The best part of waking up

As much as I love my coffee, that's not it.

 

Anyone out there remember that commercial?  The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to see it on Youtube).

Do you also remember when the coffee choices at the grocery store were pretty much Folgers and Maxwell House?

Depending on what study you believe, I either drink too much coffee or I have just the right amount of coffee to get all the great antioxidant benefits.

Whatever.

I just enjoy coffee.  And I enjoy a great variety in my coffee.  This explains why there at least eight different blends in my pantry right now.  And three different machines for preparing them on my kitchen cabinet.

I am closing in on my 10th anniversary at Harvest Baptist Association. But back when I was still pastor of Eagle Mountain Baptist Church and Cross Timbers Coffee Company was open on Main Street in Azle, it was pretty much my office annex.  So many meetings happened there over good cups of coffee. So many conversations.  So many prayers.  And probably a few too many Paninis and Muffins (but I digress).

When CTCC was about to close, I went in and asked if I could buy one of the “house” mugs with the logo.  This place, this coffee, these friends had been such a part of my life that I wanted to have that memento.  It became one of my irreplaceable losses when our HBA office building burned in 2010.

So, what brought about this little trip down memory lane today?  I woke up and poured myself a cup of coffee and started thinking about the best part of waking up.  As much as I enjoy my coffee, it is only part of the picture.

The best part of waking up is waking up and seeing Mrs. Sweetie right there next to me where she has been for almost 34 years.  The best part continues when I go and select the cups from our varied collection and pour whichever blend I selected and prepared the night before.  The best part continues when I take her cup to the bedroom and mine to my rocking chair by the living room window.  The best part continues as I sip the coffee and open God’s word and spend time with the One who made me, who gave me the gift of a soul-mate, a roof over my head, good coffee, and a cup to drink it from.

The Bible says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” ( James 1:17)  That means that I didn’t earn any of the blessings I have.  I might have worked hard for them and purchased them, but even the job I go to is a gift from God.

The Bible also says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The best part of waking up is knowing that our lives matter to God, He has provided more than we deserve, and He has a purpose for us to honor Him in all of it.

 

The best part of waking up is knowing our lives matter to God. #coffeeisgood #godisgreater Click To Tweet

 

Put that in your cup and savor it. It is good to the last drop.

 

Life is amazing!

Seriously. I'm not kidding.

 

“That’s life.”

You’ve heard people say that.  You’ve said it.

Can you recall a single time those words were uttered after something good happened?

“Someone just picked up the tab for my lunch. That’s life.”  “I just got a clean bill of health at the doctor’s office. That’s life.”

Somehow, many people live either attempting to make the most of life because this is as good as it gets or, if they are people of faith, attempting to be as good as possible while they hang in there and wait for the promise of something better after they die.

Both of those are unfortunate perspectives.

So, what do you do when life is scary, confusing, painful, frustrating, and ___________ (fill in the blank with your own words)?

If we are people of faith, we often pray and ask others to pray with and for us.  Even people who don’t have a personal faith may sometimes ask for prayers, good thoughts, and positive vibes.

“The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.” (Psalm 29:11)

I have oftentimes prayed for strength and peace (actually as recently as this morning). My supposition is that most everyone reading this has done so as well. We crave God’s closeness in those times.

May I tell you something amazing?

For those who are in Christ, God is as close as He will ever be. He is so close that the Bible says He is in us and we are in Him. He cannot get any closer.

May I tell you something equally amazing?

For those who are in Christ, we already have all the strength and peace we will ever need. It is not a matter of needing more, but of seeing and experiencing that which is already ours in Him.  Not being removed from the circumstances, but amazingly strengthened and at peace in the circumstances.

 

We don't need more of Christ, but to see and experience that which is already ours in Him. Click To Tweet

 

So, this morning, I shifted perspective and changed my prayer. Instead of asking for strength and peace for today, I thanked Him for the abundant strength and peace that are already mine and asked Him for the grace to live in that reality.

Please don’t misunderstand: it is not wrong to ask. God is neither offended nor impatient with us when we ask for what we already have.

He just wants us to fully experience Him in all His goodness and to have an eternal perspective that allows us to live unshackled by the temporary pains and disappointments of our earthly journey, even while we continue in that journey.

We are not waiting for rescue and relief someday in heaven. We are fully alive and complete in Him now.

About this time last year, through an intensive life planning journey, I developed this statement: “Gerry exists to guide explorers to discover their amazing by demonstrating and championing sacred amazement.”

This is why I write to you every week.  Your life matters to God and life is amazing.

Seriously. I’m not kidding.

A Foodie’s guide to life

Life and faith are meant to be savored.

