It Will All Work Out

Don’t stress. It will all work out! … No, it won’t.

I apologize if I just caused you to do a spit-take with your coffee. I hate to waste good coffee. However, if I caught your attention for a moment, it was worth it. Please, refresh your cup before I continue.

Now, I realize that, as a pastor, I am expected to share more encouraging words than, “No, it will not work out for you.” What I mean by that statement is that it will not work out for you, whatever the strenuous circumstance is, simply because you wish it to. You see, I must speak truthful words as well as encouraging words, and truth takes precedence over encouragement when the encouraging word is nothing but empty fluff.

The fact is that universe will not balance things out in your favor. Please don’t be discouraged by this. It’s not you. It’s the universe. The universe is, well, an object. It possesses no intellect or feeling. It simply swirls around like cream in your coffee. It simply cannot work things out for you or me.

From time to time I see memes displayed on social media expressing the idea that you should just relax and believe that everything will work out just swimmingly in the end. Just have faith that it will. I saw one of these memes recently and, as my family and I are currently facing some difficult and stressful situations, appreciated the warm sentiment, but rolled my eyes at the lack of actual substance. It reminds me of the time my son heated up a Hot Pocket for himself for lunch and when he bit into it he found that it was completely empty inside!

A well-wish from a friend should always be taken as it is offered and be received with gratitude. However, if you are looking for “meat” to sustain you through a tough period in your life, placing faith in faith is simply a futile endeavor.

I mentioned that I recently rolled my eyes at one of these memes. Internally, I balked at the expression of empty encouragement to have faith in faith knowing that it was like plugging a power strip into itself and expecting it to function. As I did that, the Lord dropped a question into my heart; “While it is true that having faith in faith is futile, you have faith in God. So, can you trust that will work things out for you?”

That question hit me right between the eyes. While sentiments suggesting that everything will work out in my favor simply because I desire it to do so are truly empty, God’s promises are not empty. Romans 8:28 says, “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.” For those who put their faith in God, love God, and are devoted to God, they are children of God and therefore enjoy the privilege of the Sovereign Lord looking out for them. That doesn’t mean we get to have everything our way, but we do get to have things His way (which is far better) and He will work all things for our good… even when we don’t see how that could possibly happen in the beginning.

Are you going through a struggle now in life? Is your life filled with questions that you need answers to? I would encourage you today to no longer place your faith in faith, but to instead devote yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ and place your faith in God and He will work even the toughest of circumstances that you face for good. Contemplate that while you finish your coffee.

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

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Ornaments of Life

It’s a quiet Saturday afternoon on December 1st and, of course, I’m taking a moment to enjoy a cup of coffee. The song, Mister Grinch is playing in the background and I am sitting beside our Christmas tree admiring the ornaments.

For some, the ornaments on their tree are merely decorative. However, for our family, most of the ornaments hold a special significance. There are certainly a few that we purchased simply because we liked them, but many of our ornaments represent different aspects of who we are.

There are ornaments depicting some of our favorite television shows or Christmas specials. There are ornaments that salute my time served in the United States Airforce. Other ornaments mark the first Christmas of each of our children and we even have one from our first Christmas together as husband and wife. There are a few ornaments giving a shout-out to the champions of Super Bowl 52, the Philadelphia Eagles. (You may remember that they beat the New England Patriots and sent Tom Brady stomping back to the locker room with a pouty face that rivals that of Eli Manning.) There is an ornament that honors my late father and ornaments that shine a spotlight on our family’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and, of course, an ornament expressing our love of coffee.

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These ornaments highlight different aspects and memories of our family and our journey through life. Perhaps the ornaments on your tree don’t reflect such things but you still, in a sense, accumulate “ornaments” over your life. Think of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, and how the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, built an invisible chain around himself due to his miserly attitude. In a more positive sense, we each collect a tree of invisible ornaments as we journey through life. Christmas is a great time to reflect upon those “life ornaments”, being that we tend to spend far too much time focused on the negative aspects of our life.

