Earth is just a rest stop

When was the last time you were at a rest stop somewhere on a road trip. My family has taken so many road trips over the years, so rest areas are just a normal part of travel. And it’s true, some rest areas (the newer ones) are very comfortable. They have gift shops or information booths staffed with actual people. But here in Kansas, the rest areas aren’t always that nice. Most of the time, there’s just one main building that has restrooms and some overpriced vending machines.

Sure, it would be nice if they were all climate controlled. And it would be even better if the toilets were real, rather than chemical jobs. But it’s just a rest stop. It’s a place to get out of the car for a little bit, but you don’t stay there. You get back in the car and keep on going.

Have you ever thought about how similar that is to the lives we’re living today?

rest_areaToday’s verse is Hebrews 13:14.

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

It’s easy to get caught up in this life because it’s right in front of us. We live it every day, and we experience the troubles that come at us on a regular basis. And it’s tempting to think that this is the way it’s always going to be.

But it’s not. Because Earth is just a rest stop. We’re not sticking around for much longer. Rest stops aren’t designed to be comfortable because you’re not staying there permanently. Like the old song says, “This world isn’t my home. I’m just a’passing through.”

So what does that mean for us? How does that help us get through a difficult day or face an unpleasant situation?

Well, it helps because we remember that this life isn’t all there is. If you follow Christ, you’ve got a much better life coming after this one is over. This little insignificant life on Earth is just the beginning of your eternity, and it’s not even a very good beginning because we can’t experience all the awesome that God has in store for us. So on those difficult days, remember that there’s more to this life than what you can see.

If a rest stop was really comfortable, it would be awfully hard to get back into the car, wouldn’t it? What if they had a coffee bar? What if they had free cookies? What if they offered unlimited tacos? I mean, you could just hole up in the rest area station for the rest of your life and get along just fine, right? Because who wants to get back in that car and keep driving when you can sit around and eat free tacos?

You don’t know what the road ahead holds for you. It might be difficult. It might be worse than your situation is right now. And wouldn’t it just be better to stay put and enjoy the comforts of your luxurious rest stop?

That’s an exaggeration, of course. Although I’ve been to some rest areas that I wouldn’t mind sticking around a bit longer. It usually had to do with the ready availability of ice cream. But on the other hand, I’ve been to some rest areas that I couldn’t wait to leave. They were dirty and broken, and I just wanted to be done with them and leave. And sometimes I wonder if that’s how we’re supposed to see the world.

We need to be here, though. God put us here for a reason, so we need to accept that. But that doesn’t mean we need to get comfortable here. And that absolutely doesn’t mean we need to wish that it would become more comfortable for us. It won’t. What it should make us do is long for our true home more desperately than ever before.

When was the last time you yearned for heaven? Have you ever? Makes you wonder where your priorities are, doesn’t it?

So don’t long for easier times. Don’t wish for smooth sailing. I mean, you can. There’s nothing wrong with that, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for it either. Bet don’t be surprised if you don’t get it, and don’t get it in your head that God is mean. He’s just trying to help us understand that Earth is little more than a rest area on the great adventure we’re on with Him.

 

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You can’t regift when it comes to sacrifice

I’m not above regifting. I’ll admit that. I’m sure that everyone has regifted at some point. Someone gives you a gift and you’re thankful for it, but you have no idea what to do with it. Or you’d never use it anyway. And you happen to know someone who would like it. So what do you do? Hold on to something you’d never use when you could give it to someone who would enjoy it?

That’s a no-brainer for me. It’s making good use of your resources. But you can’t turn around and say that it cost you anything. You can’t regift an item and claim that you did anything to earn it.

RegiftToday’s verses are 2 Samuel 24:19-25.

So David went up to do what the Lord had commanded him. When Araunah saw the king and his men coming toward him, he came and bowed before the king with his face to the ground. “Why have you come, my lord the king?” Araunah asked. David replied, “I have come to buy your threshing floor and to build an altar to the Lord there, so that he will stop the plague.”

