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.

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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.

Cruising the Loop

Do you ever feel like your life is locked in an endless twenty-four-hour time loop? The alarm goes off, you grumble to yourself as your feet hit the floor, go through your morning preparations, head off to work, spend hours at your job, return home, take care of some personal responsibilities, eat dinner, prepare for bed, then lay down and close your eyes so you can start the cycle all over again the next day. This reoccurring loop has been used as a comical storyline in many movies and television shows, but in real life it becomes more draining than entertaining.

When I was a teenager, there was an activity we would participate in downtown that we affectionately dubbed, “Cruising the Loop”. (My Lancaster, PA friends just perked up.) The Loop involved three main streets in Lancaster City; Prince, King, and Queen which crossed over one another forming a path one could go round and round on. On Friday and Saturday nights we would hop into a car and drive those streets waving to and harassing friends who might be walking the Loop.

Cruising the Loop may seem like a colossal waste of time, but you must keep in mind that this was in an era before mobile phones. Therefore, we did not possess the means to engage in truly productive activities such as checking our Facebook feeds for the seventy-fifth time that day or sending a hundred duck-faced selfies to all our friends on Snapchat. So, with our stone age technology impeding us, we were forced to climb into our Flintstone-like vehicles and travel the monotonous Loop again and again.

Life can become like the Loop. What was once entertaining and fresh can eventually become dull and seem pointless. The same faces, same experiences, same sights are met each time around with little or no change. After the trips around become uncountable, you begin to wonder if there are other roads to travel. Unfortunately, life’s responsibilities keep you tied to your personal Groundhog Day.

I believe this “loop” is one of the factors that seems to make time move by so quickly as an adult. As a kid, you spend day after day sitting in classrooms watching a clock which makes each minute seem like an eternity. However, there are long breaks among that routine which create variety. When you become an adult, the cycle moves without much break-up. One day runs into the next and before you know it, a new year has arrived once again. Cruising the Loop is truly a way of killing time.

What can be done when one feels like they are in a rut like this? Of course, adding some fresh activities can help, but they can eventually become simply an addition to your loop over time. What one must realize is that, for most of us, every season of our lives will have large chunks of regular days that seem quite monotonous. What is helpful in those loops is having a purpose bigger than oneself that transcends the loop.

If your only sense of purpose is to survive the journey of life and have some fun along the way, then the loop will most certainly drain your vitality. We need to have something more to give meaning to the monotony. Of course, there are all types of ways to find purpose in one’s life and give it meaning that moves beyond the loop. Some purposes are meaningful and other purposes can actually exasperate the draining power of the loop. One must find a purpose that drives one to acts of service for others and not simply purposes of self-fulfillment. A life spent on investing in others gives meaning to what seems like the endless loop of “regular days”.

I must point out, that any creation would do well to ask of its Creator what the purpose of their existence is. Logic dictates that the Creator of the creation would know why He made the creature. While one could certainly find a purpose outside of what was intended, it will certainly not amount to the fulfillment of the planned purpose. A toaster can make a great paperweight, but there is certainly a greater glory intended by its designer.

Jesus Christ said in John 10:10, “The thief (Satan) does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” That’s not a promise that there will be no regular days or even a plethora of them. What the Lord does mean is that He gives purpose to your life that will give meaning to even the daily grind. Abundant life can be had even in a rut.

Routine is good, but it can be frustrating too. Find a purpose and give new drive to your life even if you feel like you are currently on an endless loop. (By purpose, I do not mean stirring up strife on social media because you make yourself an endless loop of misery to others. That’s for another blog post, however.) Find purpose that helps others. Find purpose that your Creator intended for you and even “the loop” will have meaning.

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

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.

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.