Not only do I want to encourage you to reflect upon the ornaments of your life, but to also be mindful of the new ornaments that will be added to your life-tree this season. Something I prompted our congregation, through our church newsletter, to do this season is to take the time to cherish each moment of the holidays. These times tend to become so hectic and stressful that they pass us by quickly. It would do us well to stop, brew a cup of coffee (in a French press since it will force us to slow down) and take the time to sip and enjoy the season.

This is the only time in history that you and your family will be in the stage of life you are in now. Your kids will never be this age again. You and your spouse will never be this age again. Your parents will never again be at the stage of life they are in now.

We never know what the next year holds. By next Christmas you may have a different dynamic in your family; an addition, a loss, a marriage, a move… a variety of changes could happen. This Christmas is the only one in time that things will be exactly the way they are now. Therefore, cherish each moment and the ornaments that will be freshly hung upon your life-tree this season. Don’t let these moments pass you by through wasting time complaining about the past or worrying about the future. Make sure to get many more life-ornaments hung this year!

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

Mind Your Own Business

Have you ever compared yourself to another? I believe it is safe to assume that we all have. Typically, the comparison is made between ourselves and someone we deem to be better than us. There are, of course, those who compare themselves to others they consider to be below them in order to build their own egos, but that is an issue of pride and is a topic for another time.

The comparisons I want to focus on have to do with never feeling adequate enough for the job or parenting or life in general. We look at someone else who always seems to have the Midas touch; everything they handle turns to gold. Meanwhile, we seem to be desperately attempting to hold everything together with duct tape. We then look to the object of our comparison and wonder why we cannot be like them.

I must confess that I sometimes fall prey to this tendency as well. I have a colleague who, from time to time, I find myself measuring my life against. Let me stress that he has done nothing to impose himself upon my psyche in this way. I hold a great admiration for this individual. He is a dynamic leader with great vision and passion. He is a good husband to his wife and a wonderful father to his children. He has abundant resources and the wisdom to apply them so that great success is produced. He is a good role model; however, I periodically drift into an unhealthy look at him in comparison with myself.

I will find myself in a dilemma and think, “Pastor AwesomeGuy would have handled this better.” I experience struggles in my faith-walk and lament, “Pastor AwesomeGuy would never struggle with these things.” It is a whisper that comes from time to time that may stab at me and say, “Pastor AwesomeGuy would have been a better leader or preached a better message or would have been able to execute a better vision.”

Perhaps you can relate to this type of comparison in your own life. Do you have that friend whom you admire but you feel like your life is a far cry from theirs? Do you compare every achievement and failure to how you suppose it would have unfolded for them?

Sometimes we may even find that not only are we comparing ourselves with another individual, but we are also comparing our journey with their journey. We may look at the way our life’s story unfolds and wonder why our story doesn’t go like their story. We ponder, “Why do I seem to get the short end of the stick while he/she always seems to be granted clear sailing? Why can’t my story be more like their story?”

I was having coffee the other morning, and reading in the Gospel of John, chapter 22. A conversation is going on between Peter and Jesus. The Lord just revealed to Peter that his life’s journey would end in martyrdom (John 22:18-19). Peter then looks back and seeing John, asks this of Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” (v. 21) Peter was preparing to make a comparison of his life against John’s.

However, Jesus would not entertain that game. “Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow me.’” The Lord put a quick halt on the path Peter was heading down. He basically told Peter that John’s journey was not his journey and that Peter should mind his own business and concern himself only with following Christ. John would have to do the same with whatever blessings and struggles lie ahead for him.

The key to Christ’s command to Peter is not simply taking one’s eyes from another’s journey, but following Christ on our own journey. Many times, our life goes awry because we are not really following Christ. Then we make comparisons and become discouraged and even jealous, when much of the fault lies with us.

However, if we wholeheartedly set our minds to follow Christ, we can then find the freedom to abandon the comparison game. We can remove our way from wondering why our story looks differently than another’s. We can allow the Lord to write our story and write a completely different story for another and know that God’s sovereign will is being accomplished and He will therefore be glorified in both lives.

I encourage you to let go of everyone else’s journey and to set your path upon Christ’s will for your life. In this, you will find joy and freedom!

Until next week, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling!

Faith Disclaimer

You’ve surely seen it displayed or heard it proclaimed before. Some sort of disclaimer that reads something like, “I’m a Christian, but I’m not perfect. I mess up. I make mistakes. But God’s grace is greater than my sins.” The Faith Disclaimer.