 

Anyone who knows me well knows that I enjoy good food.  Anyone who doesn’t know me well but takes a look at my physique isn’t surprised.  If you are what you eat, I will have to admit that: (1) I am not always the healthiest choice on the menu; (2) I am, however, tasty and never boring.

I even plan trips and meetings around food.  I have one friend that I would describe as my “ian” friend.  No, his name is not Ian, but when we get together, we like to eat food that ends in “ian”: Indian, Egyptian, Mediterranean (close enough).  Another friend is a steak and/or seafood buddy.  I’ve got a couple of others that will almost always involve Starbucks.

When I am eating a meal that I know my kids would enjoy, I take a picture with my phone and send it to them.  Some people think that is cruel, that I am perhaps torturing them.  That is true less than 25% of the time. (I am not above the occasional harassing food photo).  But, in reality, I am sharing my love of food with them because, at the moment, I can’t share my love of them with my food.  I wouldn’t send a photo to them if I weren’t first thinking of them and wishing we could share this meal.

I share food photos with another friend who has moved several hours away.  We used to have lunch together at least every other week.  Now we are lucky if we manage to get together every other year.  The food photos we send to each other always deliver a message:  “I thought of you when I was eating this and I miss you, my friend.”

I feel like I should interrupt this and say, “Hello.  My name is Gerry and I am a food addict.”  But, I’m not going to.  I am unashamed.  Yes, I need to make healthier choices and I really am trying to do that more often.  But, you will never see me take the approach that food is no more than fuel.  God put these wonderful things in my mouth called taste buds and I intend to enjoy this gift while continuing to learn how to enjoy it in a way—like enjoying smaller portions–that allows me to honor Him with all of my physical being. He does not, after all, intend for me to be controlled by those taste buds.

Our lives also matter enough to Him that He wants us to develop a taste for more than good food.

 

Our lives matter enough to God that He wants us to develop a taste for more than good food. Click To Tweet

 

Psalm 34:8: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”

Psalm 119:103: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

John 4:34:  “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

Now that’s a meal to be savored!

 

My wife may have squirrels in her attic.

Life lessons from a recent rodent safari

 

Attention: Husbands.  It is not a good idea to suggest that your wife has squirrels in her attic or bats in her belfry.

Unless you need a great, attention-grabbing headline.  Then, go ahead. (I hope your couch is comfortable).

“I hear squirrels in the attic!” That’s what she said.

I thought they were on the roof, but I said, “I’ll take care of it.”

 

Attention: Everybody.  Saying you will take care of it is not the same thing as taking care of it.  You see, when I said I would take care of it, she understood that I would actually do something.   Words not supported by actions are empty.

 

Words not supported by actions are empty. Click To Tweet

 

So, step one was entering the attic to investigate.  Sure enough, the evidence of animal activity was scattered about.  And by “scattered” I mean scatological evidence.

So, now that presence was confirmed, what should step two be?  Well, they came in through some opening, surely they could leave by the same opening.

 

Attention: Everybody. Wishing something will happen usually doesn’t result in it actually happening. Positive or wishful thinking is most effective when it is accompanied by appropriate action.

 

Positive or wishful thinking is most effective when it is accompanied by appropriate action. Click To Tweet

 

So, step two was to research how to get rid of squirrels.  In the meantime, our quarterly pest treatment happened and the professional had some “stuff” he could put in the attic that would cause them to (A) get really thirsty and go outside to find water or (B) dehydrate and decease in the attic.  Option A was certainly what we hoped for because option B would require a recovery and disposal operation.

A few days later, I arrived home to aromatic evidence of option B.  I noticed it the moment I opened the front door.  Mrs. Sweetie, however, had been home all day and hadn’t noticed it.  After about 5 minutes, I couldn’t smell it anymore.

Problem solved.  Just stay in the house and get used to it.

 

Attention: Everybody.  Getting used to the stink is not the same thing as getting rid of the stink.  Problems don’t go away just because we have adjusted to their reality.  We could stay inside, but every guest in our home would notice the stink upon entry.  And before long, we would carry the stink on our clothes everywhere we went.

 

Problems don’t go away just because we have adjusted to their reality. Click To Tweet

 

So, step three was the recovery operation.  I put together my closest approximation to a hazmat suit and ventured into the attic with a Walmart body bag.  Not being a professional, I can’t identify the species of an animal by looking at its droppings or listening to its footsteps.  However, I am able to identify a carcass with a long skinny tail as not belonging to a squirrel.

She didn’t have bats or squirrels.  She had a rat.

 

Attention: Everybody.  Things are not always what they seem at first.  Premature assumptions usually lead to incorrect conclusions.

