The Anvil of Life

My family and I love to attend the annual Renaissance Faire in our area whenever we can. We even dress the part when we are able to do so. I enjoy the atmosphere, the stands, and of course, the food. (It occurs to me that I have not fully investigated if there are any medieval coffee shops in the shire.)

One of my favorite places to visit at the Faire is the blacksmith. I have a slight affinity for swords and I enjoy watching the blacksmith hammer the iron in his hand into a magnificent weapon. I have never stayed long enough to watch the entire process from start to finish because it is not something that quickly takes place. However, I have been witness to various stages of the blade forming operation and it is hard, hot work. The finished product, though, is beautiful to behold.

The blacksmithing process can stand as a metaphor for life. Everyone is handed some kind of “raw iron” over the course of our existence. This iron comes in the form of hardships and obstacles. Granted, some have heavier burdens than others, but everyone has iron. There is always someone better off than you, but there is always someone worse off than you as well.

We face debilitation when we look at the iron we have been handed in life and simply complain because it is hard. Certainly, it is easier to not engage in the difficult work of shaping the iron, but when we choose the easy route, the iron becomes iron bars. It becomes our prison.

The people who do well for themselves are those who look at the iron they have been handed – infirmity, birth defect, dysfunctional family, mental or emotional conditions, tragedy, etc. – and they temper it into something useful. These types of people are not necessarily stronger than others; they simply choose not to let the iron hammer them. Instead, they hammer the iron into something that will serve them and maybe even others.

There is an account in the Book of John chapter 5 of Jesus coming by the Pool of Bethesda one day to find a man who could not walk. The Bible tells us that the man was in this condition for thirty-eight years. Now, sick people from all around encamped at this particular pool for healing. Jesus comes upon this man and inquires of him, “Do you want to be made well?” (verse 6)

The question Jesus asks of this man seems odd at first. If you read the context of the story, you will find that the man was sitting by a pool where one could periodically experience a miracle. Obviously, he wanted to be healed. Isn’t that why he was there?

However, the response the man gave to Jesus’ inquiry may reveal the reason Jesus asked him the question in the first place. The man looks at the Lord and answers, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” (verse 7) Thirty-eight years of not being able to walk and not once did he make sure to position himself at the most advantageous spot to get into the pool first?

We can be like that sometimes. We know what we need to do, but we fail to actually do it. Instead we rely on some reason as to why we cannot do it, and let us face facts; not doing it is easier. However, remember how I mentioned that the iron becomes iron bars of a prison if we decide not to hammer it into something else? This man had his reason, but he was still trapped with his infirmity. The question Jesus asked him may have been probing far deeper into his true state of mind than what it looked to be on the surface.

What about you? What will you do with your iron? Will you let it beat you up and become your prison? Will you lament that the iron is hard and it is too much work to fashion it? Or, will you grab your hammer and anvil and go through the long hot process of beating that iron into the magnificent tool it can be? The end result will be worth it if you are determined to endure through the crafting.

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

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The VIP

WARNING: This particular blog post will be dealing with some explicit sexual content. I don’t expect that warning will keep anyone from reading it (in fact, it will probably draw more readers) however, you have been warned so don’t be surprised.

Like any society throughout history, we prize certain individuals above others. People who have, by talent, ingenuity, birthright or even by shear dumb luck, arrived in the upper social status sphere and are largely regarded with some sort of esteem by the masses. We sometimes refer to these individuals as Very Important Persons or VIPs.

Oh, to be among the rich and famous. Their elegant dress and prestigious dinners delight the common folk as we gain a glimpse into a lifestyle we can only imagine. Crowds throng to the appearances of these VIPs and their fame grants them a platform by which they can express all of their “wisdom” concerning life. (You may be tempted to sluff off the VIP’s influence in such matters, but there is a very good reason why advertisers, and even politicians, seek celebrity endorsements.) It is a life that many dream of, but few will ever attain. However, there is an old saying that warns, “Not all that glitters is gold.”

I was watching part of a late-night talk show some time ago and the guest was a young female actress who was invited there to promote a new movie she was staring in. The film was in the genre of nonsense like American Pie and other college type antics, so I suppose what followed should not have come as a surprise.

This young lady who was building a name for herself in the television and film industry began to share about a particular scene in the movie where the script directed her character to masturbate. She then explains to the host and adoring audience that she imagined that the camera shot would be from her waste up and she would simulate the act, leaving viewers to their imagination. She went on to say that when they got to the scene she asked the director what she was supposed to do. The female director looked at her very seriously and said, “I want you to do what it says in the script and masturbate.”

At this point, the host of the talk show and his sidekick, who were flanking her on either side, leaned in laughing and salivating like a couple of adolescent apes at the zoo during feeding time. Everyone on set seemed to want to linger in the moment of this story and satiate their perverted imaginations. This young actress was indeed the center of attention and word of this scene was probably the only thing that was going to draw ticket sales in a market that is already flooded with hormonal party films.