First of all, let me state categorically, that God’s grace is indeed greater than our sins. It is also true that Christians are not perfect, but let us not forget that the Holy Spirit is in each disciple of Christ perfecting us… if indeed we are being submissive to Him. The problem I see with the above disclaimer is that it is so often used as an excuse for lazy faith. What we must understand is that being lazy in our faith is typically indicative of desiring to be more accepted by the world, and that cannot be passed off as a simple “mistake” for God’s grace to overlook. It is, rather, a willful and deliberate sin.

I would like to invite you to consider the following as you contemplate over a cup of coffee; God’s grace does indeed cover our sins and the blood of Jesus makes us righteous in the eyes of God, but His grace does not correct the witness that our lazy faith has ruined in the eyes of people who still need to know the Savior. Clinging to the moniker of “Christians aren’t perfect” can reveal a self-centered attitude. It is often used by one who only wishes to justify their lazy faith in the eyes of others. There is no real concern for the salvation of others in such proclamations. When we are made aware of our sin it should bring us a deep sorrow that leads to repentance and thereby causes us to take action to turn away from continuing to behave in such a manner. It should not cause us to plant a flag in the ground stating, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.” In fact, making such statements creates a doubly destructive witness. First, we sin before the eyes of the world and then, instead of acknowledging our wrong and repenting, we dismiss it publicly as if sin is no big deal. If this is your attitude, you need to take a good hard look at the Cross of our Lord Jesus again. Sin is a big deal!

How did we go from the Apostle Paul declaring, “Follow me as I follow Christ,” to “Please don’t judge Jesus by my lukewarm Christianity”? We are called to be His ambassadors; His witnesses! We’re supposed to be an example to look at. They are supposed to see Jesus in us! We cannot simply toss that God-ordained responsibility away by making statements about God’s grace over our lazy faith!

Do not deceive yourself. God’s grace will certainly cover your sin, but it will not fix your broken witness. Justifying lazy faith makes one look like a hypocrite in the world’s view. They will see no power in your Gospel, no difference in your life from theirs, and no reason to put their faith in Jesus Christ over any other. I want to encourage you today to never again use the grace of God to justify your sins before the world. Instead, repent before God, acknowledge your sin before those whom you have sinned in front of, and tell them you are working hard with God to not act in such a manner again.

For example, if you post something on social media that you know you shouldn’t have, do the following:

1) REMOVE IT

2) Post a follow-up stating something like, “Hey everyone. Earlier today I made a post that, when I thought about it later, I knew God was not pleased with. I removed the post and I apologize. It is my desire to honor God in all of my life. I’m working on it one step at a time.”

3) Think before you post next time so you don’t have multiple repeats of the same issue.

Or, if you dishonor God by your behavior around friends:

1) Repent before God.

2) Explain to your friends that what they witnessed in your behavior the other day was not what God is expecting from you. Tell them you wish to honor God in your life and you’ll work to do better. You can even invite them to call you out if there is a next time and if there is and they do, simply say, “You know what? You’re right. Thank you.” That carries much more weight to your Christian witness than, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.”

When they see your genuine desire to honor God despite your sin, it will add strength to your witness that disclaimers never will.

Romans 13:11-14 – 11 And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

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

If I Won

“What would I do with all of that money?” This was the question being discussed earlier this week as the Mega Millions jackpot swelled to over a billion dollars. Even those who didn’t play the lottery and had no intention of getting a ticket, had a bit of fun daydreaming out loud about what they would do with such an enormous amount of money.

Of course, money is not the answer to all of life’s problems, but let’s face reality; a sum of money like that could render many of life’s stresses innate. Certainly, there might be a few stresses that such a jackpot might create, but if one acts wisely and does not lose their head, I have a feeling those stresses would be manageable. At the very least, you would most likely move to the position of your family’s favorite relative!

