Snowed In

It happens on multiple occasions over the winter season here in Pennsylvania. The weather reports an impending snow storm and a mad rush to the grocery store ensues. Shelves are cleared of all kinds of items, but especially milk, eggs, and bread. Personally, I think the first staple that needs to be stocked up on is coffee. Enjoying a good hot cup of coffee while watching it snow is one of life’s simple pleasures.

This scenario is played out in many other northern states as well over the winter months. The rather funny part about all of this is that, with today’s infrastructure, it is highly unlikely that one will be snowed-in for days on end. Even when I lived in a very rural area for a number of years, most roads were cleared within twenty-four hours of a snow storm. Yet, the mere mention of snow has people preparing to be buried for days and setting up supplies in their homes like some sort of apocalyptic bunker to endure Snowmageddon.

However, with roads being cleared and things being back to normal typically within a day’s time (not to mention the often inaccurate weather forecasting), one wonders what the reason is for all of the panic. I’m going to make a suggestion. Listen and see if this resonates with you. I believe, for many people, it’s not really panic people are experiencing, but instead, it is hope.

I believe many people are not as much experiencing fear of being snowed in as they may be of hoping they are snowed in. Why? Because our society runs at such a high pace and we are constantly trying to cram more tasks into our schedule that we want something to cause a shut-down so that we can stop. We are desperately looking for a break and we need something to make that happen. We require a reason to be confined to our homes and our pajamas with nothing but snacks and Netflix to be concerned with.

All week, every week, we run and run and run. Our jobs demand time and overtime with little consideration that we work in order to live, not live in order to work. After work, however, kids must be shuttled to several different extracurricular activities all the while doing their hours of homework during the car ride (because we are also training them to become busy little bees like us). Of course, there are also tasks that must be done at home and to the lawn and the volunteer work and so on and so on. We’ve become so busy that we now praise the ability to multitask thinking that doing several things at once is somehow better than concentrating on one thing at a time and doing it well.

The fact remains, however, that we were not made to run at this pace and though we wear our busy schedules like some sort of badge of honor as we attempt to declare ourselves more busy than our peers, we really don’t enjoy it. We need a break. We want something to stop the cycle and give us a respite for a day or two. Hence our hope in an impending snow storm. We internally smile at the idea of not being able to leave the house for work or take the kids somewhere. We imagine a day of sweatpants and movies to watch or books to read while wrapped up in a blanket with a large cup of coffee. The best part of this daydream is that it all comes to us guilt free because we cannot go anywhere. We’re snowed in!

The simple fact is that we need to rest and reset, and we need to do it more often than once or twice a year. This is how we were designed. Therefore, when the Lord formed the nation of Israel, He gave them a command requiring rest. Exodus 20:8-10 reads, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.”

God scheduled a weekly day of rest for His people. It was a day to be made holy to God and a day to rest from one’s labors without feeling guilty about getting nothing accomplished. Of course, over time the command was twisted into something to create strife so that a man could not even walk a certain distance without breaking the Sabbath. Today there are those who demand the Sabbath can only be on Saturday (as it is the seventh day of the week) instead of Sunday when early Christians started observing it marking the day of the Lord’s resurrection. But as Jesus plainly told His critics, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

Now, we do not live in a society that observes a Sabbath. Our culture is all about filling the schedule. Yet, even disciples of Christ don’t really observe a Sabbath any longer. Many cannot seem to keep a regular week day, like Sunday, holy unto the Lord. Church gets pushed out for other things on the schedule and even if church is worked in, there are often tasks and appointments and events to be attended right after the last amen. The Sabbath is rarely holy and it is rarely a day of rest.

If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ living in a culture that observes no Sabbath, you are going to have to be the one who makes that happen in your family. Society is not going to do it for you like ancient Israel’s society did. You have to choose to hollow the day, make worship important, and then create a day of rest from all the typical tasks and activities of the week. That will certainly come at a price, but if you do it correctly and consistently, you may not have to hope for a snow storm to provide it for you. With all of our busyness, we need a day each week to reflect back upon God and then to rest from the demands of our schedule. Just think about that for a bit.

