Losing Friends

Hongqi Ahan (aka Michael Zhang) - Preschool Friends
© Hongqi Zhang (aka Michael Zhang) | Dreamstime.com – Preschool friends

When you’re a kid, you never really think much of friends, particularly about them possibly one day not being there as your friend. As a child, “You will be friends forever!” What that means we don’t know, but the emotions that fill that are real and sincere. Then you have a disagreement on the playground, and you hear those oft heard words from the mouth of a child, “I never want to see you again! You’re not my friend anymore.” Usually, this is eventually resolved and friendship is restored.

As we grow older, things change and we have people that walk in and out of our lives. We learn the difference between friends and aquaintences and we may even run into the situations where we find that our friendship is not reciprocated. It is painful. I am sure that many have experienced this. I have had people that told me that they loved me, betray me and my family in ways that I could not imagine. Yet, we go on. It is always hard to lose friends. Whether it be from betrayal or through death. The thing is that it does not diminish the importance of friends and friendship.

Jesus told us the importance of relationship when he told us to “love one another” (John 13:34), he was not meaning for us to do that only because it is easy. He meant us, as his followers, to even love that hard to love person. You know that person. The one that never seems to have anything nice to say, is critical, and may even be rude at times. He, also, wants us to love that drunkard or that addict. Not because they deserve our love, but because he loves them and out of the love that he has for us. That is the tragedy of losing friends. Relationships, as God desires, are not meant to be easily cast aside. Though we may have relationships that don’t remain as close permanently, no relationship with God in the middle is meant to be cast away. The bond that God desires for us to hold with one another is something greater than the worldly understanding of friendship which often is with purpose. In the world, we often become friends because of shared interests. In Christ, our friendships are centered in him and him alone. Interests change, Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

In my faith life, I have many who I have had an immediate bond with and their was a special friendship right from the get go. These bonds were more familial in nature and a

Diego Vito Cervo - Old friends
© Diego Vito Cervo | Dreamstime.com – Old friends, two senior african american men meeting and hugging

special affinity that was there from the moment that we met. This is from the Holy Spirit and as we walk in the faith these relationships will occur. I have also been deeply hurt by those that are said to be followers of Christ. I may have hurt some, also. For that we are called to forgive and ask for forgiveness. It is the trouble of our fallen nature. Ultimately, our Lord desires for us to embrace each other as brothers and sisters and to love one another, just as, I believe Christ loved Judas even as Judas betrayed him and, we know from the Bible, as Jesus loved Peter even as Peter denied him. The love we are to have for one another and what defines our friendship is Christ and Christ alone. May that love carry your relationships into old age.

 

 

 

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A Return to Coffee

It happens, things got busy, and I took a break away from writing blogs. Now I am Alone And Communityseeking to return and work on the two blogs that I currently am writing. The one, In Him I Am Made New, will be more on the theological/devotional vain and this one to be more of the musing “coffee talk” about faith and other things. I still love coffee and conversation over coffee is the best. I guess I would make it akin to something Martin Luther said, “When the theological conversation gets too serious it’s time to have a beer.” I would just replace the beer with a nice cup of coffee.

One thing that has been heavy on my mind is the thought of community. In my little part of the world, there is a great amount of the population that is not engaged in a faith community. Along with that, there are a lot of drugs, and for being a small town, there is a significant amount of crime. Personally, I see these things go hand in hand. We have a lot of single parents, mostly mothers. Kids lack stability. It is a perfect brew for trouble. Growing up, I know that I was a kid that needed clear boundaries. These offered me a sense of stability. As a child of divorce who had witnessed a lot of fighting in the home, I was angry. I was also a kid with a temper. This, I believe, was as much biological as well as environmental. So, when I was a kid, I would fight. Another child would push me or say something, and I would react. Then a teacher or an adult would grab me (which was not a good idea), and I would react. The common reactions that many would respond with were the exact reactions that would trigger me to react stronger. I was angry and adrift in my early childhood and didn’t know what to cling to in my life. God was kind and gracious and sent a few people in my life at this time. A daycare provider who, even when I was mean, would not react in kind (I can still see her eyes pleading with me the time I got a hold of her hair), my grandmother, and a first-grade teacher (just to name a few).

