“Let’s have coffee.”

Coffee has gotten a bad rap. Sure, too much coffee can have a negative impact (nervousness, adrenal strain, and sleep reduction to name a few), but there are some terrific benefits that coffee has to offer as well. So, grab a cup of coffee (if you haven’t had too much already), and join me for a look at the positive side of that magical brew that has been around for centuries. (For those of you who enjoy useless information, coffee originated in Ethiopia. Some say its cultivation began in the 9th century while other experts claim it’s been around since AD 575.)

Health Benefits

Coffee has a high level of antioxidants (more than green tea actually). Antioxidants are basically enzymes and nutrients that help the body prevent disease from developing in the body. Coffee can also help speed up metabolism and reduce hunger, which can both aid in weight loss. Because coffee is a diuretic, it can also help flush the bladder and prevent it from developing disease. So, in a very real sense, coffee is a healthy energy drink. Can we go so far as to call it a “bean smoothie”? Step aside green smoothies and Red Bull!

Mental Benefits

Coffee can also enhance brain function by aiding performance and memory function, and it also works as an anti-depressant.  This enhanced brain function can aid individuals who are bored or tired by giving them a much-needed mid-day mental perk. Now, I’m not a medical expert, but I play one in my dreams. Seriously, on some days, nothing but a cup of coffee (half heated vanilla soy milk/half coffee) can break through brain fog and help me think clearly. While doing this day in and day out may point to a deeper problem (such as those mentioned in the introduction), coffee can provide a much-needed boost when strategically placed. Not only that, but spending time “having coffee” with friends is also great therapy, perhaps equal only to the therapy sessions with my exercise partner. (As expensive as specialty coffee can be, it’s still way cheaper than seeing an actual therapist.)

Nostalgic Benefits

When I was a teenager, my mom used to bring me coffee in bed every morning to help wake me up. While this may have fed my coffee addiction, I have since broken that addiction (See “The Coffee Gene”) and this memory now serves as a pleasant reminder of one way my mom showed me she loved me. She made me feel special as she took that time every morning to do something small but meaningful for me. Some of my best memories both growing up and throughout the first half of my life are associated with drinking coffee. So many times spent chatting with friends and family happened with coffee in hand. Experts say that the sense of smell is a tremendous precipitator for evoking memories. (See “The Nose, an Emotional Time Machine” for an interesting read on the power of smell.) I know whenever I smell coffee, I get a calming trip down memory lane thinking about all the times spent enjoying “having coffee” with people I care about.

Social Benefits

Coffee has long been a center of business meetings and social gatherings. Rarely do you find an event that, at a minimum, does not have coffee available. When individuals who haven’t seen each other in a while cross paths coincidentally, you often hear, “We should do coffee soon!” My husband and I try to spend one-on-one time together frequently, and often that is over a cup of coffee at a favorite coffee shop. I have many friends with whom I also try to meet regularly for coffee, which really means spending a couple of hours chatting and catching up with life. Yet, it’s the phrase “Let’s have coffee” that seems to offer a comfortable way of saying, “I miss you and want to spend more time with you.” Even my non-coffee-drinking friends will “have coffee” with me, and we end up creating great memories as well as spending valuable time strengthening our relationship. To me, the social benefits of “having coffee” far outweigh the physical and mental benefits.

Consider Coffee Balance

As with so many aspects of life, balance is key. Too much coffee, and you’re constantly jittery and in need of more coffee. Not only that, but too much coffee can have negative health benefits as well (such as those mentioned in the introduction). But some, maybe a cup or two, strategically placed can serve to increase productivity and energy not to mention add tremendously to your social life and increase the strength of your relationships. So, instead of believing that coffee is some sort of liquid evil from which you should completely abstain, consider that perhaps there is a less extreme approach. Consider that the coffee medium may be one of the best ways to give your life balance.

DISCUSSION: What good memories does coffee bring back for you? When can you next “have coffee” and reconnect with someone? Do you drink too much coffee and are possibly cancelling the positive affects it can have? How can you take steps toward a balanced coffee drinking life?

