Rules matter, but grace matters more

I’m home. Finally. After two weeks of crazy travel and general insanity, my folks braved the construction traffic and picked me up from good old Mid-Continent airport yesterday evening. The journey home from Chicago was somewhat ridiculous, since I couldn’t get a direct flight, so I got from Chicago to Wichita by way of Minneapolis. And something happened on that first flight from Chicago to Minneapolis that’s somewhat embarrassing….

I couldn’t get my seatbelt fastened.

Like, not at all. It was like somehow the belt in my airplane seat was designed for a stick person. Now, I’m not in denial here. I know I’m not a small person, and thanks to two weeks of eating trade show food, I’m pretty sure I didn’t lose any weight, no matter how many miles I walked every day. But this has never happened to me before.

My first reaction was utter horror. How humiliating is it to be unable to buckle your seat belt on an airplane? My next reaction was terror. I’d never been on an airplane before without a buckled seat belt. What would the flight attendants do if they found out? Would they throw me off the plane? Would they make me stand up and have to explain why I couldn’t get the belt fastened?

I actually sat and prayed because I didn’t know what to do. I could tell them that I couldn’t get the belt fastened, but what good would it do? There were no empty seats. We were already getting ready to take off. And–let’s face it–if the plane crashes, is a seat belt really going to help all that much? I mean, maybe it will. I don’t know. I’ve never been in a plane crash.

In any case, I didn’t see that they would be able to do anything about it, other than just tell me to sit still and not say anything. So that’s what I did. I pulled the belt across as tightly as I could, so as far as anyone could tell, I was buckled. Even though I wasn’t.

Nobody asked me about it. Nobody gave me any trouble. Nobody threw me off the plane or made me stand up and promise to lose weight before I fly again. And as I sat there rigid as a post through the whole flight, the only thing I could think about was yesterday’s post–about following rules.

Rules are important. They’re essential. We have to know the rules so we know where the boundaries are. God gives us rules so that we know what’s right and wrong, what’s good for us and what’s bad for us. But what happens when you can’t obey the rules?

The rule on this plane was to wear your seat belt when you’re sitting down, and I couldn’t get my seat belt fastened. Maybe the belt was too short. Maybe I’d had one too many cookies at the trade shows. Either way, I was going to have to disobey a rule. So what did that make me? Willfully disobedient?

Sometimes, life happens. Sometimes you make a decision to break a rule because you don’t see that you have another choice. Nobody can obey all the rules all the time. So what happens when you break the rules when you knew better?

Aircraft_SeatbeltToday’s verses are Romans 3:20-24.

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

Nobody can obey the law all the time. Nobody can be perfect. God knows that. That’s why He gives us grace every day.

That doesn’t mean we’re free to run around breaking God’s rules just because we can. No, that’s not the point. The point is God wants to have a relationship with us. He loves us so much that He wants to be a part of our lives, but we are separated from Him because of our sin. We can’t be close to Him on our own merit because He’s perfect, and we’re not.

That’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus creates that bridge between us and God so that we can walk side-by-side with God, can speak to God, can make requests of God, can call Him Daddy. That’s grace. That’s unconditional love regardless of performance. And God offers it to us free of charge.

You’ve screwed up. You know that, right? I’ve made a mess of living. I’ve wrecked relationships and friendships. I’ve hurt people, and I’ve disappointed people. But God doesn’t look at the failures and shortcomings of my past. I’ve given my life to Jesus, so all God sees when He looks at me is Christ.

That’s grace.

So when you break the rules, you don’t have to be afraid. Be sad. Recognize that you messed up. Acknowledge that you failed. But don’t forget, if you belong to Jesus, God has already freed you from the guilt of your sin. So you can pick yourself and keep on walking.

Peace with God is something only the blood of Christ can buy.

Don’t live to break the rules. They’re there to help you, to protect you, to teach you, but when life happens and you screw up anyway, God will be right there to help you stand up again. So don’t push Him away.

Sometimes obeying the rules can open doors

You’ve never seen a stranger collection of odds and ends than at a trade show. I have to admit, I’m really eager to go to a trade show in a different industry to see if they’re all the same. Plumbing and heating trade shows are full of truly interesting people, all passionate about their craft and dedicated to a job well done.

I’m in marketing, so we’re all about looks. To be honest, though, not many booths here at AHR really stood out as spectacular. Nothing really wowed me. But what I did notice is the “No Photography” signs. The signs stood out to me, mostly, beause nobody was paying attention. Members of the press, competitors, and other industry professionals were taking photos all over the place, and nobody was stopping them.

