Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All

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What Is Reformed Coffee?

medical need for coffee

Question: What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
Answer: That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
The Heidelberg Catechism (1562)

I have been confined to home since I came back from the hospital on Sept. 6th, except for a trip to the doctor. The weather has been in the 90s and 100s and Jack has decided he does not like heat – smart dog. If the BSD must go out, for instance to see someone off, he tries to remain in the shade. And now when Jack Lewis gives an alert, he stays inside waiting for the intruder, and then lets loose an ear-splitting bass bark. He would frighten me, if I didn’t know that Jack is a small dog that is essentially friendly (well, except for that predator thing). Jack Lewis is not really satisfied until the intruder has been identified as friend or foe, and if not a friend, until he has driven everyone in the house to panic. I guess everyone needs a task/role that they excel at.

This morning my occupational therapist (ot) came and Jack felt he had come to play, so the Bible Study Dog was especially frisky: trying to untie the ot’s shoe laces, jumping up on him, licking, sniffing, trying to pull at my bandaged foot, etc. But, there are other things that Jack excels at. When I ask Jack to go into his kennel, he does so immediately, as he did this morning. With just a little whining, Jack Lewis allowed me to finish my exercises. Which reminds me, if I say to the BSD, “Jack, remember we are the non-whining pack”, he will stop whining. Amazing dog, right?

We have had a break in the heat the last few days, so Jack has been staying outside longer. But today, the temperature is expected to rise into the 90s; so the BSD is hunkering down inside and making preparations to survive this day. The Bible Study Dog has noticed that something is missing: the Thursday Night Bible Study. That will not start until I am weight-bearing and we can get the hospital bed and other equipment out of the living room. However, another of our traditions begins again tonight: watching The Voice with a friend (though sometimes I feel like the only one watching, because the others are playing games on their cell phones or iPads or my wife is doing audio to text messaging, which sounds like this: “Blah, blah, blah, Period” repeatedly; maybe I should be the only one allowed to vote, since I’m the only one paying attention). So Jack Lewis is dreaming expectantly about tonight, about shoelaces and culinary opportunities and maybe a voice that he likes.

Let’s talk coffee. But first let’s talk theology (bear with me) so that I can explain what Reformed coffee is. The Reformed tradition is that theology and Christian practices which are especially influenced by the reformer John Calvin of Geneva (la Suisse). Presbyterian churches and other Reformed churches and even some Baptist churches are ‘Reformed’. The above quotation from the Heidelberg Catechism (1562) articulates succinctly some of our convictions. However, the second question and answer gives a basic outline and basic categories for thinking about Reformed theology:

Q. 2. How many things must you know to live and die in the blessedness of this comfort?
A. Three. First, the greatness of my sin and wretchedness. Second, how I am freed from all my sins and their wretched consequences. Third, what gratitude I owe to God for such redemption.

Or I sometimes say:

Or you could think of it as: 1) problem, 2) solution and 3) response.
1. We need to acknowledge how great our sin is, especially against the holy God, and it’s awful consequences. I think of this as whatever pit you’ve got yourself into, along with the horrible things that are in there.
2. We need to acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves but that God offers to free us from our sin and it’s consequences through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (that is, the penalty for our sin is paid and the righteousness of Jesus is counted as ours by the Father) apart from anything we have done. We cannot earn God’s love and forgiveness. But we may reach out and receive from God freedom both from the guilt and power of sin in our lives. God finds you and pulls you out of your pit.
3.The appropriate response to all that God has done and does for us is gratitude and thanksgiving. We cannot earn God’s smile, his love, acceptance and forgiveness. Nor can we earn our salvation. We cannot place God in our debt by our good acts, such that he would owe us. On the other hand, once we have received God’s love and forgiveness and thrown ourselves into the arms of Jesus, becoming trusting disciples of Jesus and learning from him how to live, we may do what pleases God; doing it because we are grateful. Your whole life may become a living out of thanksgiving and praise. Remember that worship, praise and appreciation is what we are created for (see the post “What We Are”); we are happier looking up!

Some studies suggest that coffee has health benefits. I am especially interested in the studies that suggest that caffeinated coffee can help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s and dementia. For many years I have said that Alzheimer’s might be my least favorite way to die. Coffee facilitates social interaction. Until recently, coffee was ubiquitous at Presbyterian churches, causing some people to suggest that it was almost the third Presbyterian sacrament.

