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When Trains Talk  

Freight trains are as common as cats—and for some, more preferable. 

Stepping off the commuter train I ride every day, I walked parallel to a freighter rolling toward the stock yards. With no fence between me and the goods-laden train just a few feet to my left, I chose my path carefully, intrigued by the sounds I was hearing.  Or not hearing.

A series of gondola cars eased past, eerily silent.  One could barely discern the press of their steel wheels on the rails.  Hardly a whoosh.

But other cars creaked.  Flat cars shuddered, tankers shrieked, while box cars groaned.  Some rumbled as if their metallic insides were fighting a rail car version of intestinal flu, their insides heaving and jangling.

I was immediately puzzled.  Why the extreme difference in sounds?  These train cars were all on the same track, heading the same direction, pulled by the same locomotive all traveling at the same speed. Why such disparity in the way they hugged the track?

I’m hardly a railroad expert  like my friend, or a physics teacher like my dad.  But after pondering the rolling stock for some time, I made the following basic observations :

  • The cars are not all built the same.
  • They each carry a different load.
  • They certainly don’t have the same amount of miles on them.

Forgive my over active imagination as I suggest there might be a spiritual analogy in this, ur...train of thought.

Sadly, I must confess, I sometimes look at people and wonder, Why is he making such a racket about that issue?  Why such noise over something so “small?”  Or—Why can’t she just deal with this quietly, minus all the moaning and groaning?   I’m sure you would never be so unspiritual and think those kinds of thoughts, would you?   😊

Turns out people share more in common with freight trains than you might think. Just like train cars…

  • People are not all built the same.
  • They each carry a different load.
  • They certainly don’t have the same amount of miles on them.

It's tempting to look at exteriors or circumstances or other visible triggers and presume we know what’s going on inside another person. But we don’t. Nor should we be consumed with guessing.

Our Heavenly Father has built us all differently. And we don’t carry the same load.  So some of us may at times come across like our insides are being jangled.  We may shudder or shriek or groan. 

Seems to me we need to give each other the grace to be who we’ve been built to be, carrying whatever burdens our Father has asked us to carry.  More than that, let’s remember the huge advantage we humans have over train cars.  We can actually help carry the loads our sisters and brothers are bearing. 

All aboard!  Next stop….the twin-cities of Grace and Mercy! 

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

                                                                                --Galatians 6:2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Missions without Jesus  

The word missionary seems to have evolved. And I’m not sure it’s for the best.

I understand a missionary to be someone who uses their gifting (preaching, teaching, translating, nursing, music, construction, administration, arts, etc.) to share the central gospel message: that our sins now separate us from God and we are in desperate need of the Savior, Jesus.

As we support several different missionaries, my wife and I enjoy reading their updates and newsletters. But Jesus seems to be getting less and less press.  We read about construction projects, clean water initiatives, ministries to the poor and other good things.  But there’s often very little said about the gospel.  How we long to read, “This girl we talked with seemed far from the kingdom.  And then she met Christ.  Now her life is so different because….”

Drilling wells, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, freeing sex slaves—are surely noble tasks—and certainly in line with the heart of Christ.  Indeed, Christians must be leading the world in these efforts.  But they are not in themselves the gospel!

I'm not saying it’s either/or—that we should only preach the gospel and not bother with humanitarian relief or biblical justice. I am asking: Where is the problem of sin and the solution of the cross in our good-deed-doing? 

 

To be clear, we ought never to offer our service, our medical care, our food or water conditionally (“if you accept Jesus, then we will help you”).  Christ made no demands before healing or doing good of any kind.  He simply helped or healed.  But nor did He fail to let people know of their fundamental need to repent, with Himself as the solution to their sin problem.

If there isn’t God in our good or Jesus in our justice, we offer a lesser gospel fashioned of feel-good causes and hipster compassion.  For, in the end, there is no real justice without Jesus, no good apart from God.

So let our hands dig wells—while our mouths speak of Christ.  Let us advocate for the poor—but be unfailingly courageous in connecting Jesus with our justice.  May our spirits be welded to the task of meeting physical needs so that we might address the ultimate need of every heart: Christ and Christ only.

 

We must never forget that the gospel is not “you do.”  The gospel is “Jesus did.”

                                                                                                               –Ed Stetzer

 
The Wishing Trees  

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International airport.  You’re familiar with it, aren’t you?  It’s the airport that spans the border between Luzerne and Lackawanna counties in northeast Pennsylvania.