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

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I Deserve to Be Happy

Nearly every foolish, selfish, and destructive choice has been rationalized by these five words; I deserve to be happy. Those words are trumpeted like a battle cry from the carnal mind that desperately wishes to charge into some action to satiate one temporal appetite or another. One can almost hear the tempter whisper, “You worked hard today, you deserve this inebriation… again,” or “You feel neglected, you deserve an evening of pornographic indulgence or perhaps even an adulterous affair,” or “You had a rough week (or life), surely you deserve this particular vice.” Now, before you slam your coffee cup down and march out in feigned offense, allow me to refresh that mug and do me the kindness of hearing me out.

Let us begin by pointing out that it is a rather egotistical proclamation to make of oneself to declare, “I deserve to be happy.” The implication is that one has somehow earned happiness and is now, in fact, owed happiness. There are people in the world of whom I might say, “They deserve to be happy.” Such individuals would typically be of the sort who, through a lifetime of sacrifice, have unselfishly served others. Of course, the kind of person I’m referring to has likely already found happiness in their service. So, while I might say that someone of exceptional service to their fellow man deserves to be happy, I would never claim such a mantle for myself.

Please do not misunderstand me. I want to be happy. I would prefer to be happy. Even the Declaration of Independence recognizes the right of every individual to be free to pursue happiness, but to demand that I deserve it is quite another thing.

Why would one believe they deserve to be happy? Perhaps they have done some good deeds. To that I say, “So what?” If your deeds were done so that you may reward yourself then it can hardly be said any longer that they are good. Perhaps the individual has experienced hardships in life. However, everyone has experienced some sort of hardships in life. We live in a broken world. Hardships are part of life (even Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life, was betrayed and crucified), but they don’t automatically qualify us for deserved happiness. Perhaps the deserving is based on the belief by the individual that they are a good person. In response to that I ask, by whose standard are you good and therefore deserving of happiness?

Now, I do not wish to belabor the point of deserving happiness, because God offers us joy everlasting in His presence as a gift. However, that is not a gift of a carefree life here in this fallen world. (Again, I refer you to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.) Therein lies the root of the “I deserve to be happy” mantra; the search is for something, anything, to make us happy now. Therefore, caution is often thrown to the wind and we rush in where angels fear to trod without thought of consequences that assuredly await down the path. The happiness that is so often sought after in this scenario is a fast, but fleeting, happiness.

The glaring issue with this expedient and easy happiness resides in that particular object or person we have placed the burden upon to make us happy. The hard truth is this; if you need something or someone to make you happy, then your happiness is an illusion. It is a mirage, albeit a convincing one for a time, that will eventually let one down and be exposed for its true nature. When that happens, the individual is then brought to a crossroads; either admit they were foolish and forsake this path or stubbornly press ahead in order to save face.

Any disciple of Christ worth their salt will tell you that there is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is conditional. A certain set of circumstances is required to make one happy and once those conditions change, so does one’s mood. Joy, however, can exist regardless of outside forces; sometimes even in defiance of them!

In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, we find the Apostle Paul and his fellow minister, Silas, being mistreated and hated. These two good men who performed many good deeds and had suffered many hardships were beaten and thrown into prison. Acts 16:23-25 reads, “23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Now, considering the treatment they just received, one would be hard-pressed to argue that Paul and Silas were happy. Conditions would not allow that. What we can recognize is that they had joy; joy that manifested regardless of current conditions.

When it comes down to it, the question is not one of deserving, but of wanting. Therefore, what is it that you want? Do you want to continually pursue happiness rooted in conditions which will eventually change and inevitably leave you empty and dry (not to mention the collateral damage that such pursuits sometimes leave in their wake)? Or, do you want joy which will be present even when conditions cannot make you happy? There is a peace and a freedom that comes with that joy that mere happiness will never provide for you. I dare say that your choice between these two avenues will most likely be decided based on your level of stubbornness vs. you level of humility.

I leave you with this quote to contemplate from C. S. Lewis, “Human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

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

Label Maker

Have you noticed the excessive amount of name calling that goes on today? It seems that the instant someone is offended, they are labeling the person they disagree with as some form of “-phobic” or “-ism” or “toxic” something or other. One gets the picture that we are all on a grade school playground where the children are incapable of mature civil dialog and can therefore only offer generous amounts of name calling at those they are angry with.