It’s one thing to have a rule. It’s something else to enforce it.

You probably realized by now that I was taking photos too, although I wasn’t going into booths and photographing products. I was looking for examples of booth design and particularly catchy headlines. But if the rules are the rules, why weren’t they being enforced? If the rules are the rules, why wasn’t anyone following them? Even I broke the rules because it suited me better than to obey.

GX8A0450Today’s verses are 1 Timothy 3:14-15.

I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

I struggle with my attitude sometimes. I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak, and I don’t do a very good job concealing it. Sometimes I do things because I want to do them, rather than because they’re the right thing to do. Sometimes I ignore the rules because the rules are silly–or at least, I think the rules are silly.

And, yes, some rules are ridiculous. But rules are rules. Even though rules may not allow us to do the things we want to do, they exist for a reason.

We used to live in a culture that would respect rules simply because they were there. They didn’t have to be enforced. People had enough character to obey without enforcement. That sort of culture doesn’t really exist anymore. Not in the United States, at least.

I know what some folks are thinking. If the rule is stupid or harmful or ridiculous, why obey it? Because you can trust every rule that’s out there, sort of like you can’t trust the rule makers. The politicians are only out to get more power, and that’s why they make the rules they make. It’s the same with everyone else in authority, generally, isn’t it? The people in power make rules to benefit themselves at the cost of the “little people.”

Maybe that’s a jaded view, but don’t you know people who see life that way? And if you see life from that perspective, it’s easy to understand why our culture bucks the system and breaks the rules.

But what if you can trust the rule maker? What if you can trust the one who’s setting down the law? Wouldn’t you obey their laws if you know it was for your own good?

Sometimes I think we forget how good God is. It’s easy to forget because people are such narrow-minded creatures. We think because God doesn’t give us what we want that He’s not good or that He’s denying us our happiness somehow, and that’s not the case. If God ever withholds something from us, it’s because He has something better planned.

But just because God doesn’t let you have your way right now doesn’t mean He’s good. I mean, think about it. If your parents let you have everything you wanted when you were little, how would you have turned out? If you never had to struggle for anything, if you never had to work for a reward, if you never had to apply yourself, what kind of person would you grown into? Not one I’d enjoy hanging around, I’d wager.

God has rules, and because God is good, God’s rules are good. And He has gone to outrageous lengths to help us know His rules and why they’re important. So don’t fight God’s rules just because they’re rules. Not all rules are bad. And who knows? Maybe obeying a rule will open doors for you that breaking a rule might have shut.

 

Are you living a cheap toilet paper kind of life?

I have recently noticed something about nice hotels. It doesn’t seem to matter how expensive the hotel or where it’s located, every hotel has the same cheap toilet paper. Have you noticed?

I’ve stayed in Super 8’s that have the same quality toilet paper as this super swanky, expensive Hilton-brand hotel in Chicago. What does that mean? Granted, I suppose toilet paper is something people use a lot of, and it’s not exactly like it can be reused. I’m sure it gets really expensive.

But really? A hotel that gives you slippers and bathrobes buys the same toilet paper as the cheap-o hotels? It’s like they’re dedicated to providing the best hotel experience possible, but that care doesn’t extend to buying good toilet paper. To me, that’s like writing a whole novel and letting the last chapter go out without proofreading. It’s like cooking a whole meal for someone and forgetting to offer dessert.

If it were you, wouldn’t you want to go all the way? Wouldn’t you prefer to be someone who doesn’t skimp on the details?

0127151549Today’s verse is 1 Kings 8:61.

And may you be completely faithful to the Lord our God. May you always obey his decrees and commands, just as you are doing today.

It’s difficult to be completely committed to something, regardless of whether it’s a person or an ideal or even a goal. Commitment is one of those words that scares people and rightly so. It takes time and effort and sacrifice, and most of the time you have to give up something you want in the process.

So what about being committed to God? It was D.L. Moody who said: “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him.” As far as my own life goes, I can tell you I’m not anywhere close to being fully committed to Him. I know I should be, but it’s difficult because I want what I want.

It’s like a swanky hotel with cheap toilet paper. You might have all the trimmings and all the best to offer, but you cheap out on the details. You don’t go all the way because it might cost you something you aren’t willing to give.

God gives us so much grace, because even when He knows we aren’t 100% committed to Him, He still provides for us. He still hears us. He still answers our prayers and walks through life beside us. But what would our lives look like if we truly were 100% sold out to Him?