Sunday Reflections – Are You an “All-In Oddball” Christian?

A motto for the New York Giants team this NFL season is “all in.” The idea behind this focus is for everyone in the organization to hold nothing back when it comes to having a successful season. They’ve apparently placed this motto on towels to not only remind the team of this commitment, but they’ve distributed the towels to fans attending games as well. While “all in” is mostly known as a poker term and is also often used in sports, it certainly represents a full-commitment standard that can be applied to almost any area of life.

What does it mean to be “all in” as a Christian? In 1 Peter 2:11, Christians are identified as “aliens and strangers.” In other words, they live, react and interact differently than those around them. They are oddballs. Why is this important? Verse 12 gives the answer, “… so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” Peter was writing to Christians scattered among unbelievers, and the unbelievers were spreading lies about the Christians. So, Peter encourages Christians to let their upright and moral behavior prove the rumors to be false. To be an “all-in” Christian means to live in a way that causes you to stand out from the crowd, to essentially be an oddball.

But what does being an “all in oddball” Christian look like in today’s culture? The meaning is no different than it was when Peter wrote the above scripture. Being an “all-in oddball” Christian means living in a way that puts Christ and obedience to Him first and that does not adhere to the shaky (yes, that’s putting it kindly) morals of the surrounding culture. Being an “all-in oddball” Christian means living like these individuals:

  • A college professor who finds her students dumfounded because she went to church on a Wednesday evening (and goes regularly every week).
  • An NFL quarterback who isn’t afraid to say “Jesus Christ” in a press interview.
  • A man who forgives his wife for infidelity because he feels led by the Holy Spirit to give her a second chance.
  • The individuals who attend prayer service every day for a week even after a long days at work.
  • The teenager who goes to bed 15 minutes early every night to spend time studying God’s Word.
  • The group of individuals who take 10 days off work to go on a mission trip to Bulgaria.
  • Two individuals who spent a Saturday afternoon setting up for a Children’s church program taking place the next day.
  • A group of ladies who spent an afternoon serving at a funeral dinner.
  • The businessman who chose his family over a business meeting and who regularly chooses family over work.
  • The group of individuals who come an hour early before Sunday service every week to get an extra dose of Bible learning in a Christian education class.
  • Those individuals who tithe on gross income.

Being an “all-in oddball” Christian means being obedient to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Committing to obedience in a deliberate and intentional way to the Lord in and of itself means committing to being an “all-in oddball” Christian. As a Christian, challenge yourself to go “all in.” Dare to be an oddball.

Questions: Are you an “all-in oddball” Christian? Do you know someone who is?

The Coffee Gene

Yes, it was a habit. One that began at age twelve. One fed by my mother who brought me coffee in bed every morning throughout my teenage years.

Yes, it was an addiction. Something I needed to wake up in the morning. Something I got withdrawal from if I didn’t get my fix.

But coffee was more than just a habit or an addiction. It was a part of me, a coffee gene if you will. It was a desire that defined a part of me like nothing else. A part that would otherwise lie dormant if not brought alive by the orgasmic lure of that rich, creamy brew.

Before this daily habit started, I sipped from my parents’ daily habits. My 6’4” dad used to say, “Coffee will stunt your growth. Good thing.” He started drinking coffee when he was twelve too. I’m not sure how far back the coffee gene goes.

In sixth grade, we had to sing the “COFFEE” song. I remember being resentful of a song with which I did not agree. After all, how could I know “coffee is not for me” if I was only 11 and had not gotten the chance to fully experience it yet? Didn’t really matter anyway. I already knew I liked coffee.

In college, I started work at 7:30 every Saturday morning. When I realized that I never saw my co-workers until after 10:00 and at least four cups of coffee, I began to wonder if the beverage had an impact on my morning personality.

