Welcome to the Surreal World

We are certainly living in a bizarre time. Not quite post-apocalyptic, but definitely not Norman Rockwell either. Perhaps Orson Welles? Try watching the first thirty minutes of Avengers: Endgame and then go for a walk and see if you don’t notice some correlations.

It is now commonplace to see commercials for products advising you how to make purchases from the safety of your home. Companies are telling us what they are doing to maintain health standards in the crisis. New terms such as social distancing and flatten the curve have become common vernacular in our homes. Masks and respirators are becoming a regular part of getting dressed to go out, so much so, that we now have designer masks and I’m starting to see family photos where everyone is masked up. Smile! Oh, never mind.

In the surreal world that is developing around us, we’re all just trying to navigate this strange life. Each week seems to bring something new that we must adapt to as the parameters of the former week seem to have evolved. Do you remember when we first thought this was going to be a two-week thing and so many people were looking forward to staying home with the family with snacks and Netflix like it was an extended snow-day? Now you have binged watched everything, eaten all of the snacks, and are wondering how you are going to survive homeschooling your children. (Homeschool moms everywhere are now grinning ear to ear. You just can’t tell because they have masks on.)

We certainly did not expect all of this when the ball dropped in Times Square announcing the arrival of 2020. But that’s just it; we never really know what lies ahead in a year.

Today marks four years since my father passed away. As I was looking at my past Facebook posts for this day I was intrigued by my posts for April 16th prior to 2016. Most were whimsical comments. One of them, two years prior, recounted how an oncoming car had lost control and nearly hit me head on. Of course, I had no idea that on that date, two years later, my dad would be going home to be with the Lord.

My point is, that we just don’t know all the details that the future holds for us. Many times, the unforeseen circumstances that a particular year may hold affect only lives and families on a personal level. A death in the family, an illness, or the loss of employment are all examples of that. There are other times when a disaster may strike affecting a large community of people, like a hurricane or an earthquake. However, on occasion, a year may hold in its hand a card that will affect the entire world, such as a world war or… a pandemic.

James 4:13-15 advises us, “13 Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” The point being made is that because we do not know what tomorrow will bring, we should be more mindful of He who does know exactly what tomorrow brings.

So, what shall we do as the world turns upside-down in this bizarre and uncharted territory? I believe the first thing we need to settle in our hearts is that this is not the final time that the world we know will be completely disrupted. While I do not wish to compare God to a drill sergeant, if you have ever served in the military and had your nicely made-up bunk tossed, you’ll be able to relate to this better. It is evident throughout history, that God allows mankind to indulge in more and more sin and rebellion against Him through many generations. He allows us to get comfortable to the place where we ignore Him completely, and then He steps into history and upsets our apple cart, if for nothing more than to reveal how fragile we truly are. It’s not something He does out of spite or cruelty, but instead, to put our grand hubris in check. Scoff if you wish, but as we near the end of this age, there are more wake-up calls to come.

Secondly, I would encourage you to begin thinking beyond this little world and the fragile lifestyle we have constructed. It is evident that it can so easily be upset because it is not nearly as stable as we like to pretend that it is. There is, however, an eternity beyond this life and an eternal God who holds all of time in His hands. Proverbs 23:18 – “For surely there is a hereafter, And your hope will not be cut off.” The Lord knows our entire story, from beginning to end… and beyond. Surely, He is able to navigate us through it, no matter what the year holds, if we will simply follow Him.

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

Anxiety

The world is not short on issues to be stressed over. Just take your pick from the smorgasbord of anxiety. There is a global pandemic currently taking place if you are into being stressed about that. Or perhaps you’re feeling a bit peckish for some national political tension. Of course, you can always skip to the dessert bar where you will find a wide variety of personal problems to fill your plate with. Chances are, you have returned to your table with a sampling of everything and your stomach should be upset in no time.

Ok. Time to leave the dishes of distress, grab a cup of coffee, and get centered. You are now in the peaceful setting of my virtual coffee shop. (Although, I must confess that after writing that opening paragraph I do really miss eating out at our local Chinese buffet… or at any restaurant for that matter. I suspect we will all be a little more appreciative of those things we took for granted, once all of this has passed… at least for a bit.)

When life seems to pile stress upon our plate like a bitter lunch-lady named Helga, we can find ourselves crumbling under its weight. We immediately look for coping mechanisms to help alleviate the pressure. Some of these mechanisms, of course, are not really helpful, and, in fact, end up piling more stress on us in the end.

