And Then There Were Monkeys

There we were, roasting in the Caribbean sun, covered in sunscreen and looking for adventure.

A few years ago, my wife and I went on a family cruise. It was an extremely fun time. We ate food, walked on beaches, ate food, went to shows, ate food, visited a volcano, ate food, went parasailing, ate food, snorkeled, and oh…ate food.

As we were making our way into one of the island’s ports I remember we were immediately hit with a barrage of people looking to sell us something…anything really. There was no point in trying to hide the fact that we were tourists, so we decided to just smile, nod, and try to make our way through the crowd.

Now, I honestly can say that I have no clue how it actually happened, but before I knew what was going on there was a monkey on my back….literally.

My wife was laughing as a monkey suddenly appeared on her as well. Our smiles grew as the monkeys increased. There was a local man smiling and laughing with us as he egged our furry little friends on. Then he asked me if I wanted him to take our picture.

I should have known better.

After he snapped a couple of photos of us his smiled faded, the primates jumped from our shoulders to his, and he held his hand out.

He got me.

Now, I want to be clear, I don’t begrudge this man for trying to make a living. My wife and I certainly aren’t missing the few “American dollars” our monkey pictures cost us. But I think what irritates me (only a little bit honestly) these years later is that fact that I had been “gotten.”

I should have seen it coming. I should have been ready. I should have just kept walking.

It could have been the scorching sun, the fresh air, my wits dimmed from the all-you-can-eat buffet, or just simply the excitement of the day. Whatever the reason, the reality was that I had been suckered into paying for something I didn’t need.

My defenses were down and it happened so fast.

We need to be careful how we live our lives, because the monkeys on our back can be crazy dangerous.

It’s frustrating, but this is usually how sin works in our lives. It jumps on to us (or we willingly put it on) and before we realize what is going on, payment is due. There is a quote from Ravi Zaccharias (although it has been attributed to several people) that goes like this,

“Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”

That quote is, unfortunately, so terrifyingly true. We can get caught up in something, and before we even realize it, we are neck deep in the consequences of our actions.

James 1:14 reminds us that, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” Those words “lured” and “enticed” could even be translated as “dragged away by.” That’s an unpleasant thought.

So what do we do when we are faced with temptation?

We keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We remember the truth of who we are in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

We put on the protective armor that He has supplied us. (Ephesians 6:13)

Run away from those monkeys. They may be fun, cute, and cuddly at first…but they will always end up costing you.

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9

Overwhelmed

Have you ever used a word to describe something; a situation, person, or event, but then later you question if you were using the word correctly?

Recently, my wife and I went and experienced the full and incredible force of Niagara Falls. There we were, in the famed Maid of the Mist boat in the very center of the Horseshoe Falls and one word kept coming to my mind. Overwhelmed. I even tried to shout it out loud to my wife, “this is so overwhelming!” But she couldn’t even hear me over the roar of the waters.

Later that day, because I’m a nerd, I looked up the definition of overwhelm just to be sure I was using it as accurately as possible. Here is what I found…

o·ver·whelm

verb

  1. bury or drown beneath a huge mass.

Yep. I would say that fits.

If you have never been to Niagara Falls I would highly recommend that you put it on your to-do list. It is such an incredible sight to take in. The sheer power of the water literally does overwhelm every single one of your senses.

I have said it before, but I just have to say it again, we have an incredibly creative creator.

The Falls were so spectacularly impressive, but they don’t even come close to the wonder and splendor and majesty of The Almighty God. And here is the crazy thing, you don’t need the rushing roar of the world’s most famous waterfall in order to experience the full power of our creator. (Fun fact, although Niagara is not technically the largest waterfall in the world, it is the waterfall with the largest volume of water passing through it. So, there ya go.)

Anyway, back on topic. The really awesome thing about God is that you can understand and know the full force of God’s power anywhere and everywhere. It can be in the middle of the roar of the horseshoe of Niagara. It can be in the stillness of the morning where the only sounds are chirping birds. Your physical location does not matter. Your spiritual location? That is what really matters.

I have talked with a bunch of people over the years who end up saying something like, “I’m just not feeling it” or, “I really would like God to make Himself more known to me.”

But here is the problem with that thinking, we are humans that change on a regular basis. God is eternal and does not change. Ever. (Hebrews 13:8)

So, if the discussion is, who needs to move or give more to the relationship, us or God, the answer is always going to be, us. That is why the Bible tells us to, “draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8) not the other way around. And once again, that nearness is not a physical location, it is a condition of our heart.

With all that said, I am very thankful that I was blessed to go see the incredible sight of, what the Native Americans called, “The End of The World.” Because, in seeing it, I was both reminded and challenged.

Reminded that if the things that God created can be overwhelming, then God Himself is completely overwhelming.

And challenged to be overwhelmed by God each and every day, no matter what my situation or location.

God is so big, so beyond anything that we can comprehend, He is eternal, holy, perfect, and wonderful…and yet so personal, loving, approachable, caring, and knowable.

So, let us draw closer to Him and be overwhelmed by Him, by His love, by His mercy, by His glory, and by His grace.

“There is none like you, O LORD; you are great, and your name is mighty in power.” Jeremiah 10:6

The Way Life Should Be

My wife and I are on a mission. Our goal is to, eventually, make a visit to all 50 states. We have been incredibly blessed to stop by, and subsequently get a magnet from, a decent portion of the 50 states in our great Union already. (Quick poll: if we have been to a state but forgot to get a magnet can we just buy a magnet on Amazon, or do we have to go back in order for it to “count?”)