Thirteen years after beginning my morning coffee-drinking ritual, I discovered that coffee defined more than just my personality. Each morning as I stood in front of my 54-cup coffee mug selection hanging on the kitchen wall, I took in each mug not in appearance alone, but also in origination. I liked my bear mug because my mom gave it to me, but it was more of an evening mug to use when drinking decaf and winding down. There were several mugs from past places of employment that I liked to use in the morning to get myself into the working mode. And of course there were weekend mugs that were big and great for nestling in my lap while watching cartoons. (Yes, cartoons at age 25.)

There was one mug that I hated. Nothing against the mug; I just didn’t like the person who gave it to me. More than once I considered throwing the mug away, but something always stopped me. I guess I just figured that one day I’d let go of the past and no longer hold a grudge against the mug. (I don’t even remember who the person was now.)

I only used about 10 of the mugs regularly. The rest were neglected and were only used by company. Most commoners at my house figured out pretty quickly that they needed to look inside the mugs for dust bunnies and dishwasher residue before actually using them.

I remember a time when I needed a cup of coffee so badly at work every morning that I neglected to clean out my mug from the day, or week, before. (Yes, I could have done it at the end of the day before leaving work, but the thought never occurred to me for some reason until the mornings.) I guess I just figured the hot liquid would dissolve the brown crust on the bottom of the mug and kill any lingering germs. I read once that office coffee mugs are a major source of bacteria. Good thing I work from home now and usually use a clean coffee mug. Bacteria dangers aside, caffeine – too much of it anyway – isn’t good for you either, so I hear.

At age 26, I became pregnant with my oldest son. Oddly, I completely lost my craving for coffee (along with a desire for food in general), and thus was planted a seed of realization that I could in fact live without drinking coffee every morning. That seed apparently didn’t grow much right away, since I started drinking coffee daily again when my son was six months old and stopped nursing.  So, back to the addiction I obediently went.

I often made my coffee at night and set a timer, so I could wake up to the smell of it brewing. Not only did this help get up in the morning, it brought back great memories of when my mom used to bring me coffee. Some evenings I decided I wouldn’t need coffee the next morning. When I woke up the next day, I scolded myself for not making coffee the night before and would hurriedly start it brewing all the while sucking in the luxurious aroma and hoping it would get me through until the real stuff was ready.

At one point, I gave up trying to give up coffee. Even though a part of me knew it was possible since I had done it once before, I simply decided that I had fully succumbed to the power of that aroma that seemed to be everywhere. The mall, restaurants, church… I couldn’t get away. I decided it was time to admit that I didn’t want to get away.

When we first got married over 18 years ago, my husband didn’t drink coffee. He failed to understand why I let it gain such a hold in my life. However, after he got to experience my morning mood on a daily basis – we rarely talked in the morning back then – he was just as glad that the coffee was brewing as I was, maybe more so. About 10 years into our marriage, he started drinking coffee. While he didn’t have the level of addiction that I had, he did realize its powers. Not only that, but we found that we enjoyed having coffee together. At that point, I discovered that coffee was not only addictive but that it also was a great medium for developing relationships. Coffee and chatting… life just felt complete.

I was not shy about admitting my addiction to coffee. With the onslaught of coffee houses throughout the country, I realized that I was not the only person living under the direction of a coffee gene. Yet, in the back of my mind, I knew that I could and probably should work to lessen the grip that this addiction had on me. As I matured, I became less okay with the fact that coffee altered my personality.

Thus began my quest to stop drinking coffee, or at least to lessen how much I drank. I tried coffee substitutes (Yuck!), I tried half decaf and half regular coffee (I just couldn’t get past that it wasn’t fully leaded though.), and I tried weaning myself off gradually. I also tried quitting cold turkey a couple of times, but everyone around me quickly agreed that was a really bad idea. The more I tried to quit drinking coffee, the more I realized how much of a hold it had on me. To my growing frustration, I found myself completely unable to break the habit.

