How Have You Stayed in Love?

Today we find ourselves at the end of another August. I’m excited for next month, because in September my wife and I will celebrate twenty-eight years of marriage and since our anniversary falls on a Saturday this year, we decided to renew our vows. This is particularly significant for us due to the fact that when we were first married nearly three decades ago, neither of us knew the Lord (although He knew us and His plans for us). So, this time, we will be granted the opportunity to renew our covenant afresh with a conscience acknowledgement of God.

The other day, my wife and I had a question posed to us that took us a bit by surprise. We were asked, “How have you two stayed in love?” That was the first time we have been asked such a pointed question about our relationship. We have received comments on many occasions about our mutual and genuine affection for one another, but have never really been asked how and why it works. In fact, a few years ago we took a dinner cruise on the Spirit of Philly and as we were enjoying the evening together on a couch on the deck, a woman asked us if we were on a date. We chuckled and said, “Well, yes.” She replied, “Oh I could tell! How long have you been together? Six months?” She was shocked to discover that we had been married for over twenty years, figuring that we looked far too in love to be together that long.

Yet, this question of how we have stayed in love stymied us for a moment. We don’t really think about it because we genuinely enjoy being around each other. Of course, we are quite aware of the main strength of our marriage being that Jesus Christ is the center, but what has God taught us about love and marriage? We had to contemplate that for a moment to properly articulate it. So, the following are some things that have helped us stay in love. It is not a comprehensive list, because this post would be immense. As is, this particular post promises to be a little longer, but I will attempt to keep it concise. So, brew yourself a large cup of coffee and contemplate the following points.

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It takes two. One bit of counsel I give to couples preparing for marriage is that it is the two of them against the world, never should it be them against each other. Struggles and tough times come in and if a couple allows those struggles to drive a wedge between them, they will both lose. Instead, the struggle should be seen as an adversary for both of them to conquer together. It takes two. In fact, any further points made in this post will not yield much fruit if both husband and wife are not employing them.

It takes work. I recently officiated a vow renewal for a great couple in our church and in part of that ceremony I mentioned, “Relationships are something that must be worked on all the time, not only when they are broken and need to be fixed. Never stop doing the things that brought you together in the first place.” Love comes easy during the dating process typically because the demands of life have not crowded their way in yet. Marriage, however, is a life shared together. It’s bills and sickness and struggles and triumphs and celebrations and new seasons. Therefore, love needs to be purposefully nurtured. All too often people quit at the realization that love now demands effort on their part and then they begin to look for easy love elsewhere.

Dispose of your sense of entitlement. Remove the idea that you are owed certain things from your spouse. This is a self-centered attitude that always has one keeping score and tracking losses. It may be true that there are things your spouse “owes” to you, but such expectations are counter-productive. Instead, concern yourself with what you owe to your spouse and purpose to do those things without the expectation of return. If both husband and wife are putting this into practice, there will be little sense of loss for either one.

Learn to be satisfied with less. Proverbs 15:17 tells us, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.” In other words, it’s better to have less with love than more with strife. My wife and I have lived without the biggest and best and newest, most of our lives. Budgets were tight and we couldn’t do everything we wanted to or have all the creature comforts we desired. The pursuit of material treasures can often take one’s eyes off of the real treasure of a loving relationship. When we started out, we didn’t even own a bed. We slept on a pile of clothes we laid out on the floor. As our beginning years progressed we accumulated a mismatched furniture set of hand-me-downs and donations. We didn’t care though because we had each other. While I would love to eat steak at a fine restaurant with my wife every night, I will be just as content with a meal at home consisting of fish sticks and macaroni and cheese.

Don’t hold grudges. Conflicts and disagreements will inevitably arise in any relationship. However, it is important to learn to get over yourself. A conflict may get one’s blood boiling at the onset, but one must learn to burn through that anger and/or pain so that a resolution can be reached and understanding can be achieved. (Now, of course, I am referring to normal and typical marital situations and not something like infidelity which would take a far longer process of healing.) To be clear, “burning through your anger” does not mean unleashing a barrage of bitter and hateful words at your spouse. It means, step back for an hour or so and get over yourself so you can have a civil conversation. If you are still as infuriated as you were at the onset after the time it takes to watch a movie, then chances are you are fueling that fire.