“Take it, my lord the king, and use it as you wish,” Araunah said to David. “Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and you can use the threshing boards and ox yokes for wood to build a fire on the altar. I will give it all to you, Your Majesty, and may the Lord your God accept your sacrifice.”

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.” So David paid him fifty pieces of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen. David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord answered his prayer for the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.

There’s not time in this brief little devotional to go into the background of this story. Suffice it to say, David had screwed up royally. This was during the later part of his reign when just about every decision he made was the wrong one. But God had given him instructions on how to make things right.

Part of making things right required that he go to a specific place and offer a sacrifice to God, but when David arrived and tried to purchase the piece of land God had identified, the owner didn’t want to sell it. The guy was more than happy to give it away, but David refused and insisted on buying it because David was required to sacrifice. And if it didn’t cost him something personally, it didn’t mean anything.

I think we forget that sometimes. We talk about sacrifice, but when was the last time any of us actually sacrificed something? And I don’t mean like a burnt offering. I mean giving up something or paying the price for something personally that will benefit someone else. Sacrifice means making yourself uncomfortable for other people. It means doing things you wouldn’t normally do in order to help someone else.

Hey, husbands, when was the last time you gave up a night out with your buddies to help your wife with laundry? Wives, when was the last time you agreed to watch the kid so your husband could have a night off? What about your coworkers? When was the last time you accepted an extra project in order to help someone you work with?

You see what I’m saying. Sacrifice isn’t like regifting. You can regift and regift until you’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t mean you’ve sacrificed anything. Until it’s cost you something personally, it doesn’t matter. Until you’ve given up something you wanted, you haven’t sacrificed.

And that’s fine. You don’t have to sacrifice anything. That’s what’s great (or maybe not so great) about America. We live in a culture that never has to sacrifice at all. The typical American doesn’t even know the meaning of the word. Our culture is all about only doing what you want, and if it makes you uncomfortable it’s better to just ignore it or sue it. But as Christ-followers, are we really supposed to live that way?

Jesus didn’t die for us so that we could live comfortably. Jesus died for us so that we could have eternal life, and that life isn’t on Earth. So why do we think we need to be comfortable anyway?

David screwed up a lot in his later years, but one thing he got right. He understood that you can’t regift when it comes to sacrifice. You can’t bring someone else’s hard work before God and claim that it’s yours. It doesn’t work that way. So don’t try it.

What’s awesome about sacrificing for God, though, is that it doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice. Maybe it seems like you’re giving something up, but in reality you’re only letting something inferior go so God can replace it with something superior. Maybe you sacrifice, but God blesses.

So don’t be afraid to give something up for God. Maybe it’s your pride. Maybe it’s your job. Maybe it’s your perceptions about yourself or others. Just let it go. Maybe it will cost you something personally, but if it’s a sacrifice it’s supposed to.

Trouble isn’t an inconvenience, it’s an opportunity

If you’ve ever traveled to another country, you understand what it’s like to be immersed in a culture that isn’t your own. Even if the common language is something similar to what you already speak, everything is still different. And we’re very fortunate to live in a very small world, where the major cultural differences are something you can research before you leave home. But in my experience, it’s not the major things that throw me. It’s the small things.

Take England, for example. I knew they drive on the other side of the road, and while that took a little getting used to, it didn’t affect my everyday life as much as trying to navigate the shower did. In the US, we have one knob for a shower, usually. You just turn it and water comes out. Well, in England (at least, where I stayed), there’s a knob for pressure and a knob for temperature, and if you get them mixed up, you’ll be in a lot of hot water–literally.

It’s kind of like life, if you think about it. The big troubles are easy to identify. You might even be able to prepare for them before they hit you, but the little, annoying, nit-picky, everyday problems can’t really be quantified. You can’t prepare for them. You just have to survive them.

step-forward-e1338890548766Today’s verse is Matthew 6:34.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

We all run into trouble every day, no matter who we are or where we live. Sometimes it’s big trouble, but most of the time it’s small. Like little pebbles getting stuck in your shoes. And when those little troubles keep hitting like ocean waves pounding on a beach, it’s important not to focus on them.