For me, I desired, and still do, stability in my connections. Each of the people that impacted my life took the time to know me. They didn’t take my behavior as the only indicator of who I was but saw it as a symptom of the issues and struggles that I faced at the time. This is true with most people. Everyone has a story and whether they know it or not they want to be heard. As Christians, it is our gift to be those ears. Jesus didn’t start a community action group, a food pantry, or a social justice organization. He brought the Gospel to the world. He saw the suffering and as he entered into Jerusalem he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37, ESV) My heart has a similar yearning for where God has placed me and for all of us followers of Christ, I believe, he desires the same from each of us.

We all see the signs. You know what I am talking about, the person at a stoplight saying they are hungry and homeless begging for money, “Anything will help.” As a rule, I don’t give money, but what I do from time to time is take a person seeking money for food to lunch. Not all will take me up, but I have had some great conversations with people and listened to their story. There is a cost, it is a lot easier to give the money and be on your way, but in these conversations, I was able to do something that many of those who have fallen into difficulty have often had lost, their humanity. Like I have said and will continue to say, people have a story that they need to hear and in hearing them they can hear the story that gives new life. Jesus modeled this in his time on earth as he ministered. The early Christians knew this, too. The most important thing that we, as Christians, have to offer is the Gospel. It is the most important thing and it is not meant to be used as a condemnation against others, but a tool to set one free. It won’t make things easier, but it is the only thing that matters even more than life itself. This we see witnessed in the modern martyrs of today, but also in the early church when they were used as torches and food for wild animals.

That is one thing I like about coffee. I can enjoy a cup on my own and often do, but the best times I have had have been when I have been in a great conversation over a cup of coffee. These are not conversations about weather or sports, honestly, I am not great at small talk though I will politely listen, I find those types of conversations to be dull. Now start to tell me about your life, you’ll have me hooked. In hearing the story of another, it is fascinating to see how God has been working in a person’s life, whether they are aware or not. If you are in a conversation with me, I believe, God led you there. God also leads people into your life, share yours with them and let them share theirs with you. I guarantee you that you will be more often blessed in that time. So, enjoy a cup and see where God leads you.

A Time for Peace

I don’t know about you, but my heart breaks when I wake up in the morning and hear about violence in the streets. It seems to be all to common, especially with the 24/7 news cycle that pervades our society today. It is a tragedy of the brokenness that we find ourselves within. It is no different than what has happened in the past in the sense that what is going on has truly changed, the only real difference that can be seen is that it is being put in front of us and we are more aware of what is going on in our world.

Keith Bruce - Breaking News Graphic
© Keith Bruce | Dreamstime.com

I could only imagine what it would have looked like if we would have had the news cycle and the media in the centuries past when we have an oppressed people rise up. When we honestly look at this much of what we see is the direct result of oppression, whether perceived or real (that is not a debate I wish to enter into with this because I know that we have a variety of views prevalent in our society and I will say that there is merit on all the views, though, in my opinion, they are all flawed). The formula is odd when we think of things rationally, but an oppressed mind does not think rationally. This is seen within the destruction of property, looting, and the shuttering of businesses and services that are, in the eyes of the oppressed symbols of their oppressor, the means that may be used to help elevate the position of people.

Oppression occurs when one set of people put themselves above another. Historically, we see this happening cyclically and it is always a symbol of our fallen nature. It is also often the goal of the oppressor to destroy a group of people that they see as being less than them. In the Old Testament we see it with the Egyptians versus other cultures in Exodus through Deuteronomy, then in Joshua as they enter the Promised Land and the Canaanites, and other nations in Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, through to the New Testament. Of course, we see this seed placed at the Fall with Cain feeling anger and jealousy of his brother, Abel, and taking his life up through the flood. Even after the flood with the Tower of Babel. The center of sin arises when one finds themselves above another and begin to worship gods of their own creation. God desired to protect his chosen people, the Israel, from being influenced by these gods and desired to destroy those that were idol worshipers from the land that he desired to give to his people, but we see the failure there as these groups are spared yet put under the Israelite people – creating an oppressed group. The Bible is full of this sin of the people and we are created with a sense of value given to us by our creator and it drives us to find death a better alternative to being oppressed. That’s why there are those that will do extreme acts when they feel oppressed.