Admit when you are wrong. When my wife and I were in youth ministry we used to tell teenagers all the time, “People will hurt you… and you will hurt people.” None of us are immune to having a bad day or a bad attitude and having that spill onto the ones closest to us. Therefore, learn to resist the urge to justify your bad behavior when it happens, swallow your pride, and admit you were wrong.

Be generous with your forgiveness. One thing we need to understand about forgiveness is that it is not saying that the wrong committed was not a wrong. Forgiveness is acknowledging that a wrong was committed and people were hurt, but the debt created by that wrong has been cancelled. That’s why I believe we need to stop saying, “It’s ok,” or “It was no big deal,” in response to someone expressing sorrow for their actions. Instead, we should say, “I forgive you.” Jesus doesn’t look at our sin and say, “No biggie.” It is “a biggie”! He acknowledges our sin as sin, but says, “I forgive you,” because He paid the cost of our debt at the cross. There have been occasions over our twenty-eight years of marriage where my wife and I have hurt one another with brash actions or words. I can honestly say that on those rare occasions, I feel like a total heel when I realize my bad attitude has hurt my wife. The only tears I should be responsible for creating in my wife’s eyes are tears of joy. However, we are both imperfect, so we both have learned to ask for forgiveness and to generously give it when it is needed.

There is so much more that could be said, but this particular post may already be an information overload. There’s plenty to contemplate here and it may require you to refresh your cup of coffee. I would suggest you share that cup of coffee with your spouse, if you are married, and contemplate together.

I would like to add one final thought as I conclude. I must emphasize that the strength of our marriage and love is through Jesus Christ. Now, if you are not a Christ-follower, you may be saying, “Ok, this is where I get off.” Please, stay with me one more moment. Consider this; if you want the results that God brings, you cannot achieve them by excluding God. All the points I have mentioned will only get human results under human power. God results come through Holy Spirit power. The Lord has taught and empowered my wife and I to love deeper, truer, and more purposefully than we ever could have without Him. And when I speak of Christ being the center, I don’t mean Christ mixed with other “spiritual” philosophies, nor do I mean a little bit of Jesus and a lot of our own ideas. Maximum results come through an undiluted faith in the Lord.

Oh look. My coffee cup is empty. Time to wrap it up.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations (and your marriage or future marriage) be rich and fulfilling!

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The Broken Spirit

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Sometimes coffee is medicinal. I’m not talking about health benefits that may or may not be in coffee. I’m merely addressing the fact that a good cup of coffee can many times be for me, a comforting calm in the midst of a storm. When the waves of life’s stresses begin to overwhelm my wife and I, we love to get away to a nice coffee shop or sit at home together with a fresh brew from our French press and allow the soothing roast to work its medicinal magic upon our mental and emotional ailments. (Of course, it’s not just the coffee, but the company.)

In our Wednesday Night Bible study this week, we came to Proverbs 17:22 which reads, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” We had a great discussion concerning attitude and its effect on healing. A merry heart (not a fake smile) can face adversity and even lament and mourn, but it will eventually push its way through the darkness to the other side. A broken spirit, however…

Those who have lived in a state of a broken spirit long enough sometimes find it difficult to imagine anything else. Even the idea of possessing a merry heart is scorned. They are convinced that happiness is not, nor ever will be, for them so why bother trying.

The spirit of an individual can be broken for many reasons. Some are broken due to circumstances beyond their control while others are broken by the consequences of their continual foolish choices. Whatever the cause of the break, if left unchecked, it will “dry the bones” because it perpetually drains the life from the individual.

At the beginning of their broken state, an individual will tend to see everything through the filter of their misery. They may express ideas that their life is terrible or that no one really likes them. Of course, if that were true, they’d have no one to express those sentiments to. Typically, friends will try to offer encouragement and support at this point.

It is at this place where the scales will tip one way or the other. Either the individual will begin to see clearly and accept this support from friends or the individual will convince themselves that the support offered is not genuine. If it is the former that is chosen, the person with the broken spirit will begin the journey towards mending and eventually discovering a merry heart.

