Surely My Life Is Worth More Than Nineteen Feet Of Stuff. Right?

stuff

According to the U-Haul website, a nineteen foot truck is sufficient to move a three bedroom house. After moving the contents of my three bedroom house, using a nineteen foot truck, I can only conclude that U-Haul based its estimate on a monastic family, which has taken a vow of poverty. We packed that truck as full as full could be, and I can say without any exaggeration, that we didn’t have a spare inch left. As I surveyed the truck, I thought to myself, My family has become the Beverly Hillbillies. The folks who are going to help us unload are going to think we’re hoarders!

As I surveyed the truck, I was also freshly reminded that life is about so much more than stuff.

Life is about forming wonderful memories with Jen, Charis, Ella, and Gwendolyn. About eating ice cream together on a hot summer night. About having tickle fights on the bed. About the girls singing “Let It Go” over and over and over. About Charis learning to ride a bike without training wheels. About Gwendolyn singing Aviici in her tiny, two year-old voice. About dance parties in the kitchen.

Life is about the blessing of having godly parents. Parents who regularly read the Bible. Parents who taught me that you can’t outgive God. Parents who regularly take my kids out to McDonalds for fries and chocolate milk. Parents who only want the best for you, even if the best means moving far away. Parents who drive twenty-one hours, from Pennsylvania to Florida, in order to help you move. Parents who still give their grown children money when things get tight.

Life is about enjoying the wonderful gifts God sprinkles throughout each day. An ice cold Coke on a blistering hot day. A soothing shower after a long run. The swish-plop sound of a fishing lure being cast out, then landing on the water. The smell of freshly ground gourmet coffee.

Most importantly, life is about loving Jesus. About filling every nook and cranny of my life with the wonderful light and love of Jesus Christ. About living in light of eternity. About pouring myself out in service to Jesus, knowing that it’s best to die empty. About devoting my limited talents and skills to the cause of making Jesus Christ known.

After taking stock of all that he had accumulated, and concluding that it was all vanity, Solomon came to a surprising conclusion. You would expect him to conclude that all of life is pointless, a futile game in which no one wins. But he doesn’t. Rather, Solomon concludes that the good life isn’t achieved by collecting things, but rather, by enjoying the simple, good pleasures that God himself provides.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 ESV)

I spend so much time thinking about stuff. Getting new stuff, taking care of stuff I already own, and on and on. But when I see all my stuff jammed into a nineteen foot truck, I realize that life isn’t really about stuff. Life is about loving Jesus and loving people. I want to invest my life in those things.

It’s Not Enough To Win The Head, We Need To Win The Heart

We tend to think that if we can simply convice a person of the rightness or correctness of an idea, then they’ll bring their behavior in line with that idea. If we can convince our kids that purity is the right thing to do, then they’ll be pure. If we can convince people that homosexuality is wrong, then they’ll stay away from all homosexual activity. If we can persuade people that life begins at conception, then they’ll oppose abortion. If we can effectively make the case for a Creator, then people will believe in God.

So we write books and blog posts in which we clearly state our case, point by lucid point. We deluge Facebook with snarky status updates. We sign petitions and arrange protests. We write open letters to this person or that person. We call our senators, stating that we oppose this or that bill. We set up debates between Creationists and Evolutionists. We have purity balls and purity rings, which, in my opinion, are a bit on the creepy side.

And while all these things have their place, I think they ignore one, fundamental, massive truth: people are primary people of desire, not ideas. Our behavior is usually driven, first and foremost, by what we want, not what we think. A young man may have all the head knowledge in the world about purity, but when he’s alone with his girlfriend in his car, that knowledge is quickly overwhelmed by desire.

This means, then, that if we’re going to win people to Jesus, we need to aim for both the head and the heart. We need to change people ideas and their desires.

If I want my daughters to pursue purity, I need to convince them that purity is morally right, but I also need to show them that purity is a beautiful thing. I need to help my daughters see that following Jesus is and obeying Jesus really is the truly good life. I want them to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8). I want them to know that Jesus offers fullness of joy and pleasures forever more (Ps. 16:11). To paraphrase John Piper, I want them to see that the pleasures offered by Jesus are superior to the pleasures offered by sexual sin.

If I want my friend to stop engaging in homosexual activity and to start pursuing sexual purity, I need to convince him that homosexuality is morally wrong, but I also need to show him that Jesus truly offers the good life. I need to show him that the kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field, or a pearl of priceless worth (Matt. 13:44-46).