We wouldn’t worry so much. We’d focus on the things that really matter. And I think we’d find that the choices we struggle to make would become much easier. Because when you are focused on living for God, that means you make His priorities yours, and that changes the way you see life.

It’s not an easy choice, and I’m willing to bet that D.L. Moody really was correct. The world has yet to see someone sold out for God, but I’d like to be that person.

So don’t cheap out. Don’t give your life to God in only the big things. Be committed, even in the details. Otherwise, your life will be like a five-star hotel equipped with the cheapest toilet paper on the shelves.

God doesn’t always give you what you want

I’m staying in a swanky hotel right now. I mean, it has a bathtub. A real, honest-to-goodness bathtub that’s deep enough to soak in. And it has a shower too. Super swanky.

When I checked in at the desk, the lady asked me if I wanted a coffee maker brought up to my room. Now, I kind of have a coffee problem. I like coffee. A lot. Black or with milk or half-n-half or cream. Lattes, cappucinos, espressos, whatever. I love coffee.

Generally, hotel coffee is horrible, though. I usually can’t stand it, but when I wake up in the mornings early and write these devotionals, I desperately need a cup of coffee. So I’m willing to take anything. So, I told the lady at the desk, yes, I’d love to have a coffee maker in my room.

I got up to the room, and a guy from downstairs knocked and brought in my coffee machine. But it wasn’t a cheap little coffee pot like I’ve got at home. It wasn’t even a fancy coffee pot. It was a Keurig! A real-life Keurig with real-life coffee pods and everything! It was awesome!

How many times do we ask for something and expect a cheap response? How many times do we pray to God and ask Him for a specific result and expect a cheap answer? I do it all the time, but is that how we’re supposed to ask?

0125151521Today’s verses are James 4:1-3.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

I ask God for stuff all the time, and it’s normal for me to automatically assume that He won’t give it to me. That’s not because God’s mean. It’s not because I don’t trust Him. It’s just because I’m not sure my motives are always right.

I can’t be the only one out there who asks God for things I know I don’t need. Surely others have asked God for things, knowing that obtaining them probably wouldn’t be in my best interest. I’ve just asked for them because I wanted them. I’ve asked because it would make me happy or it would make life easier or it would help me feel vindicated.

There’s nothing wrong with being happy or having an easy life or feeling vindicated about something, but what is your motivation? For me, if I ask God for something because it will make me happy, that means I’m not content. If I ask God to make my life easy, that means I’m being lazy or giving into fear. If I ask God for vindication, usually that means I’m being insecure and letting my pride direct my actions and thoughts.

If you want God to give you what you’re asking for, check your motivation. Check your heart, because that’s what God looks at.

Hey, singles. Do you want a husband or a wife? Why? Is it because you feel incomplete without them? Is it because you need a spouse to move on to the next step in your plan for life? Or are you just sick of being the fifth wheel when all your friends are getting married and leaving you behind? If you want to get married, what is your heart motivation?

Hey, employed person. Do you want a raise? Do you want a promotion? Why do you want it? More money? More status? More power? What is the motivation behind your desire?

Hey, unemployed person. Do you want a job? Why?

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are or what kind of life you lead. If the motivation of your heart goes against what God says is right and true–or if your desire will go against God’s bigger plan for your life–God won’t give you what you ask for. Period.

And He’s not being mean. He just wants what’s best for us, while we usually can only see what’s good.

But you know what? Sometimes when you ask God will give you more than what you ask for. Sort of like my amazing coffee machine. I didn’t expect to get it. And even then, it wasn’t what I expected when I got it–it was better! And God’s just like that.

So if God hasn’t answered your prayers today, don’t give up. Yes, check your heart. Make sure your motivation is what it should be. And then, keep asking. The day is coming when God will blow your mind.

The soap dispenser that doesn’t work

Last week I was in Las Vegas in the strangest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. This week, I’m in Chicago, at one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in. So I’m afraid my trade show illustrations are going to continue for another week. And again, I’ve got a story from a bathroom!

I was in the airport in Atlanta (yes, I had to fly through Atlanta to get to Chicago from Wichita), and their faucets and sinks and towel dispensers were all motion activated. I got the faucet going and shoved my hand under the soap dispenser, and it made a thunking noise. But no soap came out.

I tried it again. And again. And again. No soap.

