A Sad but Hope-filled Pilgrim

I have been reflecting on the weight of what is going on in our world of late.  It is weighty, isn’t it?  I suppose that’s why the expression of feeling “burdened” is appropriate during these times of reflection.  That’s definitely what I’ve been…burdened.

It’s so hard to turn on the news and see the level of hatred that so many people have towards each other.  A picture of America, that “shining city on a hill”, in all of her ugliness and brokenness.  That shouldn’t be interpreted through a lens of anti-patriotism.  I truly love the country of my birth and am so thankful that I was raised under a flag of freedom.  I think that’s what makes me so sad to see her condition.

I think if we have ever bought into the truly absurd idea that our hope or salvation comes through a nation, we should see why that can never be.  It is our freedom that, taken for granted, too often leads to our lawlessness.  We feel like we are free to do anything to anyone and say anything we please.  Yes, those freedoms are protected (in theory, at least), but it is the abuse of freedom that strips strips them away so that all suffer.

Looking more broadly, though, what it should do is point point out the fact that it is our sinfulness that enslaves us.  It screams out that salvation must be outside of ourselves…truly, outside of this broken world, regardless of the soil upon which we stand.

We see the ugliness of our souls through hatred, racism, greed, self-righteousness, and pride.  We realize that we are living in a world that cannot deliver.  Even as a Christ-follower, it’s hard for me to take it all in and not feel the pain; not to feel discouragement.

It’s in these times of desperation that I have to pull back and remember what is true.  I remember that I am redeemed.  I remember that I am loved.  I remember that there is hope.  I remember that I am not of this world and that my citizenship belongs elsewhere.

Then, I remember that there is that same hope, love and future for all who call on the name of the Lord.  I remember that the only hope for this broken world is Jesus…and I pray.  I pray for a world that is lost in its own sin, held captive by Darkness.  I pray for me, that I can live according to my real citizenship, loving the unlovely (like myself), showing compassion for the sinner (like myself), and communicating the truth that we are all in need of a Savior (like myself)…and that in Jesus, there is hope for the broken (like me).

This…this is what keeps me going.  This is what (or Who) speaks into my soul and says, “Remember, you are MINE, and all is well.”  I have to remember that God has this; that He is my Good Shepherd who knows my name and He loves me!

He is never surprised, never caught off guard, and never overwhelmed, regardless of what is going on in this crazy world.  As I heard someone ask recently, “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has ever occurred to God?”  That is my King. My Father. My Hope.  My Savior.

I am so grateful that My Father and Lord is King of the Kingdom of which I am a part!  I was reading a poem called “The Pilgrim, by John Bunyan this morning that encouraged me.  Maybe it will you, as well.

Who would true valor see

Let him come hither!

Once here will constant be,

Come wind, come weather:

There’s no discouragement

Shall make him once relent

His first avow’d intent

To be a Pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round

With dismal stories,

Do but themselves confound;

His strength the more is.

No lion can him fright;

He’ll with a giant fight;

But he will have a right

To be a Pilgrim.

Hobglobin, nor foul fiend,

Can daunt his spirit;

He knows he at the end

Shall life inherit–

Then, fancies, fly away;

He’ll not fear what men say;

He’ll labour, night and day,

To be a Pilgrim.

Soli Deo Gloria.

 

Productive By Design: The Struggle is Real

One of my great challenges in life has always been focus and productivity.  I have always had grand illusions of grand accomplishments – deep, persuasive or important articles or books that stirred people to be better than they were before reading what I wrote.  I’m sure that there is at least a spoonful of pride in there…maybe a large dose, even (which is a subject for another post!).  Still, I’ve always wanted to be a difference-maker; always wanted to contribute, to encourage, and to motivate.

People have told me from through the years, “You’ve got a book in you.”  Even plagued by years of self-doubt, I started to believe them.  Several years ago, I actually started the process of writing one.  One summer, I even dedicated an entire month to little more than writing it.  I got almost eight chapters written out of a desired ten…then the summer ended and so did my focus on the book.  It’s been the same length now for two more summers.

Recently, I’ve had the desire to pick it up again and finish it with a brand new chapter in mind.  Of course, the problem I now face is having to essentially start over in the process of reviewing what I’ve written and getting back to the place that I know where I’m going because I know where I’ve been.  Hours later, I find myself exhausted from rehashing chapters written long ago, struggling to get to where I can finally write the new material I was earlier so excited to write.

This sums up my struggle pretty well.  It has been the pattern too much of my life has followed.  Because I have always been good at “cramming,” I relied on that rather than methodically following a well-crafted plan over the course of days or weeks.  I had the ability to write an adequately resourced, twenty page paper in less than 24 hours and get as good of a grade as those who had been working for weeks (truth be told, if really pushed I could do it in eight!).  That may sound impressive at first glance, but they learned something more valuable than I ever did: the ability to develop a plan, implement a strategy, and carry it out over the course of time.  As a result, I struggle even today.

