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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! 

 
Are We Boring?  

The young man was spiritually open.  Though he’d come from a Hindu background, he actually attended a Bible preaching church for several weeks, then wrote down this assessment:

“The church did not make a favorable impression on me. The sermons seemed to be uninspiring. The congregation did not strike me as being particularly religious. Here, at times, I would involuntarily doze. I was ashamed, but some of my neighbors, who were in no better case, lightened the shame. I could not go on long like this, and soon gave up attending the service.”

In other words, this guy was bored. Flat out bored. Who was he? The man who eventually became the leader of one-fifth of the world’s population: Mahatma Gandhi.

His encounter with boredom causes me to wonder: What about us?  What about our churches?  Are they boring?  I can hear the clank of a thousand defensive shields going up:

  • “Hey!  My pastor works very hard on his messages.  Besides, nobody bats a thousand!”
  • Must we be entertainers?  This is a church service, not a theater production!”
  • “We do the best we can with what we’ve got.”

I do not argue against any of those statements. But still I ask —are we boring people?  How often do we even dare to ask the question?  Apparently not often enough.  I suspect that because we love Jesus and love the Word and love our churches, we presume others will as well—and we leave it at that. 

Could it be that one reason Millennials and others are turning their backs on the church is because we are boring? Let us remember that while Jesus Christ taught profound truth and expounded on the deep tenets of Scripture, He was never boring. Even His worst critics never charged Jesus with being boring.

So where are the survey tools that help us recognize the boredom factor in our worship services?  Where is the seminary course titled, “How to Keep the Wolf of Boredom from Attacking Your Flock?” 

That we do not seem to offer much by way of self-assessment may evidence an arrogance that sees no problem.  We appear satisfied that in encouraging pastors to tell a few stories now and then—maybe a joke at the front end of a sermon—all is well.

I am not saying the church should have the laughter of a comedy club, the intensity of an action film, or the glitz of a star-studded music show.

But…can’t we at least not be boring?  Please?  For heaven’s sake?

 

 
Time to Pray  

We are on board a Turkish Airlines Boeing 777 headed for O’Hare.  Since leaving Chicago, Diana and I have flown through or to Iceland, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Turkey. Given the speed of flight, one day we had breakfast in Oslo, lunch in Warsaw and supper in Bucharest.

As I write this, we have just flown over the Shetland islands, about 180 miles off the coast of Norway.  I only know this because of the handy maps, animations, and statistics presented in the “My Flight” app. 

As anyone who has traveled will relate, it’s interesting to track your flight conditions.  For example, right now, our true airspeed is 497 mph.  The outside temperature is -63 degrees. Distance traveled so far: 1937 miles. Altitude: 32,000 feet.  Headwind: 48 miles per hour.  Heading: 291.   Dublin is creeping in off to our left, and the total flight is projected to take just under 11 hours.

 

But there is one graphic popping up consistently that particularly catches my eye.  In the bottom right-hand corner of the screen it says, “Time to prayer: 1:38.”  Along with that graphic is a sort of compass pointing to Mecca, citing the aircraft’s current distance and direction from Islam’s holiest city. 

Turkey is a Muslim country, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that its national airline would offer reminders for followers of Allah to pray (the screen comes up regularly). 

It’s tempting to write off the prayer reminder on an airplane screen as shallow, even mechanical.  And maybe it is for some.  

But what about my prayer life?  To what schedule have I committed myself for communicating with the living God?   Just where is my sense of discipline? 

Scripture says we are to “pray without ceasing.”   Those sentence prayers throughout the day are a marvelous way of keeping in step with the Spirit.   Yet there ought also to be regular times—-set times—when we come before God as an act of love, conversation, and extended fellowship. 

“Time to pray.”  What does your clock say?

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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