Expect Better

As my last few posts have been fairly weighty, I thought I’d go with a lighter fare today. Sometimes one needs a dark, bold roast and other times one simply wishes to enjoy a lighter brew of beans. Both are good and certainly have their place in any coffee drinker’s life.

On the subject of coffee, my wife and I discovered something about ourselves earlier in the week. I mentioned when I began this blog that we cannot really consider ourselves coffee connoisseurs because we simply do not have the money to travel the world sampling the best coffee that various nations have to offer. (Although, we certainly appreciate people like Hugh Jackman who are able to do that for us. Have you tasted his Laughing Man brand coffee? Go get some immediately after reading this blog.) However, despite our lack of capital, my wife and I happily accept the mantle of coffee enthusiasts. In addition to that label, it seems that we have earned ourselves another badge.

As we were walking through Sam’s Club the other day, we came across the aisle with the coffee. As we passed by two well-known brands, my wife and I both scoffed at them. As we proceeded on, I had an epiphany and turned to my wife and said, “Oh. I believe we have both ascended to the level of coffee snobs!”

Yes, my friends, regular coffee just doesn’t do it for us any longer. We enjoy going out to various places that sell whole beans so that we can bring them home and grind them and sample new and rich flavors. Our taste and appreciation for coffee has expanded over the years. In fact, my daughter once worked for a particular coffee house and one day I noticed that they had a little quiz set out for patrons. There were several different types of beans on display and the challenge was to match the brew to the bean. The only senses one could use were sight and smell. I was quite pleased with myself when I got them all correct.

When I say that my wife and I have become coffee snobs, I do so with a bit of tongue-in-cheek. As I said, we have simply expanded our palate for coffee. We expect better than what we once accepted in our lives. Therein lies the life-lesson; as we continue on in the journey of life, we should be expecting better of ourselves as time goes on. What was once acceptable in our attitudes and behaviors should eventually be scoffed at as rather pedestrian. We should not settle for just “better than is used to be”.

It might interest you to know that God holds better expectations for us the longer we live and the longer we walk with Him. In the Book of Hebrews chapter 5 verse 12, there is a disappointment voiced to that particular group of disciples for their lack of growth. It reads, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” The problem with these particular believers was that they had grown a little, but then settled on a plateau and lost the drive to climb higher. The admonition to them was that there was far more to be gained and that they were, in fact, missing out!

My encouragement to you today is to expect better of yourself than where you have reached thus far. Do not grow weary in your quest of becoming more. If you are a disciple of Christ, I can guarantee you that you have plenty of room for more growth. Our goal is to be conformed to Christ. That, my friend, is more than a lifetime’s worth of growing.

One might suggest that this particular blog post would be better suited for the beginning of a new year. I respectfully disagree. Why do we relegate personal challenge and growth to the start of a new year alone? We can choose to press ahead at any point during the year. My admonition to you is to do that very thing now! Do not settle for where you are at because it is better than where you once were. Press ahead and discover how many richer levels in life are to be had.

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

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Where was God When I was Wronged?

It is the age-old question that has been asked in various forms, but is essentially the simple quandary; If God is so good, why does He allow evil things to take place? This question is typically asked concerning the general presence of evil and suffering around the world, but for some, it is a deeply personal state of perplexity. For individuals who have experienced some sort of heinous evil done to them, the question is not one of a broad enigma to be solved, but of a deep feeling of abandonment or even, dare I suggest it, betrayal.

Before we continue, let me clarify that we are addressing tragedies and acts of evil that people experience through little or no fault of their own. We are not speaking of consequences brought about by stubborn and rebellious personal choices. In those cases, simply obeying God would have probably kept one out of a horrible experience.

Now, unto the dilemma of why a good God allows evil to exist in the world. Generally speaking, the question itself is a bit problematic. It assumes that God should come in and make right what we as humans are determined to make wrong. We live in a world plagued by our own sin and rebellion against God. Evil exists in the world because we keep putting it there. What we really want God to do is remove the consequences of our sinful behavior. It’s like kindling a campfire on one’s own bed and then getting upset because the mattress becomes engulfed in flames.

“But,” one may ask, “what if I did not kindle the fire, but I am the one who got burned?” Well, that’s the rub of evil. Sin does not behave like a self-ingested poison that only infects the consumer. Sin acts more like a grenade which can maim those who weren’t even involved in pulling the pin. The sins of others have always adversely effected bystanders – sometimes immediately and sometimes with later results. This is one of the many reasons that the Lord holds such an intolerance towards sin.

Of course, such knowledge gives little comfort to the one who has suffered at the hands of someone else’s evil. “Where was God when I was wronged?” It is somewhat futile to try and give direct answers to such a question, because the answers are as varied as the circumstances. What is more, is that even if we received a full explanation of why, it doesn’t mean we would understand it at the time, nor does it mean the pain inflicted would be relieved.