Understanding that about myself, I have tried to develop systems of disciplines to aid my climb towards balance and productivity.  I have desired to best steward my God-given time, but have so often failed.

A few days ago, I came across an article while browsing Facebook (in one of those moments of deep focus on the important!), with the tagline, “In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books.” That, alone, intrigued me since I have a great desire (and have made valiant attempts this summer) to read more books.  200, though?  I found it daunting to consider, but thought it worth checking out.  Doing the math, the author broke down the 200 books to average 417 hours of reading over the course of the year.  Still sounds like a lot until I considered the comparisons he made:  Americans spend on average 608 hours a year on social media and a whopping 1,642 hours on television.  That totals 2,250 hour spent on, as he rightly concludes, trash. Spent reading, that would be over 1,000 books per year.  Crazy!

So, that article pointed me to a book the author recommended.  It’s called Superhuman by Habit, by a guy named Tynan (don’t ask me his last name. Apparently, he doesn’t have one).  I bought it and plowed through it and must say, I was quite impressed.  Besides being well-written, it is fiercely practical.  I was able to glean basic strategies that will me move from the struggle to accomplish certain things into the category of “automated” or automatic habits.  Essentially, as you focus every day on key habits, they become a part of your lifestyle.  Common sense, yes, but if you don’t stop long enough to think it through and determine what habits you are missing, it can seem less than common.

One of the key passages that encourages me to give thought to the development of some key, positive habits is the understanding that it is difficult but possible to do just about anything important if we break it down, analyze it (importance and process), and begin moving forward:

“You can do just about anything if you break it down into habits and execute on them.  That’s not to say it’s easy, only that it’s possible.  The key is to be honest about what’s stopping you from success, take responsibility for it, and create new habits to correct it.”

I may not agree with his worldview on some things (sadly, he attributes the glory of nature to evolution), but his perspectives on overcoming barriers to growth are spot on.  Even this writing is an effort to move in a positive direction in an area I believe is important…certainly important to me.  It’s just one step, but it’s a step.  Maybe I will never be as focused or as motivated as I think I should, but I might just surprise myself and find that I can and will be more focussed than I thought I ever could for the glory of God.  That’s a journey worth taking!

My Gear: Staresso

Here’s one for my fellow coffee geeks.

Recently, my family spent two-and-a-half weeks visiting extended family in Texas and Mississippi.  If you know my wife and me at all, you know we are kind of coffee snobs (I figured I’d just own it).  At home, I roast my own beans in a Behmor 1600 roaster, grind ’em up in a Rancilio doserless burr grinder, and pull incredible espresso shots in a Rancilio Silvia Espresso machine that I’ve had now for almost 12 years.  See what I mean?

This is all great while we’re at home, but they don’t travel well!  So, before we left, I began searching for something that could serve as a portable stand-in for my espresso maker while not breaking the bank.  I have a french press as well as an italian stove-top pot.  These are great for what they do, but they make what is essentially brewed coffee, not espresso.  Technically, the stove-top makes espresso, but I’ve never been quite happy with it (personal pref, I guess).

I looked at the aeropress, which many people really like, but that still didn’t do quite what I wanted.  I really wanted quality espresso similar to what I could get out of a good machine.

That’s when I came across the Staresso espresso maker.  It sounded like it would do everything I wanted, wasn’t extremely expensive, and received excellent reviews.  It didn’t disappoint!

The Staresso has a small water chamber on top with a stow-away pump handle that, by pumping, builds up pressure in the chamber.  When the right amount of pressure is achieved, actual espresso begins to pour through the bottom into a real glass…uh, glass (that sounded weird…I’m trying to say it’s not plastic), in the bottom.  I was pretty amazed to see a thick espresso with good crema on top.  Though it’s not quite as strong as I get out of my Rancilio, it’s pretty darn close and really, really good!

Not only did we use it everyday on our trip (usually more than once!), I’ve used it throughout the day since we’ve been home.  It’s hard to go wrong making espresso within about 2 minutes with easy clean up.

So, if you want good espresso, but can’t afford (or don’t want to afford!) a big machine, check out the Staresso.  Also, for a little more, I would recommend a good frothing wand for foamy coffee drinks and, if you don’t have a burr grinder (stay away from blades) and want something portable, you can’t go wrong with a Javapresse manual grinder.  You can get all three through Amazon for right at $100.  One last thought: for this to be the best possible experience, make sure you use good quality, whole beans.  Ground beans begin losing their flavor after about 15 minutes, so only grind what you will use immediately.

Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions.  Bottom’s up!

Words Matter

I am preparing to teach an Introduction to Biblical Interpretation class in the fall (if you’re interested, the link is here) and a friend sent this to me which I found applicable not only in the world of biblical interp, but also, generally.  Modern culture says words are social constructs that do not have inherent meaning, only the meaning that is given by the reader (which is absurd by any estimation).  Of course, one who adheres to this type of relativism only adheres to it until it is their words!

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