The audience was cheering and laughing at her account, yet all I could feel was sorrow for this young actress. She allowed herself to be exploited for her sexuality and that is why she was the VIP of the moment. Strangers from all over the nation were going to see, and eventually own, film of her in a very compromising act. And let’s face the facts, if she would have stood up to the director and told her, “no,” they would have dismissed her and found another young pretty actress who was willing to relinquish her dignity and then that actress would be the VIP.

I have two reasons for sharing this story. The first purpose I have is to shed the light of reality upon the façade that is celebrity status. The masses fawn after these manufactured images of glamour and regality with little regard to what is sometimes given up for that status nor do they have an idea what is taking place behind closed doors to secure their rise to be adored by us all.

The #metoo movement brought some of that to light. Some were shocked by these revelations while others of us were shocked that people were shocked. While the behavior exposed in some of the entertainment industry is certainly vile, it should hardly have come as a surprise. It begs the question how Hollywood, which holds as one of its foundational pillars the sexualization of women in order to acquire wealth, can have the audacity to lecture anyone about morality?

My second purpose is to highlight the fact that we always have a choice. Choosing what is right may cost us a job or a raise or friends or prestige, which certainly may not be fair, but nevertheless, we still have a choice. Just as countless Christians, when faced with a choice between denying Christ or being executed, chose Christ. It wasn’t fair, it was costly, but it was right. We always have a choice.

For some, it seems that no price is too high to achieve the VIP status. It makes one wonder how much talent has remained untapped because some have said no to the sexual exploitation demands of the entertainment industry (or other industries) and placed their integrity and self-worth above their opportunity for a big break. Would you trade your dignity and integrity for a shot at being a VIP? If so, are you really worthy then of that status? The truth is, there are many times the VIP moniker is just as illusionary as the special effects in your favorite blockbuster film.

The young actress I mentioned is currently considered a VIP and has definitely risen above the ranks of commoners. However, she has gained my pity. Surely, she would likely scorn the pity of this unimportant peasant, but she has it anyway. When the powers-that-be, who grant VIP status, are done with her she will be cast aside like a carcass and replaced with a new and younger actress with VIP goals in her sight. Perhaps, years later, she may be mentioned on a Where-Are-They-Now? program, but her VIP card will have been revoked. The price she paid to obtain that flimsy and quite temporary membership, however, is forever preserved.

Of course, there are even worse things to lose in a quest for fleeting treasures: Matthew 16:26 (the words of Jesus Christ) – “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Now that is something to think about over a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

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

A Purposeless Life

Life can sometimes become what I will label as stale. Things seem to be on a constant stall or even seem to be breaking down one after another. An individual can feel as though they are as a ship in the middle of an ocean with no current, no wind, and no stars to navigate by. After enough time, such chapters in our lives soon create a listless sense of being. In church circles, we sometimes refer to these lonesome treks as “wilderness seasons”.

My wife and I sometimes make jokes about decaffeinated coffee, asking what the purpose of such a beverage is. Of course, for us, coffee is something we enjoy and its purpose for us extends far beyond its ability to provide a pick-me-up. For some, however, (whose palate has not yet matured enough to enjoy a refined cup of coffee) its purpose is lost and it may well be relegated only as a means of obtaining some sort of alertness.

While one may not have an appreciation for the purpose of coffee, not having a sense of purpose for life is a miserable place to be. When one spends what seems like an extended period of time in the wilderness season, it drains one of vitality. A life without a sense of purpose is a life without goals and a life with nothing more than existence to strive for. Much like a spider which builds a web merely to sit and wait for food to be caught so it can exist to sit on its web. (Sometimes, I knock down spider webs simply to give the spider something to do. A few hours of purpose for a creature which looks utterly bored.)

There is a great little discourse concerning purpose given by the antagonist, Agent Smith, in the movie The Matrix Reloaded; “There is no escaping reason; no denying purpose. Because as we both know, without purpose, we would not exist. It is purpose that created us. Purpose that connects us. Purpose that pulls us. That guides us. That drives us. It is purpose that defines us. Purpose that binds us.”

Without a sense of purpose, life quickly becomes a miserable drudgery. Many people grope to place meaning into their lives. Some have found purpose in helping others while others seem to think that their purpose is to make everyone they disagree with unhappy. Still, there are others whose only purpose is centered on self-satisfaction. (This is actually a purposeless life and is the reason so many of these individuals are miserable at the core of their being.) Having meaning in one’s life gives reason to live, and is why we all search for purpose.

There are those, however, who are too lethargic to allow purpose into their lives. It is not that they wish their life to be insignificant. They simply desire their life to have meaning with minimal effort on their part. Often times, this type of individual will envelope themselves in a myriad of excuses as to why they cannot direct their energies to adding value to their own life.