If it is the latter that is chosen, the broken spirited person spirals into a self-inflicted pit of despair. Their constant declarations that no one cares for them eventually take their toll on others who conclude that there is nothing that they can do correctly in the eyes of the broken spirited person. The constant rejection of concern and encouragement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy once they have effectively isolated themselves from all who care.

If you are one who tends to sail these seas of misery, you may now be thinking, “Oh great. So, it’s all my fault. That figures. Obviously, I’m such a mess that I don’t deserve happiness or friends. I knew it.”

If that’s you, allow me to suggest that you just STOP IT! Seriously. Do you see how your broken spirit will manipulate anything simply so it can survive? Pull yourself together and begin to put that thing in its place! There’s medicine to be had that will vanquish your broken spirit. Why allow that parasite to drain anymore of your life and vitality away?

Jesus said in John 15:10-11 – “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” The Lord infuses the faithful soul with joy that can bring one through dark times and establish the merry heart… if we will have it, that is.

I began this post by mentioning that my wife and I like to take advantage of the medicinal atmosphere that can be facilitated by enjoying a good cup of coffee together. While that is true, I must declare that our true joy and peace in the midst of difficult circumstances is found in the fact that we both know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and He is the center of our marriage and family. I encourage you to contemplate His joy for your own life.

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

Reflections

August is a special month for me. This month marks five years of pastoring the church I have been serving at here in Abington Pennsylvania. It is a wonderful church full of people who love the Lord. Of course, it hasn’t been without its struggles and we currently are facing some uphill battles, but I still feel confident in God’s plan and believe He is going to see us through all of these things. I really do love where God has us in ministry right now. (Although, I do admit to being a bit anxious to get to the other side of the current battle we fight right now.)

Just this week I also celebrated my birthday. Another tick closer to fifty. When did this happen? I vividly remember my childhood and teenage years as if they only took place a year or two ago. Time seems to move by so quickly now. Life is a bit of an odd thing when you begin to see your own kids in the stage you were once in and realize that you are now in the place where your parents once were.

As I sip my coffee and think, each stream of steam from the cup causes me to reflect upon the different stages of change I have experienced over the last five years. The most significant change in my life was the passing of my father two years ago. I know not everyone gets to have their father in their life well into their adult years and so I know, in that, I am blessed. However, I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that I have arrived at this season of life where I no longer have my dad with me.

There are other changes that have taken place in the last five years; my children have grown older, the Lord has taken me through a lot of personal growth, my wife and I purchased a house for the first time in our lives, etc. While the last five years seem to have gone by in a matter of days, as I reflect, I also notice that a great amount of events have taken place in those “days”.

My reflection back, naturally causes me to look ahead. I am convinced the next five years will bring new and significant changes. For instance, my son just got engaged this week. An entire new dynamic and phase of life is going to unfold for all of us. My daughters are growing and finding their paths of life. The church we are pastoring is gaining traction in the community and I’m excited to see what that will look like five years from now.

I recently preached a message on the subject of Legacy. Now, I’m not preparing to die, but I am at a place in life where I am acutely aware of the seeds I am planting now for a harvest later in time; a harvest of which I will surely not see the fullness of in my lifetime. This is legacy; what will I pass on to the generations of my family after me?

Think of it like this. That cup of coffee you may be enjoying; how much of a process was it to bring that amazing beverage to you? We often forget that coffee does not begin at the store where we purchase our grounds or beans at. Ground is prepared, seeds are sown, plants are cultivated, beans are harvested and roasted, and then companies acquire them, package the coffee and ship it out to stores. There is much that takes place before most of us even come in contact with the beans or grounds and finally smell the aroma of that fresh brew. (If you are really interested, here’s a little video on YouTube about the Journey of the Coffee Bean. It will remind you of films in grade school where they explain how things are made.) That’s legacy. The aroma of what we plant now may be a long way off, but we must be mindful of what we are planting and cultivating now.