Jesus entered into this oppressed world with his birth. At his birth we find that he challenges the oppressor and his parents flee to avoid the persecution as the leader, Herod, has all male children two and under in Bethlehem killed. Herod felt his power challenged and did what he saw as right to keep it. Just as the oppressed are not rational, those who hunger for power are equally irrational when they feel their power threatened. We saw this with Pharoah when Moses called for the release of his people and Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who feels the need to appear more powerful than his father, and others throughout history. From the beginning Jesus came with a different message. Throughout the Gospels as he walks with his disciples he teaches a different message. His disciples and those who hear about him think he is going to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to her glory they recall under King David. Yet, we know, that Jesus presented something greater, a promise of restoration to having things the way God intended for us from the beginning. The people of history that are arguably the most oppressed are the people of Israel. Prior to the coming of Jesus we can find that they had historically risen up against oppression only to fall back again. The historical books of 1 -4 Maccabees are an account of an uprising against Greek oppression, that is where Hannukah has its roots. Genocide has been attempted against the Jewish people throughout history with the creation of Ghettos, to pogroms throughout Eastern Europe, and the Holocaust (which all of us should be familiar) yet God’s promise has been maintained and their are more people of Jewish heritage today than in any other time in history. Jesus is the culmination of God’s promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all nations and the hope is that all of creation, including his chosen people Israel, would be restored. That is the difficulty of Jesus’ words in Luke 12, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51, ESV) These words as well as those that surround them are troubling, especially when put in context of what is said surrounding these words. Family divisions, we know, arise in our world today as well as struggles when we desire to share our faith. Sometimes a hard word is to be spoken, in order for the truth to break through.

Engraver - Jewish holocaust.jpg
© Engraver | Dreamstime.com – Jewish holocaust

The greatest truth is that we are sinners, all of us, in need of a savior. That savior is Jesus Christ who came not only to save, but to redeem, to make things right. In accepting this reality it does require a strong sense of humility and acceptance of the sinful self.

Sin is the ultimate oppressor. It causes division in relationships and within cultures. It causes us to think more highly of ourselves than we should and we forget the neighbor. During the Holocaust it was not a great secret that Jews were being gathered up and being taken to the concentration camps. Those cities in the shadow of these camps were confronted with the smell of bodies being burned which is a smell unlike any other. The reality of what was going on was undeniable, yet many ignored and denied any knowledge. Churches near the tracks where people were being transported in response to the sounds from the rail cars responded by playing the music louder and calling the people to sing louder. It is sometimes easier to feign ignorance than to face the issues that are before us. We can argue the same today. In Christ Jesus, we can find opportunities to speak. The deep question is how do we overcome the irrational violence and be voices of peace? It is hard, but necessary. Unfortunately, more than fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” our nation seems more divided in this racial divide and Sunday mornings are still very segregated. A general distrust continues to pervade those that are darker skinned and those that are lighter skinned, my wording is thoughtful of an excellent program of Ken Ham. As Christians, we can come along science that came out in the beginning of the 21st century which deconstructs this concept of race and shows the history of its creation as well as tying it to our biblical understanding which we find beginning with Babel.

As we begin to see one another as brothers and sisters wonderfully created by God and equal in honor given us as those created in the image of God we will see the spirit of oppression break down. As we trust and follow the words of Jesus Christ we will see a breakdown of these oppressive tendencies that continue to divide. Our faith is not naturally an oppressive faith, though there are those that would argue differently. Our faith has, historically, done more to fight oppression. Yes, we have examples in history where the Christian faith was misused and abused to oppress another culture. This, however, is more of an anomaly and not analogous of the faith as given us through Scripture. There are many, I know, that will take umbrage with this statement and will cite the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the forced conversion of indigenous peoples by the taking of children to private schools, and the oppression of women. Knowing these things, I will still say that they are not the norms. Our faith has a great heritage of giving oppressed people hope and releasing them from oppression as the culture around them became Christian. Women, in many cultures, found greater freedom and respect by their families and the cultures also. Hospitals and medical care were brought to areas that did not have it because of Christians. Christians have taken in those that were rejected by the people of an area and given them dignity and life. Jesus gave us that example in John 4 and John 8, just to name a couple though I can think of more I could write now. When Christianity is practiced as presented in Scripture we can find great opportunities for transformation of culture. Dignity is central to our faith.