There are also more helpful and healthy ways to handle the stresses that bring on anxiety. One of those effective ways is to go to the word of God. Now, you may be of the cynical type due to some past experiences, but before you go logging off in dismissal of what I just said, allow me to state that your experiences are about to be my main point. So, please stick around and keep reading.

There are some really wonderful Scripture verses that look great on daily calendars or crocheted onto throw pillows. One such verse is Philippians 4:6-7 – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Can you not just picture this passage now on a poster with a beautifully serine setting in the background and four little fat cherubs in each corner?

The thing is, verses like this were never really meant for fluffy doily-like settings. They were meant to muster one’s faith in the midst of battle. These verses were written to believers who often times were experiencing persecution and tribulation. They were offered as rallying battle cries during war. No one takes William Wallace’s words from the inspirational speech he delivered to his warriors in Braveheart, “They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!” and surrounds them with pretty flowers on a decorative knickknack.

When verses like Philippians 4:6-7 are needed most are not when things are peaceful, but when things are so difficult that such verses are difficult to hang on to. We need the truth of those verses when we are most apt to be cynical over them; when they seem completely out of touch from what we are experiencing. If such verses were only relevant when things were easy, we wouldn’t need such admonishments and reminders at all! In situations when we are tempted to disregard the edifications of the word of God as fanciful wishes is when they are most powerful and it is those moments that they were meant for.

In times of adversity when our anxiety is high, we may be deterred from embracing the word of God and its promises, choosing rather to fix our eyes on the current set of circumstances. However, if one can get past their knee-jerk reaction to ignore the word and find, in their desperation, the need for such Biblical promises to be fulfilled in one’s life, the fluff that once surrounded that Scripture is scattered and the promises become a life raft that one clings to. What was once a comforting little quip in a time of peace, becomes an intensely studied and well digested piece of Scripture needed to face the battle.  These are the times such verses are for!

I own several swords which are decorative pieces displayed on the walls of my office at home. There was once a time, however, that swords were forged primarily for battle and not as ornaments. The Scriptures of promise which we may ignore in our toughest circumstances need to be put back to their proper use and seen for what they were forged for. The Bible itself refers to the word of God as the “Sword of the Spirit”, not the Decoration of the Deity. When adversity comes your way and it begins producing in you an overwhelming anxiety, stop ignoring the Sword as though it only belongs on the wall.

One last thing to keep in mind; battles are not won with simply one swing of the sword. Battles are difficult and exhausting. One wonders if he/she can hold on to the sword over the length of the battle. Will the blade stay true though the odds look overwhelming? Will I grow too weary before I see the promises come to fruition?

My advice? Don’t be so foolish as to head into battle alone. Ecclesiastes 4:12 – “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

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

Why Isn’t This Easy?

My family and I just finished turning another chapter of our story together, and as I get back into the routine of maintaining this blog, I’d like to share the tale of this transition with you. We recently packed up our belongings, sold our house, and relocated to the other end of Pennsylvania in order to follow God’s direction. I make it a point to say that this was at the direction of the Lord because I intend for this post to be a testimony of His goodness towards us as we obeyed. So, brew yourself a cup of coffee and be encouraged.

It was autumn, 2018. My wife and I had been serving as the pastoral family at a church just outside of Philadelphia for five years. While God was certainly at work there, we were beginning to feel that we had approached a sort of impasse in our leadership at the church. I remember sitting in our car together in our driveway one evening discussing and praying about what we should do. We decided that night that the time had come for us to make a change.

In the fellowship of the Assemblies of God, of which I belong to, a transition for a pastor from one church to another can be a long process. I will not bore you with the details, but it wasn’t until the beginning of 2019 that we went to interview at a church. We did not feel that church was where God was leading us, so we kept searching and praying. We interviewed at another church and, after ministering there on a Sunday morning, we were invited by the congregation to pastor that church. Yet again, my wife and I sat in the car, this time in the hotel parking lot, praying and discussing. We really liked the church (meaning the people) and saw much potential there, but we could not get past the check in our spirit that this was not where God wanted us either.

My wife and I decided that we needed to take a break from this search and pray some more. Perhaps we had been wrong. Perhaps God did not want us to leave our current place of ministry. We just didn’t know.

