A Better Home Elsewhere

It felt like a cabin, but its location just outside the flow of Gatlinburg tourist traffic kept it more in the “hotel” category. A river ran between the street and the little back porch of our hotel-cabin, its water running over rocks and drowning out most of the traffic noise. It was a snug little place, cozy and functional, with wood paneling and 1970s-orange carpet and homemade doughnuts delivered to our door every morning.

And I loved that porch by the river. The weather was perfect for sitting out there, and the noise of the water drowned out most of the car traffic. I could have stayed there forever.

But that wasn’t the point.

The Traveler’s Life

“Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” As blood-bought, redeemed children of God, our home is Heaven, and an “inn” is anywhere God leads us to while we are here—temporarily—on this earth. Our homes are inns. Our workplaces. In some ways, our churches are, too.

Like a hotel that provides clean sheets and endless bagels, the inns we find in life could be any season or area of life where we find comfort. A friend’s house. A time in life with more free time. The city or town we live in—or just moved away from. Some inns provide the basics while others add the swimming pool and the game room and the tiny little snack store by the check-in counter.

But either way, they have a purpose. A temporary purpose.

We may only be here for a little while, but let’s not miss that: we are here for a little while.

Times of Rest

Our stops along the way are not the destination and not the goal, but they are still important. No racecar will win a race without a few pit stops, and it is these times of rest and refreshment that are often exactly what we need to keep running our own races.

It could be a 1970s-decorated cabin by a river. It could be visiting relatives, or a weekend trip to a city we’ve never visited before and where nobody knows our name.

Our Father remembers that we need times of rest, and He loves to give His children good gifts (Matthew 7:11). That’s what these times are: gifts. Opportunities to find encouragement and energy to get back in the race.

And sometimes we will find these inns are part of the race itself.

Times of Work

Whatever inn we find ourselves in right now, we can be certain God planned for us to be here. Often we find rest, and other times we are surprised to find more work than we expected. After all, we were expecting a hotel with room service.

But it just might be that someone in the room next door—or down the street, or next to you on the airplane, or working side-by-side with you forty hours every week—was placed close to you because you have been given the answer to their deepest need and the time to share it. it could be that the annoying guy or the quiet lady you noticed on your way to work need to hear the Gospel. Need you to pray for them. Need you to welcome them into your home. Need you.

Only through the work of God can we find this ironically true: the very place where we find more work and more responsibility can also be where we find deeper rest.

“Martha, you are worried about many things,” Jesus told her as she hurried around, trying to prepare the perfect evening in her own strength (Luke 10:40-42). But when we sit at Jesus’ feet, learning from Him and trusting Him with the details we aren’t getting done right now, we will find the strength—and the time—to do what is needed. It may not be everything on our list, but His plan will be done.

Don’t Confuse Them for Home

We will stay at some inns longer than others. There will be some we wish we could stay in for much longer, and others we are ready to leave before it’s time.

As C.S. Lewis reminds us, they are inns—not our home. We are visiting, fully and freely enjoying them as gifts and utilizing them as opportunities, but not expecting to stay there forever. We are just passing through.

We have a better home elsewhere. One we will never have to leave.

Why I’m Not Trying to Be Content

The little boy was throwing a fit all the way out to the car, mad because Mommy wouldn’t buy him one of those cheap toys that line the checkout aisle. My mom told me the story another mom had shared about her shopping trip with her son. That little boy didn’t know that his Christmas presents were safely tucked away in the trunk, better and bigger and more expensive toys than the object of his tantrum. If only you knew, his mother thought, what I have planned to give you? It’s worth so much more than what you think you want.

I have always thought contentment meant gratitude in the face of ongoing hardship, or choosing to look for the silver lining when it’s hard to be patient for an answer to prayer. In my mind, contentment involved a kind of teeth-gritting, self-bracing choice to be grateful despite all of the obvious reasons not to be. Whenever I thought of contentment, this is what I pictured – stubborn happiness in spite of whatever else is going on.