People who refuse to allow purpose into their lives are often the individuals one will find doing the most complaining. They complain because they are empty and purposeless (though they may not admit such in their complaints), but are quite uninterested in pursuing purpose that will take work and sacrifice. There is little that can be done for such folks until they awake out of their stupor. Purposeless life and misery are sisters joined at the hip. If one is unwilling to invite purpose in, they have unwittingly settled for inviting misery and sadness in.

When I was young, I was an atheist. I was not the fake type of atheist who spends time railing against people of faith. I was a genuine atheist who cared little about the beliefs of others. In my mind, existence was a grand cosmic accident so why should I care if one would wish to believe in a God or gods or spiritual things in general? In the end, we will all die and no one will care. Therein lay the rub. As an atheist, I believed the whole of existence was nothing more than an amazing, but purposeless accident. My life really had no meaning and so all my efforts were really for naught.

I didn’t later come to Christ because I was looking for purpose. I was firm in my belief that life was without purpose and, though a depressing situation, I had made peace with it. However, when I eventually discovered I was wrong about God’s existence (to this day, I have never been so happy to be wrong) I was gloriously given great additions to Christ’s gift of salvation; one of those additions being purpose!

My life had real meaning now. I realized I was planned, by God, and that He had indeed been orchestrating things in my life even before I acknowledged Him. Since that time, God has revealed much of His purpose in my life. That is not to suggest that I never experience wilderness seasons where the journey is dry and life-draining. Admittedly, there have also been times since coming to Christ, where I have taken my purpose for granted and not given one hundred percent of my effort. However, there is always that grander sense of purpose that drives me though the wilderness or which snaps me back from apathy.

Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

The Lord knows His thoughts – His purpose – for you. Unfortunately, there are many, many people who will never know that purpose, either because they have given themselves some other purpose or they refuse to allow purpose into their lives altogether. (And yes, there are even Christians who fit into both of those categories.) I encourage you today, contemplate your purpose over a cup of coffee this afternoon. Then, instead of creating your own purpose, seek your purpose from the One who purposely created you. When you find that, you will discover that even your wildernesses… and yes, even your pain… has meaning.

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

Why I Refuse to Facebook My Problems

Surely you have some friends whom you know way too much about. They may not even be close friends, but you know every problem they face and, in some instances, every intimate encounter they have. The reason you know so much lies not in that you are a trusted confidant, but in the simple truth that you are merely one of a large number of individuals who happens to see their social media posts. The fact is, everyone knows a lot about this person!

It would seem in this age of reality television, where cameras intrude into the lives and accompanying drama of individuals and families, that many people feel that their business is broadcast-worthy. Social media, of course, is the easiest and most accessible outlet for such endeavors, but I have witnessed it in public from time to time as well.

Last year my wife and I took a trip to our favorite beach as a second honeymoon after renewing our wedding vows. It was just after the summer season so it wasn’t nearly as crowded but the weather was still beautiful. One evening as we were strolling a peaceful boardwalk, the tranquility was abruptly broken by a very loud family who had gotten into an argument. The fracas had escalated so quickly that it surprised everyone in earshot. The volume of the individuals who were yelling at each other was so loud that I started looking around for hidden cameras. All I could think of was, “Take your drama elsewhere. We’re not subscribing to your YouTube channel.”

That, I believe, is the problem though. We are being programed to think that everyone wants to be audience to our drama. Therefore, people begin to broadcast it loud and proud. It could be a live drama such as the one we witnessed at the beach, or a loud mobile phone conversation, or a social media barrage.

Granted, every once in a while, I may share, on social media, a trouble or annoyance that I have experienced, but for the most part I keep my issues to myself and those closest to me. Let me briefly share why I believe this is important.

Reason 1: Nobody really cares. I do not mean that in a woe-is-me sort of context. I mean that everyone has their own issues to deal with. It is not that people do not wish to help or to give comfort in particularly painful circumstances, it is simply that when one seems to always have particularly painful circumstances, others begin to think, “Hey, you’re not the only one with problems.”

Reason 2: It is not everyone’s business. There are pains and struggles that each of us face in life that the rest of the world simply needs to keep their nose out of. However, if you shout it from the rooftops, you make it everyone else’s business. There are other things that are trivial which others do not require an announcement about. I have friends living all over the world. Does my friend in Germany really need to know that I am feeling in a bad mood today?

Reason 3: Sympathy can be highly addictive. This is, by far, the most important reason why I limit my Facebooking of problems. Sympathy is a form of attention and there is nothing so subtly seductive as attention. Create a post about how you are feeling miserable and worthless and wait. In no time your comment section will be full of friends telling you how wonderful you are and how they will be there to support you any time of the day. That is encouraging and refreshing. However, the endorphin spawned euphoria will not last forever. Unless one can move on, another fix will soon be in order. All it will take is one more sympathy generating post and one can be washed over in attention once again.