Now, please relax and enjoy your coffee. My encouragement for today’s contemplation is not to bemoan the adolescent behavior of politically correct groups who attempt to shut down conversation by name calling in order to mask their indefensible positions, but instead to focus on the nuisance of labels themselves. Human beings seem to possess an insatiable urge to make labels. Sometimes labels are helpful, but other times they can be harmful.

Back in the days of prehistoric eighties technology, we had nifty little devices called label makers. These handheld tools came with a variety of colorful plastic tape spools that the operator could change in and out depending on the color label desired. Once the spool was loaded, one would have to painstakingly turn the dial to each letter or number that was required on the label and squeeze the trigger each time to imprint the character into the plastic. Once your label was complete, you would cut the tape and remove the backing so the label could be placed on the item needing labeled. This process could take a lot of time if one needed to do a large amount of labeling and there were times that the tape would not stick properly. Of course, there were other instances where any hopes of removing that label in the future were futile.

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I believe we have a tendency to run around with our label makers sticking our perceptions on to other people as we interact with them. In the meantime, many of the people we interact with are busy making and placing labels upon us. If we were able to see and read all of these labels at the end of the day, we would surely find that several of them contradict. One label might describe you as bossy while another characterizes you as timid. The conflict between the two labels is formed by the moment of interaction that day, coupled with the temperament and personality of the particular label maker. Therein lies the problem with labels; they are subjective. A label or two cannot hope to encompass all the person that you are or even can be. Labels are, for the most part, a microcosm of your personality based on the situation of a particular interaction or set of interactions.

That’s not to say that labels hold no value. There are certainly people who are rude and people who are mean and people who are pleasant and people who are kind. However, it is quite likely that someone in that person’s life has a far different view of them. For example, you may know a crotchety old man whom you would label as rude and unkind. Yet, that same old man may have a couple of grandkids who find him to be the kindest, most tender-hearted individual they have ever met. The reality is, both labels could hold truth depending on your interaction with the individual.

Indeed, some labels tell a portion of truth about an individual but often not the whole. However, there are other labels, based in little truth, which create dark, self-fulfilling prophecies. These labels are always negative in nature and unfortunately tend to be the type that become extremely difficult to remove. Labels of being a failure or a disappointment are some of this type. They begin through a failure (or two or three or four) or by disappointing someone on a few occasions. Yet, instead of the situation being labeled as a failure or an instance of disappointment, the label is inappropriately placed upon the person! Everyone experiences failure and everyone has and will disappoint others from time to time. But just like many other labels, these negative labels don’t tell the entire story. Instead, they only tell of the interaction of a particular slice of time. It would be like trying to write a synopsis of a book based on the reading of one paragraph in the narrative. Be wary of reducing yourself to a few labels. You are certainly more than that.

Labels are not unique to our culture. Even the Lord Jesus Christ was labeled as was His cousin John the Baptist. Matthew 11:18-19 – “18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.” Notice the contradiction of the label makers. They applied a different standard to each of these men they disliked in order to place a label upon them. However, even though the Lord pointed out their faulty label making, He did not bind Himself to their perceptions. He knew who He was and would not allow their labels to stick… though they repeatedly tried to apply them.

My encouragement to you is to beware of labels; especially the negative labels we may place upon ourselves. While it is a good thing to do some self-evaluation and root out negative traits we may possess, such evaluations should be done in order to facilitate self-improvement and personal growth. Self-evaluation should never be done as a means of making labels. You are more than your labels. If you want to know who you really are and who you can really be, don’t go to a label maker. Instead, I would advise you to seek your Maker. The Maker knows what a label maker can never see.

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

Fight or Flight

Have you ever determined to get your life together and put yourself on the right path only to be met with an onslaught of intense opposition? Obstacles so overwhelming begin to appear before you that you eventually question why you ever bothered to set your foot upon this path. At some point you may even shout to God, “I’m trying to do what is right now, so why has everything gotten worse?”

I suppose that a major cause of our confusion is that we assume that the right path is the easy path. We figure that the wrong path is filled with sorrows and heartache (which it often is) and therefore the right path should be marked by calm streams and warm sunshine upon our face. However, as one person noted, “Anyone who plays video games can tell you, if your character (in the game) is meeting resistance, it’s a good sign that you are heading in the right direction.” The simple fact is, that if the right path was easy then virtually everyone would be on it. Humans, like electricity, tend to follow the path of least resistance.