In humility, we will find peace through faith in Jesus Christ. When fellow followers of Christ feel oppressed, we all are called to suffer with them and come together in prayer for them. Peace comes when we put ourselves in the life of the other and do not discredit their pain. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, blessed to be a blessing. Our skin color does not speak of our character in Christ, but it is the depth of where our Lord ranks in our living. If those who hate us come after us, we are called not to respond in hate, but in love. We are to pray for those that persecute us. Brothers and sisters in Christ united in prayer is powerful. Let our faith dictate how we look upon the other. For those of darker skin, it is undeniable that they are often viewed and treated differently in communities and for those of us that are lighter skinned should stand against that and speak out about it. They are our brothers and sisters and it is only right that we do so. When we truly center our lives and our faith in Christ Jesus our hearts are called to turn to caring for the other and setting aside our own suffering. We could learn something, too, from what he did as he was beaten and mocked and ultimately nailed to the cross. He did not curse the persecutors, but prayed for them. Sadly, we don’t do that enough either. I pray for those that feel that they are being oppressed and I pray for those that they believe are oppressing them. I pray for a stop of this violence and I pray that more hearts no the love that Jesus Christ has for them. Violence will only breed violence. Hatred only breeds more hatred. Peace comes not from our own will but looking to the Prince of Peace and praying that he first transform my heart and then praying for others to know that transformation too.

I pray for the day that the Breaking News be about a community coming together and how one person saved another from a natural disaster or some other danger. I pray for the Prince of Peace to reside in all hearts and that we, together, as brothers and sisters regardless of the tint of our skin, see each other as God sees us, his most beautiful creation.

 

The Selfie Generation

I love language. I know that may sound different, but I truly love the written word as well as listening to good speakers, and understanding language and language history. It is fascinating to watch trends and understand how words shape our thinking lightstock_80960_full_revcbyars.jpgand how we view the world around us. I remember when first learning grammar learning the proper use if pronouns it is important when using your personal pronoun alongside others to make sure that the personal pronouns of I and me would be the last listed, i.e. my wife and I went out to dinner or when I was little there were three in my home – my mom, my dad, and me. This was the proper use.

As I was growing up I noticed a trend in which the use of me in lists started to more commonly placed first. In this trend, the language of people also began to change. The idea of political correctness began to grow. In this trend words began to change and have meaning that at one time was not known. Offense began to dictated as an objective reality instead of subjective. The “me” became of utmost importance.  How it makes me feel was of utmost important and to have people understand how the reality of me should be a part of their reality also. Unfortunately, with this the tolerance of ideas started to be challenged. Most recently I have noticed a new trend, the use of me is being moved to myself.

I guess one could argue that it is a part of the new “selfie” movement. Selfies are everywhere. They even entered a funeral service for a major dignitary as our President Barack Obama did it during the funeral of Nelson Mandela. This is not a commentary of the appropriateness of that action, but about how prevalent it is in our society. Selfies and selfie-sticks have had to be banned at various places because of how many people have not been thoughtful of where they are and have had issues because of insensitivity in the use of selfie-sticks and the inappropriate timing of taking a selfie. Now selfies aren’t all bad, so don’t believe that that is necessarily what I am criticizing. It is nice to have pictures for posterity, for the memories. It is good to show the high points in life.