The withdraw comes when the amount of posts become so numerous that people run out of things to say or even become exasperated by them. The comments section is no longer as full as it once was and now you feel more hurt because people are losing interest… and you are losing attention.

That brings up one more reason I choose to limit Facebooking my problems; people can only give so much. It is not that people do not wish to give, but every one of us has a limited supply of support to give before we ourselves will need replenished. The situation is akin to being asked to make donations to this good cause or that good cause. One simply does not have enough resources to give to every good cause every time they are approached. Therefore, I want to be very mindful about draining the supply of encouragement and help from my friends lest I be guilty of leeching them dry. I cherish such help when I really need it, therefore I do not wish to take it for granted.

I do know of One, however, who is not limited in His supply of help and encouragement. He, even invites us to come to Him with our troubles. The Lord Jesus Christ says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And again, the word of the Lord declares in 1 Peter 5:6-7, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

I want to encourage you, before you are tempted to go selling tickets to your next show, try sharing your problems with an audience of One. (God is far better help in time of need anyway.) Then, if you must move the circle outward, keep it close and to a few. In the end, I believe you will find greater help and far less disappointment.

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

No Tag-Backs

“You’re it! No tag-backs!” Maybe you remember, as I do, getting a group of friends together and playing tag in someone’s yard. The person who was IT would frantically run around after the others desperately attempting to tag one of them so the designation of IT could be passed on to that person. Often, when the it-exchange would take place, one would hear the declaration, “No tag-backs!” This call was made to ensure that the previous IT would have time to get away and the game could function properly. Otherwise, there was the possibility of the tag game turning into a slap-fight between two people, leaving the rest of the gang to have to find something else to do.

I believe acts of kindness should be treated like a game of tag. I often see people lamenting on social media about their great kindness (at least in their own estimation) and how they are always there for people, but no one is ever there for them. While I understand the sentiment and acknowledge that the predicament can be quite frustrating, one must thoughtfully consider how kind one’s kindness is if it eventually demands reciprocation.

I am not suggesting that kindness with the expectation of payback is not kindness at all, but it is certainly not the purest of kindness. If one is constantly keeping score and doing things for others to gain favors to eventually be cashed in, then the kindness done, at least in part, is self-serving. It is more like a service provided that we will send the bill for at a later date.

The Lord Jesus Christ gave instructions concerning a better kindness; a purer form of kindness. In Luke 6:35 Jesus says, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.” It would seem that Jesus wants us to do good and then quickly “get away” before we can be paid back. No sticking around for accolades. No waiting for favors to be annotated on IOUs. No tag-backs.

I am reminded of the Progressive Insurance commercial where Flo and her colleagues were running around the neighborhood in the cover of night like a group of naughty kids, but were making repairs and doing good instead of participating in mischief. The whole idea was that they did not want to get caught; they just wanted to do right. Sometimes, when blessing someone else, we desire to get caught on purpose so that others know who they owe a favor to.

Not only does Jesus instruct us to adopt a policy of no tag-backs when it comes to doing acts of kindness for others, but He takes it a step further. Luke 14:12-14 – “Then He also said to him who invited Him, ‘When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’”

The Lord tells us to purposefully look for people who cannot possibly pay us back and do good to them! That is certainly the opposite end of the spectrum from expecting to have our kindness compensated. Yet, what Jesus illustrates is pure kindness. Can we be satisfied with helping and blessing others simply for the sake of doing so? Or do we expect to be caught up in a slap-fight of exchanging kindness for kindness?

It can be difficult and lonely when one feels that they always give but receive nothing in return. However, my advice to you this day is to take your eyes off of yourself and what you feel you are not receiving. Place them on others and bless them for the pure sake of blessing them and maybe you will not be reminded so much of what you are in need of. There is a great joy to be found in blessing others and, as strange as it may seem, there can be a great deal of misery experienced when one is simply waiting to be blessed.

“Never look for right in the other man, but never cease to be right yourself. We are always looking for justice; the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is – Never look for justice, but never cease to give it.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations… and acts of kindness… be rich and fulfilling.

Rules of the Road

Have you ever been so foolish as to drive on the wrong side of the road at night with no headlights? Probably not. However, I know a group of individuals who, years ago, did that very witless thing.

During the summers of my seventh and eighth grade school years I had a job as a junior camp counselor at a summer day camp that I had attended as a child. I have a lot of good memories from that camp and I am fairly certain that I “fell in love” with some girl every summer… yes, even when I was one of the campers. (One year I even became enamored with one of my camp counselors. That’s an entirely different story, however.)

Once I began to work at the camp as a counselor myself, I saw the working end of the camp, but I also experienced the privileges of being a member of the crew. Every year at this day camp we would have one sleepover night. As a camper, I always looked forward to sleepover nights because they were immensely enjoyable. As a counselor, however, I found an entirely new and previously unrealized avenue of amusement that the staff had after the campers went to sleep.