In the Gospel of John chapter nine, an account of Jesus healing a blind man is recorded. The disciples of Christ asked why the man was born blind to which Jesus responded, “… that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (John 9:3) Imagine now, that someone would have told this man when he was young, “I know being blind is tough and even unfair, but someday God is going to use your affliction to help others see who the Christ is and they will find salvation in Him!” I suspect that would have meant little to a thirteen-year-old boy who probably just wanted to have sight. However, the day that his affliction was used to reach the masses is probably one he would not have traded for anything else.

There are, of course, numerous examples in the Bible of people who suffered through little or no fault of their own and wondered at one point where God was when they were wronged. We could mention the stories of Job, of Joseph, of David, of the Prophets and Apostles, and on and on. However, there is one account more pertinent than all of those. As Jesus Christ hung on a cross, dying an agonizing death for no crimes of His own, even He exclaimed, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) Even the Son asked the question of the Father in the moment of anguish, and Jesus was privy to the entire plan! He knew the purpose of His unfair suffering. My point is that the Lord understands because He Himself has been through it.

The big difference between the accounts of the people of God suffering unfairly or even that of the Lord Jesus Christ, is that we know the outcome of their stories. We, however, are only part way through our own stories. We may be in the midst of the suffering chapter (which can often seem like an unending chapter) or we may find ourselves currently in the aftermath of the suffering chapter. What has not been reached yet is the triumph chapter. Do not close the book early simply because you do not currently understand the whys. You have not reached that chapter yet, but you will.

I realize I have made several Biblical references already in this post, but if we’re going to address a question about God, it is best to go to His word and not rely on someone’s idea of how things are when it comes to God. Therefore, I would humbly ask that you allow me one more Scripture reference as I close this contemplation up.

Romans 8:28 reads, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” That is not to suggest some nonsense about the universe working everything out in the end for us. What the verse is declaring is that if we dedicate our lives to the Lord, He will make even our worst experiences into magnificent tools for good. I am convinced that many a tragic event has remained as nothing but tragedy because the one who suffered, hardened their heart against the very God who can give beauty for ashes.

This life is not easy and for some, it is down-right difficult. However, if you truly want an answer to the question, “God, why did you allow this to happen to me?” you will have to change your question to, “God, what are you now going to do with what happened to me?” When you set your mind and heart to the attitude of that question, you signal to God that you are ready for Him to take you through the process of turning tragedy to triumph.

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

The Trouble with God

Imagine that I led you into a dark room and closed the door behind you. From the other side of the door I apologize for the darkness but inform you that I will explain where you are. From that point I may go on, in great detail, about the new coffee shop you are standing in. The place is filled with comfortable couches, freshly baked pastries, and several brews of exotic coffee. My descriptions are so vivid that you begin to believe that you can almost smell the aroma of the exquisite coffee blends. You start to gain excitement as you anticipate indulging in the delicacies that this coffee shop has to offer.

Or perhaps, instead of a coffee shop, I begin to describe a room that is more akin to a dungeon. I begin by articulating graphic descriptions of the various tortures that await you. I explain to you that you are now a prisoner and the days ahead will be filled with hopelessness and dread. Your heart begins to pound as you feel the blood drain from your face and panic grips your soul. A chill runs down your spine as you swear you can now feel the dankness of the dungeon.

Suddenly, you are aware that someone else is in the room with you. Is it the barista?! Is it the torturer?! Then a very calm and confident voice says, “Don’t listen to him. None of that is true.” The light abruptly comes on and as your eyes adjust you find that you are standing in an empty room consisting of basic drywall and laminate flooring. The man with you in the room looks at you slightly disappointed and walks out without saying another word.

Now, if you were given the coffee shop description, you may be disappointed. However, if you were given the torture chamber narrative, you would certainly be relieved. Either way, as a detailed description was given, your mind began to run amuck with the absence of sight, so much so, that you could almost detect certain expected stimuli with your other senses.

The scenario above illustrates a situation that we can sometimes find ourselves in while on life’s journey. Human beings have an uncanny knack for self-deception. Simply look at a man wearing a bad toupee. He certainly didn’t wear it out in public because he thought his hair-piece looked horrendously counterfeit. The term fake news has been coined in recent years, but mankind has been creating false narratives from the beginning. On occasion, our version of events can be played out in our minds so often and for so long that we actually begin to believe the fabricated account over the veritable truth!

Sometimes we create comforting mirages. We can spin epic fairytales around very basic happenings in our life that we actually believe. I often observed this type of thing play out among teenagers when I was a youth pastor. A young person would convince themselves that they had found the love of their life and build a fantasy around that individual that none could dispel. When the inevitable collapse of the relationship would happen, true vision would slowly creep into the hindsight evaluation of what things were really like while they were together.

