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Ultimate Gift  

It's one of my least favorite parts of travel: car rental.

It begins with a wrestling match online, where it is nearly impossible to gauge the total price of your car before you hit the “Purchase Now” button.  Airport surcharges, city taxes, “recovery fees” and other cash-snatching schemes pile on to the price. 

Forget about "naming your own price!"

That's why I make it a point to low-ball any offer I make online.  Contrary to the ad campaigns, they really don't want you to “name your own price.”  Evidence?  They nearly always discourage me from making my bid, while very “helpfully” suggesting a much higher figure.

Anyway, your plane lands and there you are ready to pick up your vehicle at the rental counter.  That's when they begin the heavy hustle for add-ons and extras...along with the threat of charging you $10 per drop of gas (or something close to that), should you fail to return the tank full. 

Was this a mistake?

But there I was earlier this week in Denver, having reserved a car online for $21/day.  I'd  successfully evaded the airport money monsters and proceeded to my assigned slot.

There it was: a stunning black Mercedes Benz.  Leather seats, digital-everything--this car was loaded.  And the keys were in my hand.  Was this a mistake? Had I somehow won the car rental lottery?  What had I done to earn this sweet ride?

Answer: nothing. 

The best gifts

Forgive me for making a hairpin turn here, but isn't that somehow an image of the kindness and grace of our God?  He loves to give good gifts just because He's kind.  For no apparent reason other than He likes to bless us, He gives us the best gifts. Sometimes those gifts are as simple as a plate of hot toast.  Sometimes they're as enduring as a kiss on the cheek.

And then there's God's ultimate gift—the gift of being “saved by grace through faith,” also known in Ephesians 2:8, 9 as “the gift of God.”  It’s the gift of being forgiven of our long list of offenses (sins), the gift of restoration with God.  It’s the gift of God’s personal guide, the Holy Spirit.  And—it’s the gift of eternal life in heaven. 

Have you received this gift—the gift of Jesus?

From Churches to Champing  

Everyone knows about camping.  And most of us who camp know all about “glamping.”  It's a marriage between glamour and camping.  Think upscale trailers with luxurious amenities.  Trust me—if you haven't been to an RV dealer recently, you have no idea how cushy camping can be.

Yet an English charity, Britain's “Churches Conservation Trust,” now makes it possible to fall asleep in church—and not get hassled.  The Trust, which preserves some 350 “disused” churches, is a creative fundraising scheme to provide for their maintenance.  With no congregants to supply funds, it's tourism that now helps finance roof repairs, tuck-pointing and other maintenance.

Sleeping in an Abandoned Church...

For about $50 per person, you get the unique experience of sleeping overnight in an abandoned church.  Launched in 2014, they call it “champing.” But there's little luxury to be found here. Think basic necessities, not flat-panel TVs.  

An article in the April American Way Magazine points out, “You may find yourself sleeping in a pew, or using bathroom facilities that seem to predate Christ.”   Nevertheless, the idea has been gathering momentum.

I Have a Better Idea!

There are now 12 of these “converted” churches available from Scotland to England's deep south.  And more bookings were reserved in the first few days of the new season than all of last year.  Sadly, there seems to be more emotion invested in the preservation of the brick and stone, than any effort at ascertaining what went so wrong inside the walls that these houses or worship are now pseudo hotels.

I have a better idea.  Let's fill them up again—with worshippers!   Let's preach the Word with Holy Spirit Fire.  Let's fill these churches with people who will pray to God and “give Him no rest.”  Let's blast the ancient walls and the timbered ceilings with such a sound of praise, the very idea of dust settling anywhere is simply impossible because of all the Christ-honoring commotion.

By all means, let's abandon the “champing”--but not the churches!

Easter Too Soon  

Easter is in the air, which means there's a spring in our step. Enough spring that many evangelicals are prepared to hop right over Good Friday.  Again.

We love to celebrate Christ's victory over sin and death—as we should.  But is it possible we shortchange the sufferings of Christ on Good Friday?  Wouldn't you agree there is no point to the victory party, if you don't—or won't—embrace the struggle that came before?

Not Good at Doing Somber

It's a peculiar observation of mine that we evangelicals, for the most part, are just not good at doing somber.  Or pensive.

Look at the category of songs we call Contemporary Christian Music.  Most of all these tunes involve boosting our hands, thwopping our drums and surging up and down whilst holding a guitar or bass.  Thoughtful music lacks the bubble gum snap of “Praise and Worship.”  We are postiviely uncomfortable with pauses and silence in group prayer. 

