“I Heard That!”

My dad used to irritate me when I was a kid.

Sometimes I’d ask him a question and he wouldn’t respond. I’d ask it again and he still wouldn’t answer. He’d usually respond if I asked the same question the third time.

Since I’ve had kids of my own, I think I know why he didn’t reply. Constant questions can get annoying.

Have you ever been like my father when God speaks to you? You hear His voice, but you pretend not to.

Has someone ever asked you something and you closed you heart to him?

Whoever wrote the letter to the Hebrews quoted parts of Psalms 95:7,8 three times in the first four chapters. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did…” (Heb. 3:7-9)  Continue reading

Meeting God In “Thin Places”

One of my favorite places to go with my wife was Cochem in Germany. Over a millennium ago, men founded this town. Though today’s atmosphere was probably created more by the Chamber of Commerce than by history, when you’re there you feel like you step back hundreds of years in time.

Phyllis and I accidentally discovered it in 1988 as we wandered alongside the Moselle River, driving up from nearby Luxembourg. Friends had offered to watch the kids so we could get away. We spent the night in a bed and breakfast in Cochem, and the next day went to see the Eltz castle in the forest northeast of town.

The little boy and the historian in me fell in love and Phyllis and I went back several other times, creating vivid memories together—the night of the festival with all the oom-pa-pa music, and the people in old German costumes, for example.

Funny, but we often connect places with good times or bad times. That is a good place for me. A really good place.


Cochem, Germany

Morning Places

I’m a bit like that about the place where I read my Bible and pray in the morning. Just like some Christians are attached to a certain pew, I like to meet the Lord at a spot where I have memories.

At the moment it’s the back deck of our house (it’s really the back porch but I said “deck” so that you younger readers would know what I’m talking about). Before I get my work day gets started,  I love to sit out there. The quietness soothes me. Note, “quietness,” still includes birds singing and crickets cricketing. We’ve got a couple of Robins who think they own the place and we are their renters.

The day has intruded on the night; the sunshine is fresh and soft and I can get centered with God for what’s ahead. Continue reading

Stop Communicating Like a Two-Year Old!

baby-476888_640When it comes to riding trains, I’m still a little boy. I love the high-speed trains that speed through the French countryside.

The other day we were going somewhere on the Eurostar and our seat was right behind two ladies and a baby. A loud baby. A persistant baby who wasn’t a contented camper.

Have you ever noticed that when a little one is not happy he has ways of letting you know? He screams, turns red, throws a fit and keeps it up until everyone else around him is wondering why that woman was allowed to give birth (except we’re patient because we’ve all been there. It’s happened to us, too).

Now unhappy adults communicate their emotions more subtly. They scream, turn red, and throw a fit. Some of them anyway.

We’ve got our grown-up ways of throwing tantrums that are even more uncomfortable for others, don’t we? For instance:

Big chill in the room–

Him: “What’s wrong?”

Her: “Nothing!”

Him: “Did I do something?”

Her: “Nothing is wrong!”

Him: “Are you sure?”


She leaves the room, slamming the door. Continue reading

Coming Alive ! Or the Saga of the Dead Battery

My computer battery and I have something in common—we both run out of juice quickly if you use us somewhere where there’s no other power source.

The other day I dutifully followed my wife to the furniture store to buy a couch. She could have done it without me because I only have two prerequisites before buying—how much does it cost and will it be comfortable for naps? Actually, I’ll admit that it would be nice if it looked good too. I don’t want to be embarrassed by a huge green slab of something or other masquerading as a couch in my living room.

The first ten minutes I was there I spied a lot of couches that would do—white ones, brown ones, leather ones, soft ones. I was ready to buy one of them, but you know as well as I do that no one gets off that easily. We looked at them; sat on them; considered their fabric; and whatever. But the longer we went the more I could sense my “battery” running down.

Shoes stores have a similar effect on me. Bookstores on the other hand …

So, to avoid melting to the floor in a useless heap, I told her to buy the one she wanted and I sunk onto one of the couches that we were (maybe) going to buy. Ahhh … There, in a near comatose state, I pulled out my trusty mp3 player and started listening to one of my favorite podcasts. That has a way of renewing me. It’s like spinach for Popeye.

I listened and watched people coming and going. Two young ladies and a little girl were puttering around a little distance from me when one of the ladies, who seemed to be in her late 20’s, lit up like a three-year old who has just been offered an ice cream cone. I looked to see the cause of the smile and I spotted a man about 15 years older coming towards her.

They began to talk and there were lots of little smiles from her. He kind of leaned against a table and looked debonair and handsome—at least as debonair and handsome as a guy in his mid-40’s with a beer belly could look. She sent out little signals like … I really don’t know how it is you ladies send them out, but she was broadcasting.

And he was leaning there trying to look like a hunk. And he did–a hunk of something.

I knew they weren’t married. You know how? I cheated a bit because I didn’t tell you that the mama tried to get her little girl to greet the guy and the little one didn’t want anything to do with him.