 

Premature assumptions usually lead to incorrect conclusions. Click To Tweet

 

I hope you’ve figured out that this post is not really about squirrels, rats, or the varied adventures that happen at Casa Lewis.

It’s about real life.  It’s about proactively responding to life’s interruptions and inconveniences before they become major hindrances.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2, emphasis mine)

Your life matters.  Interruptions and distractions will come. Deal with them quickly and decisively so that you can refocus on what matters most.

 

For whom the clock tolls

What reminds you of the goodness of God?

(Yes, this is the actual clock)

The grandfather clock in our dining room sounds its Westminster chime every fifteen minutes (unless I forget to wind it).  I’ve heard it eight times this morning since I got up and started my morning with a double espresso, a cup coffee, a protein bar, my rocking chair, my Bible, and the God who made it all possible.

This morning, I am especially thankful for that clock.  I had planned to write something different this week, but the consistent chimes called me to remember the goodness of God and His gifts to His beloved children.

That grandfather clock was a gift, almost 10 years ago, from a dear friend, mentor, and hero. If I shared all my memories of Tom, I could write a book.  I was his pastor for 17 years, but most importantly, he has been my friend for over 30.

He was my right arm for many years in taking care of church facilities and business so I could focus on people.  He supported me and encouraged me.  He was “thrifty” with the church’s resources, but generous with his own.

We laughed together, prayed together, cooked the monthly men’s breakfast together, and ate Mexican food together.

He was a surrogate grandfather to my favorite son.  When the boy was in elementary school and his grandparents lived too far away to attend all his activities, Mr. Tom stepped in.  Nothing could have increased my admiration for him any more than to see the way he loved my son.

His dear wife, Jan, started our Wednesday night supper ministry.  When our rotation of volunteer cooks wasn’t working out, she told me she would cook every week as long as she didn’t have to clean up afterward.  The dishwashing rotation worked out and our attendance for Wednesday evening activities tripled within a few months.  Tom was her “assistant.”

When she passed away, Tom grieved deeply and kept pressing on, serving the Lord through his church, following the Texas Rangers, and being the kind of friend and neighbor everyone wants to have.

It wasn’t long after Jan’s passing that he was in our home.  In conversation with Mrs. Sweetie, a grandfather clock was mentioned in passing.  A couple of days later, he showed up with a grandfather clock.  It has been marking time and reminding us of the blessing of friendship for almost a decade.

A few days ago, Tom beat cancer.  Now, some will say cancer got him, but nothing could be further from the truth.  You see, cancer’s power is limited.  It can be devastating for awhile, but only for a while.

Because Tom was a follower of Jesus, he is now reunited with Jan in a place of indescribable beauty, health, and peace in the presence of Jesus Himself.  Cancer is finished!

When his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends, and neighbors think about him, they won’t think of the way he died.  They will think of the way he lived and loved for 85 years.

When our grandfather clock chimes, cancer won’t come to mind for me at all.  I can only be grateful that I had a friend whose memory will always serve as a reminder of how our lives matter to God.

Start with a clean sheet.

A new year is a new trip with a new story.

 

It’s a new year! 2018!

It doesn’t seem possible.  You may feel like 2017 can’t possibly be over because you didn’t get everything done that you had planned to do. And since some of us will be writing 2017 on things for the next several weeks anyway, we’ll just extend it for a while.

Or not.

Where will 2018 take you?  Wherever you go, I hope you’ll find clean sheets.

How’s that for a New Year’s wish?

Think about it for a minute.  You may travel this year for business, or vacation, or to visit family.  When you arrive at that hotel room or bedroom in someone’s house, don’t you want the sheets on the bed to be clean?

If you have to spend a night in the hospital this year (we hope not, but it could happen), don’t you want clean sheets on the bed?

Think about it for a minute.  Isn’t the alternative just … gross? (Is that still a word?)

Now, I’m going to make a sharp turn and switch metaphors.  (I started to say either a “left” turn or “right” turn, but I was afraid someone would interpret it politically).

What will your story be this year?  Whatever it is, I hope it’s written on a clean sheet.

Imagine you get an actual handwritten letter in an envelope in the mail (since most of our correspondence comes via email or text, we may have to really use our imaginations).  Don’t you want it written on a clean sheet of paper?  Or is it ok to just repurpose some other old correspondence and write around it or over the top of it?

That’s not nearly as gross as dirty bed sheets, but it doesn’t say much about how much someone cares about you if they can’t even spring for fresh paper!

Here’s my point in all this silliness: a New Year is a new trip with a new story.  We need to start fresh.