But when we speak of Reformed coffee, we have in view the spiritual benefits of coffee. Reformed coffee is strong coffee; I would never accept anything less than a quad (4 shots of espresso). Reformed coffee should be a near-death experience. As the grainy coffee hits the throat and one’s throat and esophagus begin to close, causing desperate attempts to breathe, and suddenly, miraculously the throat opens, oxygen rushes in, then one is so grateful to God to be alive. Gratitude and thanksgiving rise to God!

Note that the last paragraph was written with tongue firmly in cheek and is only half serious. But it is half serious!

This post was powered by the album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (2001) by U2, the albums, “100 Million Eyeballs” (1998), “Triumphantine” (1999) and “Time and Space” (2010), all by Miss Angie, and “Your Love Never Fails” (2008) by Jesus Culture.



Prayer – Part Uno/Uns/Eins/One

Coffee an alternative

Jack, the Bible Study Dog, has recovered quite well from his difficulties noted in an earlier post. Tonight, Jack and I have been involved in prayer, more specifically in supplication, which means simply asking, and more specifically still, supplication to Terry that she go to Starbucks and use my free birthday drink to buy me a quad venti skinny caramel macchiatto, and then to the store to buy double shot coffee plus energy drinks, one of which I require each morning. Jack knows that I am more responsive to his interests if I am not comatose. When first supplicated, Terry said she would go tomorrow morning. That’s O.K. But, out of the blue, she said, “Maybe I’ll put some clothes on and go out tonight.” Immediately our ears perked up (though it’s hard to tell with Jack because his ears are almost always erect) and our eyes brightened. Our hope is leaking away now.

Coffee is very important to some generations of Presbyterians, like mine. It has been called the third Presbyterian sacrament. Presbyterian and Reformed theology can be placed under the categories of Guilt, Grace and Gratitude, in that order (see especially the first two questions of the Heidelberg Catechism). Part of what this means is that instead of serving God to gain his favor and acceptance, we serve God out of Gratitude for what he has done for us in creation and redemption (in Grace). Well, I used to joke with my congregation that truly Reformed coffee should be a near-death experience. It should be so strong that after a swallow, as the constricted throat begins to open up and we gasp for air, great praise and gratitude begins to rise to God because we are alive (or we survived)! Don’t get me started on how coffee may help in avoiding and treating dementia. The life of the mind is so valued by Presbyterians (ha, ha)!

People at the Thursday Night Bible Study often remark that Jack seems to be praying. And he is, though perhaps not to God (yet I remember the Scripture text, “the young lions seek their prey from God”). Jack will look intently at me while I am teaching or praying, hoping I will give him a table scrap. He is a firm believer in the Scripture, “you have not because you ask not”. He has also been experimenting with different postures of supplication, noting the relative results of his prayers. Of course, since dogs are opportunistic predators, Jack might take closed eyes as an invitation to steal food off a table.

These experiences point to common patterns in our supplications to God. Sometimes I pray for something (wisdom, answer for an issue, healing of body or soul, to find the keys, etc.) and the answer comes immediately, tonight or in the morning. Other times I think I know when in the future an answer will come, and it comes then or doesn’t and maybe comes at a later time. And some prayers do not seem to have been answered yet (though the answer could, of course, be “no”). See my post, “We Shape One Another”, to see how we take on God’s character and desires, and so praying God’s desires back to him, we participate in shaping our world along with God. But we are not talking about that now.

We are talking about continuing to pray with mixed results. Jack sometimes judges that his persistence is likely to go unrewarded at this time, and so, he retires from the field of battle to take a nap and gather his energy for another assault. But persistence will result in greater alertness to ‘answers’ or opportunities, what Jack calls “ops”. Also over time we find that our desires and prayers are being sorted out so that we learn what kinds of prayers God desires or what kinds might be successful.

But then there is this, embodied in a parable/story by Jesus. Jack could tell this kind of story in his sleep. Watching his rapid eye movements, I suspect he is. The story:

“And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”‘ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?'” (Luke 18:1-8, ESV)

Of course God is not “unrighteous” and I hope that Jack does not think that I am. Also, “justice” is a more profound, and in a sense, ‘bigger’ prayer than prayer for finding a parking place. But Jesus himself said that the story was simply told that we might always pray and never lose heart. As a child I sang the song: “Seek and ye shall find; Knock and the door will be opened; Ask and the love will come a-tumbling down.”

May we all not lose heart but live with courage and hope!

This post was powered by “Forever and a Day” (2003) by Anthony Skinner and “Dig” (1992) and “Homeboys” (1990) both by Adam Again.