I also found myself daydreaming about what I would do if I had been blessed with this overflow of money. No doubt, some of you would expect that my ideas should be nothing but charitable seeing that I am a pastor. (That begs the question why it should be any different for you if you are a disciple of Christ regardless of your calling within the family of God?) Of course, some of my thoughts drifted to the church I pastor which struggles financially. I also thought of many missionaries and relief organizations whom I would love to surprise with a huge gift… and if it could be done anonymously, all the better! A wise warning that I once heard given to preachers who find themselves being blessed with grand amounts of money was, “Give it away!” The admonition was not meant to say that a minister cannot be blessed financially, but that holding on to too much money can make one lose sight of the people one needs to reach and corrupt one’s mind to think more of the material than the eternal.

However, while I certainly had thoughts of things beyond myself, I also daydreamed of being able to give my wife the lifestyle I believe she deserves. You see, I truly view my wife as royalty. I very much wish I could grant her the life where she could wear gorgeous gowns and eat at fine restaurants every day. It made me smile to imagine being able to give her the life of a queen so that others could see her as I do. As I write this, however, it occurs to me that it may never be my place to exalt her to such splendor before others, but it will, one day, be the gift that her Heavenly Father bestows upon her when He glorifies all of His children.

That thought brings me to the real point of this post and the subject I wish to leave you contemplating. So, make sure you have a full cup of coffee in hand and consider this question the Lord Jesus Christ asked in Mark 8:36, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” What if you did win that entire jackpot? That money, if you were not foolish, would last you an entire lifetime… but it would only last your lifetime – however long or short it may be. Perhaps you could live the lifestyle of royalty in this life, but the billions will mean nothing in the eternal kingdom of God where it is the Lord alone who exalts His people to glory.

Consider this, one person walked away with the winnings of the Mega Millions while the rest of us were left in the same place we were before the jackpot became so large. Those were the odds. However, there is a 100% guarantee that every one of us will come to the end of this life. Our number, as it were, will eventually be called and we will draw our final breath in this mortal and temporary world. At that point, rich or poor or somewhere in between, our economic status will hold no more value than our self-assessment that we are good people. All that will matter at that moment is whether or not you, before departing your mortal life, have accepted the atonement of Jesus Christ for your sins and lived thereafter for Him. Money, or lack thereof, will not hold any amount of significance or influence before the throne of Him who made all things.

This is the contemplation to consider as you hold your coffee today; that God, being just and righteous, must judge sin and that no amount of good works that we do can make up for that sin. However, because of His love for us, God sent His own Son to pay the penalty for our sin so that, if we desire to accept His payment, God can justly forgive us our sin. He did this for you and for me because He truly does love us. That, my friends, is far better than any lottery winnings one could acquire (or more likely miss out on) in this life.

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

We All Hurt

If you spend any time on social media you will most certainly find someone who is experiencing some sort of pain. It may be physical, but often it is an expression of emotional pain. Someone or some situation has hurt them deeply and the hurt is real.

We all hurt. I don’t believe anyone gets out of this life unscathed in some way and if you live long enough you will experience multiple seasons of hurt. Indeed, in our current society it is nigh impossible to get through a day without receiving some sort of hurt from someone. I believe the reason for that is two-fold: 1) People are easily offended these days. 2) People are easily offensive these days. Rudeness seems to be the dish of the day, every day, for some individuals. If you work in any type of customer service, you no doubt have a front row seat to this type of behavior on a regular basis.

We all hurt. However, as I intend to point out in this post, hurting is a two-lane street.

 

We All Hurt – Experiencing

Every one of us has been hurt by someone. The strike that wounds us may come intentionally or it may be unintentional, but it hurts regardless of the delivery motive. (There are other times when we are hurt because we perceive something absolutely incorrectly. However, that type of hurt is a topic for another time.) Dealing with hurt often becomes the struggle and I have observed that we tend to handle that hurt in the worst possible fashion.

When hurt by another, one might take to social media to vent. This seems to be the modus operandi of some married couples, promoting further sickness into their relationship. Other individuals gather friends around them so that they may lament the hurt that they feel at the hands of someone else, all with the secret hope that the assembled collective might invoke some aura of anger towards the culprit wherever he or she may happen by one of them.

