life. We live in a broken world. Hardships are part of life (even Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life, was betrayed and crucified), but they don’t automatically qualify us for deserved happiness. Perhaps the deserving is based on the belief by the individual that they are a good person. In response to that I ask, by whose standard are you good and therefore deserving of happiness?

Now, I do not wish to belabor the point of deserving happiness, because God offers us joy everlasting in His presence as a gift. However, that is not a gift of a carefree life here in this fallen world. (Again, I refer you to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.) Therein lies the root of the “I deserve to be happy” mantra; the search is for something, anything, to make us happy now. Therefore, caution is often thrown to the wind and we rush in where angels fear to trod without thought of consequences that assuredly await down the path. The happiness that is so often sought after in this scenario is a fast, but fleeting, happiness.

The glaring issue with this expedient and easy happiness resides in that particular object or person we have placed the burden upon to make us happy. The hard truth is this; if you need something or someone to make you happy, then your happiness is an illusion. It is a mirage, albeit a convincing one for a time, that will eventually let one down and be exposed for its true nature. When that happens, the individual is then brought to a crossroads; either admit they were foolish and forsake this path or stubbornly press ahead in order to save face.

Any disciple of Christ worth their salt will tell you that there is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is conditional. A certain set of circumstances is required to make one happy and once those conditions change, so does one’s mood. Joy, however, can exist regardless of outside forces; sometimes even in defiance of them!

In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, we find the Apostle Paul and his fellow minister, Silas, being mistreated and hated. These two good men who performed many good deeds and had suffered many hardships were beaten and thrown into prison. Acts 16:23-25 reads, “23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Now, considering the treatment they just received, one would be hard-pressed to argue that Paul and Silas were happy. Conditions would not allow that. What we can recognize is that they had joy; joy that manifested regardless of current conditions.

When it comes down to it, the question is not one of deserving, but of wanting. Therefore, what is it that you want? Do you want to continually pursue happiness rooted in conditions which will eventually change and inevitably leave you empty and dry (not to mention the collateral damage that such pursuits sometimes leave in their wake)? Or, do you want joy which will be present even when conditions cannot make you happy? There is a peace and a freedom that comes with that joy that mere happiness will never provide for you. I dare say that your choice between these two avenues will most likely be decided based on your level of stubbornness vs. you level of humility.

I leave you with this quote to contemplate from C. S. Lewis, “Human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

Label Maker

Have you noticed the excessive amount of name calling that goes on today? It seems that the instant someone is offended, they are labeling the person they disagree with as some form of “-phobic” or “-ism” or “toxic” something or other. One gets the picture that we are all on a grade school playground where the children are incapable of mature civil dialog and can therefore only offer generous amounts of name calling at those they are angry with.

Now, please relax and enjoy your coffee. My encouragement for today’s contemplation is not to bemoan the adolescent behavior of politically correct groups who attempt to shut down conversation by name calling in order to mask their indefensible positions, but instead to focus on the nuisance of labels themselves. Human beings seem to possess an insatiable urge to make labels. Sometimes labels are helpful, but other times they can be harmful.

Back in the days of prehistoric eighties technology, we had nifty little devices called label makers. These handheld tools came with a variety of colorful plastic tape spools that the operator could change in and out depending on the color label desired. Once the spool was loaded, one would have to painstakingly turn the dial to each letter or number that was required on the label and squeeze the trigger each time to imprint the character into the plastic. Once your label was complete, you would cut the tape and remove the backing so the label could be placed on the item needing labeled. This process could take a lot of time if one needed to do a large amount of labeling and there were times that the tape would not stick properly. Of course, there were other instances where any hopes of removing that label in the future were futile.

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I believe we have a tendency to run around with our label makers sticking our perceptions on to other people as we interact with them. In the meantime, many of the people we interact with are busy making and placing labels upon us. If we were able to see and read all of these labels at the end of the day, we would surely find that several of them contradict. One label might describe you as bossy while another characterizes you as timid. The conflict between the two labels is formed by the moment of interaction that day, coupled with the temperament and personality of the particular label maker. Therein lies the problem with labels; they are subjective. A label or two cannot hope to encompass all the person that you are or even can be. Labels are, for the most part, a microcosm of your personality based on the situation of a particular interaction or set of interactions.

That’s not to say that labels hold no value. There are certainly people who are rude and people who are mean and people who are pleasant and people who are kind. However, it is quite likely that someone in that person’s life has a far different view of them. For example, you may know a crotchety old man whom you would label as rude and unkind. Yet, that same old man may have a couple of grandkids who find him to be the kindest, most tender-hearted individual they have ever met. The reality is, both labels could hold truth depending on your interaction with the individual.