Once the children were safely tucked away in their sleeping bags and soundly snoring, the camp director would take the watch and the rest of the counselors would head out on the road for some decompression time. This was particularly exciting for me as a junior higher, because I was able to travel with high schoolers who had driver’s licenses. It was unbridled freedom from my perspective.

On one of those sleepover escapades, the headlights of our driver’s car began to dim and then finally die. It was late at night and we were heading back on some very dark roads. Being young and foolish, we all thought this was quite funny. The driver then declared, “Let’s pretend we are driving in England!” and proceeded to drive on the left side of the road.

So, there we were, driving on dark and winding road with no headlights and traveling into potential oncoming traffic. We laughed and screamed as foolish adolescents tend to do when they are too immature to realize the grave amount of danger they have placed themselves and others into. As a young teen, I found the entire experience exhilarating. As an adult, I look back and think about a car full of imbeciles.

Fortunately, there was no tragedy to speak of that night. We all made it back to camp, each carrying a stupid grin on our faces. Sometimes we break the rules and get away with it. Sometimes we ignore the boundaries that are set in place for our protection and the protection of others and we mistake the exhilaration we feel for freedom. It is only when disaster strikes, do we consider that the boundaries and rules were there so we could actually be free.

We live in a society of rules. These rules are in place to insure the freedom of the people. They do not always insure prosperity or fairness, but they are in place for freedom’s sake. There are, of course, foolish and immature members of society who see rules and restrictions as confinements from freedom and they should therefore be expunged. Their call to do away with the rules is no more logical then purposely crashing through the guardrails on a mountain road so that one can have the “freedom” of plummeting over the cliff.

This nonsensical and childish belief that rules and boundaries are restricting freedom is nowhere more clearly displayed than in regards to God’s word. I have witnessed innumerable situations where people believe themselves to be free by recklessly crashing through and ignoring God’s boundaries and commandments. They reason that God has too many rules and therefore decide that they do not need them.

The exhilaration felt at the onset of breaking away from the Lord’s standards is similar to that night my friends and I foolishly broke the rules of the road. It is so easily mistaken for freedom that one does not notice the cords of slavery and consequences slowly wrapping themselves around their soul. Proverbs 29:6 tells us, “By transgression an evil man is snared, but the righteous sings and rejoices.” Notice who is actually ensnared and who is truly free. The commands and standards of God actually make men free, whereas the casting off of His precepts begins the process of entrapment akin to that of a boa constrictor.

We did not die that night on the dark road when we crossed the center line, nor did we irreversibly alter the lives of another family. We were fortunate. Sometimes we get away with casting the rules aside. However, if we would have continued our foolish behavior several nights a week, how long do you think it would have been until the trap snapped shut and we realized our supposed freedom was a deception? Don’t buy into the lie that God’s precepts are confining. His commands serve as guardrails that insure genuine freedom and joy.

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

Parasitic Vines

I must be getting old. This past Monday I simply was not feeling up to the task of beginning a new week, so I decided to take a personal day. The reason I say that I must be getting old is that I chose to do yard work on that impromptu day off. I am reminded of the commercials that warn you that their product cannot keep one from turning into their parents.

Actually, the yard work was quite therapeutic. My goal was not to lounge around all day and do nothing (although taking a few days like that from time to time is also therapeutic). My intentions were to engage in something productive and clear my head over other pressing matters that were weighing down upon me.

The front of our property is fenced in by a long row of hedges. These hedges have been the bane of my wife’s existence and have been void of giving me much pleasure either. The previous owners hadn’t taken much care of the yard and there has been a considerable amount of wild growth to deal with. The hedges were no exception. Copious amounts of vines along with thorns and other weeds had intricately woven themselves throughout our hedge line. We even had to deal with some poison ivy growth in the past.

All of this unwanted foliage made the hedges look ratty and unkept. The weeds and vines grew wild and quickly. We spent most summers just trying to keep the hedge/weed hybrid cut back and shaped well enough so passersby didn’t assume they had been drawn into the gameboard of Jumanji.

Therefore, last Monday, I decided it was time to attack these parasitic vines and remove their iron grasp from my hedges. As you can imagine, the task was rather daunting. These vines were full and strong and they were well twisted into the fabric of the hedge line. Of course, simply tearing out what I saw on the surface would not be sufficient. I had to get into the hedges and find the roots of the vines in order to truly be rid of them.

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I could distinguish the beginnings of the vines at the base of the hedges. (The deceptive plants looked quite similar to the desirable plants at the base.) From there I would pull, removing both the root and the large swath of vine tangled within the hedge. I was quickly filling lawn bags to capacity with vine and thorn.