In the last year and a half to two years, the Lord has been doing a tremendous amount of renovations in my personal life. It has been a time of significant spiritual growth for me, but as a result, I have encountered my fair share of battles on several fronts. Many of these battles have been, and continue to be, extremely taxing.

I suppose I can liken what the Holy Spirit has been doing in me to the renovations that Chip and Joanna Gaines do in houses on their show, Fixer Upper. Now, if you were to begin the show with only the last ten minutes, you would be introduced to a beautiful home that they put together. However, you would miss all of the work that went into that finished home. You’d miss the demolition of things that had to go, the installation of things that needed to be added, and especially the unforeseen obstacles encountered that continually threw monkey wrenches into the plans. Our growth as individuals will, inevitably, involve all of those factors.

I believe this is why many people, Christians as well, shy away from pursuing the right path with one hundred percent commitment. Although we want the right path to be smooth, most of us know, at least subconsciously, that it is not. Therefore, we surmise that it would not be to our benefit to invite more trouble into our life. It’s as if there is this silent agreement in place between the Christian and the devil that states hence, “I will not pursue an uncompromised walk with Christ if you promise to leave me alone and not stir up troubles and sorrow in my life.”  It’s the path of least resistance. The problem is, when you make an agreement with the Father of Lies, even a silent one, you cannot expect him to honor his end of the bargain.

There is a response to danger or trouble in most creatures, including humans, which we term fight or flight. The basic premise is that, when faced with adversity, the creature will respond by either fighting against the trouble or fleeing from it. Fear is not the determining factor, for it is likely that fear is experienced by both the one who fights and the one who flees. The outcome of living or dying is also not a determining factor as fight or flight could both result in the same outcome. The determining factor is simply choice; how do you want to respond? Do you wish to run and hide your entire life or will you fight every obstacle in your path though it be through much pain and tears? I am reminded of a line King Théoden spoke in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers; “If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end as to be worthy of remembrance!”

As for me, though troubles may wear me down and at times seem to drown me, I have become more determined to pursue my God. I will not be pushed back into compliance by the enemy of my soul. The word of the Lord declares in Psalm 126:5, “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” What about you today? Will you flee from the face of resistance and be corralled into being compliant or will you recognize that resistance to the right path only comes because the enemy fears you reaching the destination ahead? Will you be angry at the resistance in your way and flee or will you be angry at the one who resists you and fight?

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 – “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”

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

New Year, Old Troubles

It is interesting to watch how quickly the enthusiasm of a new year wears off. All of the bright hopes and endless possibilities evaporate in the scorching rays of the reality of life and the requirements of effort. This new year, in particular, seemed to generate more reality checks than I had observed in any previous years. Before we even reached 2019 I heard and saw remarks scoffing at New Year’s resolutions and mockery made at the very idea of a “New Year, New Me” mantra. Perhaps it is that we have all experienced this song and dance enough times to know that a calendar change doesn’t really signal a life change.

It’s early on a rainy Saturday morning and I’m sitting here with a cup of coffee and my computer. My heart is weighed down heavy by various stresses and struggles that did not have the good sense to mind the calendar and remain in 2018. I am all too aware that when the ball drops in Times Square on New Years Eve, it does not press a reset button at the bottom whereby all troubles dissipate into the atmosphere like so many candles snuffed out on a birthday cake. Indeed, it is a new year, but old troubles remain.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why our enthusiasm for the fresh start that a new year promises so quickly disintegrates. A realization is experienced two or three weeks into January, and like the abrupt awakening of a cheap alarm clock, we are suddenly faced with the fact that the first month of the new year is quite reminiscent of the last month of the old year. The problems of the previous year have somehow crossed the threshold into this new chapter. We’ve been followed!

That’s the key to keep in mind, however; a new year is not a new story, but instead, it is a new chapter of the same story – your story. Imagine reading a book and every time a new chapter begins there is a completely different story taking place. New characters, new plot, even a new writing style with each new chapter. Not only would that be the most incongruent book ever written, it would also be an extremely frustrating read because one would never discover how any of the stories turn out.

One’s life is not a series of short stories. On the contrary, it is one epic saga from birth to death which carries the main character through various struggles and triumphs, mistakes and defeats, joys and disappointments. The current chapter is not the end of the book and no one can tell the outcome of a situation based on a mere reading of the page they are on now.