For the most part, we just don't do somber. Introspection lacks the sizzle needed for digital billboards and PowerPoint transitions.  

Of course, much of this is driven by our culture.  Chocolate eggs and pastel bunnies are the distilled essence of our secularized celebration of Easter. 

Culture Trumping the Church?

We buy Easter candy, not Maundy Thursday bitter herbs.

We buy Easter dresses, not Good Friday sackcloth. 

But since when does the culture trump the church?

When Jesus said, “Remember me,” He intended a whole lot more than plastic cups and grape juice and factory-perfect bread chiclets.  He meant every staggered step of His cross bearing walk.  He meant every swing of the executioner's hammer.  He meant every ghastly cry from the cross.  And yes, He meant the brilliance of the angel sitting at the entrance of His empty tomb.  

I am all for a raucous, rollicking shout of joyful worship this Easter Sunday.  But we dare not shrink or trivialize that glory by avoiding the agony of Good Friday.  

For Jesus—and His followers—there has never been a crown without a cross.

And that is why we must linger over Good Friday.





1894 Birthday Party--Recorded!  

How do you celebrate your birthday?  

Some dine at a special restaurant. 

On my birthday, (which happens to be my Mom's birthday, too) Diana bakes a spectacular apple cake—loaded with cinnamon.  This is I adorn with a mountain of whipped cream.

I was recently let in on a birthday celebration from 1894.  They recorded it!  (at least part of it). 

Before mp3 files or CDs or vinyl records, people recorded audio by speaking into a metal “horn” that recorded onto a small wax cylinder (about the size of a large can of peaches).   The sound was scratchy, but it did the job.

Recording from 1894 Birthday!

In the amazing book and compilation, Waxing the Gospel, the October 22nd, 1894 birthday of one Joseph Sawyer was recorded.   As you listen, you hear Joseph himself give the date and announce in a strong voice, “This is my seventy-first birthday, and I am very glad to see my children and grandchildren here.”  His children, and grandchildren then all offer a short tribute.

His wife follows singing a verse of her husband's favorite hymn, Rock of Ages.  Then...amazingly...the entire family gathers around and boldly sings the Doxology:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow....

Born in 1823

Think of it.  I was listening to the celebration of a man born in 1823.    Thomas Jefferson was still alive.  D.L. Moody had not yet been born.  The Civil War was nearly four decades away.

Of course, God heard this all “live.”  I only heard it recorded.  But you know, I'm wondering if Joseph Sawyer would mind if I borrowed his Doxology idea, should God grace me with another birthday.   I'm guessing not.

So dust off your hymnal.  Loosen up those vocal cords.  We'll plan to sing then, Lord willing!

Giving to God--Lessons from an 8-Year Old  

How good are you at giving to God?

This week, I was schooled by an eight year old.

Joslynn and I sat down to play “Money Matters for Kids,” developed by Christian Financial Concepts.  The game feels a lot like Monopoly, but with entirely different objectives.

Your goal as you wind your way around the game board is to set aside enough money that you can give away $30, save enough to pay for a toy you want, and also have enough cash on hand to pay for living expenses.

Too Focused on Winning

Naturally, I wanted to win the game, so when I had amassed the $30 for giving (but not yet fulfilled the other game requirements) I confess a sense of disappointment when my roll of the dice landed me on the “Give to Church” square.  Too focused on “winning”—I regretted having to start again from scratch.   

By contrast, I watched as Joslynn landed repeatedly on the same spot on the board.  But her reaction upon learning she would surrender her saved up cash was, “Great!  Look how much I can give away!”  I wish you could have sat there on the carpet with us to see the smile on her face.   At one point she gave $50, then $8.  At another moment I heard her count out (excitedly) “90 dollars!  Yay!  I get to give 90 dollars!”

My Inner Grump

Her bubbly enthusiasm was a contrast to my inner grump. You may be tempted to chalk all of this up to the innocence of youth, presuming that Joslynn does not fully understand the value of a dollar.  Not so. She does chores, saves her money—but gives it freely.  

Of course, anyone can be generous playing with fake money rather than real green. Yet this same eight year old was recently at a Cracker Barrel restaurant and bought a toy for her two siblings as well as herself!

If it’s true that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) then life’s ultimate winners are those who give with the biggest smile. 

Thanks for the lesson—and that huge smile, Joslynn!


Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  --2 Corinthians 9:7

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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