The Lord Jesus Christ gave us steps to handle the hurt we receive from others and they can be found in Matthew 18:15-17. Interestingly, the first step Jesus gives is the one people typically disregard; Jesus said we should go to the person who hurt us and have a discussion (not a screaming match) with them alone and try to work it out. I am convinced that a majority of hurts could be healed over some conversation and coffee long before they become festering wounds in one’s soul. Since we all get hurt in this life and we should all expect to suffer hurt from time to time, it would likely be prudent to learn how to handle it in the most effective way.

 

We All Hurt – Causing

This is the side of hurt that often goes unconsidered; because we are human and will make mistakes, act selfishly, and are apt to take out our bad mood on innocent bystanders, we too will cause hurt to people. That’s right. People will hurt us, but we will hurt people.

Of course, we need to acknowledge that there are some people who simply enjoy hurting others. (I will address that in a future blog post.) However, I believe most people would rather not hurt other people. Typically, when we realize we have hurt someone, regardless of how it took place, we are acutely aware of our intentions. We understand that our motivations were not meant to inflict wounds and therefore we desire mercy and the benefit of the doubt from the one we hurt. What we fail to do, however, is make that same consideration for someone who has hurt us.

We can take an example from the use of high beams on the road at night. I am sure that everyone has, at least once or twice, inadvertently left their high beams on while another vehicle approaches in the opposing lane. That oncoming driver then flashes their beams at you and you sheepishly turn your beams off feeling bad for your mistake. However, when someone leaves their beams on while they are driving toward us… obviously I cannot speak for everyone, but my initial reaction is to assume they are thoughtless and purposely left their beams on for the sole intent of burning my eyes out of my sockets like the Nazis who gazed into the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Meanwhile the driver in the other car is most likely feeling sorry and foolish for his mistake as I rebuke their “selfishness” by flashing my beams at them.

The point being, we will all experience hurt in this life, but we also will all cause hurt in this life to others. So, it would likely be just as prudent to learn how to handle that in the most effective way, meaning; we need to learn to extend more mercy. While we sometimes live in the perspective that people in the world are out to hurt us, we should remember that in the eyes of another, we may be the person who is causing hurt. When we begin to realize that we are all flawed, we may be able to suffer less hurt and experience more coffee moments with friends and new acquaintances.

 

We all hurt, so let’s try to handle it with wisdom and grace.

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

Pastor Appreciation

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Of course, this is a recognition that is basically confined to the “church world”. If you don’t attend a church and have a pastor, such an occasion is probably not going to send you out to your local Hallmark store.

Let me begin by acknowledging that there is a problem built into the heart this blog post today. Because the subject matter is about Pastor Appreciation, this post will certainly carry the capacity to come off as self-serving. There is really nothing I can do to curb such a perception so, I will simply say that, although I will draw from a few of my own personal experiences, my intent is to provoke contemplation in your heart concerning your appreciation of your own pastor and proceed forward. I’m not writing this post as a fishing expedition for myself to acquire accolades, and if you know me well enough I think you know my heart. Besides, I’m not even sure most of my congregation reads this blog, so I have to chuckle at the idea of trying to garner attention this way.

Pastoring is a very unique vocation. I have served in our nation’s armed forces and have worked many secular jobs. Full-time ministry, I have found, has a distinctive set of stresses to it that I have not experienced in any other field. I’m not suggesting that it is worse than all others, only that it is unique. It would do me little good to try and explain it, however. It is one of those things one must experience over an extended period of time in order to appreciate it. I can offer this picture that I see pop up on social media from time to time that highlights some of the resultsof said stress:

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Only last month I read an article where a pastor committed suicide. He left behind of loving wife and several children. It broke my heart as I looked at their family picture and imagined what brought this pastor so low and why he felt so hopeless and alone.

I realize that people often have no idea what pastors go through, because one of the jobs of a pastor is to help people go through tough times. Many do not think that the pastor has tough times too. In addition to that, few in the congregation realize what they do to their pastors sometimes. But this is really the point of my post today; to help us all consider that pastors are human beings too. The Book of Hebrews 13:17 reads, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

I had a conversation with a man once, who attended a different church in the area I was pastoring in. He told me, in a rather overconfident attitude, “I could do what my pastor does. I’ve done public speaking on the scriptures before. I just couldn’t deal with the people.” I thought to myself, “Well then, sir, you could not do what your pastor does.” Pastoring is far more than preaching a sermon every Sunday. It is about the people! It would be like making the statement, “I could do what a shepherd does so long as I don’t have to tend any sheep.”

