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The Most Disappointing Day?  

With Christmas now past, allow me to play Scrooge for a moment as I suggest that for many, December the 25th might just be one of the most disappointing days of the year.
“Heresy!” you say.
“Blasphemous!” you cry.
                                                ...But hear me out...
Like you, I love the time off from work at Christmas...the gathering together of family and friends.  Truth is, I actually enjoy wrapping Christmas presents.  And I absolutely love the MUSIC of Christmas.
So...please hear me loud and clear—that I personally love Christmas.
Yet I cannot escape the sense that for millions and millions of people, Christmas is—in the end---a huge disappointment.
Think of it.
For months and months, little kids  have been exposed to thousands of messages on TV that assure them, if they just have this or that cool toy....life will be completely awesome.
For months and months, somewhat older kids have been told, if they just own this hot phone...or nifty tablet...or cool clothing...life will be completely awesome.
For months and months, adults have been told, if they just give (or get) a new Audi with a huge red bow on the roof...life will be completely awesome.
Then comes Christmas day.  The packages are unwrapped, the paper is shredded and the hoopla reaches a wild fever pitch.
By afternoon, reality has settled in.  The toy helicopter isn't quite as great as advertised.
The new tablet is kinda cool....but the screen isn't quite as sharp as you'd hoped  And that new Audi is great but....somehow it didn't revolutionize life the way it was supposed to. 
Life is never completely awesome merely because we possess something—however totally cool and shiny that thing may be.
While I love to give—and receive gifts—there is only ONE gift that is completely awesome.
Only one gift that simply never disappoints.  Only one gift that never rusts or wears out.   That gift is Jesus.  God...in the flesh.  God...with us.  Immanuel!

Soft Spot for Christmas Carols  

Christmas—it’s under assault.  No question about it.  From manger scenes evictedfrom public property to schools refusing to use the word, “Christmas.”  But I’m not here to complain.  No, I’d like to pause…and celebrate.

I wish to celebrate the fact that even as Uncle Sam rushes with sickening speed toward a pluralistic—even pagan--persona, traditional Christmas carols are still heard…virtually everywhere.

It’s true, isn’t it?

We were at a public high school Christmas concert this weekend.  What did we hear?  Silent Night…The First Noel…Do you hear what I Hear?

We’re shopping at a major suburban Chicago mall, and I’m hearing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.  Let earth receive her king!”

At a restaurant, the strains of Hark the Herald Angels Sing plays boldly over the speakers.  Christmas—or make that—“Holiday” TV specials still sing overtly Christian Christmas carols.  References to Christ, Jesus…King…they’re everywhere—on national television.

More than 11 million people have now seen the Wordless Monks on YouTube performing the Hallelujah Chorus.  Amazing.  Absolutely amazing.

Now, admittedly, for the vast majority of folks, the music is nothing more than wallpaper.  It’s as traditional as egg nogg and the abominable snowman.    Yet still, it ought to give us pause.

Pagan America.  America that long ago kicked God out of the schools and out of the courts and—increasingly—out of the public square…still has a soft spot for Christmas carols…if only out of habit.

With all that great theology in all those great carols playing to hundreds of millions of people…these lyrics have to get through to someone.  Somewhere.

No more let sin and sorrow grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found

Joy to the World!

The Lord is come!

Good Day at the Office!  

It's been quite a day at the office.  Okay.  So maybe Hyderabad, India isn't my usual work space.  But it was today.

One of our morning objectives was to visit a slum and capture some compelling images illustrating what life is like for a disturbing number of India's lowest caste, the Dalit’s.

Shooting pro grade video is tough enough under optimal circumstances, much more so walking through unimaginable filth, inhaling wretched smelling air.

Then you set up the tripod, unpack the audio gear (regretting the wires trailing lazily in the human muck) and realize you've left a critical filter back in the van.  Running to fetch the gear, you're suddenly aware of the many eyes peering out at you from under blue tarps and the shadows of crude huts.

There were concerns that our presence was unwelcome by some in the slum.  So we got right down to work.  Then it was time to shoot “B-roll”--the various “cutaway” shots that editors use to spice up a video.   This is the stuff I love to shoot best.