I’m concerned that Christians are becoming more known for what we’re against than what we’re for. People know that we’re against gay marriage, against abortion, against the legalization of marijuana, against liberal politics, and against Hollywood. Do people know what we’re for? Do people know that we’re for the wonderful, satisfying, good life, which Jesus Christ offers? Do people know that we’re for the rest and peace and joy which Jesus offers? Do people know that we’re for the complete and total forgiveness which is found only in Jesus?

Let’s take a stand against things, when necessary. But let’s not make the mistake Westboro Baptist Church makes, of only proclaiming the things we’re against. Let’s also loudly proclaim the goodness and joy and gladness found in Jesus Christ. The reality is, joy is a much more effective evangelism tool than outrage.

NOTE: The idea that we are fundamentally creatures of desire first came to me through James K. A. Smith’s book, Desiring The Kingdom.

How To Serve The Lord In The Way That Pleases Him

Serve

You can tell a lot about a company or a company’s leader by observing its employees.

If the employees are cheerful and helpful, you think their company or  boss must be great to work for. If Christians are discontent, grumble and act down-in-the mouth like Eeyore, what does that say about our Master? If we’re doing the right thing but our heart isn’t in it, it says God isn’t a good master, that he doesn’t take care of us, satisfy us or make us glad, that we didn’t make a good decision by calling on his name.

God tells us in Ps 100:2:

Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

When we sing to God we should do it with glad hearts. How does God feel if we say, OK, I’ll worship, because I have to, but I won’t like it. In Malachi, God rebuked the priests because of their lack of joy in serving him:

But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. Malachi 1:13

The priests were doing their duty – they were offering the sacrifices – but they didn’t bring their best and rather than serving the Lord joyfully they said, “What a weariness this is.”

How often are we tempted to have the same attitude. When that difficult brother or sister needs for the hundredth time, when we must tend to our kooky children or care for a sick parent, when we must serve our spouse – we too can think “What a weariness this is.” I know because I have done this.

Yet Scripture calls us to do all things as unto the Lord:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. CO 3:23-24

Whether it’s working on a spreadsheet, shoveling manure, changing a diaper or doing the dishes, we are to work heartily as for the Lord – “you are serving the Lord Christ.” And we are to serve the Lord with gladness. God rebuked Israel for failure to serve him joyfully:

Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything….DT 28:47-48

We have every reason to serve the Lord with gladness – he saved us, washed our sins away, and made us joint-heirs with Christ! So what if we have to deal with a difficult brother, we’re saved! So what if our job is boring, nothing can separate us from God’s love! I’m not saying it’s easy to serve the Lord cheerfully. But if we will pray and ask for grace to serve him joyfully he’ll pour it out.

The gladness of servants speaks volumes about their Master. Let’s serve the Lord with cheerful, glad, joyful hearts today and show the world what an incredible Master we have.

A Question I Never Ask Myself

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A few years ago John Stossel hosted an ABC special called “The Mystery of Happiness: Who Has It & How to Get It.”

Stossel pointed out that three hundred years ago, life was really and hard most people had to endure poverty and disease in a struggle to achieve eternal happiness in Heaven. Stossel also mentioned that when Thomas Jefferson included the right to the pursuit of happiness in our Constitution that was a radical idea that changed American life.

What stood out to me from what I remember about the program was that when Stossel asked people in poorer nations if they were happy he often got the answer, “I don’t even think about that question.” Yet in the United States, where one of our inalienable rights is the pursuit of happiness, many people are continually evaluating whether they are happy or not and relentlessly pursuing that elusive bluebird of happiness.

I don’t ask myself if I’m happy. I don’t believe the Bible encourages us to be continually evaluating ourselves as to whether or not we are “happy.” Now before you jump all over me and send me a score of Bible verses about happiness, I believe that Jesus gives us deep biblical joy. But rather than asking myself am I happy, rather I ask myself questions like these: Am I rejoicing? Am I content in Christ? Am I trusting Jesus? Do I have hope in him? These would be the questions I would ask myself rather than “Am I happy.”

I regularly ask Jesus to fill me with his joy. And he does. But at the same time Paul also said that he was “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

I don’t have happy feelings all the time. But I am so glad that Jesus saved me and washed my sins away with his blood and I try to regularly thank him that he will never leave me nor forsake me and that someday I will see his face. I regularly rejoice that his mercies are new every morning and his steadfast love never ceases.