The months that followed brought more confusion. We prayed and we waited. In the meantime, we were dealing with some tough issues that were compounding our ability to just be quiet before the Lord and listen. Finally, in desperation to know God’s will and follow it, I put out a “fleece”.  The term “laying out a fleece” comes from an action Gideon took in the book of Judges chapter 6. I caution you, that doing such a thing should not be taken lightly and is not something to be used on whimsical folly. But I was desperate and genuinely wanted to simply obey God. So, I asked the Lord for a specific outcome in a certain situation to help me clearly see through the fog of my confusion. One outcome – we stay, the other outcome – we go. It turned out that we go.

My wife and I took up our search again, being confident this time that we were in God’s will. Within months (some of which were filled with no hope in sight), we had found our next assignment. A church near Lake Erie was the perfect fit. If there was any doubt, it was laid to rest when my wife confessed that she had secretly laid a fleece of her own before the Lord, and He confirmed His leading to this church very specifically in accordance to what my wife had asked for as a sign.

Now the transition was on and God was moving things rapidly. We needed to sell our home in the Philadelphia area. Though it was not the best time of year for house selling, our home was sold in three days to a family who gave us full asking price. We needed a new home to move to. Our new ministry location was six hours from our place in Philadelphia so we didn’t want to take a lot of trips to go house shopping. We looked at two houses the same day we were voted into the new church and fell in love with the second house, made and offer, and it was accepted. We found out later that this house had been sitting on the market for over a year and had actually been put up for sale around the same time my wife and I had made our initial decision about transitioning while sitting in our driveway over a year ago.

Other miracles took place and God was obviously plowing the way for us. All was going well, until…

The timing of our transition necessitated our move into the new house prior to closing. We were renting the house while requirements for settlement where being met. However, our loan company began giving us problems. We were starting to get a bit nervous. They kept adding new requirements and changing parameters on us. The day before our scheduled closing, the loan company called us and informed us that they were no longer going to finance our loan.

What were we supposed to do? We were two-thirds of the way unpacked! Were we going to have to pack up, find another place, and move again? I couldn’t believe that God had brought us all this way with such blessings only to leave us hanging at the last leg of the race, but I confess that my faith was surely being tested. Questions were flooding my mind and robbing me of rest. We had recently experienced the rug being pulled out from under us in several other areas over the past two years. Was it about to happen again? Did we get this all wrong?

In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, one will find the account of Israel miraculously returning to their homeland after being exiled for seventy years. This return was prophesied by the great Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah. Things were progressing wonderfully in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the people could not deny the hand and favor of God in these events. That is until resistance came. The enemies of Israel were so tenacious, that they were actually successful in halting the work of rebuilding. So, the people, in their discouragement, gave up. All the obvious miracles that led up to that point were forgotten and dismissed. In fact, the people had become so perplexed by the resistance they experienced that the prophet Haggai writes that the Israelites concluded. “The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” (Haggai 1:2)

Allow me to wrap up this lengthy testimony with this truth; resistance and obstacles should not be seen as a sign that God is absent. In fact, obstacles are often a sign that one is heading in the right direction (supposing that you genuinely desire to be in God’s will and not your own). We somehow buy into the concept that if God is in a situation it will be an easy journey. Which biblical figure gives one that idea? Joseph? Moses? David? Jeremiah? Peter? Paul? Jesus?!

Though my family and I faced uncertainty, the Lord faithfully finished what He began and we have closed on the home God reserved for us when we began this process. We are now settling into our new place of ministry and look forward to what the Lord has in store. My admonition to you is to seek God’s will, remain faithful to Him (even through adversity), and He will see you through.

Israel did eventually complete the rebuilding of the Temple… just as God had promised.

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

Are You a Locomotive or a Boxcar?

A new year is upon us! A new decade, in fact. However, if you are anticipating a “new you” or a new life, there will be little hope for that if you do not first adopt a new perspective. Life does not change simply because the digits on the calendar change. If you carry your old self into a new year or a new decade, you will most certainly end up with the same results as the former years and decades.

I believe one of the greatest perspective changes one can make is that of being a contributor vs. being a consumer. The attitude of “What’s in it for me?” or “What am I getting out of this?” is well ingrained into our culture. We are self-centered beings by nature and whether we recognize it or not, we often measure situations using a scale of personal benefits. If we receive less return than our investment, we often deem that situation as unworthy and promptly remove ourselves from it. That may work well for business and other profit seeking endeavors, but it is not always the best attitude for life.