But the moment I started shooting, my “slum guide”--a fellow believer--introduced me to a little girl who was blind.  She couldn't have been more than 10 or 11.  Would I please stop and pray with her?  Of course, I did.  We barely got off another shot of some pigs roaming the slum when a woman came up and requested prayer for the cancer that she was battling.  We prayed.  We were guided into another hut where we prayed for still another.   It was touching...but troubling at the same time.  I had come to gather images...but was called upon to give prayers.

Later that afternoon, I had the rare opportunity to interview two women who were formal Hindu temple prostitutes.  When we were done...we prayed together.  Same with two Indian pastors we interviewed, both of whom have  been persecuted.

A lesson God seems to be teaching in all of this?  Perhaps just this: the extent we are willing to be “interrupted” to share another's pain--if only in a prayer—is the measure of a day well spent.

Come to think of it, it's been a good day at the office.  Praise God!


A Glimpse of Heaven  

I saw a glimpse of heaven this week.  We're in India, looking at the power that a school run by Christians can have in impacting the problem of human trafficking.

In a nutshell, India's Dalit caste—the lowest of the low--represents the vast majority of sex slaves in India.  Because the Dalits are so poor, they are often unable to afford schooling for their young.  Lacking the social network (safety) a school experience provides, these girls, whose parents are out working, become easy prey for the traffickers.

Enter the Good Shepherd Schools—a growing network of English Medium Schools.

Operated by Christians, these affordable schools make possible an education for children who would otherwise not have access.  With an education, girls learn valuable business skills.  They are much less prone to be caught up in the ugly web of human trafficking.

So we were visiting one of these schools that Friends Church of Yorba Linda, California has helped sponsor.  Getting out of the van, we were met by a drum corps and small band.  Our team walked a corridor flanked by girls in festive dresses, showering us with orange and yellow flower petals.  There was applause, confetti—even fireworks--in this tribute of thanks recognizing what Friends Church has done.

The thought struck me almost immediately in the hot sun of a Bangalore morning.  This is a picture of heaven!  This is a small taste of what it will be like to join the crowd of witnesses we read about in Scripture.  The music, the pageantry the colors....surely this is a preview image of the heaven we will someday enjoy.

The only dark cloud in this otherwise sunny picture? The sobering question: Exactly how much am I investing my life now in causes that heaven will celebrate?

The Bible tells us, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” the things God has prepared for those who love him—“

So...how much do I love Him?  How much do you love Him? How much of a celebration will be yours and mine in heaven?

Herod Too Late  

They say the best actors don't act.  They are simply absorbed into the character they portray.  I had a taste of that during a recent tour of the Herod exhibit at Jerusalem's Israel Museum.
For years, I've had a fascination with Herod the Great.  Many know him only as the king in the Christmas story who executed Bethlehem's baby boys.  And make no mistake—Herod was ruthless, even vicious, toward any perceived threat.
But Herod the Great, for all his evil, was also a great architect, a great builder, a great visionary.   He loved color, beauty and luxury. 
All these qualities are in abundance at the Israel Museum's Herod exhibit.  As you wind through the maze of amazing displays, you see wall frescoes, elaborate window frames, intricate tile work.
On one wall, we marveled at the exquisite detail in a colorful painting depicting a naval battle.  At our feet, the black and white checkerboard pattern of a tile floor in mint condition.  There were artistically shaped clay jars still labeled with their exotic contents.   We are now fully absorbed—almost lost--in Herod's lavish lifestyle. 
Finally, there's the dark rotunda containing the stone sarcophagus of Herod the Great.   It's made of a reddish limestone that shines like marble (I actually touched the engraved floral pattern).
But peering at the box that held Herod's body, I was immediately blasted with a recollection of Hebrews 9:27: “It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment.”
In life, he was Herod the Great.  But as for eternity, barring a death bed conversion, he will be Herod-The-Late.  Too late to receive the gift of God which is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  The question is—what about YOU?
All the wealth and wonder of this world will be of no consequence when we stand at last before God Almighty. All that will matter is our relationship with the Jesus Herod tried to kill as an infant. Do you know that Jesus as your Savior?

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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