Sometimes people translate the word “Blessed” as” Happy.” I see them as two different things. To be blessed is to be favored by God. To be the object of his grace. But to be blessed does not necessarily mean I will have happy feelings. In the beatitudes, Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those reviled and persecuted for Christ’s sake. None of these things make you feel particularly happy.

Should we pursue happiness? If you mean pursue Jesus Christ who will satisfy our deepest desires, then yes. If we pursue happiness apart from Jesus, then we will certainly come up empty-handed. If we seek Jesus and his will we will be fulfilled even if we are not technically “happy.”

I often think about Christians who are suffering horrifically for their faith in North Korean prison camps. If we were to ask them if they are happy I would imagine they would not describe themselves as “happy.” I can’t imagine they would ask themselves that question. But I believe they would say that despite the agonies they endure for the glory of Jesus, that ultimately they are blessed and someday will experience the weight of glory their sufferings are preparing.

Am I happy when I suffer or things don’t go my way? Not necessarily, but I can be joyful. I can rejoice and do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Don’t pursue happiness. Don’t ask yourself if you are happy. Pursue Christ. Ask him for joy and let him take care of the happiness part.

Flappy Bird, Fame, and the American Dream

The first time I played Flappy Bird on my iPhone, I thought, Okay, this game seems kind of fun. 

The second time I played Flappy Bird, I thought, Wow, this game is kind of hard. 

The third time I played Flappy Bird, I wanted to set my phone on fire, then throw it across the room, then drown it in the toilet.

Because the game is hard. Really, really hard. Almost as hard as the original Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles game for Nintendo. Almost as hard as the last level of Super Mario Bros. 2. But the game is also kind of addicting, so you get stuck in the endless cycle of playing, dying, playing, dying, playing, swearing in your head, dying, almost swearing out loud, playing, saying a fake swear, like “sugar”, and dying. It’s kind of like drugs, except without the horrible withdrawl symptoms and the need to rob a bank to pay for your next fix. It’s kind of like the lottery, except you win the lottery more frequently.

The game is/was massively popular, and, according to some reports, the creator of the game, Dong Ngyuen, was making $50,000 per day from the game. The game had more than 500,000 four star reviews in the Apple App Store. I say “had”, because Dong Ngyuen suddenly decided to remove the game from the store. According to Ngyuen, he simply couldn’t take it anymore.

This series of events strikes me as simultaneously amazing and predictable. Dong Ngyuen reached the top. He achieved the American dream of being rich and being able to make money doing what he loved. Yet, when he finally got to the top, Ngyuen discovered that it’s not as great as everyone thinks. He achieved his dream, then realized that his dream was ruining his life.

The entire Flappy Bird saga is a reminder that, apart from Christ, everything is vanity. You may achieve your dream, but if you don’t have Jesus you’ll soon discover that your dream was rather hollow. Cynthia Heimel wrote:

I pity [celebrities]. No, I do. [Celebrities] were once perfectly pleasant human beings…but now…their wrath is awful…More than any of us, they wanted fame. They worked, they pushed…The morning after…each of them became famous, they wanted to take an overdose…because that giant thing they were striving for, that fame thing that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment and…happiness, had happened. And nothing changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable. (Quoted by Tim Keller in “King’s Cross”, pg. 29)

How To Fight The Good Fight For Joy

http-www.flickr.comphotosmeesterdickey432953792

Christians should be marked by joy. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. If knowing Jesus doesn’t bring us a deeper joy than those who don’t know him, what’s the point? This doesn’t mean Christians don’t suffer and experience depression, discouragement, sadness and grief. Paul said in 2 Co 6:10 that he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” So somehow, even in the throes of sorrow, Paul had joy.

Jesus promised us joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Ultimately our fullness of joy will be in heaven. But Jesus wants us to know his joy now. Believers begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit in this life, and one of those fruits is joy.

Ps 16:11 says “in your presence there is fullness of joy.” Though fullness of joy awaits us in heaven, we begin to taste that joy in this life.

So how do we experience Christ’s joy now? As John Piper says, it’s a fight, part of the good fight of faith. Here are some ways to fight:

Realize that all lasting joy is found in Christ. Jeremiah 2:13 says “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” When we look to anything else but Jesus for lasting joy we’ll come up empty.

