Awesome fried chicken given to me for lunch, San Miguel, Peten, Guatemala

If it doesn’t cost money, does that make it free?

My random desk calendar shared a bit of wisdom with me yesterday that I don’t really agree with. The best things in life are free.

Are they really? I mean, I understand what it means. It means that the best parts of life can’t be purchased with money. But just because something doesn’t cost money doesn’t make it free. Everything costs something.

Awesome fried chicken given to me for lunch, San Miguel, Peten, Guatemala

Awesome fried chicken given to me for lunch, San Miguel, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Joshua 24:11-15.

When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. And I sent terror ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them. “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve.

It’s easy sometimes to forget all that God has done for us. I’m guilty of it. I get to thinking about how hard I’ve worked and what a good person I’ve been, and then I almost convince myself that I deserve the good things in my life because I’ve worked so hard to achieve them.

And I’m not knocking hard work. Hard work is essential. And when you work hard, it’s natural to reap the benefits of your work. But there’s a fine line between earning a reward and deserving a reward, and we should never forget that we don’t deserve God’s grace. We can’t work for God’s grace. We can’t earn it. It’s a gift, pure and simple.

But Christians can grow big heads about grace, which is ironic because nobody can earn it. But we think we can. We live a good life, so we think we deserve it. Maybe we’d never say it out loud, but deep down in our hearts, that’s what we think sometimes.

Loosen that halo up, brothers and sisters. I can’t be the only one guilty of this. Maybe I am, but I don’t think so.

It’s that tiny little voice that whispers to you, reminding you of all the good things you’ve done and that you have a right to expect good things and that if God is who He says He is He won’t let anything bad happen to you because you’re such a good Christian.

I think everyone hears that voice, but it’s up to us whether or not to listen to it.

See that’s what happened to the children of Israel after God delivered them from Egypt. I think they got comfortable. They got used to the luxury of living in the Promised Land, and they forgot to be thankful. They forgot who it was who had provided for them.

God brought them victory. It wasn’t their soldiers or their battle tactics or their generals. They weren’t particularly fearsome. They weren’t particularly bright. But they triumphed because God was on their side. And then God gave them homes they didn’t build and crops they hadn’t planted, provided everything they needed, and they didn’t have to do anything to get it.

But that didn’t make it free. Someone had to build those homes. Someone had to work the land. And I’m betting the Israelites appreciated what God had given them a few years down the road when they lost everything.

The best things in life don’t cost money, but that doesn’t make them free. We should never forget that, and we should never take it for granted when someone does something for us. Never take grace or mercy for granted.

If we ever get used to mercy, if we ever forget the cost of grace, God may have to remind us. And when God has to remind us of something we already know, it’s never fun.

So take a moment today and just be thankful for all that God has given you in your life. Everything that matters that you didn’t have to pay for. All the things you could never replace that God simply gave you because of His great love.

Don’t take them for granted, and never forget that you could never pay the price for them. That’s why God had to do it for us.

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Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Living for what you can’t take with you

In our lives, we face challenges and disappointments, but the greater part of our lives on Earth is usually pretty incredible. Most of us have opportunities others like us could only dream of. Life may be hard at times, but there are so many amazing things God has given us in this life to enjoy.

People and places and, nature and city life, the beach and the mountain, friends and family, movies and books and music and theatre. The list goes on and on, and we all have access to all of it, and it’s all there for us to enjoy. But not at the expense of forgetting what really matters.

Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Psalm 84:10.

A single day in your courts
    is better than a thousand anywhere else!
I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God
    than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.

This is one of those verses that always makes me cringe a little when I read it. I like to be able to read the Psalms like I’m actually saying them, like they’re coming from my heart. But sometimes when I hit this one, I hesitate because I have days where I struggle believing that a day with God can be better than life here.

I mean, I know a day in God’s presence will surpass my best week of life on Earth. That’s obvious. But it’s difficult to compare when I have experienced life on Earth and I haven’t experienced with life in heaven. So some days it’s hard to feel it, even if I know it.

What’s important about this verse is perspective. If you don’t believe that live in eternity with God will be better than life on Earth, you aren’t going to live like it. If you believe life will be better here, you’re going to live for this life. You’re going to invest in things that matter down here, and you’re going to ignore the things that matter in heaven.

When I was at college in Florida, there were all sorts of things I could have bought to make my stay more comfortable, especially in my second semester. But I didn’t because I knew I was coming home to Kansas, and I wouldn’t have room in the car. Our lives down here are the same way.