There are other instances where we craft tales that bring justification to poor lifestyle choices. It is rather strange how our recollection of events can change over the course of time. I once knew a man who would tell me the most fantastic and traumatizing stories about his life which would, in turn, be used to explain away certain destructive behaviors. While I am certain that he had faced some difficult circumstances, I was also certain that his stories had taken on some poetic license, to say the least. The strange thing was that I feel confident that he believed every tale he told as if it were absolute fact.

It is a strange thing to realize that we often love the fantasy worlds we create and we grow quite aggravated when others attempt to burst our bubbles with truth. I have witnessed people of all ages vehemently fight to preserve the lie that they have created. In some instances, they no longer even recognize that it is a lie; their recollection so corrupted in their own memories.

Enter God. The trouble with God is that He is an exposer. He is the One who will turn on the light and say, “None of that is true.” The Book of Hebrews chapter 4 verses 12 and 13 read, “12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

The fact that nothing is hidden from His sight and that He even knows the intents of our hearts can be extremely frustrating when we have created a particular narrative for ourselves that we have become convinced is now the truth. This has led some to steer far away from God and His bubble-bursting ways. What we often fail to realize (or perhaps our pride keeps us from acknowledging) is that our determination to hold on to the lie, places us in a prison of our own design. In the end, we only hurt ourselves.

I want to encourage you today; stop seeing God as the spoiler of your dream-world (whether it is a good dream or a nightmare) and embrace His exposure of the truth so that you can be free. Until you humble yourself and let the Lord turn on the light, the darkness you remain in is your doing. Stop settling for the dark.

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

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

A number of years ago I sat down with a young man in our church who was very upset with another leader in the church. His primary grievance was that he felt that the leader showed him no respect. After listening to this young man and getting a picture from his point of view, I attempted to expand the very narrow vision of his recollections and began to cite the many, many incidents of him not only showing disrespect to the leader, but several episodes of downright belligerence and malice towards the leader and his family (the most recent of which prompted the very conversation we were having). The young man defiantly justified all of his actions with this response, “Well, he (the leader) needs to earn my respect.”

If you have any sense of maturity in you, reading that response probably caused you to cringe. As I continued to converse with this young man, I attempted (to little avail since he was so intrenched in his own arrogance) to realign his warped sense of reality. He felt that the leader – the one placed in authority over him and given responsibility for him – should have to earn his respect, but that he himself should simply be given respect outright by any and all. The hubris emanating from him was such that it acted as a protective barrier keeping him from receiving any knowledge, logic, correction, or just plain common sense.

Respect seems to be a rare gem these days. Customers are rude to people in customer service. Customer service representatives are rude to customers. Drivers are rude to others on the road. Children are rude to parents. Subordinates are rude to their superiors. The young disrespect their elders and people are absolutely obnoxious to others on social media. It is obvious to me that we need more coffee shops where people can pull themselves together and respectfully converse over a fresh cup of coffee.

We really need to rediscover the art of respecting one another. That art begins by giving respect, not looking for it from others. When we communicate with condescending tones towards others, we shouldn’t be surprised when we receive rebuke in return. It is absurd to verbally assault someone and then expect them to respond with a curtsey and kindly thank us. There is a better, more mature, way to treat people and get one’s point across. This should begin by respecting positions of authority or age.

We are told in 1 Timothy 5:1, “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers”. This is not to suggest that one can only teach or, as necessity may demand, even correct someone who is younger. Nor is the verse telling us that there is nothing one can learn from someone younger than ourselves. Indeed, I have learned from younger and older alike. As a pastor, it is my task to teach both those who are younger and older than I am and, on rare occasions, bring correction if it is required. In fact, Timothy, to whom the Apostle Paul addressed this epistle, was a young pastor leading a congregation of believers who were of various ages.

The point being made is that respect needs to be given to those who are older than us if we wish to articulate a position or facilitate the reception of a message. If you begin a dialog with someone with the intent to teach or make a point and you are the younger, it does you no good to come off like a schoolmarm scolding the elder. Think about it this way; would you receive correction from a five-year-old if they spoke down to you like you were somehow inferior to their five-year intellect? Even if that child was correct on that one particular matter, it would not make them equal in authority to you or the respect that is due to you given your age, experience, and/or possible position of authority. By giving respect where it is due because of position and/or age, one will earn respect in the sight of others all around.

You cannot decide the behavior of another, but you can choose the way in which you will conduct yourself. However, if enough people start offering respect to others then perhaps, just maybe, our society and our conversations will return to some sense of civility. It is certainly a worthwhile goal to strive for anyway.

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