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Two Kinds of People  

Recently, I emceed an event for Awana Clubs at Northside Gospel Center in Chicago.  Awana—the Bible program—co-founded by Art Rorheim who is 98 years old, soon to be 99.  He stood with great strength and composure, speaking to the crowd who gave him a standing ovation.

What does a 98-year-old man say at an event like this?

  • A man who has launched a Bible club attended by more than 2.3 million kids in 102 countries…every week?
  • A man who traces his spiritual roots to Paul Rader and the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle.
  • A man who has met at least two U.S. Presidents.
  • A man who may well never have so public an opportunity to speak again.

I was curious.

It didn’t take him long to get to the point.  Art looked out at the crowd after sharing a few lighter thoughts and said—quote—“There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are going to heaven, and those who are going to hell.”   He then told how many years ago he was given an unexpected glimpse of hell.

A neighboring farm was abruptly engulfed in flames.  From where he stood, Art could easily see the farmer’s entire harvest going up in smoke. 

The man’s cattle were trapped in their pasture by a ring of flames.  Art noted with painful detail that the tongues of these cows dangled from their mouths as the flames drew ever closer. They were beyond rescue.

The farmer, out of pity for the animals, took out his rifle and shot them, one by one.

Forgive me for such a graphic picture.

But maybe…just maybe…you needed to hear that. Hell is still burning.  And every lost soul you meet is headed there.  The cows Art told about were beyond rescue.  But your neighbor is not. Shall we then be shy and self-conscious about offering a word of warning?  I think not!

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are going to heaven, and those who are going to hell.  

Kids in Church  

How welcome are children in your church?

The question is not rhetorical.  I am asking you to think carefully. Why shouldn’t we?  We bemoan the sense of disconnect today’s emerging generation feels toward the church, and the many ways they are unplugging.   Yet I wonder if in some ways we haven’t invited them to leave.

"You don't belong!"

“Preposterous!” you say.  “We have many wonderful programs for kids at our church—and they are well attended!”  Maybe you do have a lot of well attended classes and events.  Yet if young kids rarely or never take part in the main event—your Sunday morning worship service—is it possible we are telling them “You kids belong in your special little area…but you really don’t have much to contribute to us adults”? 

Draw a pie chart of last Sunday’s church service, if you dare.  How big a piece of the pie did children get in the actual church service?  Did even one of them play a music solo?  Did an artistic junior high girl read the Scripture passage?   Was the high schooler boy who loves to do stage plays asked to interpret a gospel parable that was mentioned in the sermon?  Why do we seem to hear from the littlest children only at Christmas?    What’s up with that?

Why not?

I ask…

  • Why shouldn’t a sixth grader read Scripture from the stage?
  • Why shouldn’t a junior high kid play a piano solo as people are being seated…or during the offering time?
  • Why shouldn’t the high school youth group—with appropriate guidance—lead the entire morning worship for a given Sunday—music, announcements, sermon and all?!

The answer is….there is no answer. There’s no reason why these things should not be, other than the fact that we have not created church cultures that embrace this kind of thing. 

Too "Professional?"

I’m not talking about tokenism here.   I’m talking about real kids filling real functions in a real service…week after week.

Are we so committed to “professionalism” or a sense of control that we cannot or will not be led by a child? 

Children belong in church.  Not just in their seats—but up on the stage. Leading us!

Kindness Matters  

Do small acts of kindness really matter?

Do they make any real difference?

Does God actually take note of them?

I know the Sunday School answer, of course. I know the theological rubric. (I’m a Moody grad, an ordained minister).   Still, I sometimes wonder. Do you?

Dusting off old memories

This weekend, I attended an Awana “Historic Walls of Fame” event.  We were there to celebrate what God has done in establishing a Bible club now attended weekly by 2. 3 million kids in more than 100 countries. 

When the program was over, I met with someone I hadn’t seen in decades: my very own Awana leader.  Chuck was also my Sunday School teacher—a kind and patient man. Week after week, he listened as I recited verses, or demonstrated mastery of knot tying.   We sat there, dusting off old memories

Then through squinted eyes, Chuck asked, “Hey, Jon, do you remember the time I took you to a Blackhawks game?”