I figured it must be empty, so I moved to the next sink. Same thing. Water ran fine but no soap. Just a thunk-thunk-thunk-wheeze. So I moved to the next sink.

Same thing! I had to go to two more sinks to get to a soap dispenser that worked, but at that sink, the water faucet didn’t work!

Just looking at the super nice ladies room in the Atlanta airport, everything looked fine and in perfect working order, but half the soap dispensers weren’t working.

768022_64244093Today’s verse is 2 Timothy 4:7.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.

The difficult part about following God is following through. You can say you’re committed to God. You can say you’ve dedicated your life to Him. But when real life hits, it’s not as easy to do it as it is to say it.

It’s easy to look like a Christian, but it’s not as easy to do what a Christian does. It takes dedication and commitment to Christ.

On the outside, you can look all shiny and perfect and in working order, but when the time comes to actually do the work you were designed to do, you might choke. Because it’s hard. Doing what God’s called us to do is the greatest adventure you can ever imagine, but it’s not easy because our world is broken. It’s worth it, yes, but it will never be easy.

You can go to Bible college. You can go to church every day. You can know the Bible forwards and backwards. But that doesn’t mean when God tells you to do something uncomfortable that you’re automatically going to jump in with both feet. You might end up exactly like that soap dispenser in the Atlanta airport–looking good but not actually functional.

If you want to achieve God’s best for you in this life, you have to be willing to do the things He tells you to do when He tells you to do them. You have to be committed. You have to finish the race you start.

People don’t get recognition for stopping a race in the middle of the run. I have friends who run marathons, and they train and train and train and train for ridiculous hours to get their bodies to the point where they can run a race. After they train, they don’t stop in the middle of the race because they get tired. Even if they finish last, they still finish.

Welcome to the Christian life. Following Jesus isn’t easy, and He never promised it would be. But He did promise He’d never leave us, and that it would be an awesome life. You’ll just never experience it if you aren’t totally committed to doing what He’s called you to do.

So think about your commitment level. Think about where you are in the race you’re running. If you’re still breathing, you haven’t finished it yet, but you may not be running anymore. You might not even be walking. You might have stopped somewhere along the road because trying to get to the finish line is just too much trouble.

It’s not. You’re just seeing the finish line through the eyes of someone who isn’t running the race. To someone who doesn’t care, finishing the race will never matter.

Don’t be a soap dispenser that doesn’t work. Don’t be a race-runner who’s standing still. Be committed. Follow Jesus where He leads you, when He leads you, how He leads you. It won’t be easy, but it will be awesome.

Sometimes being faithful is aiming for the easy target

I never win anything. Seriously. Granted, sometimes I lose on purpose because I don’t want to hurt the other team’s feelings (this is why sports weren’t good for me), but most of the time, when I try to win, I end up losing anyway.

So being in Las Vegas this week hasn’t been a huge temptation for me. Even if I tried to win something, I knew it wouldn’t work. But just when I thought I would escape unscathed, I saw a game on the trade show floor that peaked my interest. It was basically a ski ball game at the Wells Fargo booth. You played ski ball, and your ski ball station was linked to a marker on a wall. The more balls you sink, the further your marker moves. And if you win, you get a stuffed pony.

Now, I have no need for a stuffed pony. But I couldn’t help thinking that my favorite little cowgirl (aka HooChild) might really get a kick out of one. So I decided I’d give it a try. The ski ball table was divided into three sections, fast, faster, and fastest, and if you could get the balls in the fastest section, you’d definitely win. But I was pretty sure I couldn’t do that repeatedly.

The easiest hole to get the ball in wouldn’t move your marker much, but if I could hit it over and over again, I thought maybe I’d have a chance. So that was my strategy. Just keep hitting the slow hole repeatedly, hoping the other three players would be more aggressive.

And guess what? It worked. I won! So HooChild gets a pony, and I was reminded of a very important lesson.

My prize stuffed pony! - Las Vegas, NV

My prize stuffed pony! – Las Vegas, NV

Today’s verses are Luke 16:10-12.

If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?

This is the point of one of Jesus’ parables, emphasizing the fact that if we can’t be trusted with what we’re given on Earth, why should we be trusted with the true wealth of eternity? It’s a tough question, because it’s difficult to be faithful with a little.

What does that mean though? To be faithful with a little? Well, think about my experience with ski ball. I could have taken more risk and gone for the harder-to-reach goal, but there was less chance I’d make it. I knew I could hit the lesser goal repeatedly. Maybe it wasn’t as flashy. Maybe I wouldn’t get as much attention. Maybe my ski ball skills wouldn’t be recognized. But I knew I could achieve it over and over again.