How can one show appreciation for one’s pastor? I’m glad you asked. Let me give you a few things to contemplate:

Pray for Your Pastor

Your pastor stands in the gap and takes the brunt of spiritual attacks against the church in order to protect the flock. Jesus pointed out in Matthew 26:31 that if the shepherd is struck the sheep will be scattered. The pastor and pastoral family need your continual prayer support.

 Support and Encourage Your Pastor

Your pastor may not always do things the way you would like, but the pastor holds the responsibility and is the one who will give an account to God. Your pastor must look out for the whole of the church body which means an individual will not always get their way.

I remember one particularly hectic week where I had several crises in people’s families to help navigate and a couple of hospital visits to make at different hospitals which were an hour apart from each other. I had barely seen my family in the past several days. A moment of respite came one evening where a window of time opened up for my family and I to have a light dinner together before heading off to run services for Wednesday night at church. We drove to our local Subway and sat down to take a breather and catch up.

Not long into our meal together, two members of our church walked in. We greeted each other warmly, but the smiles were quickly wiped away when the one member quipped right in front of my children, “Ya know, Pastor, my wife and I were talking the other day, and we’re kind of disappointed that you don’t come around and visit us enough.” I sat there absolutely speechless. Now, this individual had no idea what my week had been like or what any of my weeks were like, but in a moment when he could have offered a word of encouragement or appreciation (or quite frankly have said nothing at all) he chose to tell me, in front of my family who hadn’t seen much of me as of late, how he felt I was not doing my job. Unfortunately, this type of thing is not an uncommon occurrence. Speak life and support into your pastor when you have the chance.

 Love Your Pastor’s Family

While most good pastors do their best to shield their children from the stresses of ministry, you can count on ministry stress being experienced by the entire family even in their very home. Love your pastoral family with encouragement and grace, especially when it comes to the kids. The children deal with enough without having unrealistic expectations placed on them. Remember, the family uprooted their entire life to come serve you.

I know this post has primarily focused on the ugly side of ministry. I don’t want to give the impression that all is doom and gloom. The rewards of full-time ministry are phenomenal. I consider myself privileged to be a part of so many lives over the years. It warms my heart to see the growth in people’s families and lives as they draw near to the Lord Jesus Christ. I have witnessed so many positive things! However, those great results are not without their cost. So, bless your pastor and support your pastoral family as often as you have opportunity. As Hebrews 13:17 points out, a healthy, well supported, and blessed pastoral family works towards your benefit as well.

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

Being Pinned

Have you ever felt like a bowling pin? Like you are stood up only so you can be immediately knocked right back down again? You are plowed over by some circumstance and you are hurt, but you pick yourself up again ready to press ahead and before you even get the dust brushed off of you – POW – you are bowled down once more. You cry out that you can’t take anymore, but as you are set up upon your feet again – POW – another blow lays you flat.

Let me be clear that I am referring to things out of one’s control. I am not talking about consequences incurred by continually making bad choices. In those cases, the individual is bowling themselves over. They are administering self-inflicted blows reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s character in Liar Liar beating himself up in the restroom. The scenarios I’m writing about are ones where circumstances are really out of our hands.

When one enters a season of life where the blows won’t seem to stop, one wonders how long it will be before they break. Of course, there are all manner of songs encouraging us to get back up and keep fighting and plenty of motivational posters to inspire one to never give up and never surrender. (Admit it. You just read the last part of that line in Tim Allen’s voice.) If life’s pummeling goes on long enough, you will most likely have someone utter the absolutely unbiblical idea that, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I cringe every time I hear that.

Now, the Scriptures do give us plenty of encouragements to not give up, but instead to place our trust in God. Psalm 34:19 – Manare the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Proverbs 24:16 – “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, But the wicked shall fall by calamity.” Psalm 37:23-24 – “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand.” As a pastor, I can tell you that those truths are easy to preach, but they are difficult to live through.