I’m setting some significant goals for 2018. I hope you are as well.  But do you know what can prove to be the biggest hindrances to reaching those 2018 goals

That would be our 2017 goals, whether we reached them or not.

If we reached them, we can be tempted to maintain the status quo and miss this year’s opportunities.

If we missed them, we can be paralyzed by failure as we keep replaying our mistakes and missteps in our heads.

Either way, too much looking backward can keep us from moving forward. 

 

Too much looking backward can keep us from moving forward. Click To Tweet

 

Here’s a little tool to help you start the new year.  Take a clean sheet of paper (or open a new document on your computer) and write these words at the top of the page:  It is January 1, 2019.  I am …

Now write three statements you want to be able to say about yourself at the end of this year that you can’t say right now. Write them in the present tense, as if they are already true.

Now, what do you need to start doing TODAY to make those statements more likely to be true?

Your life matters to God.  He has given you a clean, fresh, new year.  What will you do with it?

Take a deep breath. Right now.

Delayed post-Christmas posting (but it still applies)

Note: I wrote this post ahead of time for newspaper publication during Christmas week.  Then I took a much needed “screen time” break.  I thought it was still worth sharing here.

 

 

Christmas 2017 is now Christmas past. What does your house look like at this very moment?

Every home is different.

Some are experiencing post-Christmas “hangover.” I’m not talking about those who had too much to drink.  I’m referring to the approach of letting the celebration linger over a few days.  New toys (for kids and grownups) are still strewn about among the other trappings of the Christmas celebrations.  Decorations are still up.  The last leftovers from the feast are being creatively repurposed at mealtimes.  Out of town guests are slowly trickling out the door with “sad” goodbyes.

Some are experiencing post-Christmas “letdown.”  The pre-Christmas preparations were intense.  So many responsibilities.  So much cooking. So much decorating. So much shopping. It was weeks of full-on, full-blast, full-speed Christmas prep right up until the guests started arriving. Now, everyone has gone home.  It’s time to start getting back to normal.  But normal feels a little empty after the adrenaline rush of the past few weeks.

Some are experiencing post-Christmas “back to business.” The decorations went back in the boxes the day after Christmas (or maybe even Christmas night). Break’s over. There’s work to be done.  2018 is right around the corner and we need to hit the ground running.

Some are experiencing post-Christmas exactly what they experienced pre-Christmas and on Christmas:  the same loneliness, isolation, neglect, need, sorrow, grief …

May I make a suggestion?  (If your answer to that question is “no” then please stop reading now because I’m going to make it anyway.)

 

Take a deep breath.

 

No matter what your house looks like, what your life looks like, what your job looks like, or even what this very moment looks like … take a deep breath.

Inhale slowly.  Hold it.  Exhale.

Do it again.

The air that you are breathing is God’s gift to you.  The ability you have to breathe is God’s gift to you.

 

The air you are breathing and the ability to breathe it are God's gift to you. Click To Tweet

 

Look at these words again.  The ability you have to see is God’s gift to you.  The ability that you have to read come through someone who was God’s gift to you.  If you are wearing glasses or contact lenses, those “helpers” are God’s gift to you.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

“For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:8)

Christmas is not an isolated day (or even a few days) in a vacuum.  It is a reminder that the God who gives us every good thing we have, the God in whom we live and move and exist, came near to us in the flesh in the form of a baby in Bethlehem.

Your life matters to Him.  Right here.  Right now.  No matter what circumstances you are in at the moment.  No matter what today feels like.  You matter.

Breathe that in.

Be careful with the Baby!

Let's be Christmas people, not just Christmas talkers.

 

There is nothing quite like a baby.  Seriously.  A baby can turn the crustiest old coot into a blubbering idiot.

There are great moments in sports when you get to witness a strong, self-assured man’s man holding a newborn for the first time.  All that confident machismo dissolves as he tries to figure out what to grab, what to support, and what end goes up.  The look in his eyes can best be described as abject terror.

We know we have to be careful with a baby.  In fact, when my youngest grand-blessing was born just over 3 months ago, her big sister (not quite 3 years old at the time) told the nurse in the hospital, “Be careful with our baby!

There’s a lot of talk about a certain baby this time of year.

He was born in Bethlehem.  His birthing room was a barn.  His cradle was a feeding trough for livestock. His birth announcement was delivered by angels to shepherds.

You’ve heard all the songs.  You’ve seen the artists’ interpretations of what it may have looked like.

You’ve been reminded that this season of the year is about celebrating His birth and that He is the reason for the season.

Has anyone reminded you to be careful with the baby?

My purpose today is to remind all of us who cherish His birth of three ways to be careful with how we treat Him during this season.