Abide in Christ. Seek him, walk with him, rest in him, trust him. In John 15:9-11 Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Take in God’s Word. Jeremiah 15:16 says Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.”  God’s word is a conduit of his joy to us.  As we continue to take it in, believe and obey it, it becomes a joy and delight.  His promises give us hope and make us glad.

Thank him and praise him for as much as you can. Thank him for spiritual blessings and material blessings. A thankful heart is a joyful heart.

Ask Jesus for joy. As David prayed in Psalm 51:12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”

Contemplate your salvation and heaven to come. In Luke 10:20 Jesus said, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Tell yourself to hope in God.  David took himself by the collar and shook himself in Psalm 42:5-6 and said, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Jesus came for our joy. Sometimes it’s not easy to experience, but if we continue to abide in Christ it will be worth it. No one in heaven will say it wasn’t worth going through what they went through on earth. So don’t give up.  Keep fighting the good fight.

Why I Want To Be Cheerful

“Be always as cheerful as ever you can,
For few will delight in a sorrowful man.

“Hood, visited by a clergyman whose features, as well as language, were lugubrious, looked up at him compassionately and said, “My dear sir, I’m afraid your religion doesn’t agree with you.” The same remark might be made to others who seem to have just religion enough to make them miserable. They forget the precept “Rejoice in the Lord.” – Spurgeon, Salt Cellars (Spurgeons Collection of Proverbs)

I love cheerful people. I want to be cheerful (not lugubrious – good word!). I want our church to be filled with cheerful people.

Not annoying, fake cheerful Pollyanna people. But real, honest, cheerful people. People who know how to cry and listen to others in their suffering. For there is a time for everything – a time to rejoice and a time to mourn. People who truly care. Yet as much as possible, I hope our church would be known for being genuinely joyful and cheerful.

Cheerfulness honors God. It says, “I serve a great Master. He’s an amazing God who does great things for me.” The Bible talks a lot about joy. About fullness of joy in God’s presence. About the joy of our salvation. One of the fruits of the Spirit of joy.

Believers should be joyful because of who God is: “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” (Ps 43:4). God is our exceeding joy. Does your demeanor (another good word) say “God is my exceeding joy”?

If we’re regularly downcast, grumpy, depressed Eeyores, who’s going to want what we have? “If that’s what Jesus does for him, I think I’ll pass.”

Jesus was joyful. Little children were attracted to him. I don’t believe any child would have been attracted to the Jesus of so many movies who looks like his dog just died when he drones in his best Shakespearian accent: “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Quick kids, run! Get away!

I want the kids in our church to remember me as being cheerful. Hopefully, someday they’ll know it’s because of Jesus. I love interacting with kids. Once I visited a woman in our church who was sick and when I pulled up I saw her son dressed in full military gear, stalking his big brother. I called him over to me. “Soldier. Tell me your name.” He said, “Sergeant Fichner.” I almost lost it on the spot. Not Sergeant Rock, Braveheart or Custer, but Sergeant Fichner. How does a kid come up with Sergeant Fichner? Anyway, I grilled him about every weapon he carried then dismissed him with a salute. From then on whenever I saw him at church, I would immediately stand at attention and salute him. “Sergeant Fichner, Private Altrogge reporting for duty — SIR!”

We have so much to be cheerful about. More than anybody in the world who doesn’t know Jesus: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Ps 4:7

Now I realize we all have different temperaments and we’re all going through different things. But as much as you can be cheerful. Ask Jesus to fill you with the joy of your salvation (PS 51:12). Read God’s word and grab onto his promises. God’s word produces joy as the author of Psalm 119 says, “Your testimonies…are the joy of my heart.” (v111). It’s clearly God’s will for us to have joy, for Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). It’s these and many more promises that embolden me to ask Jesus for his joy.

Not only will you bless others by cheerfulness, but you will be blessed by it: “All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.” (Proverbs 15:15). God loves a cheerful giver (2 CO 9:7). Why does God love a cheerful giver? Because God is the ultimate giver, who gave his Son for us and rejoices to give good things to us.

Again, I’m not denying that Christians get depressed and anxious and sick and go through horrific trials. Every one of us will go through afflictions of various kinds and at times be grieved and downcast. But God’s ultimate plan is to wipe away every tear from our eyes and everlasting joy will be on our heads. And we can have a taste of that now. So as much as you can, ask Jesus for his joy and seek to be a cheerful witness.

If you don’t I just might have Sergeant Fichner pay you a visit.

Six Surefire Steps To A Joy-Filled Life

[This post was written by my fellow pastor Bob Mundorff]

John 15:7-11  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Step 1: Be a Christian.