One thing I have noticed, in the Bible and through life experience, is when one is following God’s path, there will almost always be resistance along the way. Many people get the incorrect notion that if they are following God’s direction, the path will be easy. One merely needs to look at Israel’s journey through the wilderness to prove that idea to be false. Of course, Israel often rebelled and brought consequences upon their own heads, but there were also times that they were literally following God as He led them and they would come upon difficulties. An individual once made the observation that, following Jesus is much like a video game; it’s a good bet that you are heading in the right direction if you are running into resistance.

If you are feeling like a bowling pin today, I will not offer some cliché phrase promising sunshine and rainbows if you just believe in yourself. However, if you have been seeking God and have truly asked Him to direct you upon His chosen path for this season of your life (not just a good path of your choosing) and you are experiencing hit after hit after hit, don’t immediately assume you have veered out of God’s will. I’m not going to tell you to hang in there. I’m merely going to ask you to contemplate what I just wrote and make your decision from there… after at least one savored cup of coffee of course.

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

Even Now

I’d like to just have a raw and real moment with you today. I wasn’t planning on posting a blog this week because my wife and I have a very big weekend ahead and I didn’t expect to have time to spare. However, I really felt the need to share something with you during this “coffee time”.

I believe that people sometimes get the idea that my family and I don’t face struggles. Such a belief is based on pure ignorance, but the ignorance is there because we don’t really telegraph all of our business on social media. Our business is our business. We wish to get through our struggles, not gain attention for them.

There are times when our difficulties involve struggles of faith. We don’t struggle with our faith in God, but sometimes we struggle to understand what God is doing. There are many difficulties one faces as a pastoral family. I will not bore you with explanations or attempt to garner sympathy for us “poor pastors”. The calling is what the calling is. However, I am going to share a situation with you so that perhaps you may be encouraged in your own faith-walk with Christ.

Currently, there is a “stronghold” we face in this season of ministry. Without going into details, we thought we had received a miracle aimed at this particular need, only to be notified later that we had not. As a pastor, I am expected to take everything in stride and chant a solemn hallelujah and move on when disappointments occur. I wish I was at such a level of spiritual piety. I am not.

I entered the empty sanctuary of our church broken and angry. I threw the notification of the mistake down upon the altar. I yelled to God asking Him why. Why would He allow us to believe something had happened when it hadn’t? Why would He allow us to be led into a false sense of hope?

Please do not misunderstand me. I was not angry with God nor was I accusing Him with wrongdoing. I was angry at the situation and frustrated that I could not understand the point of having the rug pulled out from under us. I was upset that I thought this stronghold took a direct hit only to find it standing unscathed when the smoke cleared.

I contacted my presbyter (he’s a pastor of a church, but also serves as a pastor to the pastors in our section) and I asked him the question that often can’t be answered; why? I’ve been asked that question plenty of times in my ministry, and there are many occasions when we, as pastors, cannot answer the question because we do not hold the information God does. So, when I asked my presbyter “why?”, I really did not expect an answer. I just needed to vent.

I love the great man of God my presbyter is. With his God-given wisdom and his tender spirit, he said to me, “I wish I had an answer on the ‘Why would God do this?’ question.  I would encourage you lean strong into the nature and character of God.  He doesn’t play tricks on His children—give us ‘a stone when we ask for bread.’” That quote about the stone for bread is from Matthew 7:7-11 and it is exactly how I felt. It seemed as though a cruel trick had been played on us and I didn’t understand why. However, that is not the nature of God. He does not play tricks on His children. So, though I didn’t understand, I did know that God was not being cruel.

When I informed my wife of what had transpired she looked at me and said, “Ok. Well, if God is not going to meet the need that way, He’ll simply do it another way.” Thank the Lord for a Spirit-filled wife! Thank the Lord for a Christ-centered marriage. There have been times where I have stood in faith when she feared and times when she has stood in faith when I feared. In this, we have had the blessing of leaning on each other over the years.

If I am to be completely honest with you, my coffee buddy, I am still struggling a bit today. However, I was reminded in prayer yesterday about Mary and Martha concerning the death of their brother, Lazarus. John 11:21 reads, “Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’” Jesus, we are told, delayed His arrival (John 11:6) and because of that, Lazarus had died. Sickness was one thing, but death was final. Death was, in everyone’s eyes, too late. Why had Jesus waited until it was too late?