Yesterday I came across an article about an adult film star who came to Christ and left the industry and is now married to a pastor. As she explains, she gave her heart to Christ and accepted His salvation while she was making adult films. However, she continued in that industry for several more years citing her pride as her driving force for not immediately leaving. Finally, as she was heading out to a shoot for another movie, she felt God tell her, “I have something better for you than this.” It was that day that she took a stand and ended her career in pornography.

The thing I took away from that article was God’s grace in His knowledge of her story. From an outside human perspective, one might have read one chapter and concluded that her salvation did not take hold. How could she be saved and still do what she was doing? Yet God knew the entire book of her life and had His day of confrontation already written into the pages of her story. And because she responded to God correctly, she now has beautiful new chapters in her book!

Now, lest some half-committed Christian be tempted to take up the unbiblical banner of “Don’t Judge Me!” and use the above story to justify their compromised faith, let me assure you that I have little confidence that the woman in that article wishes to be the poster child for your wanton rebellion. It is highly likely that your day of confrontation by the Holy Spirit has already come – indeed there have probably been several – and you have ignored them all thus far. The point I am making is that God knows that our story is longer than merely a chapter or two and we need to come to that understanding as well.

So, how am I handling my current troubles? I am praying and waiting on the Lord. You may consider that to be a waste of time, but as Isaiah 40:31 tells us, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” I wait on the Lord, not in order for me to avoid doing something, but so when it is time to do something, I can hear God clearly and have the strength to see it through. There are pages in our stories where we must wait and pages where we must act. Wisdom, often times, is knowing the difference.

It’s a new year, but you may have noticed that old troubles have followed. Remember, however, that your story is not over yet. I urge you, therefore, to walk in wisdom during this current chapter so as not to add more unnecessary troubles to your story.

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

Traditions and Changes

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” You may recognize that line from the Steve Miller Band song, Fly Like an Eagle. (If you are too young to know about this song, fret not. Someone will most likely perform a cover of this classic at some point and you will think it’s a new song.) Time does indeed continue to progress into the future. Things change and even our dearest held family traditions evolve into new forms so that they might survive the changes of time’s progression.

I was made very aware of this dynamic during this particular Christmas holiday. We have many traditions in our family when it comes to the holiday season and I am thankful that my children have not only embraced those traditions, but look forward to them each year. However, time will not allow those traditions to remain exactly the same for too long.

In the past five years, the passage of time has brought changes to our traditions and has even caused us to form different traditions within the newly formed paradigm of our life. Three years ago, my father passed away which necessitated changes to our Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. Both of these holidays were always important to my family growing up and we would often go to my parents’ place for a wonderful meal and time together. After my father’s passing, we began to a new tradition of having my mother and brother over to our house for Thanksgiving. It has been my privilege in this newly formed tradition to serve my mother who had so graciously served us for so many years. No, it’s not the same as it was in the past, but it is a new good thing that we look forward to now.

This Christmas brought our family another unfamiliar situation as our son had recently gotten married. Being that he is no longer living at home and has his own wife now, things have changed. We must now share our son over that holidays with his wife and with another family. We experienced our first Christmas not having our son home for Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, but coming over with his wife later that day. Again, a new good thing has formed as an old good thing has been released to the passage of time. During his visit, I found myself consciously willing my attention to savor every moment like one might be careful to consciously enjoy every sip of an exceptional cup of coffee.

My point in all of this is that we, as human beings, tend to resist change. The simple truth, however, is that we cannot stop time from “slippin’ into the future”. It is a foolish notion to attempt to vice grip the traditions we love into a ridged form that cannot survive the passage of time. Things change. That truth does not mean that we must completely abandon those memories we cherish, but if we wish to continue to make more, we must allow, yes, even embrace, the adaptation of those traditions over time so that we may fully appreciate the new good things that will come along with those changes.

I find myself in the place my parents once were when their children were growing up and changes were occurring to their family dynamic. And, if the Lord is gracious to us, my wife and I will find ourselves in the place of our parents now; enjoying grandchildren and seeing new traditions formed and old traditions reimagined around the new chapter of time.

Of course, with all of the changes the passage of time brings, one may wonder if there is any sort of unchanging anchor to be secured to through this journey of life. There is but one; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8.