Indeed, some labels tell a portion of truth about an individual but often not the whole. However, there are other labels, based in little truth, which create dark, self-fulfilling prophecies. These labels are always negative in nature and unfortunately tend to be the type that become extremely difficult to remove. Labels of being a failure or a disappointment are some of this type. They begin through a failure (or two or three or four) or by disappointing someone on a few occasions. Yet, instead of the situation being labeled as a failure or an instance of disappointment, the label is inappropriately placed upon the person! Everyone experiences failure and everyone has and will disappoint others from time to time. But just like many other labels, these negative labels don’t tell the entire story. Instead, they only tell of the interaction of a particular slice of time. It would be like trying to write a synopsis of a book based on the reading of one paragraph in the narrative. Be wary of reducing yourself to a few labels. You are certainly more than that.

Labels are not unique to our culture. Even the Lord Jesus Christ was labeled as was His cousin John the Baptist. Matthew 11:18-19 – “18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.” Notice the contradiction of the label makers. They applied a different standard to each of these men they disliked in order to place a label upon them. However, even though the Lord pointed out their faulty label making, He did not bind Himself to their perceptions. He knew who He was and would not allow their labels to stick… though they repeatedly tried to apply them.

My encouragement to you is to beware of labels; especially the negative labels we may place upon ourselves. While it is a good thing to do some self-evaluation and root out negative traits we may possess, such evaluations should be done in order to facilitate self-improvement and personal growth. Self-evaluation should never be done as a means of making labels. You are more than your labels. If you want to know who you really are and who you can really be, don’t go to a label maker. Instead, I would advise you to seek your Maker. The Maker knows what a label maker can never see.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

Fight or Flight

Have you ever determined to get your life together and put yourself on the right path only to be met with an onslaught of intense opposition? Obstacles so overwhelming begin to appear before you that you eventually question why you ever bothered to set your foot upon this path. At some point you may even shout to God, “I’m trying to do what is right now, so why has everything gotten worse?”

I suppose that a major cause of our confusion is that we assume that the right path is the easy path. We figure that the wrong path is filled with sorrows and heartache (which it often is) and therefore the right path should be marked by calm streams and warm sunshine upon our face. However, as one person noted, “Anyone who plays video games can tell you, if your character (in the game) is meeting resistance, it’s a good sign that you are heading in the right direction.” The simple fact is, that if the right path was easy then virtually everyone would be on it. Humans, like electricity, tend to follow the path of least resistance.

In the last year and a half to two years, the Lord has been doing a tremendous amount of renovations in my personal life. It has been a time of significant spiritual growth for me, but as a result, I have encountered my fair share of battles on several fronts. Many of these battles have been, and continue to be, extremely taxing.

I suppose I can liken what the Holy Spirit has been doing in me to the renovations that Chip and Joanna Gaines do in houses on their show, Fixer Upper. Now, if you were to begin the show with only the last ten minutes, you would be introduced to a beautiful home that they put together. However, you would miss all of the work that went into that finished home. You’d miss the demolition of things that had to go, the installation of things that needed to be added, and especially the unforeseen obstacles encountered that continually threw monkey wrenches into the plans. Our growth as individuals will, inevitably, involve all of those factors.

I believe this is why many people, Christians as well, shy away from pursuing the right path with one hundred percent commitment. Although we want the right path to be smooth, most of us know, at least subconsciously, that it is not. Therefore, we surmise that it would not be to our benefit to invite more trouble into our life. It’s as if there is this silent agreement in place between the Christian and the devil that states hence, “I will not pursue an uncompromised walk with Christ if you promise to leave me alone and not stir up troubles and sorrow in my life.”  It’s the path of least resistance. The problem is, when you make an agreement with the Father of Lies, even a silent one, you cannot expect him to honor his end of the bargain.

There is a response to danger or trouble in most creatures, including humans, which we term fight or flight. The basic premise is that, when faced with adversity, the creature will respond by either fighting against the trouble or fleeing from it. Fear is not the determining factor, for it is likely that fear is experienced by both the one who fights and the one who flees. The outcome of living or dying is also not a determining factor as fight or flight could both result in the same outcome. The determining factor is simply choice; how do you want to respond? Do you wish to run and hide your entire life or will you fight every obstacle in your path though it be through much pain and tears? I am reminded of a line King Théoden spoke in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers; “If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end as to be worthy of remembrance!”

As for me, though troubles may wear me down and at times seem to drown me, I have become more determined to pursue my God. I will not be pushed back into compliance by the enemy of my soul. The word of the Lord declares in Psalm 126:5, “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” What about you today? Will you flee from the face of resistance and be corralled into being compliant or will you recognize that resistance to the right path only comes because the enemy fears you reaching the destination ahead? Will you be angry at the resistance in your way and flee or will you be angry at the one who resists you and fight?

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 – “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplation be rich and fulfilling.