But after Martha had basically informed Jesus that it was too late, she made an amazing statement of faith! John 11:22, “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Did you catch that, “but even now”? But even now, though the circumstances declare that it’s too late, it’s not too late for God! But even now, though the point of no return has been passed, God can still reverse the situation!

But even now, though you thought God was going to work one way and you were disappointed, God will work another way and bring greater results than what was originally anticipated.

If you are a child of God through Jesus Christ, and you are wondering how God could possibly change an impossible situation you are facing, know that even now applies to you too.

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

The Real MVPs

We seem to hear a lot today about failed marriages and how a long lasting, loving marriage is a rare thing. I suppose, if you look at our society as a whole, those observations are fairly accurate. However, within the circles that I run, good strong marriages are not such an oddity. I know of many amazing marriages filled with love which have stood the test of time. It has been my experience that marriages between two committed Christ-followers are significantly better and filled with more lasting joy.

In last week’s blog I wrote about a question that was posed to my wife and I concerning our ability to stay in love for twenty-eight years. I also mentioned that we’ve had people comment positively on our relationship many times over those years. I suppose what we have is a rarity in the world, but it really is not so rare among true disciples of Christ. I say all of this to move into the subject I wish to address in this post; the real MVPs when it comes to marriage.

I read somewhere once that, “When most people say, ‘For better or for worse,’ what they really mean is just, ‘For better’”. Marriage was designed by God to be a covenant that remains through thick and thin. Unfortunately, our culture has systematically degraded marriage to nothing more than a glorified form of dating. Of course, dating really has no moorings attached so, if one party is no longer happy they can easily check out. The reality of marriage is that it is about doing life together and life, as we well know, can bring some heavy burdens that will shatter the fairytale scenario in one’s imagination concerning a happly-ever-after union.

You see, in the movies, Cinderella rides off with the prince, Bell dances in the grand ballroom of the castle, and Ariel is forever united with her true love. Then the music plays and the credits roll and we never see another problem again for these couples. However, what if ten years after the credits, Cinderella is diagnosed with breast cancer? What if Bell’s beastly prince gets injured and is confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life? What if Ariel gives birth to a child with a debilitating and even life-threatening condition? Rolling the credits cuts off the unpleasant reality of life and that is what really makes it a fairytale.

I believe that the real MVPs of marriage are those couples who have had their fairytale assaulted by the harshness of life. The real MVPs are marriages which, not simply endure, but thrive in the presence of infirmities. There is something to be said for the individual whose spouse is suffering from a chronic illness and instead of believing they have been short-changed in this deal and are entitled to some “love on the side”, they actually draw closer to their spouse and endure that infirmity with them.

I’m talking about men and women who dreamed of one thing, but received another and are not claiming a breach of contract. I’m spotlighting the husband or wife who remains faithful through the emotional toil that a chronic illness can create and the harsh ways in which emotional stress can manifest itself. Those who suffer the frustration of not being able to make their spouse better. Husbands and wives who have had to adjust their idea of romance with the one they love because long walks on the beach are no longer a reality. Those people are the real MVPs.

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Of course, we would most likely agree that marriage should be like that. Unfortunately, I have heard many stories of a husband or wife leaving their ill spouse for no other justification than that it is just not what they signed up for. When they said their marriage vows, they only really meant “for better” and “for richer”. Their image of life together didn’t involve a wheelchair or chemotherapy or a special needs child. In their mind, they only agreed to a relationship that supplied an unending flow of personal fulfilment.

The real MVPs are the marriages where great adversity has come in and they thrive through it. I know some of these types of couples personally. They are inspiring. We can never truly understand their ordeal, but we can be encouraged by their resolve and commitment to one another.

There is a man of God whom I greatly respect whose wife had fallen under the grip of the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease. As the condition worked its horrible work this man watched his beloved of many decades fade away from before him. He was eventually asked by a colleague, “How do you do it?” His response was unwavering, “It is my great privilege to serve my wife in this condition.” That, my friends, is the attitude of a marriage MVP. That’s worth some contemplation in my estimation.

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