  • “Abide in me…” If you trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, you are “in Christ”.

Step 2: Read God’s Word.

  • “If you… and my words abide in you…” Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, so take in more Bible than food.

Step 3: Pray answered prayers.

  • “If you… (you do steps 1 and 2), ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” If God’s words abide in you, you’ll pray them. And he’ll answer them.

Step 4: Prove your faith by bearing much fruit.

  • “If you…  bear much fruit and so prove…” Fruitful work for Christ brings both glory to God and assurance of salvation.

Step 5: Abide in Jesus’ love.

  • “If you… Abide in my love…” How? See step 6.

Step 6: Keep Jesus’ Commandments.

  • “If you keep my commandments…” This fulfills step 5. Jesus said that we abide in his love by keeping his commands. A very necessary final ingredient in the recipe for joy.

Result – Guaranteed Joy.

Another Way to Make Yourself Miserable

Some of you are way too happy, and you’re wondering, What can I do to increase my current level of misery?

Search no further, I’ve got just what you need. Call me the medicine man of misery, or alternatively, Dr. Gloom. If you want to double your misery level by 100%, here’s what you need to do:

Get so caught up in what you need to do for God that you forget all that he’s done for you.

This is so easy even a new Christian can do it! Here’s how it works.

Spend as much time as you can thinking about what you need to do for God. Think long and hard about all the ways that you’re failing, and picture, if you can, how unhappy God must be with you. As you read the Bible, make sure you turn a blind eye to all the indicative passages – the passages that talk about what God has done – and laser in on the imperative passages, which tell you how to live.

Don’t thank God for the gospel. Instead, fill your prayers with pleas for holiness and nothing else.

Whatever you do, do not allow yourself to ponder the depths of your own depravity. You might find yourself in total despair, which could lead you to accidentally trust wholly in Christ. Wouldn’t want that to happen!

Until next time, stay miserable my friends. Stay miserable.

How Joyful Are You This Christmas (And The Rest Of The Year)?

Christmas is the season of joy.  Yeah right.

As Paul McCartney sings, “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time,” I see haggard looking parents pushing their gift-laden baskets through the aisles of stores yelling at their kids, “If you ask one more time we’re going home and never coming back ever again.  And you will eat oatmeal from now on.  Without sugar.  And we’re never going to McDonald’s again either!”  (I once threatened to never take my kids to McDonald’s again.  Empty threat #302).

Would people describe you as joyful?

Would your co-workers and neighbors?  Would your classmates and roommates say you’re cheerful?  If your friends knew no other Christians but you what would their impression of Christianity be?  Would little kids describe you as happy or fun?  This quote by D Martin Lloyd Jones challenges me:

“Nothing is more important, therefore, than that we should be delivered from the condition which gives other people, looking at us, the impression that to be a Christian means to be unhappy, to be sad, to be morbid, and that the Christian is one who ‘scorns delights and lives laborious days’…..It behooves us, therefore, not only for our own sakes, but also for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the glory of the Christ in whom we believe, to represent Him and His cause, His message and His power in such a way that men and women, far from being antagonized, will be drawn and attracted as they observe us, whatever our circumstances or condition.  We must so live that they will be compelled to say: would to God I could be like that, would to God I could live in this world and go through this world as that person does.”

Christians should be joy radiators. And not just at Christmas.  This doesn’t mean we’re rosy-eyed Pollyannas who wear pasted on fake smiles all the time. This doesn’t even necessarily mean we feel happy. But there’s a joy in Christ that’s deep and lasting and real.  And others should see something of it in us.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)

Think about it.  God has freely forgiven our multitudes of sins, counted us righteous in Christ, adopted as his own children, and given us the hope of eternally gazing on Christ’s beauty.  His mercies are new every morning and he has promised to never cease doing good to us.  Are you feeling joyful yet?  No?  Ok, he redeems your life from the pit, crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:4-5).  I hope you are at least smiling a little.

The somber, depressed looking Jesus portrayed in movies wouldn’t attract anyone, much less children, as he mutters in a flat Shakesperian accent, “Suffuh the little children to come unto to me,” with about as much delight as an annoyed junior high school principal talking to a troublemaker for the hundredth time.

Let’s ask Jesus to fill us with so much of his joy that people say, “Would to God I could be like that, would to God I could live in this world and go through this world as that person does.”

photo by Aspex Design