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Lessons from a Farmhouse  

Saturday morning.  We are standing around the massive oak table in the farmhouse where my wife, Diana, grew up.  Her brothers are there along with a few other family members. 

This place is Christmas and Easter and crowds and kids. This is the table you gather around where smoked ham melts in your mouth.  Where your plate is so heaping, melted red Jell-O streams like edible lava down your mountain of mashed potatoes.

The house is empty now. Diana’s mom passed away more than a year ago, her dad 12 years before that. So the estate needs to be cleared out and cleaned up.  I find myself angry at the many cobwebs.  How dare the spiders claim such a disproportionate amount of space on the walls and in the corners?  Such is the inevitable state of a house not lived in.

We are sifting through furniture and dishes and antiques and knick-knacks asking who would like what.  Everyone is polite and uncharacteristically reserved.  More than decorum, I’m convinced there’s a numbness borne of lingering loss. 

It is the oddest of family gatherings. 

Stories finally tumble out and dust bunnies dance with the laughter.  Whether therapy or harmless reminiscing, it doesn’t matter.  Everyone seems hungry to laugh. 

As this photo and that knick-knack are parceled out, it feels like a cruel surgery—one without anesthesia, where paintings and pictures are peeled off the wall.  These things belong here.  In their place.  In this home.  Except, it’s not really home anymore. Diana’s Mom and Dad are gone.  What is left? Just memories—and stuff.   But isn’t that the story of us all? 

Diana and I both walk away with two lessons from the morning.  The first lesson: hold stuff lightly.  Even those possessions you and I prize the most will someday be reduced to a dust pasture.   Hold stuff lightly. 

The other lesson? Hold people tightly.  People are not forever.  Despite the bravado of youth and the tenacity of folks who seem like they’ll “always” be there, we are all born with an expiration date.   Ultimately, the only comfort in this reminiscing is the reality that home is yet to come: Heaven.

I wanted to close this blog with the Bible verse that says “Set your minds on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”  But I was unsure of the reference.  So I picked up my iPhone and said to Siri, “Set your minds on things above,” presuming she’d connect me with the reference.   Instead, she replied, “I’m not sure I understand.”

Not many do.

 

 

 
What do YOU see?  

Two-year-old Sadie lives for “by-YAY” (her pronunciation of ballet).

It’s the first thing Sadie does when she wakes up, and often her last waking activity.  She takes her Park District ballet class quite seriously, easily agitated when others prance about rather than follow their routines.

Attending a performance of the Nutcracker, Sadie wept at intermission—fearing it was over.  At a holiday basement sleep-in, her three older siblings nestled themselves into their “tent,” while Sadie performed her ballet routine—at 10:30 at night, no less!

So it should not have surprised us when, upon pirouetting across the floor of our home, Sadie spied a Christmas elf suspended from a hook which our two-year-old granddaughter immediately labeled, “by-YAY.” 

 

In Sadie’s defense, the elf lady’s red dress sort of resembles a tutu.  And her skinny black shoes might be seen as ballet slippers.  But the Velcro hands clasped together pointing upward, communicated just one thing to Sadie: “by-YAY!” 

She loves ballet so much, she sees it everywhere. But you and I do the same thing.  What we love most, we “see” the most.  Got a passion for Chevy muscle cars?  You see them everywhere on the road. Wish you could afford a Burberry purse?  You see them everywhere, right?

But what if we let the power of our passions work for us concerning people outside the Kingdom of God?  What if we loved people so much, we started seeing them everywhere—just as Jesus sees them: eternal souls headed either to heaven or hell?

Many of us will invest considerable time and calories eating and watching the NFL playoffs.  Could I challenge you—during the very next game—to set football aside for a moment?  Force yourself to stare at those stadium aerial shots—likely taken from a MetLife blimp. I dare you to look at the tens of thousands of people sitting in those stands grasping hotdogs and high hopes.

Now see them as Jesus sees them: many lost souls on a slow trek toward a Christ-less eternity.  Some, to be sure, are headed for heaven.  But Jesus told us in Matthew 7:14 that most are not: “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Shouldn’t we learn to see people this way—either lost or saved?  Shouldn’t this melt our hearts and chisel our souls?  Why couldn’t this be the year we learn to see people as Jesus sees them?  Why shouldn’t it?

 
At the End of the Year  

There is something sobering about facing a new year.  For some, it’s the intimidation of the unknown. But I’m not referring to the slew of latent fears and unanswered questions of 2019:

  • Will I hang on to my job?
  • Will my cancer stay in remission?
  • Will our daughter return safely from her tour in Iraq?

No doubt those are huge questions.  But the sobriety I speak of comes only with a careful scan of the previous year.  Glance back upon the last twelve months and consider with me…

There were opportunities to build bridges into the lives of unsaved friends and neighbors.  Exactly how much bridge building did I do?   Or did I merely talk about what I hoped to do?

There were moments—lots of them—where I could have chosen to demonstrate selfless love to my mate. Did I seize those moments and quietly emulate Christ—or did I merely have good intentions?   Or worse, did I simply put myself first—again and again?

