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Cowboy Grace  

It may not be the rodeo capital of the world, but Shipshewana, Indiana, hosted an action-packed, cow-punchin' event I'll always remember.

The pros there made it look easy, but trying to lasso a calf in just three tries (while being stop-watched) is no easy task. Once lassoed, the real fun began. The cowboys had to tie up the calf's legs and "brand" it with white paint.

But not one of those calves had the slightest interest in being tied up, so they raised plenty of dust. We saw one team lasso their calf almost immediately. In just a few more seconds, they had the hooves all tied up.

But no sooner had the cowboys wrapped up the legs of that calf—victory at hand—when the thing burst free of the ropes and raced around the arena, mocking the cowboys (now on the ground) while delighting the crowd. In one swift kick, that poor team went from most points to no points.

Those dusty, disappointing failures reminded me of a few of my own. That unraveled rodeo moment pictures our battle with besetting sin. Like a good cowboy or cowgirl, we've prepped to fight it. We're prayed up, read up, and fired up.

We're sure we've kicked that bad habit or got that annoying temptation tied up. And then—boom! We’re knocked into the dirt, sitting on our spiritual rear-ends.

Aren't you glad God doesn't keep score with a stopwatch? Aren't you grateful we're not disqualified because we've messed up two—or even twenty-two times?

In the rodeo of life, the thing that matters most is the presence of God—and the gift of His grace. So, by all means, let’s keep up our struggle against sin. But when we fail, let’s climb out of the dust and into God’s grace. Because there's always grace for cowboys--like us.

 

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.  -2 Timothy 1:9

 
Passports  

Passports are serious business.

If you’re traveling internationally, you better have one. And it better be valid.

I once flew with a group to Ghana, West Africa. Upon arrival, one team member couldn't get in! They told him his passport was invalid because it was less than six months from expiring. The guy flew thousands of miles only to be turned around and sent back on the next flight to America.

Passports are serious business. Above all, they vouch for our citizenship. They speak to the rights and protection offered by our home country. But believers have a different passport. We read in Philippians 3:20,

"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."

Catch that? Our citizenship is in heaven. Not here. Not now. Not on this broken planet where they scarcely recognize a heavenly passport.

We await a Savior, Jesus Christ, who will completely transform our lowly bodies. Which means we're not waiting for gloom, doom, and death.

It’s not that we won’t hurt, bleed, or die. But we have something better to look forward to afterward. Perfection, beauty, peace, grace, Christ—that’s our future. What a Savior we have! What a future is ours!

Next time you’re tempted to go AWOL into a dark emotional corner, reach for your heavenly passport—-and pray this:

Thank you, Lord!

  • My citizenship is in heaven!
  • My home is there.
  • My rights are there.
  • My life is there.
  • My hope is there.
  • My affection is there.
  • My rewards are there.

And best of all—my Savior is there!

Lord, let my life be consumed by heaven:

  • Its vastness…
  • Its eternity…
  • Its people…

Let me be driven by heaven in my thinking, speaking, and doing. And let heaven be the fuel and force of my love for lost people.

Amen!

 
Are You Mean?  

“Are you mean?”

 

It’s not a question I was expecting from Emma. At five, she is what my wife calls the ultimate “snuggle buddy.” And we’d done plenty of that the night before as Emma fell asleep on my shoulder. 

 

So, how should I answer her?  Since children see right through us, I figured I’d keep it simple, straightforward—and brutally honest. Like kids. 

 

“Sometimes, we’re all mean,” I offered. “Sometimes you get angry and say things that are not nice. Sometimes I say or do something not nice. That’s why we have to say ‘I’m sorry.’ And that’s why we have to have Jesus living with us. When we have Jesus, we do less mean things.” 

 

She then asked, “Do robbers say I’m sorry?”

 

“Some probably do, and some don’t,” I replied, wondering where is the class that teaches the answers to questions like these.  

 

She nodded, and mercifully let the subject go. But Emma’s question haunted me all week: Am I mean? 

 

When the city parking official on the phone showed little concern for my dollar that was stolen by a malfunctioning machine, I was less than cordial. Then I heard Emma asking, “Are you mean?” I ended up calling the official back to apologize. 

 

For the believer, the question is not just Are you mean? The ultimate issue is—Are you becoming less mean?

 

Is there measurable, forward progress in your character? Is the direction of your life toward less meanness?

 

There’s no use trying to PhotoShop your character. It is what it is. And the people who really know you—really know. 

 

So—are you mean? Are you becoming less mean? Just wonderin’. 

 

 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

- 1 Thessalonians 5:23

 

 

 
A Gift Unopened  

A digital photo frame—for only $4? It seemed like the garage sale deal of the century. And the frame came with a story.

On top of the box was a Christmas card affixed with a Santa gift tag. The card was addressed to Linda, who (according to the card) had recently lost her mother. The hope was that Linda would fill that frame with photos of her mom—to fill up her soul with good memories.

It never happened.

The photo frame was not just in the original box. It was still covered in shrink wrap. But seven years after it lingered under a Christmas tree, its pixels glowed for the first time: images of our grandkids.

Selfishly, I'm thrilled to have that digital frame in our family room. But a part of me is sad for Linda. Sorry that she never once benefited from it.

Maybe Linda's age made her uncomfortable with technology. Or, more likely, she just never got around to it. But is it possible you and I have done the same—on a much grander scale?

When, at last, the record books are opened, and we stand in the great company of the saints in glory, how many unused gifts will we be made aware of? How many moments for kingdom impact will we learn that we squandered? How many gifts of grace or peace or love will we discover that we never took advantage of? Gifts we could have given to others. Gifts we could have used ourselves!

Why waste them?

Let’s plug in now!

Who needs a gift that you could give?

So then, be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil. —Ephesians 5:15,16

 

 
Genuinely Concerned  

When was the last time you got hammered by Scripture?

In Philippians 2:20, Paul says this about his spiritual protege, Timothy: “I have no one like him.”

What made Timothy so unique? Was he a great preacher, a great scholar, or maybe a great evangelist?

Paul’s answer: “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” Timothy’s focus was outward, others oriented. And that’s what made him so valuable. Turns out, in every age, the genuinely concerned have always been in short supply.

Comedian Milton Berle once quipped, “An egoist is someone who is me-deep in conversation." Is that me? Is that you?

Of course, this inevitably led to (an uncomfortable) spiritual inventory.  Am I genuinely concerned for the welfare of others? Or is what I offer them merely a fakey concern—or worse—the kind that I activate only when I sense others might be watching me “graciously serving others”?

The genuinely concerned have always been in short supply.

Wouldn’t you love for God to say of you, “For I have no one like her…no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.”

In the end, there is no middle ground. Despite the layers of varnish or veneer we attempt to apply, fundamentally, you and I will either be genuinely concerned for others or genuinely concerned for ourselves.

In verse three, Paul describes the simple path toward otherness: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves."

Our culture does not lack self-centered folks or folks who are only partly concerned for others.

Want to stand out in this world? Be fully invested in the concerns of others.

Do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others. —Phil 2:4

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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