The issue isn’t selfies, but the elevation of self above all else. It is an unfortunate reality that we face and we struggle against in our world. It is in direct relation to how we have stepped away in society from being grounded in the faith of Christ our Lord and how far the Word of God has moved from being the guiding force in our lives. The problem of this elevation of self is that often times we elevate ourselves into the place of God and our neighbors are kicked to the wayside. Language shapes how we act, how we think, and how we worship. As we have moved from the me-first to myself we have seen how worship has changed from an upward focus to a focus on how it makes me or myself feel. If someone says something that offends me or myself I no longer seek to understand, but focus on the offense. God gave us commandments,

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. “You shall not murder. “You shall not commit adultery. “You shall not steal. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Exodus 20:1–21, ESV

When we fail at the first, “You shall have no other gods before me,” all the others easily fall like dominoes. Worship is no longer seen as a worshiping of God it is about self-betterment, feeling valued, and a focus on future success. If it feels good, it must be OK, and I will listen and follow those that tell me what I want to hear is true. As these things fall away and our treatment and honoring of God is no longer in the center next fall relationships. Honoring father and mother, the first figures of authority, becomes less of a way of life. As the respect for parents have declined and the families structures falter, life holds less value, the concept of fidelity in marriage is no longer important and the institution of marriage is lessened, why not take what you want, talk about people not worrying if it is true or false or how it may damage them, and then comes the looking at what people have in their homes, property, and relationships quickly fall behind. The idea, “I should have that,” is a reality and the next thing you know the thought of breaking into a home is no longer an issue.

Now I’m not a social scientist, just a theologian, but I look at the correlation between our ever evolving language and our treatment of God seems to affect our treatment of our neighbor. Offense is easily found by those who seek it and it increases division. When we put limitations on the exchange of ideas because it might offend limits our opportunities to gain understanding and share the truth that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord. Quite honestly, the Gospel is offensive. It is meant to offend because it shines a light on all that is off and all that is wrong within us. It is offensive to think that for us to be redeemed would require that God would enter his own creation in his Son, Jesus Christ, and allow for his crucifixion and death in order that he would take on himself all that is wrong in us, in order to be resurrected and further lead us into the righteousness. It is offensive to submit to something outside of yourself and be called to serve the neighbor and look out for the other. It is offensive to place those that are looked down upon in society above us and serve them. That is the reality of our faith. We, as followers of Jesus Christ, are not first. I would argue against the “I am Second” campaign that was well-intentioned but missed a vital Scriptural truth. We are to see ourselves last in the reality that our call is to serve as Christ came to serve. We are not to just put Christ as the number one in our life, but in putting him first we are placing our neighbor ahead and seeking to serve all of creation. As Jesus told the disciples, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35, ESV) We are free in Christ and in that great freedom we have been given the gift and the opportunity to serve.

 

Do you hear me?

The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

Luke 10:16, ESV

I don’t know about you, but I am saddened when people I love turn away from the faith in Jesus Christ. It hurts me to my core. Sometimes I can take it personally and wonder what I did wrong. Unfortunately, this is a reality that the majority of us face. I am most troubled when I see the pain in the eyes of a parent and grandparent that feel helpless and hopeless when they see their children deny and reject the faith in Jesus Christ and they watch as their grandchildren are being raised outside of the faith of Jesus Christ. The words most commonly heard are, “I don’t know what happened, they were raised in the faith.”

As a pastor, I have often been told by those that walked away that the reason they left is “I was forced to go to church and didn’t like it.” Some say this that later return and raised their children with an understanding of choice. I have read some great statements on this and how silly the logic of that statement truly is when we think about what the role is as parents. I know my parents made me do a lot of things I didn’t want to do. I mean I had to eat regularly, brush my teeth, go to bed, go to school, do my homework, clean my room, etc. The list is long and each person may have different things that were expected of them. As parents we are called to raise up our children in the faith in Jesus Christ. We are reminded in Deuteronomy of this:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4–9, ESV

This was written as the people of Israel were preparing to enter into the promised land (it is important to note that God was a visible presence then – a pillar of smoke (or cloud) by day and a pillar of fire by night – one would only have to step out of their tent and look to the tabernacle to see God’s presence. Since it was important to remind parents to do this then, imagine how much of a greater importance it was to do this when he wasn’t as easy to point to with the children. Even with that we also know that the  Israelite’s were rebellious in the wilderness and that rebellion didn’t stop their.