Trouble is easy to focus on because it’s obvious. You can’t get away from it, and no matter how far you run, it always finds you. Trouble is everywhere because the world is broken and because none of us have a perfect life. But that doesn’t mean we have to live our lives focusing on our troubles.

If all you can see is the trouble you’re in and how it’s going to affect you tomorrow, you’re going to miss what’s happening today. See that’s the problem with focusing on little troubles. They feel huge when they hit, but they really aren’t that big of a deal.

When you get a rock in your shoe, it feels gigantic, doesn’t it? Or what about an eyelash in your eye? You have to stop everything. And it’s not wrong to stop, as long as you keep moving again.

What would happen if you’re walking across a parking lot and get a rock in your shoe. Sure, you stop to dig it out, but what would happen if you decide it’s too much trouble to keep walking? What if you turn around and go back because you’re afraid of the other rocks that might get in your shoe next?

That’s no way to live.

Big trouble you can often see coming from miles off, but the little trouble springs its traps on you at the most inopportune moments. But if you live your life worrying about those moments, you’ll only see them as inconveniences, instead of what they really are–opportunities for God to show how big He is.

Be ready for the future, yes, but don’t let the problems of tomorrow dictate your actions today. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Yeah, it’ll probably include some kind of trouble, but that’s life on Earth. And we can’t let it derail us from the path we know God has set us on.

Don’t be afraid to live life one step at a time. Focus on today, and don’t let the little troubles get you down. God is bigger than any trouble in your life, and He’s just waiting for you to let Him prove it.

 

The unexpected treasures you’ll find past the pearly gates

Do you ever think about what heaven will be like? Sometimes I do. When I stop long enough. Honest, if you don’t think about eternity on a regular basis, you might want to reassess your life’s focus. Christ-followers are supposed to be in the world, yes, but we’re not supposed to be of it, which basically translates to living our lives for eternal things rather than things that will eventually pass away.

That being said, I don’t think about heaven as often as I should. It seems so far away, so impossible to comprehend. How can you think about heaven or even imagine it when it’s going to be so wonderful nobody can grasp it?

Well, I believe sometimes we get glimpses of it. Sometimes I believe God lets us experience overwhelming and abundant joy on Earth so that we can get a tiny taste of what heaven will be like. It doesn’t happen often. But when it does, you just have to stop and stand in awe.

It happened Sunday night for me. It wasn’t anything particularly special. Just a big (BIG) group of friends getting together for a hog roast. Friends from all over the place, different backgrounds and different parts of the country. But most of them had one thing in common–we all know Jesus. And there was just something in the air, being reconnected with so many people who I love so dearly–people I don’t get the chance to see on a regular basis.

And I think that’s a taste of what heaven is going to be like. We’re going to be together with the people we love the most. We’re going to be reunited with those who’ve already gone ahead of us in Christ. And we’ll get to be together and tell each other stories of all the amazing miracles God has done in our lives.

Can you even imagine anything better than that? Spending eternity with people you love talking about the crazy awesome stuff God has done?

pearly-gatesToday’s verses are Matthew 6:19-21.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

This is one of those well-known verses that people quote often, but I’m not sure we ever really think about what it means. We get this idea that heaven will be full of treasure. And I’m sure it will be. You’ll walk on streets of gold.

But is gold, gold, and more gold really the treasures that heaven will be full of? Will we even care about gold and wealth and status once we get to heaven? Heaven has a way of changing your priorities.

What’s better than gold? What’s more important than wealth? Go look at that family picture on the shelf. Go read that email from your best friend. Take a look at your coworker at the office.

People.

People are better than gold and more important than wealth and power and status. People are the biggest treasure you can find, an inexhaustible source of joy.

Sure that hog roast at my friends’ house was great fun, but how much fun would it have been if a few of us showed up with our piles of gold and sat around talking about them? I don’t know about you, but talking about money exhausts me. I’d much rather hear a story about how God did something great for a friend instead.