The problem with holding to the attitude of “What am I getting out of this?” is that it makes one miserable because they are never truly satisfied. There is always something they do not have that they feel they should. There is always someone who has not treated them as well as they feel they should be treated. There is always something that others have failed to provide for them.

On the other hand, what if one were to be more concerned with contributing than they are with consuming? What if the question in one’s measure was “What am I giving into this?” when examining a situation? Now we can begin talking about a “new you” for a new decade!

If you take a moment to consider it, you will recognize that maturity is marked by seeking what one can contribute over what one can gain. Self-absorbed individuals are not only aggravating, but typically immature. Children are primarily concerned about what they are going to get or how a situation affects them. A child who actually displays a giving heart is often lauded for possessing a maturity beyond their years.

Unfortunately, the Church of Jesus Christ is not immune from such immaturity. Christians can be notorious for viewing their local assembly through the attitude of “What am I getting out of this?” The church is expected to make one feel a certain way or to provide the best quality of care and vibrant ministries for Christians to be consumers of. The absurdity of such thinking is revealed in the fact that Christians are the church! If you feel that the local church you are attending is weak in a particular area, perhaps it is because you are not contributing to that area to bring it strength. My advice to you is stop attending church and start being the church!

I know of a mega-church located in Arizona which grew largely through the congregation embracing one simple ideal – Find a Need and Meet It. Take notice that the philosophy was not “Find a need and complain about it” or “Find a need and use it as an excuse to leave”, but “Find a need and meet it”.

In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul is addressing the fact that salvation has come, not only to the Jewish people, but to all the peoples of the earth through Jesus Christ. While revealing that all of God’s promises and blessings were now open up to the Gentiles, Paul makes mention of a particular offering that was taken up by Gentile churches to bless needy believers in Jerusalem. Paul then writes, “26 For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. 27 It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” (Romans 15:26-27). You see, being part of the church is not simply about partaking, but it is also (even more so) about providing.

This brings me to the question posed in the title of this particular post; Are you a locomotive or a boxcar? Locomotives generate motion. They move things. Boxcars sit, waiting to be moved. Far too many people wait around expecting others to provide them with momentum. They look for and find places where locomotive-type individuals are making things happen and quickly attach themselves so that they may enjoy the ride. Being a boxcar is rather easy, but it is not very fulfilling. Being a locomotive is often difficult, but the sense of fulfillment is much greater over the long haul of the tracks.

If you are truly looking for a “new you” in this new and upcoming decade, may I suggest that you follow the words of Jesus Christ, “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.” (Luke 6:35)

Contribute and make situations and other people stronger. Build foundations and frameworks instead of wondering why the building is incomplete. Become a locomotive.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling… as well as your New Year!

What Are You Giving?

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and, as is the purpose of the holiday, many hearts are reflecting upon that which we can be thankful for. Pausing for such considerations is a good thing bearing in mind how much complaining most of us are guilty of throughout the rest of the year. Perhaps it would do us well if we were to set aside the last day of each month, sit with a friend, and do nothing but list the things to be thankful for that month, over a good cup of coffee.

We really do spend a lot of time complaining and comparing. It comes easy to most of us to see what others have that we do not. As human beings, we have a propensity for focusing upon ourselves and how things affect us. In fact, may I suggest that even when we are truly being thankful, there still remains one spotlight upon our own selves?

Before you misunderstand me, let me state that being thankful is good and it should be something we do with greater regularity. However, when we are taking that time to consider the things we should be thankful for, we are almost always thinking about what has been given to us. The focus becomes, “What do I have?” and “What have I received?” Again, there is nothing wrong with that. What I wish to do is encourage you to take it to the next level.

As we take the time to reflect upon what we have been given, it is an opportune moment to think about what we have given to others. This suggested inquiry is not meant to provide time to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, but to evaluate the ratio of our giving to receiving and if perhaps we need to increase what we give.

Now, I’m not simply addressing monetary giving per se. I’m not suggesting that you pick a few more charities to contribute to. That is well and good, but there are other ways to give. One can give by volunteering at various places which serve people in need. One can give by joining church ministries which meet community needs or even help those in bondage to addictions or human trafficking. We can provide a blessing to a friend… or an enemy. We can be an ear to a lonely soul or a shoulder for a heavy heart. There are so many ways to give and it is certain that if we spent more time giving we’d have much less time to complain.