  1. Don’t use Him as a weapon. Can you imagine reaching into a cradle, grabbing a newborn by his ankle, and swinging him like a club?  How ridiculous!  How careless!  Well, I am of the opinion that we are guilty of using the Baby of Bethlehem as a weapon when we use this season to demand our way.  Criticizing those who say terribly offensive things like “Happy Holidays,” suggesting that they have bowed to political correctness, or maybe even questioning their commitment to Jesus – these are some ways that we can weaponize the Baby. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to link to some of my previous ponderings on “Happy Holidays”)
  2. Don’t use Him as an excuse. New parents get a brief pass for being somewhat self-absorbed. After a few days, they are just obnoxious.  It is incredibly easy to be self-absorbed in our Christmas celebrations.  Everything has to be perfect – the lights, the decorations, the parties, the meals, even the church gatherings.  Being so focused on the details of the celebration that we can’t see people is one way that we may be using the Baby as an excuse to be Christmas talkers instead of Christmas people.
  3. Don’t keep Him in the manger. Jesus was briefly in a manger in Bethlehem as an infant. I was briefly in a nursery in a hospital in Abilene, TX as an infant.  The story of my life has continued to unfold over the past 56 years and it isn’t done yet.  There are people who will be diligent to celebrate the birth of Jesus in this season, but will fail to consider that (1) He grew to adulthood while never committing a sin, (2) He died a cruel death on a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem, serving as a perfect, sinless, substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world, and (3) that He rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven, where He is currently seated at the right hand of God and is interceding on our behalf.

His whole story is eternally significant and that is what helps us understand how our lives matter to Him.

Let’s be careful to embrace the whole story and be Christmas people.

 

Related Previous Posts

Happy Holidays! (December 8, 2015)

The truth about “Happy Holidays” (December 15, 2015)

Keeping Christmas in Christ (December 22, 2015)

The perfect gift is over-rated!

HOW we give and receive matters most.

 

What are you getting for Christmas?  What are you giving? Which of those most excites you?

As children, that was a no-brainer.  Obviously, the most important thing was getting that most coveted item that would make life absolutely perfect. We had plans of how we would enjoy it forever.

And if we didn’t get it, we were pretty sure that we were unloved and we would probably end up alone, homeless, and destitute.

Somehow, we survived the disappointments of Christmases past and are not living as homeless hermits foraging for berries in the woods.

And those perfect gifts that we actually received?  The ones that would make our lives complete?  Where did they end up?  And didn’t we shift our attention to some other perfect gift the next year?

When we grew up, we found a new pressure: giving the perfect gift to those we love. After all, “Every kiss begins with Kay.”  And nobody—I mean NO. BODY.—wants to get a new dust mop or package of underwear for Christmas!

Can I tell you a secret?  It’s not about the gifts.  Seriously, it’s not.  It’s about HOW you give and receive.

This is a transition post.  It’s the last one in a series of the most important lessons I have learned over the past forty years of “church work” and it looks forward to some Christmas and New Year thoughts to finish up 2017 and jump into 2018.

 

The Life Lesson

I’ve already mentioned Christmas, so here’s the life lesson: We need to be consistently developing our competence as both givers and receivers.

Some people are terrible receivers.  Projecting a sense of entitlement, they can’t manage a sincere “thank you” and act as if they either deserve the gift or it is beneath their standards.

Others are terrible receivers because they treat a gift as a transaction.  They may actually see the gift as an obligation to “return the favor” or “pay back” the giver in some way.  They can’t enjoy someone else’s generosity and they rob the giver of the joy of giving.

Some people are terrible givers.  They see every gift as an investment, expecting something in return.  They are offended when the receivers don’t write a thank you note.  They may even make the receivers’ response a test of whether they will ever give again.

Others are terrible givers because they give to get rid of stuff with no consideration for the circumstances of the receivers.

I didn’t give any real examples of these because they all have something in common: a focus on the GIFT rather than on the ACT of generous giving and gracious receiving.

I will, however, share a couple of examples by way of personal confession.  I tend to be very generous with my money, but not so much with my time.  That’s an area of giving competence that I need to be developing.

A friend told me over three decades ago that I didn’t know how to take a compliment.  My receiving competence has progressed since then, but I still struggle with it.  A simple, “Thank you. That means a lot.” is usually the best response, but I tend to complicate things with self-deprecating humor or trying to find a return compliment.

Our lives matter to God.  We demonstrate that we have embraced that reality in HOW we give and receive more than in WHAT we give and receive.  The perfect gift is seriously over-rated.

Right now, I give you my sincere thanks for the gift of your readership.  It means a lot.