What I want to pass on is this; not that I was a good man or a friendly person or a good father or a husband that faithfully loved his wife, but that if I was any of those things, it was because Jesus Christ empowered me to be so. You see, if those qualities are merely products of my personality, then they become unobtainable by others who possess a different disposition. However, if those qualities are a result of the Holy Spirit working in me despite my personality, then anyone can see that same fruit produced in their life simply by submitting to Christ. The fact is, this is the truth of the matter of anything good someone might see in me; it is Christ working in me! This is what I want my children and grandchildren to understand and apply to their own lives.

What of your legacy? What will you pass down? What are you cultivating now that future generations will harvest later?

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

Sharing the World’s Best Cup of Coffee

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If you found an exceptional cup of coffee, would you share the whereabouts of that coffee with others? Would you, like Buddy from the movie Elf, delight in directing someone to “the world’s best cup of coffee”? My wife and I are coffee enthusiasts, but we are nowhere near wealthy enough to travel the world on a quest to discover the world’s best cup of coffee (although, if you would like to give to that noble cause…), but we do like to sample what we can and would certainly pass on our discoveries.

One of our favorite places to get a great cup of coffee is actually not a coffee shop, but a restaurant in our hometown called The Revere Tavern that we periodically go to. The restaurant is one of the places we eat at on special occasions like anniversaries. Besides the great food and atmosphere at The Revere Tavern, we look forward to the coffee. I don’t know what they do to it, but it is superb.

My wife and I also like to try different beans and blends to use on what we have dubbed as our “French Press Fridays”. The latest beans we have come to enjoy we found at a little coffee stand in the Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market named Aunt Ruthies. The coffee is called “Midnight in Vienna” and it is excellent when freshly ground and brewed in a French press.

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When you find something wonderful, it is natural to want to share that thing with others so that they too may find the same joy that you have. Of course, there are greater and more wonderful things than coffee. When I was twenty years old I discovered something that completely changed my life and when I found this great joy, I wanted to share it with every individual I knew. Not everyone was or is as enthusiastic about hearing this information as I am to share it, but my drive to share my experience comes from a very genuine desire for others to know my joy for themselves.

Now, don’t stop reading. You can’t even be halfway through your coffee yet. Hear me out and you can contemplate it as you go through your day today. I will be brief and to the point.

By the time I was ready to graduate high school, I was an atheist. I was a real atheist, not the kind that waste time fighting against a God that they say they don’t believe exists. I didn’t care if others believed. That was their business. I knew that I knew better. However, I would always talk with people of faith just to make sure I was correct and, unfortunately, many of them only strengthened my disbelief.

I got married right after graduating High school and joined the United States Air Force. Not long after getting to my first duty station a man named Randy was transferred to my shop from Alaska. I quickly discovered he was a Christian. His behavior showed him to be a man who walked the walk and not simply one who talked the talk. As my friendship with Randy grew I began to ask him my usual questions about God, preparing to prove myself right once again. To my surprise, he knew what he was talking about. Over the next several weeks he completely dismantled evolution for me and simultaneously confirmed the reliability of the Bible through archeology, history, science, and the prophetic word written in the Scripture. I had soon come to the conclusion that I was wrong about God. The evidence was overwhelming and I no longer possessed the faith required to believe that God did not exist.

It was then, one afternoon, when I was preparing to leave my house for an appointment, that I had the thought that if I got into some sort of accident on my way to the appointment and I were to die, my soul would be lost for eternity. That was the day I went into my bedroom and prayed to God, repenting of my sin, accepting the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross as payment for my sin, and asked Jesus Christ to be the Lord of my life.

Now, you can try to mount an argument against what I was told by Randy leading to my decision for Christ, but the changes I have experienced in my life after my decision and still continue to experience twenty-six years later, are proof positive of the existence of God and the life-changing power of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the greatest joy that I wish to share with you! At least contemplate it. If you knew me prior to my accepting Christ as Savior, you have to admit that something supernatural has taken place.

So, if you live in the area, I invite you to check out some of the coffee spots I shared. Also, I want to invite you to consider the more important information I shared. And, as far as coffee goes, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section concerning any great coffee spots you have discovered. Perhaps I’ll feature them on my blog. I also would love to hear from you if you have any questions about Christ. I’m not afraid of questions. My questions helped me uncover the truth.

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