My definition of being content was missing an important component: reality. Continue reading Why I’m Not Trying to Be Content

Even in a World of Darkness

It doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

The gruesome headlines that often spin out of the Middle East, the relentless advance and political activism of scary ideas, the fear and concern about what the coming years will bring. We hear of varying levels of restricted freedom for Christians around the world, and the individual stories of human evil toward other humans never stop.

This is new to most of us. Coming of age in America—at any point in her history—means seeing churches with no fear of being shut down and taking for granted the unalienable freedoms of religion and speech.

But as Christians, we are part of a family who has seen these things—and so much worse—many times before. The brothers and sisters who have gone before us have faced countless hard and violent situations, and left behind their stories to guide us now.

“We could not run away from it,” Corrie ten Boom wrote years later in The Hiding Place. Just as our generation is faced with ISIS, abortion, and rising violence, hers was marked by a drastic fall into genocidal prejudice and hatred, capturing and murdering even children in their country.

So how did they do it? How did she? How did they live as Christians in a culture of such darkness—and can we live that way, too?

The Beginning

The youngest of four in a deeply spiritual family, Corrie had a happy and carefree childhood. Whenever she felt frightened or worried, her father would assure her of their love and her Heavenly Father’s love. She was secure in that.

But in her middle-aged years, the Nazi invasion of Holland changed so much. As the noose of genocidal law tightened, the Ten Booms and other Dutch Christians had to decide: how do Christians live in the midst of this? How do we respond? How does a Christian live under a government so undeniably evil?

Corrie and her family—and many others—decided they couldn’t just let it happen. They had to get involved. Within months, they became a busy hub of underground activity, following the stepping stones of leading God faithfully laid for them.

The Dilemma

It was through Corrie’s tight-knit family that she clearly saw the dilemma: how a Christian should live in times like they were.

A debate arose among the Ten Booms one Sunday as they ate lunch in Corrie’s sister’s kitchen, and they worried about the place of truth-telling after a close call with Nazi troops. Was it right to lie to an unlawful, murderous authority? What if lives were at stake? But wait, another said. What about honoring God by speaking truth? Wouldn’t He take care of the results then?

“Love. How did one show it? How could God Himself show truth and love at the same time in a world like this?” Corrie wondered. “By dying. The answer stood out for me sharper and chillier than it ever had before that night: the shape of a Cross etched on the history of the world.”

And that’s how it would go: dying. Dying to rights. Dying to comfort. Dying to self.

For at least three people in Corrie’s family, it would be physical death. For other Ten Booms, it would be suffering the pain of those deaths, and the heartbreak around them they were powerless to stop. It would mean dying to their dreams for a peaceful, carefree Christian life.

But of course, for Christians, death is never the end of the story.

No Turning Back

Christians, we’ve been this way before. Our brothers and sisters in Christ have walked this road and roads much darker, leaving signposts along the way. Their stories remind us that, in Jesus, our stories have purpose, meaning, and hope. There is always hope.

Jesus walked our earth and breathed our air and took our sins and died our death—stunning His followers who expected a triumphant takeover of Israel’s territory. But little did any of them know that the true victory was brought through His death, and that His death was. not. final.

When He rose again, He brought forever hope and forever life and forever joy into our lives and our hearts. Nothing can stop us now.

As the headlines swirl and the stories get darker, we can know that our hope is just as strong as it has always been—on cloudy days and sunny ones alike. We can remember those who have gone before us, and the sacrifices they gave to follow Christ and serve Him well. As we face days of growing uncertainty, we can look to the Savior who died to give us an unshakeable hope.

“The Ambition: A Novel”

It feels good to get lost in a good book every now and then. To have the story sweep you up for so long that it’s hard to remember what day it is when you finally emerge from its pages.

Some might tell you that there is no place on a Christian’s nightstand for a work of fiction. Even Amy Carmichael, pioneer missionary and rescuer of children in India, adamantly said that her children had no need of stories that weren’t true.