And that’s the point. Don’t get wrapped up in what the world says you have to have. Don’t get focused on achieving wealth and status and power and forget that the people around you are worth much much more than any paycheck you can ever earn.

Heaven will be full of treasures, but they won’t be the treasures the world expects.

More life than money can buy

It’s strange to think that two weeks ago I had already been in England for a few days. It doesn’t feel like I stayed that long, but I can tell you that I’m glad to be home. I’m sure if a British person came to vacation in the US, they’d be glad to get back to England. A lot of it is what you’re used to. But something really struck me this time around. It was something I knew already, but I hadn’t really made the connection in my own life.

Regardless of what they believe, Americans are raised in a culture of generosity. Most of us are, anyway. And that’s just not something you find in other cultures around the world. But it’s a characteristic that may be waning in the US, and I believe it’s up to the Christ-followers to keep it alive because it’s something that distinguishes us more than we know.

money-e1301854514533Today’s verses are 1 Timothy 6:17-19.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.

Being generous with either time or money isn’t easy, especially if you have limited amounts of both. But something every Christ-follower should remember is that we are all wealthy. Even if we don’t have loads of money, we are far wealthier than those who came before us.

Think about it. Even if you don’t drink expensive coffee, you can go sit in a Starbucks somewhere and use their free internet. Even if you can’t afford expensive foods, there are places where you can buy things to eat that don’t cost much. And on a really bad day, you can go to the store and buy a big tub of ice cream for a few bucks. Not even King Solomon could do that!

We’re wealthy, but not just in financial opportunity. We’re wealthy in Christ because He’s given us so much. We have His peace. We have His salvation. We have His hope and access to His power and resources. I mean, what more can you even ask for?

Yet it’s still tempting to live a closed life, grappling and clinging to the things we think we’ve earned for ourselves. But that’s a lie. Every good thing you have in your life was given to you, whether you believe that or not. Maybe you’ve earned your money, but God gave you the ability to earn it.

Can you really be stingy with a gift? I mean, sure, if someone has given you a gift it’s yours. They don’t want it back. But can you really claim to have earned it if you actually didn’t? And by that token, can you really cling to it if someone else truly needs it?

There’s nothing wrong with having money. God doesn’t punish the wealthy, and He doesn’t despise those who are financially successful. It’s the opposite really. Those who have money and wealth have a responsibility to use their finances for Christ–to trust more in Him than in their own pocketbooks.

But for the rest of us, those of us who aren’t independently wealthy and have to scrape and save for everything, should we cling to our meager possessions when there are always others around us who have less than we do? If God has given us everything we have, why is it so hard to let it go to help others?

It’s fear. Plain and simple. And I struggle with it every day. Because what if God doesn’t replace what I give away? What if I don’t have enough to pay my bills or feed myself? What if there’s something horrible that happens and I need my finances to get myself out of it?

In all my life, there’s never been a time when God didn’t provide for me. He isn’t going to stop now.

So don’t be afraid to be generous. Don’t fear to share what God has given you with others. God will always take care of you, in more ways than you can imagine, and not just financially but emotionally and spiritually. And you can’t put a price on those things.

Be generous. Give your gifts away for free, whether it’s time or money or love. They were given to you, so don’t cling to them like they’re all that can save you. Because they can’t. Instead, cling to the One who gave them to you. You’ll be surprised how much freedom you gain, and you’ll become a light in a dark world that only has as much hope as money can buy.

Speak truth in love and don’t be afraid

I left a bad review for the restaurant where I had dinner last night. We stayed in this really lovely hotel in Manchester, and this cute little Scottish man came and picked us up in the shuttle. And then he even helped carry our bags. Originally I had thought that we could walk somewhere and get something to eat, but the plans just didn’t work out that way. So we had to stay and eat here in the hotel instead.