But I would have known anyway because they were too nice to each other, and too interested in each other. Married people don’t act like that, do they?

Walk through the store and see what you can see. Couples with scowls on their faces, stressed out, not happy with each other. They look like they are trying to rack up “frequent frowner” miles.

Fortunately, not every one is like that, but far too many fill the bill.

I’ve got a personal question to ask? M’aam have you smiled at your husband today? And you, sir, have you done your “Tom Cruise cool” look to try to please her? (I know lots of you and I’d like to see your “Tom Cruise cool” look. That should be good).

Or have you at least been kind and spoken sweetly to each other today?

“Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out. Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.” (1 Thessa. 5:15-18, The Message)

If God expects us to treat other Christians like that, how much more should we work to treat our spouse and our children with kindness and affection? We have to work to make sure that the atmosphere in our home is an atmosphere of love and caring. We worked hard at our relationship before we were married. Why not now?

This Coffee Stain comes with an assignment. Go find your spouse and give him or her the sweetest smile you possess. Say something nice.

Then write me back an tell me how it turned out.

“It’s never enough to be sympathetic with the pain that others are feeling. You also have to understand what causes the pain, and then you have to do something about it. You have to figure out how you can make changes to help alleviate the pain.” Joe Ehrmann quoted in Season of Life by Jeffry Marx

Buy Her Back!

Go bring her back.”

“What!” Hosea couldn’t be sure he’d heard God right. Didn’t he know what that woman had put him through?

He had known about her past when he married her but he forgave it and looked forward to a happy life. Slowly, though, he began to suspect that she was unfaithful to him. His last two children’s name reflect that fear. The last one’s name meant simply, “Not mine.” Kind of a strong hint as to his feelings, huh?

Finally his wife Gomer (nice name) got tired of the pretense. Kids, fussy husband, God…that kind of life was too slow for her. She took off. Good-looking men, plenty of money, and a life of ease without crying babies and nasty diapers was her thing. She went back to prostitution. “Sorry about that Hosea; take good care of the kids.”

She left the preacher with three children, two probably not even his, and a broken heart. He lived like this for quite a while. Working, taking care of little ones, praying, hurting–life wasn’t so happy any more but he made do.

He heard news of Gomer from time to time and each time the report was worse. You can’t live that fast for very long and the years started to eat away at the beauty of his attractive wife. Finally one day he heard news that shocked him. She was going to be sold into slavery. As much as he hated what she had done to him, he couldn’t rejoice. Amazingly, he still loved her.

Then God said, “Buy her back.” What?

She probably thought he was enjoying his revenge when he bought her for that paltry sum. But then he surprised her with his love. “You’re for me and no one else now and I’m yours and no one else’s now,” he said tenderly. “What does he see in me?” she must have asked herself. She wasn’t “hot” anymore; she had treated him worse than dirt–and he still loved her?

Hosea’s explanation was simply, “That’s the way God loves his unfaithful people.” If they would let Him, He would buy them back from their sin, even if there’s not a lot left to be desired.

Marriage is a funny thing. We often think we marry one person and we find they’re not like the illusion we had. What do you do? Quit and start over? Hosea had Biblical and ethical grounds for divorce. But his love kept reaching out to his wife. Like God’s love, his wasn’t egotistical.


Many people have found themselves married to someone whose personality has been warped by a difficult childhood or difficult circumstances in life. And, let’s face it, some people are just plain ornery–no excuses.

The result can be a spouse who doesn’t communicate, or who is dominant, or depressive, or verbally abusive, or…, or…,etc.

What do we do in a case like that? “Go get her back!” Not so easy? It wasn’t easy for Hosea either. I imagine that even after Gomer came home it took a while to establish a relationship.

Communication is one of the keys. Screaming or preaching to the difficult partner doesn’t work long. That’s not communication, that’s attacking. You just make them love you less.

Try to create situtations where you can talk.

When my daugter Christi was young if I took her to the restaurant and fed her fried chicken she’d tell me anything I wanted to know. Like a good preacher’s daughter she loved our fowl friends.

Communication is hard work. We need to see what kind of situations encourage our spouse to talk and work to have more and more of them. “Go get her back.” One day Hosea was dreaming out loud, “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.” (Hos. 2:14). Maybe the desert nights had been special to Hosea and Gomer when they were young and in love. He wanted to create a situation where communication could happen.

Obviously it’s not easy, but if difficult people are ever going to be reached it will be by the firm, loving, patient, reaching out of someone who loves him. Living with a selfish, difficult person isn’t easy but God calls us to prayerfully reach past the barriers and bring his love into our partner’s life.


“The weakness of our hunger for God is not because He is unsavory, but because we keep ourselves stuffed with “other things.” Perhaps, then, the denial of our stomach’s appetite for food might express, or even increase our soul’s appetite for God.” John Piper in A Hunger for God