Anyway, one of my favorites, if not the favorite, state so far would be Maine. (Fun fact: Maine is the only state whose name is only one syllable. Go ahead say all the states in your head, it’s true!)

I fell in love with Maine in a matter of minutes, literally. Now, I know that the short time I spent there does not necessarily offer a complete and fully accurate picture of what life in Maine might be like. But, with that being said, what I did see and experience was absolutely breath-taking.

I was debating of whether or not to share a bunch of pictures here and I decided to just go with the one. (Taken by my awesome wife, by the way.) The reason I am not showing more is that, even though the pictures we took turned out really well, they still do so little justice to just how beautiful it truly was.

God is such an awesome and incredibly creative creator. This world that He has made is so beautiful. (Read more about that HERE.)

Maine was awesome. The coast was my favorite. I could sit there on a rock and stare off into the ocean for hours. The blueberries were heavenly. The lobster was in mac n’ cheese. The donuts were exceptional. The trees were tall and skinny, just the way they should be. (Oh, also trees make up 90% of the land in Maine…so that’s neat!) The people were down-to-earth and friendly. And did I mention the coast?!

While we were driving we saw a sign that stuck with me. It read, “MAINE: The Way Life Should Be.”

I remember smiling and saying out loud, “yea, that’s about right.” I mean, if there is a way that life should be lived it probably is: on the edge of a forest-on the top of a cliff-next to a lighthouse-overlooking the ocean-eating fresh blueberry pancakes. Now, that’s living.

I kept thinking about that sign for the next few days and even weeks. The phrase itself makes my mind run to Genesis 2. Back to the Garden. Back to the way life should be.

That one chapter in the Bible where all was as it should be. Man and woman walking and talking and living and enjoying life together next to God. Together with God.

If you look around you today, you won’t find a picture-perfect garden paradise. Instead, you will see brokenness, pain, hurt, despair, sin, and death. This is not the way life should be.

That is important for us to remember. This new normal for mankind is so “not the way life should be” that God did something about it. He sent Jesus.

Jesus died on the cross so that we could experience life, abundant life. (John 10:10)

Jesus came to show us the way, and the way that life should be. (John 14:6)

And, God promises, for those who put their trust in Jesus, to take away all the things that stand in the way of “life being the way it should be.” (Revelation 21:1-8)

You may be reading this and be thinking, “that’s great! I have already trusted Jesus, but how do I navigate life today?”

That’s a great question. Proverbs 3:5-6 gives a great answer. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Trusting in Jesus today and tomorrow and the next day and the next…that is how we, not just survive, but thrive in this life.

Trust in Jesus.

That is the way life should really be.

Airport Coffee

Airports are weird.

I have been in a whole lot of airports in my relatively short lifetime, and they are all the same…and yet all so vastly different.

There are people, lots of people. And those people are all either waiting around and wasting time or running frantically. I so enjoy watching the spectrum of people. There are the business travelers who view flying as just another frustrating commute. There are the adventurers; these are usually the people wearing Chaco’s, use a backpack the size of a middle schooler, and openly talk about the week that has passed since their last shower. There are also the family vacationers. These families usually consist of overly excited and wide-eyed kids, an angsty and embarrassed teenager, a tired mom, and a stressed-out dad who is silently rethinking the trip.

But, no matter what airport I go to, I sometimes, ok usually…. Alright, always get a coffee. There are two reasons for this. The first, I like coffee. The second, I like “airport coffee.”

The funny thing about airport coffee is that it never tastes the same. Even if I go to a “chain” café that I am used to, it still tastes different. I could walk out of the airport and grab a cup of coffee across the street from the same chain and it would, a) be about $20 cheaper, and b) taste completely different. Airport coffee is always different, never boring, and always a well-needed refresher in the midst of my travels.

During my last trip, I was thinking about what is so different and special about airport coffee. (I know, it’s a very odd thing to think about for any length of time, but try to remember I was in an airport and very bored.) One delayed flight later I think I solved the coffee puzzle. While I’m sure there are real reasons (different water, mass productions, faster turnaround, etc.) I prefer to stick with my own reasoning.

My perspective is different.

I am looking forward to the place that I will be traveling to, whether it is a vacation or a mission trip, I am focused on where I am going. My mood tends to be one extreme or another, either stressed and anxious or relaxed and lost in thought.

Because of that, the coffee that I drink is always a nice reminder of where I am. Since it’s not a good idea to drink hot coffee fast, trust me I’ve learned that lesson, the pause causes me to slow down and refocus on my current physical location.

A few days ago, we, along with millions of other people around the globe, celebrated Easter Sunday. We celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Think about that for a second, He was really truly 100% dead…then He told His heart to start beating again.

If that doesn’t send shivers down your spine then I’m not sure anything will.

As I think about Jesus’ resurrection I can’t help but think about airport coffee. (Stick with me on this for a minute.) As we reflect on this incredible triumph that Jesus had over death it should cause us to pause, reflect, and refocus. As we think about Jesus’ resurrection we should remember that what He did was completely different from anything ever done before in history. And a life with Jesus is never boring.

Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.”

I thank God that His mercies are new every morning. I thank God that He never gets boring. And, oh boy, do I thank God that His steadfast love for me never ceases.

I pray that God gives us a continually fresh perspective when it comes to thinking about Jesus and His resurrection. The truth of the Gospel should be as new, fresh, exciting, and wonderful as when we first heard and received it.

Airport coffee is awesome, but Jesus is awesomeerer!