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Things We Claim Are Important  

One of the many reasons most of us dread a trip to the dentist is that the news we get there seems disproportionately negative. Whether it’s a simple dental cleaning (“You need to floss more”) or an X-ray (“that spot suggests a problem”) a dental exam is rarely a good news kind of experience.

Open Wide!

May I play the role of the dentist-you-dread for just a moment?  Open wide--we’re about to take an exam based on a discomforting hypothesis of mine.  Simply stated, it goes like this: Most of us Christians have a long list of stuff we claim is important, but apparently isn’t.

For most of us, that list includes things like prayer, Bible reading, sharing our faith.  Your list may vary slightly. But a survey from the Evangelical Alliance suggests that nearly one-fifth of Christians do not even have a fixed prayer habit.  And for those born after 1980, that figure climbs to nearly one-third.

Have not told another person about Christ

42% admit they have a hard time setting aside any regular time for Bible reading or prayer.  The study says—quote—”In practice, only half are managing to do this.”

A Lifeway survey shows 61% have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months. And 20 percent actually admit they “rarely or never pray for the spiritual status of others.”

Little Anticipation of Following Through

In other words, these things we claim are important to us are really not that important.  (I told you this examination wasn't going to be fun!).

Like friends who haven’t connected for a while and glibly say, “We should have lunch together,” we mean well, but have very little anticipation of actually following through on spiritual disciplines.  Yet merely claiming they are important somehow makes us feel better.

Just One Chance

Folks, we get one shot—just one (very short) turn—at this thing called life.  One chance to impact eternity.  One chance to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. 

Those things ought to be important enough for us to do.  If not, we should drop the facade and stop claiming they are. 

 
It Meant a Lot  

“Have I got a story for you!”

When my friend, Jack, opens a conversation like that, he usually does. 

“Bob sounded upset.  I could tell.”

Jack was talking about his friend Bob, whom he has known for nearly 30 years.  For more than 20 of those years, Bob and his wife Betty were Jack’s neighbors. 

"If Only I Had More Evidence"

During those years, Jack and his wife, Deanna, tried to witness to them, and shared the gospel on several occasions.  But Bob is extraordinarily independent and convinced that God will somehow squash all of his freedom should he yield his life.  He once claimed, “If only I had more evidence, I could believe.”

But all was not well with Bob, who more than a decade earlier had suffered a heart attack.  The doctor thought perhaps Bob might require a stent or serious surgery.  He was heading into the hospital the next day. 

Anything but heart surgery...

Jack offered to come over and visit—and Bob seemed warm to the idea.  So he and Deanna jumped into their minivan and drove the 15 minutes to Bob’s home, praying that God might somehow use their visit. 

They talked routine things.  Trivial things.  Anything except the prospect of heart surgery.  And then it was time to leave.  I like how Jack paints the picture:

Seemed a bit cowardly

“We were all standing there and I told Bob that Deanna and I would pray for him that night as a couple.  But that seemed a bit cowardly.  So I swallowed hard and blurted out, ‘Hey, could we pray for you guys right now?’  Bob shrugged his shoulders.  Betty was equally quiet.  So we prayed right there in their living room, asking God to bless the doctors with unusual insight.”

Pretty cool, I thought. But Jack had more.

“The next evening, Jack got a call from Bob.  "He says, ‘Hey Jon, I think your prayers must’ve worked.  Doctor said I didn’t need any surgery.  Didn’t even need a stent!  So, uh…thanks a lot for coming over last night.  It meant a lot.’”

Bob is still not a believer.  But I’m convinced he believes that Jack cares an awful lot about him. 

Someday, Bob will know why.

At least, that’s how Jack is praying. 

 
We are Near Jesus Christ!  

The wonder of children…is their sense of wonder.

At three years of age, Lucy is full of wonder.  But the Christmas season has a way of drawing it out, like nothing else.

Along with her three siblings, Lucy was intrigued with the idea of visiting a live nativity.  The Ponte Vedra Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville, Florida does it up big.  Think 8,000 square feet of big!  Think thousands of visitors walking about the streets of a recreated city of Bethlehem—some walls towering 20 feet in the air. 

Don't be frightened off by all the yelling

Hear the sounds of the sheep?  Don’t get too near the camel, please.   And don’t be frightened off by all the yelling.  Those are merely the voices of Roman guards reminding you to pay your taxes. 