Our hearts are rebellious when left to our own thinking, that is where the Word of God and our continual reading and study of it alongside our prayers and our worship. In doing so our lives are reshaped and directed in the way that God desires. The word of God certainly does not fall flat and through our study and prayer the Holy Spirit will work. Unfortunately, not all hearts will move to follow Christ Jesus. There will be some that will be repulsed by the Holy Spirit and driven to their own sinful desires. That, however, does not mean that we stop praying for them or reaching out to them.

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Having personally walked away, I have some experience in knowing the pain that drove me away, but also know the power of prayer as I know that many people prayed for me. The greatest witness of the faithful that I received was from those that never pressured me to believe but were faithful and open in their daily witness and interactions. I had people that came with a salvation message and pressured me to “pray the prayer” and believe in Jesus Christ. It wasn’t very effective for me and, even worse, made me more resistant to the Gospel. With this understanding, my heart softened for those that are hurting because a loved one has walked away as well as for those that have walked away because of hurt and/or disenchantment with the Christian faith.

So, what can we do? First, let us listen. Let us listen to God’s Word and his call for us in our witness. Listen to those that have been hurt and hear the issues that they have had in the faith. Second, let us pray. Let us pray for those whom we love that have fallen away. Let us pray for those around us that may never have known the faith and love or our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray that God give us the words to speak into peoples lives and, also, give us the ability to be silent when should say nothing at all. Third, let us live our lives as a witness to our faith not only in what we do well, but also in where we err. Let us honestly live out our Christian faith in such a way that it may have a transformative influence in the lives of those that we encounter, especially in how we are when we err. Let our lives be real and not just a mask of how we think we should appear. Often, as Christians, we try to hide our errors and shortcomings, we don’t show our struggles, and our lives may seem to be unattainable for those struggling (which if all they see is the ideal it truly is unattainable). It is good to remember that their was only one person who walked the earth that lived a perfect life and they crucified him. We, as Christians, are not perfect and that is why we need a Savior.

For this reason, I began Christ Over Coffee to offer a safe place for conversation for believer and unbeliever alike. We can also talk about different traditions and beliefs. Being Lutheran in my Christian faith offers a different perspective which may or may not be known by others. Questions are a good place to begin any discussion and no question of faith is off limits. Let us search the Word together, let us discuss the faith together, and let us praise our Lord Jesus Christ together. We, as Christians, are united in our Triune God, – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit  –  and in that we can find areas of agreement. That is the thing that differentiates us from other faiths. Washed in the waters of Baptism, we are also united. There are differences in how we understand these gifts of grace – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – but the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ remains. Let us speak of that faith, that grace, and enjoy a cup of coffee, tea, or another drink. Let us find comfort in Christ and his holy Word.

Holy Encounters

Christ Over Coffee is a growing concept and one thing that I have found that is for certain is that each time I find holy encounters. People are always there for some conversation and each one is interesting and fruitful. It is fun to have these opportunities and the fact that I am open to them makes that all the more affirming when they come. How often do we miss these opportunities, these holy encounters, just because we are not open for them? I wonder that in my life. I know there are days and times that I am just not in the mood or have other things to attend to, so I may not be paying attention. There are also times when I just observe people. It is interesting how isolated we are as a people. It seems that in public the rule is to not make eye contact. Isn’t that interesting?

Unfortunately, that is how we have developed because we often don’t want to encourage interaction with the “wrong” people. I understand this since I have had some interesting encounters in my life. I have a man sing “El Shaddai” on the beach and kiss both my wife’s and my hands and feet after he talked to us and found out I was going into the ministry. I have had an uncomfortable encounter with a woman my wife spoke to in a restroom who then followed her and her friend to our table and inserted herself in our group at the table. I have had some very rich discussions in lines at the grocery store and the Wal-Mart. It is always a risk though. Sometimes people will go in directions that may make one uncomfortable and it will be tricky in trying to extricate onesself from the conversation. Isn’t that what it’s all about, though?

As I look in Scripture, I see in both the Old and New Testaments encounters between prophets, Jesus, the Disciples, and the Apostles that I would have to believe were not the most comfortable for them, but they were necessary. Sharing the Gospel with anyone is not a comfortable task, but it is something we are all called to do. Jesus began this when he sent out the disciples and the 72. It was the beginning training ground and I am sure they didn’t go out relishing the idea of being out and not knowing what they may encounter. God gave them many opportunities to heal, to cast out demons, and share the Good News. We also see our Lord doing his work with those that were without hope.