No big deal, right? There’s a restaurant. Well, as we’d been checking in, they asked if we wanted to make reservations. I’d said no because I’d expected we would do something else, but our plans changed. So we went to the restaurant and sat down, and the little waiter that showed up was a complete snob about it. We apologized for not having reservations and were more than willing to go make reservations so that we could sit in the completely empty dining room, but he didn’t give us that option. And then he proceeded to be curt and distant through the whole experience. I’ve never felt so unwelcome in a restaurant in my life.

At first I thought maybe I was just misunderstanding. That it was cultural. But as dinner went on and he continued to turn up his nose at us, I had to come to the conclusion that he was just rude. I mean, you shouldn’t have to feel obligated to apologize every time someone comes to your table to take orders or deliver food.

And when the whole thing was done, another little waitress asked us to fill out a comment card. Normally I’m very glad to fill them out, but this time I felt sick about it. Because every question they asked was a No. And there’s nothing that turns my stomach upside down more than having to say bad things about someone’s service or company, even if it’s true.

And the most harrowing part? They wanted your name and your address and what room number you were staying in. And I had a moment where I thought about leaving that part blank. But that’s cowardly. If you’re going to criticize someone, be fair about it, but don’t be anonymous either. If you aren’t willing to stand up and be counted by name when you issue criticism, do you really expect anyone will take you seriously?

waiterToday’s verses are Ephesians 4:14-15.

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

We have to tell the truth. Period. That is something God has called us to do. But telling the truth doesn’t have to look like a sledgehammer. You can tell people the truth in a kind way.

And, being honest, telling the truth helps all of you. In the case of our very rude waiter, he needs to understand that the way he’s acting is hurting his employer’s reputation. We wouldn’t have been doing him or them any favors if we’d just acted like nothing had been wrong.

But it’s my hope and intention that the feedback I left was rational and kind. Because our food was great. And the waitress was wonderful. It was just this one person that really damaged the whole experience.

You aren’t helping anyone if you see something is wrong and you do nothing about it. Ignoring the facts or living in denial won’t make the situation go away, and it won’t help you either. But if you aren’t willing to stand behind your statements, no one is going to listen.

But if you’ve been rational, if you’ve been kind, if you’ve actually spoken the truth, you have nothing to worry about. And you shouldn’t be afraid.

So remember that the next time someone invites feedback after you’ve had a bad experience. It’s tempting to just let it go, especially if you don’t like conflict. But ignoring the issues won’t solve anything. It just puts off the inevitable.

Trying to get on the train with the wrong ticket

I’ve spent the last two weeks running around England and Scotland, in and out of the rain, on just about every form of transportation you can think of. But mostly trains. Trains are one of the top modes of transportation in this part of the world, whether they’re overground or underground, but one thing is certain. Regardless of what kind of train you’re traveling on, you have to have a ticket.

There was one point in our travels where my dad had the wrong card or something had gone wrong with his card in general, and he couldn’t get on the train. And it had to be sorted out before he could get through.

Aisle of the train from Manchester to Carlisle

Aisle of the train from Manchester to Carlisle

Today’s verses are Romans 3:21-24.

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.

The predominant idea in our world is that you can earn a ticket to heaven by living a good life. And that’s an interesting concept, but the Bible says the complete opposite. You can’t earn a ticket to heaven. You can’t deserve it. It’s a gift you have to accept, and Jesus gave His life to pay for it.

Nobody is perfect. We all know that. So nobody can be good enough to get into heaven. But Jesus lived that impossible perfect life, and then He gave it up to pay the fee for us to have eternal life. All we have to do is say yes to Him.

That’s the good news the Bible talks about from beginning to end. There is hope, and that hope is found in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ alone.

But trying to get to heaven using your own good deeds to pay the price is like trying to board a train with the wrong ticket. Like trying to get through the tube turnstile with a depleted Oystercard. It won’t work.

So don’t get stuck on the wrong side of the tracks. You have everything you need at your fingertips to find out how to live a life with Jesus. Don’t let another day go by without taking the time to ask the important questions.

The only thing worse than missing the train is missing it while you actually had the right ticket all the time and just didn’t use it.