About 25 years after the addiction officially began, a variety of factors led to my body finally demanding that I make some significant health changes. My coffee addiction was not the only culprit, with undiagnosed food allergies wreaking the most havoc, but it certainly did illustrate a huge need for balance. With my adrenals in overload, I finally realized that the high level of caffeine in my system was impacting me negatively. The telltale sign? Coffee (or caffeine in any form) being substituted for a good night’s sleep or a nutritious meal. Guilty as charged!

The past five years have produced an amazing change in my health through a variety of factors, not the least of which is breaking the coffee addiction. Today, my primary drinks of choice are tea (yes, I know there’s caffeine in tea) and water. The mug collection is considerably smaller, and my husband and I sometimes have intelligent conversations well before 10:00 in the morning. What’s more is that drinking coffee is now a deliberate choice and not a need that controls my personality. I guess over the past 28 years I’ve not only matured, but I’ve also found a way to change what drives me. Instead of feelings and physical needs, my choices are driven by intelligent information-based research (That even sounds mature!).

What’s interesting in this whole growth process is that I think I actually enjoy coffee more now than when I was fully addicted. Coffee shop outings are a treat, and even the occasional cup of coffee at mid-day gives me an enjoyable reward. When something as simple as coffee no longer controls you but becomes a positive tool in your life, you find that you are strong enough to overcome more than just an addiction to caffeine.  Besides, it turns out that there’s no such thing as a coffee gene anyway.

Note: See “Let’s have coffee” for a related article on the many benefits of drinking coffee.

QUESTION: How does a coffee addiction affect your life?

Sunday Reflections – “Be careful of what you ask for…

… you just might get it!” Ever request something only to regret making the request after receiving what you asked for? Maybe it was a drastic change in hair style, perhaps a job promotion, maybe a running partner pushing you to break a personal record, or perhaps signing up to take a class at a community college or online. In all of these situations, challenging change is experienced. And regardless of the significance of that change, something was requested and expected as a result.

But what many don’t consider before asking is that they might not like the process of change or simply the results themselves. Maybe the hairstyle does not give the desired look intended. (Ladies, I know you understand this.)  Perhaps the new position causes more stress or comes with hidden responsibilities that had you known ahead of time would have caused you to not seek the promotion.  Maybe your body just isn’t cooperating with the increased speed or mileage you asked your running partner to lead you through. Or perhaps the class you are taking ends up being more work than anticipated, and you just are not finding the time necessary to complete the work. (It could just be too hard too.) The point is that often when we ask for a change to take place, we receive an undesired (more like unexpected) result or the process is more difficult than we anticipated, and we question our initial decision to seek that particular change. Change, large or small, is difficult and seems to go against our natural instincts.

There’s a wonderful portion of scripture in Jeremiah 18 that describes God as the Potter and us as the clay. The Potter’s eyes are all-knowing, and He understands exactly what type of vessel each individual should be shaped into. The Potter’s hands are all-powerful, and no circumstance is bigger than He who shapes us. The Potter’s feet go everywhere we go, and He is always present to re-shape us and to put us together again as the difficulties in life cause us to crack and break. The Potter wants to prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11), and no circumstances in which we find ourselves is too big (or to small) for Him. He wants to teach us during difficulties, and he wants to use them to help us grow as well as to learn to depend more on Him.  The process that the Potter takes us through when he molds us and shapes us is often one we ask the Lord to take us through, and it often comes with a more involved process than we anticipated as well as with change that is not only painful but also something we question wanting in the first place.

Often, when it comes to change of any kind, we give up too soon. The change is difficult and painful, and we decide it is not worth the result for which we were striving. We forget that in order for a clay pot to be put on display, it must first go through the fire in order to be strong enough to survive the elements of everyday life. We forget that the Potter also gets dirty too as He goes through the shaping and molding process with us every step of the way. In order to be vessels of use to God and others, we must go through this often painful process.

There are two facts about change with which we must all come to terms. First, change is usually difficult. We like routine and habit, and because of the discomfort, we often avoid or at least resist change in our lives. Second, change is inevitable. You’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting. Since change is going to happen whether we like it or not, we need to set ourselves up to be the kind of clay that makes the best vessels. Doing so will make the discomfort of change at least somewhat less painful.