As I sit and write this I am have taken moments to look away and reflect and as I have done that I have been able to observe. Sitting here I see the other way of avoidance as I watch people sit down and stare at a screen either on their phone or a tablet. I know I have been guilty of this and in my awareness as I type I see to see if I can make eye contact and greet. Admittedly the opportunities have been few and the greetings have been short. It is sometimes hard to find something to maybe use as a starter and even then some will quietly defer from having any type of conversation. It is our age. We often are more open to share our lives (sometimes overshare) on some form of Social Media or in a blog but not in a face to face interaction. Sometimes strangers far away know more about our neighbors than we do. It is an interesting age that we live in, full of wonders and opportunities.

I still believe that there is nothing better than to sit over a cup of coffee and talk. That is why I choose to go and seek out these opportunities while sitting at a local coffee house. Social Media shows us the hunger for connection and the need to be understood. It can be healthy or unhealthy, my hope is that more of these connections are made in healthy ways. My favorite healthy way is sitting across from another face to face over a nice cup of coffee enjoying the conversation and the sharing of life. It is these moments that are truly holy and I am ever thankful for every holy encounter that our Lord offers up. May you find some holy encounters in your life. If you are ever up for it and close by give me a call or drop me a line, let’s have some coffee and talk about those things that are holy.

A Warm Cup of Joe

Growing up one gift that I was given was the taste for coffee. Now there may be some of you reading Coffee-Heartthis that may not understand because coffee may not be your thing. My grandmother began giving me coffee when I was young, I think I may have been in Kindergarten, maybe. She first taught me to drink it with cream and sugar. Some may wonder what possessed my grandmother to give me coffee? That is a funny story in and of itself that includes and article she read in The National Enquirer and her concern for me and my asthma. She had heard it was good for asthma and later we found this to be true.

My mother was not the happiest about me drinking coffee, but for me it was something that I learned to enjoy with my time with my grandmother. My mother tried to get me to stop by telling me that if I wanted to drink it, I would have to drink it black, so I began drinking it black. Now I enjoy coffee black, sometimes with a treat creamer, and have also grown to love lattes and, a wonderful treat, a flat white. Most of all I enjoy the times when I can sit and enjoy a time of conversation over coffee.

In High School and then in college I used to love going to Perkins in my hometown or other coffee shops to sit for hours at night drinking pot after pot of coffee and talking about anything. It was the fun interaction and the craziness of the time as I would get together with friends sometimes to study but other times just to hang out. Many of these friends were extremely creative and unique. We would discuss poetry, theater, and music. The great thing of these conversations is they always had some spiritual facet to them. Unfortunately at this time, my faith in Jesus Christ was not what it is today, but my love of coffee and especially opportunities to talk over coffee are still something in which I find pleasure.

Growing up I was taught by my grandmother that two things were not discussed in polite conversation – faith and politics. Over coffee, though, this rule was suspended. My grandmother and I would talk politics and religion, often in the same conversation. The reason was that over coffee it was a safe-place, because you only usually share coffee with someone that you are willing to open up with. There is a different level of intimacy over coffee, an intimacy that the world often forgets. A safe place for men to come together and open up in ways that they may not normally open up, men and women are in an open field in which it is safe to be open and honest and not have any of the hangups that come with dinner and the like. It is a safe place for friendship.

My wife is my best friend and our conversations over coffee, though not as uninterrupted as they once were, are my favorite time. For me it is also a good thing to reflect on Jesus Christ and what he has done for me. As I enjoy coffee and delve into the Word I become renewed and reinvigorated especially if I have been tired out with life and all things occurring. As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 42, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” I can always find comfort in my God. Sometimes it is good to just take a moment with a nice warm cup of coffee, a warm cup of joe, to offer a moment of air that allows one to just stop, take a breath, and reflect. Just like I love to spend my time with my friends over coffee, it is good to take a moment and spend sometime with the greatest friend we can ever have, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Smell the warm aroma and relax…he’s listening.