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Grand Entrances  

Is it okay with you if I gripe briefly about the hotel industry?

Diana and I just returned from a 10-day Florida trip where we stayed in three different hotels.  I noticed a common theme in all three of them: they work hard to impress you with their lobby—but not nearly as hard on the condition of your room. 

In the lobbies of all three hotels, we encountered vaulted ceilings, iridescent artwork, and hammered glass dispensers offering cucumber-infused water at the turn of a spigot. So far, so good.

All three of our hotels were name brand places.  All three had great reviews from multiple sources (I do my best to vet them). But all three had a range of significant problems in the guest rooms.

We found caulk that was cracked, yellowed, or missing.  Carpeting was often stained or worn past the obvious need to replace.  There was a toilet that protested every flush.  And one of the bathtubs—had it been in your own home—would have embarrassed you so much, you would refuse to allow guests to use it!

Keep in mind, we stayed at decent places!  Reputable chains—not sketchy one-offs.  It made me wonder, how often DO the managers perform an actual check on the condition of the product they are selling—rooms?

But lest we chastise the hotel industry too roughly, let us take a similar inventory of our hearts.  Is it not equally true of most of us that we often try to make an excessively good impression on people?

Like the hotel rooms that invariably don’t live up to their lobbies, don’t we often portray a  grand and growing spirituality as people enter the sparkling lobbies of our lives?  But inside, we are yellowed and worn—and in great need of renovation.  At least, I am.

It’s time to let the Holy Spirit do a “room check” on every chamber in our heart. It’s time for a renovation.  As 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

O God, would you renovate my heart this day?  This week?  This year?  Conform me to the image of Jesus.  Show me all that needs renewal or replacement. Let the inside of me match the outside of me—and none of it like me at all!  Only Jesus!

 
Search for a Shark Tooth   

You’ve been there, gazing into the night sky with friends, all of whom find a shooting star—except you. Or everyone in the car spots the huge eagle—except you.  

That was my experience padding along the shoreline of Mickler’s Landing, on the southern end of Florida’s Ponte Vedra Beach. Famous for shark teeth, we were there on the hunt for these black triangular treasures that wash up on the shore.

My granddaughter quickly found one in the foamy wash. Ditto my daughter, whose haul for the morning totaled seven. Me? I found none, despite many steps up and down the sand. An experienced shark tooth guy named Ian, who keeps his impressive collection inside a conch shell, coached me a bit. “There’s a distinct shine to the black. Once you learn to spot them, it’s easy.”  

Yeah right. Easy for Ian. Easy for my daughter. Even my granddaughter, Joslynn. But me—I was toothless (ur, shark toothless) and getting discouraged. It was lunchtime. A trip to McDonald’s with the kids sounded a lot more tempting than a vain search for shark teeth. I was more than ready to quit. 

And that’s when I found it. My very own shark’s tooth: black and glistening, just like I’d been told! I touched it, photographed it, and showed it off. Exhilarating! And to think I almost traded this moment for a Big Mac.  

 

I wonder if my walk on the beach is a metaphor for how many of us feel about finding lost people we can connect with to share our faith. We’re told there are lost people all around us. Indeed, Jesus Himself assured us “the fields are white for harvest.”  

“Yeah right, “ we respond cynically. Somehow, we don’t seem to find these folks ready for harvest. But maybe there are some lessons you and I can take away with us from my shark tooth search.  

Lesson #1 Get out on the beach!  If you don’t look, you can’t find. Jesus went where the lost people were, never expecting them to knock at His door. 

Lesson #2 Commit to the search long term. You might connect quickly, like Joslynn. More than likely, sharing Jesus is going to take time.  

Lesson #3 Expect to be tempted to quit. Don’t! The world is full of temporal treasures and comforts—all vying for your attention. But what can compare to the worth of a soul?

A Big Mac is a small prize when eternity is at stake. Stay hungry for what matters. 

 

 
Search for a Shark Tooth   

You’ve been there, gazing into the night sky with friends, all of whom find a shooting star—except you. Or everyone in the car spots the huge eagle—except you.  

That was my experience padding along the shoreline of Mickler’s Landing, on the southern end of Florida’s Ponte Vedra Beach. Famous for shark teeth, we were there on the hunt for these black triangular treasures that wash up on the shore.

My granddaughter quickly found one in the foamy wash. Ditto my daughter, whose haul for the morning totaled seven. Me? I found none, despite many steps up and down the sand. An experienced shark tooth guy named Ian, who keeps his impressive collection inside a conch shell, coached me a bit. “There’s a distinct shine to the black. Once you learn to spot them, it’s easy.”  