There is something to be said for focusing on real-world writing that encourages us in our real-world living, but we can uphold the value of nonfiction books without discrediting fiction. After all, our own real-world stories are written by a magnificent Creator, and as we mirror His creativity, our own real-world life grows richer. Continue reading “The Ambition: A Novel”

Hope for a Year Unseen

I want to be like Lucy Pevensie when I grow up.

Always one of my favorite Chronicles of Narnia characters, Lucy lives with joy in the smallest of moments and hopeful appreciation of people—and any other kind of creatures—around her. Her relationship with Aslan often stands in contrast to her siblings’; as the first to find Narnia she seems to also consistently be the first to seek Aslan out and follow him. When the Pevensies return to Narnia in Prince Caspian, Lucy keeps looking for him—and is overjoyed to finally find him one night when the others are sleeping.

“‘Aslan,’ said Lucy, ‘you’re bigger.’

‘That is because you are older, little one,’ answered he.

‘Not because you are?’

‘I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.’”

C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

An Uncharted Year

With less Lucy Pevensie and more of Wile E. Coyote’s frenetic running around, I turn the calendar to a year unknown and unconquered. Page after empty page holds exciting possibilities of things planned and done and accomplished and crossed off the list.

The future is ours, right? What do we want to do with it? The next twelve months hold incredible potential for reaching goals and learning new things and trying new directions and generally attempting self-improvement.

But where is Aslan?

Like Every Year Before It

About a year ago we were looking ahead to the year that is now behind us. Unbeknownst to us, there would be events and changes that we would have never seen coming: highs, lows, in-betweens, and plenty of surprises that popped up unexpected. These last twelve months have shown us more of God at work, whether we realized it at the time or not.

In all of this, have we sought Him out? Or just tried to get things done?

As we turn to face the coming year, even more question marks—more “unbeknownsts”—fill our empty calendars. We don’t know what we will face this year. If it’s anything like every year before it, there will be some big surprises. Maybe some good ones, maybe some life-changing ones, and probably some we would rather not face.

But like Lucy Pevensie, if Aslan is there—we’ll be okay.

With Us Always

On the heels of the recent Christmas season, we go into the rest of our lives with its message ringing in our ears. There is born for you—for you—this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

In ancient times, religious ideas mostly centered around elusive gods that existed somewhere far away from humanity. The gods of Greece and Rome, according to mythology, had their own problems and concerns and sometimes even wars with other gods. They were not very concerned with humans, but their attention could be bought with gifts and promises and sacrifices.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to believe in gods like that? To worry daily about which gods might be mad at you for your allegiance to one of their rival gods and what sacrifices you may need to offer to stay on everyone’s good side? To assume that bad things in your life came from an angry god or maybe just a disinterested one, intent on his own concerns somewhere else?

The Israelites’ God had always been different.

One God, not many. God All-Powerful, not one god warring with others for top-dog status. The God who writes all of history and brings His plans to pass and loves—truly loves—His people.

Even then, in the Old Testament, under the law, there was a sharp division between God and His people. When God came to speak with Moses, He warned the people to stay away from the mountain where they met. If they touched it, they would die. The temple itself illustrated this separation with heavy curtains dividing the people from God’s Most Holy Place.

But all that changed with Jesus.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John wrote (John 1:14). Emmanuel has come, and will never leave. God. Is. With. Us.

Hope in the Right Places

“Everything that is done in this world is done by hope,” Martin Luther wrote. As we turn the calendar to 2018, we hope for lots of things. Better health, better habits, a more productive life, stronger relationships. We set goals and make resolutions that may start with some strength but will ultimately fizzle out long before we expected. If we hope that these resolutions and goals will make us better people, our dreams for the new year will be dashed long before Easter candy goes on clearance.

Hope.

Not in our own self-bettering strategies. Not in a world of progress.

Hope.

Well-placed hope—hope that God will walk through this next year with us as He did this past year and the year before that and every year into the past. Like Lucy Pevensie, waiting to see Aslan move, and trusting him to work out the details of the surprises that come our way.

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

we are not yet where we will be