The one caution we must be mindful of when we seek to give is that we should never give with the expectation of return. Such an attitude brings rise to the constant bemoaning on social media that makes statements like, “I’m tired of giving so much, but no one is there for me.” I understand such frustration, but if you give and get angry when you do not receive, you are not really giving. Instead, your attitude is that of one providing a service that you expect to be compensated for.

Returning to the subject of my initial encouragement, however, I will once again urge you as you consider the things to be thankful for, to ask yourself, “What am I giving?” Perhaps in time, someone will be thanking God for sending you.

Luke 6:35 – “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.”

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

What Happened to Hope?

Unpopular opinion; there is victory to be found in Jesus Christ for whatever you are going through right now. Does that sound cliché? Are tendrils of cynicism gripping your soul after reading that? Well, that’s a problem. Grab a cup of coffee and have a seat. No. not that cup. You should probably get the bigger one.

It’s going to be a difficult task to keep what I have to say concise, because there is much that can be said. I will, however, endeavor towards that goal of brevity if you will be kind enough to extend some grace for an ever so slightly longer blog post. In short, I believe that the church, in its quest to be cutting edge and “real”, may have inadvertently misplaced the message of hope.

I am told that the church once got itself into a rut and it was being accused of not addressing “tough issues”. Real life problems were, as the accusation goes, sort of taboo and anyone struggling with them were dismissed as people who did not have enough faith. Therefore, very few confessed their struggles and so, quietly remained in pain.

I cannot really speak to the validity of that as I was not a Christian at that particular time, but if the information that was passed to me is true, it may be that the pendulum has moved way over in the other direction today. While the church now feels free to speak of and address pain and struggle and depression, it seems to now be taboo to speak of overcoming. The best we can speak of is coping.

The church used to preach victorious living, freedom in Christ, and being an overcomer through the Holy Spirit. Now, that line of talk is scoffed at as though it is unrealistic. “Life is tough,” we reason, “so, let us dispense with this victory nonsense and realize that we are doomed to be miserable and trapped.” That modern way of thought is referred to as “being real”. Indeed, it may well be real, but so is the God of the impossible. After all, are we not to live by faith and not by sight (experience)?

Today, there are many eye-rolls that communicate to us that it is improper to speak of God helping us to overcome our struggles. It’s as though the idea is no longer practical. We can discuss pain and struggle and anxiety, but, if we are being real, we must stop short of proclaiming that there is victory available. Therefore, we are left to wallow in our pain without the hope of freedom. Sounds more like Satan’s plan for our life than God’s plan.

When speaking of struggles, pain, anxiety, and depression the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, is typically one of the top examples found in the Bible. Elijah was a man of God who certainly did experience pain, fear, discouragement, anxiety, and depression and there were plenty of factors in his life that contributed to those feelings. His suicidal wishes in 1 Kings 19 and his despair while he sat alone in a cave are often pointed to and are easily relatable. However, I rarely hear about the rest of the story and how God brought Elijah through it!

I would encourage you to go read the chapter for yourself, but allow me to make some quick observations concerning what God did for Elijah while he was going through that particular struggle. First, the Lord addressed Elijah’s physical condition which surely added to his mental state (1 Kings 19:5-8). Next, God allowed Elijah some time in the cave so that he could process his pain, fear, and despair (1 Kings 19:9-10). After that, the Lord does something rather profound; He abruptly cuts off the wallowing and sends Elijah back out to face life and fulfill his calling (1 Kings 19:14-15).

The Lord was kind and compassionate upon Elijah’s predicament, but He was also kind and compassionate by not allowing Elijah to wallow in the cave of despair indefinitely. A brief respite to process pain and emotions is sometimes necessary, but we must get out of that cave and move forward. While we do not always possess the strength to do that, God makes His strength available to us! We just have to be more interested in warring than we are in wallowing.

That is not to suggest that the battle is one and done. Life is full of battles. We will experience highs and lows all throughout our journey. Sometimes we will enter seasons of sorrow that never seem to end. On occasion, we may feel that life is far too overwhelming and it would be easier just to let despair roll over is like a massive wave. Unfortunately, some of the “real” preaching today, has left others feeling that there is no alternative.

In fact, some people reading this blog post may be growing aggravated at what they might consider as me proclaiming over-simplistic hope. I assure you that there is nothing simple about it. It’s tough! But I would say to you, if you are of that mindset, that you need to stop preaching discouragement and pain management and begin preaching Gospel victory! It’s not wishful thinking or pie-in-the-sky denial of reality. It’s acknowledging pain and remembering that God is our source to overcome it. It may be a daily battle and one may need to detour to a cave for a few hours, but that cave is meant for a brief break. It is not a place to set up camp!