Interestingly, clay itself comes from granite rock that has undergone years of weathering (contact with sunlight, rain and ice) to undergo a physical change involving being broken down into smaller and smaller particles until it becomes clay. Life this side of heaven has made us into small particles that need shaped. Some clay is better than other for shaping because it is more pliable. In order to be moldable, we must be pliable and able to be shaped. So the question we each need to ask ourselves is, “Will I allow God to shape my life?” We need to consider what we will allow God to do in our lives. The more we deliberately and intentionally allow Him to mold and shape us, the more likely we are to become a vessel worthy of display and use by others, most importantly by God Himself.

Note: This blog post was inspired by “God Treats Me Like Dirt,” a sermon delivered by Associate Pastor Jeffrey Zachary on Sunday, January 15, 2012 at New Hope Assembly of God.

For additional study on this topic, please read the devotion “Change” found in Everday God. This is a section included in the Victory! area of Struggle to Victory.

Sunday Reflections – A Piece of the Puzzle

If you enjoy putting puzzles together, nothing is more frustrating than getting almost done with a puzzle only to find that a piece is missing. What a letdown! No matter what, that puzzle will always be incomplete. There is no substitute for the missing piece. Even if you were to go and buy the exact same puzzle and get the piece you were missing out for the puzzle you put together, the puzzle you took it from would be incomplete. One piece is indispensible for the complete picture that a puzzle creates.

Likewise, you have something I need. Without you, my picture will not be perfect. Without you, there will be a piece missing. If you are reading this, you are a piece of the puzzle that is my life and I yours. With every interaction we have in life, we become a piece of another person’s puzzle. And those pictures combine together to create an even bigger picture.

My boys once put together a puzzle shaped like an elephant. The elephant was made out of hundreds of smaller pictures of other animals. So, not only was the puzzle itself a picture, but within that picture were other pictures. Therefore, a missing piece not only affects the puzzle as a whole, but it also affects all the individual pictures that combine to make up the whole picture.

We all have our own puzzles that are our lives. Each of our lives also combines to create a larger picture. For the Christian, that is the body of Christ. The absence of any one piece and the picture is incomplete. The absence of any person and the whole picture is marred by the gaping hole much like a missing piece stands out in an otherwise-completed puzzle.

A body of believers (often called a church body) works the same way as a puzzle. Every individual in the body is a crucial piece for the complete picture. In the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that “for even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” In other words, we are all integral parts of the whole, which is the body of Christ. Each part has a specific function with a different purpose. We must avoid thinking we are the most important part, but we also must not think we are unimportant either. Instead of comparing one part to another, each part must fulfill its own purpose and must also work together to create a cohesive unit that glorifies Christ.

When a piece of the puzzle is missing in the body of Christ, there is a void that cannot be filled. While that does not mean that the work of Christ won’t ultimately be accomplished, because we know it will, it does mean that it will go forth differently than if that void was filled by the piece created to go in that space. God created each person to play a role in His will with each role being unique and able to be filled by only one person. If you don’t place yourself into the pile of pieces, you can’t become a part of the puzzle and the puzzle essentially can never be completed.

How does this transfer into specific activity? Well, there are three basic steps for helping to complete the puzzle.

  1. Make sure the edge is complete. This means attending a full-gospel, Bible believing church.
  2. Organize the middle pieces. Submit to the structure of leadership. Let them direct the pieces.
  3. Work away diligently. Get in and row the boat. Commit to being a part of the larger picture.

Life is so much bigger than any one person, but each person plays a part in making life complete. No one has all the pieces alone; we all need each other to complete the puzzle. Church is a commitment by each of the individual pieces. God will make room for your gifts and talents in the church, but you have to make sure you are a willing piece of the puzzle. We are each a piece of the puzzle of God’s will within the larger picture of the church. We all need to be in the box together, ready to complete the picture.