There were texts I could have chosen to send or calls I could have made  to encourage my son or daughter—and remind them how proud of them I really am—that I’m on their side, pulling for them, praying for them.  How many of those did I actually share? 

While I was privileged to support some missionaries, did I just give money?  Or did I give the better gift—intercessory prayer?

Did I listen to sermon after Sunday sermon (and secretly feel proud of my church attendance) or was I actually a doer of the Word?

If my Hulu, Netflix and YouTube usage for all of last year were shown in the same pie chart that included my service for Christ, would I be okay with what the data showed?

This past year, did I actually hide God’s Word in my heart—or merely agree that memorizing Scripture is something I should really make a priority?

Did I become more like Christ—or just hope that it would happen?

Sorry if I sound like a drizzling rain on your New Year’s parade.  Don’t mean to.  But I think there’s a place for warning ourselves at the start of the coming new year, lest the lullaby of good intentions send us off to sleep and we become satisfied with dreams of kingdom living that are never attempted, let alone. attained. May God wake us all—every one of us—so we live the new year fully alive for Him!

“LORD, make me to know my end And what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am.”              -- Psalms 39:4

 
All I Want for Christmas  

“Remember that song, All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth?”  Jack asks me.

“Of course,” I tell him.

“Saw a homeless person the other day that reminded me of that tune.”  Leave it to Jack to connect an iconic Christmas classic with a homeless person.

“The guy had almost no teeth—only one in front,” Jack mused.

“That’ll get your attention,” I offered, wondering where he was going.

“As I walk by, this semi-toothless person looks directly at me and says, ‘Have a safe weekend.’  And he shoves a plastic cup in my face. Didn’t say anything about money.  Didn’t need to.”

“So did you give him any?” I wondered.

“I ain't exactly Ebenezer Scrooge,” Jack mused. “But I rarely give these street people anything.  There are so many—and so many are fakes.  Just too burned out by ‘em.  So I tell him, “Hope you have a safe weekend, too,” and then shuffle into the train station—feeling guilty every step.”

I was hooked and was now compelled to wait while Jack shook his head and exhaled.  Slowly. Finally, he picked up the story. 

“I’m now feeling like that guy in James 2:16 who says to some needy person, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’ without giving them the basics of life.  So I walk back, drop a buck in the guy’s cup, and said, ‘Here ya go, Sir.’”

“And?”

(Jack squeezes his eyes shut). “And the homeless dude replies, “I'm a woman!” 

“No way!” I shout. 

“Well, not to be mean,” Jack offered, “but the face is creased and hard and all but lost in the hood of her ratty winter coat. And the voice is…well…cigarettes have a way of doin’ that,” he opined.  

“How awkward, Jack!”

“Fortunately, I’m still wearing my clip-on sunglasses, which I immediately tear off, blaming them for my ‘poor eyesight.’  Seemed like the best apology at the time. Not sure I covered my tracks, though.”

“I'm thinking no,” I said honestly to my friend.

“Homeless people,” Jack mumbles, his head hanging low. “Maybe I’ve been too harsh on ‘em.  Too judgmental.”

Silence.

 

Maybe I’ve been too harsh on them, too.

All they want for Christmas is…

…a little help.

…a little warmth.

…a little sense that someone knows they even exist. 

Does the reason they are homeless really matter after all?  Must these people meet our qualifications of neediness before we will part with a buck?  Or two?   Or ten? 

Shouldn’t just a little of that extravagant gift-giving God exemplified in sending Jesus to ungrateful rebels like ourselves show up in the cups of the homeless folks that cross our paths—even if some of them are cons?

Joy to the world—even (and maybe especially) to the homeless.

The Lord has come!

 
Best Used By  

 

It’s the job nobody wants.  So it rarely gets done.  I speak of the Great Refrigerator Clean Out.

But my fearless friend, Chris, recently undertook the task on the 10th floor where we work, as he knelt before the Great White Beast that chills our lunches.  Arms flailing, he yanked drawers open, blasting through shelf after shelf of post-dated delicacies. 

Me?  I, umm, stood by and typed careful notes on my iPad.  Among the things we encountered:

  • A partially consumed water bottle—best used by 2017.
  • A bottle of sriracha sauce—best used by September 16, 2016.
  • A jug of Catalina dressing—best used by November 15, 2013.

We found outdated steak sauce, outdated Tabasco, and outdated Hershey syrup, along with a small container of brown crumbly something-or-other that was undated but appeared mutated. 

The freezer yielded ice cream from one full year ago and had the appearance of frozen dust. We surely did not need a label to tell us it was long past any “best used by” date.

Our quest for questionable eats got me to thinking.

God has entrusted every one of us with certain gifts, talents, and abilities.  They are merely on loan to us—but not forever.  Because “it is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment,” there is a “Best used by” date for every one of those gifts.

None of us knows when we’re going to die, just that we will die.   Only the foolish live as if there’s no expiration date. 

Turns out you and I have a relatively tiny slice of time to do whatever it is Christ has called us to do. Live a “long” life, and you will see only about 80 Christmases.  A surprisingly few sunrises and sunsets. And even fewer full moons.

So what of God’s gifts are going unused in your life—and mine?  Time to get busy.  Before the “Best used by” date comes ‘round! 

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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