If we look at heaven as our home and Earth as our college dorm or as our rental house, it changes the way you look at a lot of things. You can’t hang pictures in a leased apartment. Or at least, you probably shouldn’t. In a home you know is temporary, you shouldn’t invest a lot of time changing it because you know you are going to leave. Instead, use your time to invest in the things that last, like the people who live around you. Even if you’re living in a dorm or in an apartment complex, you’ve got people on all sides. You’ve got a short amount of time to make a difference to them, and then when you’re gone, you may never see them again.

If you know you’re moving, you only want to invest time in the things you can actually take with you. If heaven is our final destination, what do we get to take with us? Not our money or our homes, not our possessions or our status. We take our own soul. That’s it. And if you’re fortunate and very blessed, you won’t have to go alone. You’ll get to go home with your friends and your family members. And those are the treasures that really matter.

Do you believe that a day in God’s presence is better than a lifetime on Earth? Would you rather be the lowliest servant in God’s house than a wealthy person here? It’s time to make up your mind.

What really matters

Sometimes it is difficult for me to distinguish the difference between my life and my actions. It’s very easy to get caught up in thinking that you are what you do, and it’s even easier to label people (yourself and others) by your job description or by your talents or by your accomplishments. Tony is a lawyer. Sarah is a dancer. Jake is the winner of the race.

I think we label people because we can’t see inside them. So it’s easier to identify people by putting labels on them, either to help us distinguish them from the crowd or to keep them safe in a box where they won’t threaten us. Either way, people are far more than how their labels describe them. We usually just can’t see it.

Every individual’s life is precious. There’s no denying or disputing that. Every person is unique and special and God sacrificed His most precious blood to save us.

Conversely, our actions are repeatable. Our accomplishments can be bested. Our job descriptions change, sometimes like the wind. And our talents aren’t really that unique, if you think about. Any “new” talent anyone has probably isn’t truly new; it just hasn’t been seen before.

I got to thinking about this when I read today’s verse of the day.

Acts 20:24

24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

I find this interesting because Paul (who is speaking) was a pretty important guy. He was educated. He was intelligent. He was a Jew among Jews, which at the time meant he was pretty special. But none of those things mattered to him after he started following Jesus. I’m sure Paul accomplished a lot in his life, but the only thing that mattered to him after he started following Jesus was telling other people about Him.

This really made me wonder about the worth of my own actions.

My life, as in who I am inside, is precious to God. I get that. But what about my actions? What about the things I have done that haven’t been for Him?

Anything I have done only for myself really has no bearing on God. The things I do for myself are small and insignificant because they only benefit me — and most of the time I don’t know if it’s an actual benefit or not.

But the things I have done for God, not matter how small they start out, they usually end up ballooning until hundreds of people are blessed or encouraged. And most of the time, I never intended to accomplish anything like that. I just knew I needed to do what God had called me to do, and I did it. I had no idea how He would use it.

There’s an old hymn (I think it’s a hymn) called “Little is Much When God Is in It” and I think that’s very true.

We only have a limited time on Earth. Compared to eternity, it’s not even substantial enough to classify. The Bible just calls it a vapor, a puff of smoke. One moment here, the next moment gone. So in that limited time, what are we going to accomplish? What talent are we going to pursue? What job are we going to do? And what is the point?

Paul felt like his accomplished life would be worth nothing if it weren’t directed at doing God’s work, at finishing the task that had been appointed to him by God. I agree with that. And I agree with it in the perspective of my own life. The things that I have done for myself won’t last. But the things I’ve done for others in God’s name? That’s a whole different ball game.

I know many Newtonian Laws passed out of vogue with the advent of Einstien’s Theory of Relativity and the craziness of Quantum Physics but as far as I can tell, every action still has an opposite and equal reaction. What we do on Earth effects what our lives will be like in eternity. Our choices on Earth directly effect our lives in eternity. I don’t want to say that Earth is the proving grounds of Heaven, but it kind of is. If you can choose to live your life for Christ while you are mired in the darkness of this world, if you can see past the temporariness that is life on Earth and realize that what is coming after Earth is so much better, if you can live for eternity now while you’re dying with every breath — heaven will be a rewarding place.

I know my life is precious. But my actions are useless, futile, and small until I do them for God.

C.T. Studd wrote a poem that I think pretty much sums up what Paul was saying:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

In the grand scheme of life, our actions will either make us greater on earth or bring us greater reward in heaven (which usually means we are made more humble on earth). The next promotion won’t last. The next “new” talent will fade into obscurity. The next accomplishment will pass as soon as someone does something better or greater. But the things you do for Christ remain and will be remembered forever, if not by people then by God Himself. And that is what really matters.