As I neared the halfway point I surveyed what had been completed and noticed that what was left of my hedges looked rather gaunt. It was evident that what had appeared to be a full and robust hedge line all of this time was in fact not much more than weeds being supported by the hedges. Once the unwanted plants were removed, the desirable shrubbery was revealed to be sickly and bare.

Now, I had meant to engage in this yard work to clear my mind, but when one’s thoughts run in such circles it is difficult not to pick up on illustrations. How often do we see ourselves as full and healthy emotionally and spiritually when the truth is really that our fullness is actually composed of vines which are sucking the life out of us? We are, in truth, ratty and overtaken, but we continue to trim it up so that we may put forth the image that we have it together and all is well and under control.

There comes a time when we need to do the hard work of removing the vines that are choking us. Part of my task, as a pastor, is to help people recognize the parasitic vines in their life (remember that I said the particular vines in my hedges were quite similar to the shrubs at the base) and then once discovered, aid them in removing the vines from their lives. It is not always a welcomed task by those whom pastors care for. However, God has not given pastors to simply be there for funerals and trips to the hospital. A truly loving shepherd will not hesitate to get down in the dirt with you if you are ready to get rid of parasitic vines.

I encourage you to brew yourself a good cup of coffee and grab a Bible and read the parable Jesus tells in Mark 4:1-9 and then verses 14-20 for the explanation. Pay particular attention to the thorns and the way they choke out life. These are things you simply do not want to leave in your life, let alone welcome them in to ultimately destroy you.

The hedges look strange now, as I still need to finish the final one-third of the line. Those that have been freed from the grip of the vines are exposed for their true condition whereas the ones still needing work look full. However, I believe the first two-thirds of the line are in a far better position than they have been in years. That part of the line is now free to get sunlight and nutrients that were previously being stolen from them. My hope is that they will be restored over time to true fullness and vibrancy. Hopefully, I did not wait too long to rescue them.

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

The Most Important Question You Will Ever Answer

There are many questions we will be asked over the course of our lives. Most of them are inquires about the mundane and some even extend to the absurd. There are important questions that come to us from time to time, however, that can be life altering depending on how we answer them. Questions like a marriage proposal. Questions about a career path. A question posed by a police office, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Or perhaps a good server at a restaurant who, before saying anything else, asks if you would like coffee.

Well, perhaps the last two there are not so important (though answering the police officer with a snide remark may make for a day-altering experience). Nonetheless, there are questions in life that are extremely important and answering them involves more than simply a thoughtless quip. There are questions that require understanding and research and careful contemplation. Questions so important that not even our feelings can be allowed to dictate our response. These types of questions will eventually require us to “lock in” our answer, and once that is done, we may be left unable to change it. One can almost hear Regis Philbin asking, “Is that your final answer?”

Jesus Christ actually asked one of these type of questions to His disciples. In Matthew 16, a conversation is recorded where Jesus makes an inquiry about what others were saying about Him. “When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ So they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’”– Matthew 16:13-14

Just like today, there is plenty of conversations and speculations to who Jesus was and everyone has an opinion. Of course, there is only one right answer. Relative truth does not apply here. (Nor does it really apply anywhere, but that is a matter for another time.) After sharing some things that they heard others saying about Jesus, the Lord asks His disciples the most important question they would ever have to answer; “But who do you say that I am?” (verse 15)

This question reverberates down through the ages and stands before the threshold of every man and woman. It doesn’t really matter what others say about Jesus. Your soul hangs on your own answer to this question. You may quickly dismiss this idea as rubbish because you have already made up your mind about Jesus. However, if you would hear me out just a bit longer, I would remind you that important questions demand more than simply an uninvestigated response. If indeed, one’s eternity hangs on this very question, would it not be wisdom to search it out without preconceived notions, before issuing a final answer?

Of course, there are various opinions about Jesus Christ, just as when He asked His disciples about what others were saying about Him. Some say He was simply a good teacher who taught us to love one another. He certainly did teach that, but He taught that we are to love God more. To the point of Jesus only being a good teacher, this is absolutely unreconcilable with what He proclaimed. Jesus, on several occasions, made claim that He was the promised Messiah (Christ) and that He was, in fact, God incarnate. That is precisely the charge that condemned Him! He was found guilty of blasphemy. Therefore, if He is not who He claims to be, that would make Him a liar and a deceiver, and therefore not a good teacher.

Others may label Jesus as a fraud. They postulate that He purposely sought to make Himself the Messiah and therefore deliberately attempted to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament. Of course, there were prophecies, such as His place of birth, that were out of His control… unless He was who He said He was. Then there is the fact that the prophecies foretold that the Messiah would be rejected and killed. That is quite a commitment to a role for a con-artist to play, especially when it ends with no personal gain and an excruciating death.