There is one last thing that God does for Elijah before he leaves the cave in response to the Lord; God encourages Elijah that he is not really alone (1 Kings 19:18). I, myself, have gone through great bouts of discouragement over the years. I have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, worked several secular jobs, and served in pastoral ministry and I can tell you that pastoral ministry has a stress to it unique from all the others. (Note: I said unique, not necessarily worse.) Feeling alone compounds our sorrow, but that feeling is almost always based in fallacy. We’re not really alone… unless we choose to isolate ourselves in a cave.

I have hit some really low points over the years, so Elijah’s cave is a familiar place for me. However, what I need to hear and what I want to pass on to you today, is not a glum message that leaves one condemned to life in a dark and dank cave, but a message that is real enough to acknowledge the struggle and also real enough to hold faith in the One who grants us the victory – a message of hope.

The Bible contains the account of many battles, both national and personal, and not a one of them was won by wallowing in despair. The overwhelming odds were acknowledged and set before God. In turn, God brought victory and was ready to do it again for His faithful people when the next threat emerged. We may still have to arise and fight, but there is a big difference between fighting and allowing one’s self to be a perpetual punching bag.

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!’” – Lamentations (a book of sorrow) 3:22-24

So, lay your cynicism aside. There is victory to be found in Jesus Christ for whatever you are going through right now. Be real with the firestorm you face and then cling to the real God who will take you through the fire.

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

You’re Going to Fall

If you are, or have been, a parent of a toddler or older, you have probably warned your son or daughter at some point, “You’re going to fall.” That young child, wanting to reach the shiny object that’s out of their reach, will brave the danger and traverse every obstacle in their path to obtain the coveted prize. Or, perhaps the springiness of a particular couch or bed has been newly discovered and the child jumps higher and higher with glee, sometimes landing in the middle and sometimes landing near the edge. “You’re going to fall.” Ah, to be young and courageous.

Children appear to have no fear when it comes to climbing or jumping on things. Personally, I do not believe it is so much a lack of fear as much as it is a lack of being aware of their surroundings. The boldness we often witness when a child is climbing too high or carelessly jumping on furniture is mostly due to them being focused fully on their activity. They are fixated on what they are attempting to reach or enraptured in the enjoyment of the bounce and are unaware of the danger present at the point of a very possible slip.

This is exactly why the parent warns, “You’re going to fall.” It is an attempt to get the child to take notice of their surroundings and the mounting potential for self-harm. The warning is akin to saying, “Hey. Stop and look at what you are doing. Look at where you are at. You’re not really paying attention.”

Recently, I have seen in the news several stories of people falling to their deaths while attempting to take dramatic selfies. They hang off of ledges or dance near cliff sides all for that thrilling picture that their friends will be in awe of and, if the social media fates smile upon them, the picture will go viral and grant them their five minutes of fame. Unfortunately for some, it was the last thing they ever did.

The truly sobering thing about tragic situations like that is the probability that if someone would have attempted to warn them, “Hey! You’re going to fall,” it would have most likely alighted upon deaf ears. Much like the toddler, adults will press ahead, ignoring the warning and believing they are somehow exempt from tragedy or, for that matter, gravity. Perhaps one of them would have assured their over-concerned guardian, “I’ll be fine. I’m being careful.” Of course, that begs the question; is one truly being careful if they are being foolish?

As it so happens, God has given warning to His own children that they are in danger of falling. Yes, our Heavenly Father, who exists outside of time, warns of a coming day where actual, redeemed, born-again children of God will fall away from their faith! Speaking of The Day (referring to the return of Jesus Christ) 2 Thessalonians 2:3 reveals, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition” (italics mine). A falling away is coming for those who are foolish with their faith-walk! If the above verse does not seem clear enough, let us consider the warning we find in 1 Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron”. 

But how can this be?! How could someone depart from the faith? How is it that a believer could fall? It happens for the same reason a child boldly climbs into danger; they are so focused on obtaining some perceived treasure that they are not paying attention to their surroundings. Jesus warned in Matthew 24:12, “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”

Is it really so difficult to believe? We have recently witnessed a string of high-profile Christians fall away from their faith, citing new enlightenments that curiously find accolades from the world. The Scripture is turned inside-out in attempts to make it fit modern concepts of right and wrong and acclimate it to our wayward culture until finally it is rejected altogether. What follows is a deadly fall.