As you snake your way through the crowded streets, passing by period-costumed artisans, merchants and beggars, it’s easy to travel back in time.  Easy to feel as if you are no longer merely reading Luke 2, but living it.

Little Lucy took in all of this.  And in whatever way three year olds process this much stimulation, she tucked it all away.  Yet it all came bubbling out a night or two later. 

From her car seat, she blurted out...

Her mother was driving the kids down the same road that led to the living nativity.  This was not their destination, but even in total darkness, Lucy somehow made the connection. 

From her little car seat, Lucy blurted out, “We are near Jesus Christ! He’s close to us! We are almost to where Jesus is!"

Come near.

She was right.

More right than she knew. 

The One who came at Christmas and called Himself the Good Shepherd still walks bleak hills on cold nights in search of lost souls.  Though you may at present feel far away from Him—He longs for you to come near. 

Acts 17:27, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

“We are near Jesus Christ!”

 

 

 

 
Go Tell it on the Mountain  

He is every teacher's nightmare—the pain of the preschool, according to my wife, Diana.  Just look for the boy grabbing toys away from others.  Or shoving kids in line.  Or hitting the child that ticks him off.  That's Garrett.

He plays too rough. Talks too loud.  Cares too little about anyone or anything other than himself. Having heard so many stories about Garrett, I was most interested in meeting the little tyke as I showed up with my camera bag. 

Like Herding Cats

My wife has a rich tradition of taking a Christmas class photo in front of a floor-to-ceiling wall mural that looks like a Bethlehem neighborhood.  Every child is dressed up in a costume that represents a character from the Christmas story and I was there to capture it all on my Nikon.

The outfits are adorable, but collecting 15 preschoolers and attempting to dress them up is like herding cats.  Fortunately, this was not the first rodeo for Diana, or her capable assistant teacher, Kathy,

Unusually Quiet

At last the kids were dressed and ready to head off to the photo room.  But Garrett was unusually quiet.  I saw him stare at the folds of the shepherd's robe hanging from his shoulders.  Saw him gawk at the sight of white angel wings and fuzzy halos.  Saw him ponder the sparkle of wise men who had come from afar.

And then the sweetest little voice sang a familiar refrain: “Go, tell it on the mountain...Over the hills and everywhere!”  It was Garrett.  Lost in the wonder. 

Ruffians and Ragamuffins

Consider: the most unlikely kid in the class was perhaps the only one who truly “got it.”  Yet isn't that the way it has always been with this gospel story of ours?  It's the ruffians and ragamuffins, the “tax collectors and sinners” Jesus called them—who often get it before the rest of us  so called  “refined” folks.

Aren’t you glad Jesus came for scoundrels--like you and me?

 
Outrageous Gift Giving  

It's the one last Christmas gift he invites her to open.  It’s a small box.  Inside, a key.  It goes with the (CUE THE MUSIC) Lexus sitting in their driveway.  The one with the massive red bow on top.   She gives him a look, then a kiss (MUSIC SWELLS), and they roar off down the road happily ever after as the voice-over invites us to get in on the gift giving. 

Who DOES this?

Am I the only one watching these commercials wondering, “Who DOES this?!   Who gives their wife or husband a Lexus or Lincoln MKZ as a Christmas gift?

Answer: Enough to justify the ad campaign.

 

Not Sweating the Price

According to car buying site Edmunds.com, in seven of the last twelve years, more luxury cars were sold in December than any other month.  Better deals come after Christmas, but if you're thinking your sweetheart needs keys to a new Mercedes under the tree, you're probably not sweating out the price.

To my scale of thought—and income--this is outrageous.  Over the top.  Extreme.

Yet...maybe it's a better metaphor for Christmas than I've given it credit.

How else can we describe the (indescribable) gift of Jesus at Christmas.  King of the Universe.  Owner of it all.  Inventor of water.  And babies.  And kisses. 

Outrageous!

Jesus, the wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father and Prince of peace is our gift.  And He came with the idea of giving one inexplicable gift—His own life…in exchange for ours.

Outrageous!  Extreme.  Over the top!  Makes even the most expensive Ferrari look like rusty trash by comparison.

However, the gift of salvation Jesus offers bears a striking resemblance to the car keys given in the TV commercials.  Unless you grab them and unlock the door, it's not much of a gift.

Have you opened the door of your heart to the gift of Jesus?

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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