Did I remember? 

As a kid, I won a contest he sponsored at Awana and the prize was an outing to a Chicago Blackhawks game.  He picked me up at home, drove me to the old Chicago Stadium, bought us tickets for the Hawks game.  What a night-- the drama on ice, the roar of the crowd…the magic of being there.

Did I remember after more than four decades?  Of course!  I thanked Chuck for his kindness then—and his faithfulness in being a great Awana leader and Sunday School teacher.

Rare and privileged moment

Not everybody gets that kind of opportunity--to reconnect over a kindness shown decade ago.  So it was a rare and privileged moment we shared.

It all makes me glad for heaven—and it should you, too.  For there, every word of encouragement, every thoughtful gesture, every bit of kindness will be seen…and reviewed…and rewarded.

Kindness matters. 

Now.  And for eternity. 

What Courage Looks Like  

What does courage look like? 

Chiune Sugihara is a name most of us have never heard of.  Yet this man, born in Japan in 1900, is a soul who embodies Christian courage. 

Joining a Christian fraternity at his university, Chiune became proficient at learning languages—English, German, Russian—launching him into a career with Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Bombing Raid 

In 1939, his government placed Chiune at the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania.  There, he met a Jewish man who had recently fled Poland after a bombing raid had taken the lives of his wife and children. 

It was then Chiune realized there would be no stopping Hitler’s war from the borders of Lithuania.  He was determined to help the Jewish people living in Lithuania to escape by way of Japan.  Yet the Japanese government rejected Chiune’s proposal. What then?

Conscience Demanded

After praying and talking the matter over with his wife, Chiune did what his conscience demanded. The record shows that on July 31, 1940, he began writing transit visas—by hand—at a rate of 300 people per day.  Witnesses say he worked long hours, took only short meal breaks, and wrote as rapidly as he could. 

Word spread.  On September 4, the Japanese government closed the consulate, ordering Chiune back to Japan.  But he stayed up all night before he was to leave, writing visa after visa. 

"Cannot Write Anymore"

At the station where he was to depart, a crowd of Lithuanian Jews surrounded his train, begging for more visas.  There, he handed out those he has written overnight stating, “Please forgive me.  I cannot write anymore.”   Yet once on the train, he wrote still more visas, tossing them out the open window as the train slowly picked up steam.

No one knows exactly how many people were saved by his courage.  Estimates range from six thousand to ten thousand.

Chiune did what God called Him to do: save lives.   

And that's what courage looks like. 

Watcha Readin'?  

A comfortable chair, a scenic backdrop—and an all-absorbing book.  That’s what Diana and I call ultimate relaxation. 

Reading is a hobby my wife and I share with gusto.  She reads a wide range of devotional books, historical fiction, cookbooks, and a lot about the British monarchy (she could probably earn a haul on Jeopardy).  I read biographies, westerns, action novels (think Clive Cussler), mysteries (John Grisham, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle) plus Christian writers like Tim Keller, Kyle Idleman, Charles Spurgeon, and J.C. Ryle. 

Right now, I'm reading a book by puritan Richard Baxter. I’m learning that any title by this guy is a book worth devouring.  I was struck by a grid he created for choosing—or rejecting—books we allow on to our shelves. Allow me to quote him verbatim.  Baxter advises:

Make careful choices of the books which you read.  Let the Holy Scriptures ever have preeminence. While reading, ask yourself:

1. Could I spend this time no better?

2. Are there better books that would edify me more?

3. Are the lovers of such books as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life?

4. Does this book increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come? 

Now by these standards, I’m afraid some of my reading choices would come up short. What about you?

Really, it all comes down to an appetite for readiness.  Are we hungry for the Lord’s return?  Do we desire Him enough to ready ourselves for Him? I’m reminded of a sobering perspective from 1 Peter 4:7:

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.

Here’s to good reading—all year long.  Quality books whose pages turn us toward Christlikeness, not mere entertainment.

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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