It’s not just big-name Christians who are falling. I have personally seen many fall away from their once very genuine faith because they have become distracted by life, circumstances, a relationship, or a desire to be loved by the world. Just yesterday I happened by some old pictures of individuals who, at the time, were at the height of their faith, but are now backslidden. It broke my heart and caused my gut to wrench.

The Lord is warning us in His word to pay attention and look at where we are! He is saying to some of us right now, “You are going to fall!” But perhaps you would respond, “I’m fine. I’m being careful.” Again, I ask, how can one truly be careful if they are being foolish? No one who falls ever believed they were going to fall. They believed, just as surely as you may, that it was going to be different for them.

My admonishment to you is to take God’s call seriously. If you are boldly dancing at the edge of the cliff, it is not bravery, but arrogant foolishness you are entertaining. You are going to fall. Do not place yourself in the count of 1 Timothy 4:1-2. Get yourself back into His word, back into prayer, and back into the fellowship of His church. Most of all, abide in Jesus Christ, obey Him, and cling to Him with all of your heart as though your very eternity depended upon it.

As my traditional sign-off seems out of place here, I will close with the following, which I express with absolute concern for your eternal soul…

Until you return to Christ with a whole heart, may your coffee be stale and your endeavors remain unfulfilling.

Coastlines, Clouds, and Coffee

IMG_7438

I snapped the photo above while my family and I were on vacation at the beach. It was an unusually cloudy morning and my wife and I were having breakfast on the boardwalk. Everything was wet because of the storms that blew through over the night. However, there is no rain that will keep Krista and I from enjoying the beach!

The coastline – the beach – is indeed my happy place. I love the sound of the surf and the smell of the salt air. I have been going to the beach since I was a child and my wife and I have gone together since we were high school sweethearts. The beach is my place of blessing and it is always there waiting for me to return.

Just like that coastline, we always have blessings in our lives. We may not always recognize them and we may, more often than not, take them for granted. However, if we are wise, we will be careful to acknowledge that there are many things in our life to be thankful for.

Of course, when that coastline of blessing is overshadowed by clouds, the thick darkness often takes preeminence in our sight. We may still hear the surf and see the shore, but the shadow of troubles and hardships darken even our blessings. Our attention is drawn, forcefully, to the looming pain hanging above us. Even as we try to focus upon our blessings, the gloom of the clouds darkens the water and hides the light of the sun causing the coastline’s brilliance to dim.

I have noticed that in life we are often in a place where both the coastline and the clouds are present. It is rarely exclusively one or the other. Of course, there are times when the clouds become exceedingly abundant and those are the most difficult times to “count our blessings” as they say. We remember brighter days upon the shore and wonder if we will ever see the sun again.

In those times, we may echo the sentiment of King David in his lament:

Psalm 143:4-8

Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me;
My heart within me is distressed.

I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all Your works;
I muse on the work of Your hands.
I spread out my hands to You;
My soul longs for You like a thirsty land.

Answer me speedily, O Lord;
My spirit fails!
Do not hide Your face from me,
Lest I be like those who go down into the pit.
Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For in You do I trust;
Cause me to know the way in which I should walk,
For I lift up my soul to You.

Sometimes the clouds come and we must take action; change our attitude, make better decisions, humble ourselves, or do what we should have done in the first place. Other times, the clouds come and there is not much more one can do but what my wife and I were doing on this particular morning; grab a cup of coffee (quiet yourself) and place the looming darkness in the hands of God and trust that He will triumphantly break through the cloud cover with His deliverance in due time.

Recently, I have been spending a significant amount of time in the Psalms. This has not come about by my purposeful design, but due to a reading plan I am using this year. As it happens, many of these psalms have been quite relevant in this time. Today, I came across a particular verse that was repeated three times in two different psalms. I leave you, in my virtual coffee shop this day, with these three verses. Keep in mind that the words are much easier to hold on to when you are not in need of them.

If you currently have thick clouds hanging over your coastline, brew yourself a cup of coffee (attempt to quiet yourself) and let the words of the Lord sink in:

Psalm 42:5 – Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.

Psalm 42:11 – Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.

Psalm 43:5 – Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.

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

The Anvil of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The VIP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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