Yeah right. Easy for Ian. Easy for my daughter. Even my granddaughter, Joslynn. But me—I was toothless (ur, shark toothless) and getting discouraged. It was lunchtime. A trip to McDonald’s with the kids sounded a lot more tempting than a vain search for shark teeth. I was more than ready to quit. 

And that’s when I found it. My very own shark’s tooth: black and glistening, just like I’d been told! I touched it, photographed it, and showed it off. Exhilarating! And to think I almost traded this moment for a Big Mac.  

 

I wonder if my walk on the beach is a metaphor for how many of us feel about finding lost people we can connect with to share our faith. We’re told there are lost people all around us. Indeed, Jesus Himself assured us “the fields are white for harvest.”  

“Yeah right, “ we respond cynically. Somehow, we don’t seem to find these folks ready for harvest. But maybe there are some lessons you and I can take away with us from my shark tooth search.  

Lesson #1 Get out on the beach!  If you don’t look, you can’t find. Jesus went where the lost people were, never expecting them to knock at His door. 

Lesson #2 Commit to the search long term. You might connect quickly, like Joslynn. More than likely, sharing Jesus is going to take time.  

Lesson #3 Expect to be tempted to quit. Don’t! The world is full of temporal treasures and comforts—all vying for your attention. But what can compare to the worth of a soul?

A Big Mac is a small prize when eternity is at stake. Stay hungry for what matters. 

 

 
How long does a Sunday School teacher's impact last?  

How long does a Sunday School teacher’s impact last?

As a first-grader, it was riveting watching the Sunday School teacher stick images of Bible characters on a flannel graph.  There was just something about “seeing” Joseph and his coat of many colors. Or Daniel in the lions’ den.  The mischievous me admits to chuckling at the figures when they occasionally tumbled off the felt board.  But those stories somehow came alive (my wife, a preschool teacher, tells me that even in an age of iPads, kids still adore flannel graph stories).

Around the second or third grade, I recall Mrs. Patterson inviting our entire Sunday School class over for a party at her house. Great food, games, and fun.  What kid wouldn't love that?  I still remember it half a century later.

How long does a Sunday School teacher’s impact last?  Well, it was a Sunday School teacher who reached out to my unsaved father, visiting with him week after week for nearly 18 months before Dad finally came to Christ.  And that was more than 60 years ago.

Recently, I bought a book on eBay written by Charles Spurgeon titled, John Ploughman's Talk.  Inside the front cover, I found this inscription written in a red pencil:

“Present from my Sunday School teacher and schoolmate, John B. Thomas. 

Christmas, 1897.” 

It was signed by R.S. Diehl.  Who can tell what kind of impact this Sunday School teacher’s gift made on young Diehl?  Maybe the book fired him with an unquenchable love for the Savior.  Or maybe it kept him from choosing godless paths.  Heaven will reveal all.

Meanwhile, 123 years after the giving of this gift, I hold the evidence of Mr. Thomas' generosity in my hand.  And no doubt, his thoughtful gesture will be a blessing in my life, too!

How long does a Sunday School teacher’s impact last?

         Years. 

         Decades. 

         And likely—more often than we could ever imagine—all of eternity.

That’s how long.

 
Yesterday River  

Ever hear of a town named Goofy Ridge?

I didn't think so.  However, Goofy Ridge is a real place, near the center of Illinois. And that's not the only oddball city name in the Land of Lincoln.  There's Bonegap (southeastern Illinois) and Oblong, also southeast.   Head far south, and you'll arrive at a town named Muddy. But if you’re hungry, by all means, stop at Sandwich in DeKalb county.   Careful—or you might lose yourself in Lost Nation (Ogle County).  But you’re always welcome in Hometown (on the southeast border of Chicago).  Who knew city names could be so entertaining?

On a recent flight over Canada, I stared at the map detailing our path and was intrigued by a landmark identified as Yesterday River. It begins at —wait for it—Yesterday Lake, northeast of Cochrane, Ontario.

You have to wonder why they named it, "Yesterday River."  Did someone fall in love there?  Or lose a loved one there?  What memories lie buried in the banks of Yesterday River?

Bet you’ve met some people whose thoughts and conversations are so focused on the past, you wonder if they live in Yesterday River.  For them, everything that was ever good happened in the past. Nothing of the future intrigues or inspires—let alone—interests them.

If you’re a follower of Christ, it’s okay to visit Yesterday River, but it's not okay to live there.   When Jesus returned to heaven, his last words to the disciples were not, "Go and reminisce."  He said, "Go and make disciples!"  

In Isaiah 43:19, God says, "See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

It’s a new year.  A new slate.  A new set of possibilities. Maybe resolution #1 for you and me this year is to spend less time at Yesterday River, and more time looking for the new thing God is doing even now.  Happy New Year!

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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