Actually, I’d never flown there myself until this week.  Couldn’t help but notice there were still a few Christmas decorations around, including a lovely set of brightly lit “Wishing Trees.”  The ornaments on these trees were round cardboard discs upon which people wrote their wishes for the new year.  Here’s a sampling of the wishes I discovered:

  • I wish for love, financial stability, no pain and justice for my court battle
  • I wish and pray I will be out of my overwhelming debt in 2019
  • That we don’t lose the home that Mom and Dad worked for all those years
  • I just want my wife to be proud of everything she’s accomplished
  • I wish for common sense and cool heads

There were a few wish zingers from kids. Among the many adult comments, I observed these wee wishes:

  • A real live unikorne (her spelling, not mine)
  • A rubber ducky
  • I wish I could get a new Nerf gun
  • I wish Leyna were my sister
  • I wish that my mom and dad would be happy

Some wishes were haunting.  Or profound. Like these:

  • I wish for forgiveness
  • Let him be okay
  • I hope both of my children continue their sobriety
  • We wish Grandma peace in the passing of Grandpa
  • All people will find and rely on God

But the best wish I found wasn’t so much of a wish as a declaration.  See if you don’t resonate with this one:

  • Thank you, God, for all of my blessings. Never will I let go of your love and my trust in you.

May your “Wishing Tree” be bright with the light of this kind of love—all year long!

 

 
He Did What He Could  

He sniffed the winds and smelled trouble. 

When Georges Loinger heard Hitler on the radio, he shuddered.  When he saw Hitler’s book in the store, he gasped.  And began to prepare.

In the late 1930s, Loinger, an engineer by background, became a physical education teacher with the intention of “preparing and training Jewish youth for the ordeal that awaited” (UK Times).  When the Nazis invaded France in 1940,  Loinger—who fought with the French army—was captured and hauled to a prison camp near Munich.   After escaping, he joined the French resistance force.

The blond-hair, blue-eyed Loinger routinely lead groups of Jewish kids on soccer trips “conveniently” hosted near France’s border with neutral Switzerland.  “Amazingly,” the ball would often be kicked toward the border, where several students would dive into the woods in pursuit (following their teacher’s careful instructions to flee for their lives).  It happened again.  And again.  And again.

With his excellent command of German, Loinger once convinced a group of Nazi officers that the group of 50 children he was escorting had fled the Allied bombing of Marseille.  Reportedly, the Germans gave the Jewish kids candy, even joining along with their singing.  Georges Loinger simply did what he could, ultimately saving hundreds of Jewish children.

Earlier this month, Loinger died at the remarkable age of 108, his reported last words, “Nobody can destroy Jewish culture.”  He surely deserves our heartiest salute as a selfless rescuer.

But might there be a lesson or two for Christ followers in the example of Georges Loinger? Consider:

  • He determined that conflict was unavoidable. 
  • He prepared for the ordeal that was coming. 
  • He helped as many as he could for as long as he could.

You don’t have to be a hunting dog to sniff the winds and know that trouble is on the way again.  For Jews.  For Christians.  For many. 

It’s time to prepare.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.     —1 Corinthians 16:13,14

 

 

 

 

 
Joslynn's Balloon  

When a ten-year-old jumps into your arms, you had better…

A. Be ready

B. Be thankful

We picked up Joslynn (or rather, intercepted her mid-air) at her church youth group, noting a green balloon with a message on it clutched in her hand.  I initially paid little attention to the scribbling on that bulbous bit of latex, because my wife and I were so glad to see Joslynn.

She is just plain fun to have around.  Plus, she is helping me transition to a new office at Moody Radio.  Frankly, she’s become an excellent administrator, conquering cantankerous copy machines, learning to scan documents while numerically sequencing a library of data DVDs for me. Others have observed Joslynn’s work ethic and are asking if she might work for them!

At some point during Joslynn’s stay at our house, I took a closer look at the message scribbled on her balloon, which prompted a few questions.

ME:     So what’s this balloon all about, Joslynn?

HER:   You’re supposed to look at it and remember what you need to do.

ME:     What do you mean?

HER:   It’s something biblical.

ME:     And how many kids made balloons with you?

HER:   Between 100 and 150.

I have no idea what the others scribbled on their balloons, but here’s what I saw on Joslynn’s: “Help me to be kind, helpful and a better follower of Jesus.” 

Ka-Pow!  I was touched—and thoroughly challenged.  Truth is, I found myself in the middle of a self-inventory with questions like:

  • Where is that sentiment of Joslynn’s expressed in my life? 
  • Is there anything written on that green balloon of hers that people would say is true of me?               

There’s something very right about a church youth group that would create a project like that message-on-a-balloon. Something very right about parents that would raise a child to think in the ways Joslynn is thinking.

May her balloon never burst!

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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