The eternal Lord does not change. Time cannot change Him because He exists apart from time. Peer pressure cannot change Him because He has no peers. Popular opinion cannot change Him because our opinions are uninformed at best and tainted by evil desire at worst. Jesus Christ is the only steady rock in this tempest of life we exist in. I encourage you to find your sanctuary and stability in Him.

As we all prepare to enter a new year, my hope for each of you is that you will savor all of the old good things that carry over and all of the new good things that will come into being, and that you will grow with the changes that life will surely bring.

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

Jesus Christ is Different

Some people like to lump Jesus Christ in with other religious and spiritual leaders as though they were all cut from the same cloth. The idea is expressed something along the lines of, “These teachers (Jesus Christ and several other names of various religious movements) all spoke the same message of love.” First of all, that statement, even if it is part of a meme on the unfallible Internet, is simply not true. One of the religious leaders often mentioned in that list was a warlord. Other were philosophers and spiritual gurus whose authority to speak on eternal matters came from nowhere other than themselves.

The second problem with the statement is that Jesus Christ spoke far more than just a message of brotherly love. It was certainly part of His message, but it was not the main thrust of His message or mission. The world, however, has diluted the true reason for Christ’s coming and has made His message more reminiscent of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure than it does Biblical doctrine. “Be excellent to each other!” A fine message, but it is not the Gospel.

My mother once confessed to me that she woke up early one day and decided to catch up on some emails. She made herself a cup of coffee and proceeded to the computer. As she went through her emails and sipped her coffee in the dimly lit room, she noticed that the coffee seemed weak. She continued on reading and responding to emails all the while feeling that she was shortchanged by her coffee choice that morning. Only after returning to the kitchen did she realize that she actually forgot to put the k-cup in the machine and had therefore been drinking a cup of hot water. Ah, the eternal paradox of needing a cup of coffee so you can properly brew your first cup of coffee.

I share that story in order to draw the analogy that the world, through its purposeful dilution of the Gospel message, has offered nothing more than a cup of hot water. When one reduces the true message of Christ to simply “just love each other”, one removes the potency of the Gospel.

So then, what was the message and purpose of Christ’s coming? Matthew 4:17 – “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Christ’s message was, first and foremost, a call to repentance!

“Repentance for what?” you may protest. “I’m not perfect, but I’m nowhere near the worst. I’m a good person!” Have you ever considered why Jesus was killed? It certainly wasn’t because He was simply spreading a message of universal love. There is no need to speculate on the answer. Jesus candidly revealed why He was hated; John 7:7 – “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.”

That is correct. Jesus Christ was hated and rejected because He dared to call the world out on its evil. (An act that some individuals would label as being unloving.) What evil? Violence, greed, sexual immorality (of all varying kinds), blasphemies, hatreds, pride, etc. Jesus Christ testified that the world was guilty before God and that judgment was coming. Restitution before the Holy God would soon be required and we did not have the means to pay it. However, God’s love, even for the worst of us, compelled Him to provide a way to punish sin and thereby justly forgive us. Enter the Savior.

Oswald Chambers, in his devotional book My Utmost for His Highest, puts it most eloquently; “God does forgive, but it costs the rending of His heart in the death of Christ to enable Him do so. The great miracle of the grace of God is that He forgives sin, and it is the death of Jesus Christ alone that enables the Divine nature to forgive and to remain true to itself in doing so. It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives us because He is love. When we have been convicted of sin we will never say this again. The love of God means Calvary, and nothing less; the love of God is spelt on the cross and nowhere else. The only ground on which God can forgive me is through the cross of my Lord. There, His conscience is satisfied.”

As we reflect this season upon the Christ Child in the manger scene, let us do so with a sober understanding of what the purpose of the Incarnation was. The manger was planned from the very beginning to be the start of a journey towards the cross. You see, Jesus is not the same as other prophets and spiritual gurus. He is greater than the entire sum of them! His message was and is far more important and eternal than theirs. Others may offer you a soothing cup of hot water, but what Jesus offers contains real substance. Oh yes, some of it may be bitter to the taste at first (no one really enjoys hearing that they are heading towards condemnation before God), but soon, if received, the cup that Christ offers will bring alertness and joy. It is the cup of His saving grace received through repentance.

And… it will also enable you to truly love your neighbor.

Until next week, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling. Have a very Merry Christmas!

It Will All Work Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ornaments of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind Your Own Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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