There are plenty of other ideas to consider, but one of those ideas that must be seriously investigated personally is that Jesus Christ is exactly who He proclaimed to be. Each one of us must answer the question He asks, “But who do you say that I am?” The Lord Himself was quite clear about what is at stake when He made the assertion, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

One last thing concerning this most important question; simply answering correctly isn’t enough. The answer needs to irrevocable affect every facet of our life. If indeed, Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, and God’s one and only plan for saving our eternal souls, then a confession by mouth should also bring forth a confession by lifestyle. It should be noted that demons know who Jesus is and they confessed it (Mark 1:23-25). However, there is no salvation for them.

Therefore, as we celebrate this Easter weekend, let us put away the distractions (for it takes little to draw us away from the true meaning; a bunny delivering colored eggs?) and let us contemplate the most important question of our lives. Be mindful not to dismiss this question too quickly, for if Jesus is the Christ, all of your existence will depend on what your final answer is.

Over this Resurrection Holiday, may your coffee and contemplations (this particular contemplation overall) be rich and fulfilling. Wishing you a very joyous Easter!

A Good Father

I’m going to post this special blog today to offer a tribute to my father. Today marks three years since my father passed away. Now, although I miss my dad very much and think about him often, I do not spend much time mourning him on social media. I don’t believe my mourning is anyone else’s business besides mine and my immediate family. I don’t require sympathy from others every time I am missing my dad and I am very aware that my friends are carrying their own loss of loved ones. Who am I to impose my loss over their loss? Today, however, I am going to take advantage of the fact that I have a blog and talk about my dad.

Last week I wrote a blog post about the struggles one faces as a parent and the temptation to feel like a failure. As I remember my father today, the question comes to the forefront of my mind; What makes a good father or a good parent in general? That is a very broad question and, depending on one’s maturity level and experience, it will generate a wide variety of answers.

I will start by saying that my father was supportive. Of course, my dad certainly did not support every decision I made through life, because not all of my decisions were intelligent or prudent. However, he always supported me… even if, in the ignorance of my youth, I did not realize he was supporting me.

My father was always there for me. Sometimes he was there to push me to be better. Other times, my dad was making personal sacrifices to help me. There were many days when my dad would wake up early to drive me around my paper route when there was inclement weather so I wouldn’t have to face the elements on my bicycle. Never once did I ask him to do that and never once, that I can recall, did I ever thank him for doing that.

Young minds are often like that though. We don’t acknowledge the sacrifices being made for us by those who love us and we tend to therefore take them for granted. In fact, it was not until many years after I was married that I had an epiphany about my dad; my father rarely had a full day off for himself. My dad worked Monday through Friday during normal working hours. Then on Saturday mornings, he would typically have to go into the office and take care of more work. On Sunday mornings, my father would wake up very early for his part-time job of delivering missed newspapers all around the county. Our family vacation at the beach was probably the only time he truly had some days off of work!

Part of the reason I believe it took me so long to realize this was that my dad had a habit of incorporating me into his schedule even when he had to put in weekend hours. When I was young, he would take me to the office on Saturday mornings. This was always fun for me. Dad would take me to the breakroom and buy me something from the snack machine (typically a pack of peanut butter crackers) and then I would sit and watch cartoons on a small black and white television in the office while rifling through desk drawers for interesting items and chatting with my father’s coworkers. I think I took on the role of their Saturday morning work-mascot.

On Sundays, my dad would often stop at home on one of his routes, and if I was awake, I was brought along to “help” Dad finish up with delivering missed newspapers. That typically ended up with a trip to the newspaper office breakroom where, if my dad was in a particularly gracious mood, I would receive an ice cream sandwich from the machine. Then we would make a round through the office where this grade school Casanova would flirt with the secretaries. “Hello Gorgeous, would you like to share an ice cream sandwich with me?”

One of the other reasons I believe it took me so long to realize how hard my dad worked to support his family was because when he was home, he was home. He left the office at the office. Sure, a phone call might come from time to time from his job, but he would handle it and hang up. Of course, this was also in an age where the only phone calls one could receive would be at home. Modern technology has made it difficult for us to escape. However, my father, as much as he worked, did not live at the office. I believe family and home was important to my dad. Time at home was time at home, even if that time was spent enjoying a quiet summer evening out on the back porch with his son and our neighbor.

I could tell story after story about my dad. I could go on about how I know he truly loved my mother which made for a secure family feeling as a child or expound the tales of our great fishing adventures on our red boat. However, I am aware that – if you have stayed and read this far – I am approaching the bounds of tolerance. So, I will end with this thought; while there are many factors that go into making a good parent, one of the primary factors must be involvement.

My father involved me in his life. He made time for me to be involved, in his work and in his recreation. My dad loved working with wood. I have several pieces of furniture built by my father, of which, I had a hand in “helping” build. Now, my dad didn’t need my help and, in fact, I am quite sure the job would have gone much smoother without my help, but he involved me nonetheless. I was invited to be part of the task.