Now does that mean we shouldn’t ever stretch ourselves? Does that mean we should never take a leap of faith? No, of course not. Sometimes it’s important to aim for impossible goals, but sometimes it’s equally important to aim for a target you know you can hit.

That’s being faithful with a little. That’s repeating a small, seemingly unimportant, rarely noticed task without any acclaim or promise of reward. Eventually, you’ll be rewarded for it, but it takes a long time.

But you know what? That’s okay. If you can be faithful when you only have a little, you learn responsibility and wisdom. If you can keep doing what’s right even when it doesn’t feel like anything’s changing, you learn patience and grace. Then, one day, when everything turns around and you have everything you ever wanted, you won’t have to learn responsibility, wisdom, patience, and grace. You’ll have already learned it. And that means you’ll use your achievement for God’s glory instead of your own, which means you’ll only continue to increase.

The more faithful you prove yourself with small things, the more God will trust you with. God doesn’t stop pouring out blessings on us after we’ve shown Him that we’re willing to trust Him. God will give you so much, you won’t be able to contain it all.

But most of the time God isn’t going to just dump a heaping helping of everything-you-always-wanted on you. You can’t earn it, because there’s nothing we can do to earn blessings. Blessings are given because God is good, but God isn’t going to bless someone who isn’t trusting Him first.

Do you only have a small ministry? Don’t give up on it. Keep serving and sacrificing and doing what you have to do, and God will bless it. Do you only have a small amount of money? Don’t give up. Keep tithing, keep trusting God to provide, and He will.

By the time the full force of God’s blessings hits you, you’ll be ready for them.

Read the instructions carefully or risk eating your own words

I’m in Las Vegas for a trade show with my company, and there are so many people here. I don’t even know how to count them all. I stopped off in the bathroom yesterday after lunch, and as I was washing my hands, one of the stall doors behind me opened up. And a man appeared.

A man. In the women’s restroom.

Or, wait. Was he in the right place, and I was in the wrong room? I froze for a minute, because I wasn’t sure. I’ve never been in a men’s bathroom before, so I don’t know what they look like.

Apparently he was thinking the same thing, because he just stood there staring at me. Until a woman popped out of another stall and started laughing. That answered our question. He’d gone into the wrong room.

Have you ever done that? Read a sign wrong and ended up embarrassed? I haven’t done it with a restroom sign yet, but I’ve done it in other circumstances. And it’s at that point I wish I would have slowed down and taken the time to make sure I understood where I was going before I started running.

485287_77207663Today’s verses are Psalm 119:1-8.

Joyful are people of integrity,
who follow the instructions of the Lord.
Joyful are those who obey his laws
and search for him with all their hearts.
They do not compromise with evil,
and they walk only in his paths.
You have charged us
to keep your commandments carefully.
Oh, that my actions would consistently
reflect your decrees!
Then I will not be ashamed
when I compare my life with your commands.
As I learn your righteous regulations,
I will thank you by living as I should!
I will obey your decrees.
Please don’t give up on me!

It’s easy to take the Bible and apply our own understanding to it. We can pick any verse we want and just guess at what it means, but that doesn’t mean we actually understand what it means.

One of the many great things about God’s Word, is that it can be used to explain itself. The Bible never contradicts itself, so you can use Bible verses to understand other Bible verses. You should never just take one Bible verse and take it at face value. You have to know who it was written to, why it was written, when it was written, even where it was written.

If you don’t, you’re going to end up in trouble. If you just run haphazardly with a random Bible verse you think you understand, you’re going to confuse people and frustrate yourself. Sort of like a man finding himself in a women’s restroom, you’ll think you’ve understood the sign, but you’ll realize later that you just saw what you wanted to see.

When you’re trying to understand the Bible, don’t be afraid to ask a trusted mentor or pastor. When you’re trying to make sense of particularly difficult passages, don’t just assume that your personal experience is enough to help it make sense. And whatever you do, always ask God to help you.

If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit, and He will help you understand God’s Word.

Reading the Bible isn’t like reading a book. It can be, but the Bible isn’t literature. The Bible is God’s Word to us, His instructions for how to live life, and the Bible grows with us as we grow, getting deeper and stronger and fuller with every passing year.

So take the Bible seriously, and make the time to truly understand what you read. It’s better to put the effort into it the first time than to have to eat your words later on.