That reminds me of our Heavenly Father. God most definitely does not need our help and it is certain that things would proceed much smoother without our help. However, He involves us in His work. We can pray and become a part of someone’s miracle. We can share the Gospel message. We can show compassion to the downtrodden. We can give, and love, and serve. God is a good Father who involves His children.

Two of my three children are adults now. I can only hope that I have been and will be a good father like my dad was to me. I am not the same father as he was, but I do hope I have carried some of his attributes into my own fatherhood.

I miss you, Dad. I’ll be having a pack of peanut butter crackers in remembrance today.

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The Failed Parent

If you ever wish to feel as though you have no idea what you are doing when it comes to parenting, then go ahead and have children. (I see you giving me a strange look over the top of your coffee cup.) I am simply attempting to convey the idea that I have met a fair share of individuals who were self-appointed “experts” on parenting… until they became parents themselves. It is most likely an improper attitude, but I must confess to feeling a secret amount of glee when an “expert’s” first child unravels their preconceived notion of parenting. I find myself needing to bite my tongue and restrain myself from regurgitating their once “sound” advice back to them in their exasperated condition.

If you are a parent and have never once felt as though you had failed as a mother or a father than you most likely; have not been a parent long, live in a world of self-delusion, or you are a member of a very exclusive club of perfect parents. If you are the latter, I tip my hat to you. Neither I, nor anyone I know, will ever hold a card to that fraternity of parents.

I do not believe anyone can truly be ready for what awaits them in the theater of parenting. One can certainly prepare as best they see fit, but the number of variables is too great. Even knowing that a particular situation could or will happen as a parent is not the same as experiencing that particular something. Then, just when you believe you have a handle on this parenting business, you have another child (maybe more), and they each come with an entirely new set of variables. Is it any wonder why parents can feel like failures through the tourant of ever-changing circumstances and life stages?

Let me be clear, there are some parents who actually are failures. “Oh my!” you may exclaim as you spit-take over your coffee, “That was a very harsh statement.” I am sure pedestrian theologians are preparing their out-of-context “Judge Not!” quotes right now. Perhaps it was a harsh statement, but simply because a statement is harsh does not automatically disqualify it as untrue. The simple fact is, there are terrible parents out there. Most of these truly failed parents have spent more time attempting to be best friends with their kids or have spent more energy on trying to be a kid themselves than actually doing the hard work of being a parent, which has deservedly earned them a failed grade in the subject of parenting. However, I believe many parents are working hard to do their best.

I say that parenting is hard work, because it is. Parenting can also be painful work. Most parents will receive wounds to their very soul that they did not know were possible prior to having children. Some of the deepest pains come with the question, “Am I failing as a parent?”

Although my own parents never confessed to me that they ever felt like failed parents, I would be surprised if the notion hadn’t crossed their mind a few times. My mother and father were magnificent parents, but I was not a magnificent child. As a young boy and especially as an adolescent, I did not recognize how blessed I was. I naturally gravitated towards mischief and therefore viewed my parents as oppressive dictators over my life.

Only now am I becoming aware of the pain I must have inflicted upon my parents as I was growing up. I can only imagine how many tears I caused my mother to shed or how much stress I put upon my father as he worried about the path I would stubbornly continue to set my feet upon. However, they never shrank from their parental charge. Whether I was causing grief or joy, they remained committed to help guide me.

It is not my intent to cast a dark cloud upon being a parent. There are, of course, joys to be experienced in parenting that cannot be found anywhere else in life. Just a hug initiated by a daughter or a son, whether they are a toddler or an adult, is alone often enough to wash away feelings of failure. Every stage of child rearing brings incredible moments of elation that cause me to have pity for those who have never raised children.

My purpose in this post is to acknowledge that along with the great joys come great work, and even if you do your very best as a parent, you may still experience times when you feel like you must have failed in some way. This is actually more about being a parent than it is about what your kids may or may not be doing right now.

As I often do, I want to point out that it is unwise to draw a conclusion about a story based solely on the difficulty of the current chapter. Keep in mind that your parenting story and your child’s story are not over yet. Keep pressing forward.

I will conclude with a well quoted verse in the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs 22:6 reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Now, this verse is sometimes improperly used like a prophecy that removes all possibility of a child’s God-given personal choice. The proverb is, in its proper context, a wisdom saying that encourages parents to plant and cultivate righteousness and godliness in their children (even when the cultivating is in tears) and those parents will have a very promising expectation of a good harvest in due time. (Reference Psalm 126:5 as well, “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.”) One should hold no anticipation of prospect without faithful planting and cultivating.

If you are feeling like a failed parent today, take courage. You are the one taking up arms for your children when they cannot (or will not) do it for themselves. Stand firm and let not your countenance be cast down. Take each moment of joy as a victory and a precious gift, and take each confrontation and struggle as a threat against your children that will not go unchallenged. You are a parent! And one day, your children will take up that same mantle.

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