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Sober Side of the Season  

With Christmas safely in the rearview mirror, an unsettling thought has....settled upon me.

Please don't write me off as a Christmas-hater...a sort of evangelical Ebenezer Scrooge. But as I look back upon our celebration of Christ's birth, I'm concerned.

Let me express it in a sentence. As a Christian culture, it seems to me we have made so much out of having a Merry Christmas, we've forgotten that merriment was surely not the only thing on God's mind as that first Christmas story unfolded.

The same passage in Isaiah 9 that brings us a picture of Jesus as the "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Everlasting Father" speaks of a burden, an oppressor. Verse five speaks of battles, blood and burning.

What I'm saying is, there's a place--or there ought to be--for the sober side of the season. There's no point to the crèche...apart from the cross. We must not disconnect the fact that Messiah was laid in a manger ONLY so that He might someday lay down his life.

And maybe I'm wrong, but it feels to me like this gets only cursory treatment in modern celebrations.

Of course we should sing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Of course we should celebrate Joy to the World. But we must also leave room for the grim reality that sin was why Jesus came.

I think of Colossians 1:13... For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,

Battles and blood and hostages...share an equal--if not larger--part in the story. They're...really not fun to sing about. And how do you decorate a church with images of hostages?

Yet....to be faithful to the real story of Christmas, we cannot ignore the dark side. The sin.

All I'm saying is, maybe it's time to check our balance. Merriment at Christmas is well and good and proper. But not if we leave little or no room for pondering the darkness.

Silent Night, Holy Night  

Quick question for you.   What Christmas Carol is placed as the concluding song on more albums than any other? 

Answer: Silent Night.

Okay, I don’t have statistical proof.  But I have looked at dozens and dozens of Christmas recordings.  With few exceptions, they end with Silent Night.

But it’s the second phrase of that beloved Carol I want to look at today.  Silent Night…HOLY night. 

The word, holy, of course means set apart.   That’s what you and I are supposed to be as followers of Christ: set apart.  But ARE we?  George Barna statistics would suggest otherwise.  We divorce like the world…look at porn sites like the world.

Today as I rode in on the very crowded train, I was working on memorizing I John chapter 2.  It’s tight quarters on a rush hour train bound for Chicago.  So as I slightly turned my head, I could not avoid the screen of the smartphone next to me.  Some guy had an inappropriate photo of a girl he was staring at.

Now at that very moment, I was faced with a choice.  Do I cave in to my natural urges—my sinful passions?  Or do I call to mind the fact that I’ve been set apart—made holy…and forcefully look away, resolved not to look back?

By the grace of God, I looked away.  Now I’d be lying if I told you I never stumbled in situations like that. But those practical fleshly arenas are the very places where our commitment to Christ is either verified or falsified.   And the choices come a thousand times a day.

Will I respond to that perceived insult…or will I return a blessing?

Will I feed my insatiable ego…or will I look on “the things of others”?

You and I cannot bask in the power of Jesus, the protection of Jesus, and not live life set apart for Jesus.

Silent night.

Holy night.

EVERY night.

That’s my prayer.

Why Young People Are Leaving the Church  

By now the shocking numbers are almost numbing.  Depending on whose statistics you believe, anywhere between 60 and 90% of young people currently attending an evangelical church will leave once they hit college.  Leave...and never come back. But why?

Some people say it's our secular environment—now almost hostile to Christianity.  Some say it's the lack of programs for kids at church...or the quality of the preaching. It is my contention that there are a whole lot fewer reasons than are currently being looked at.  In fact, I think the biggest factor is a whole lot closer to home.  It's parents.   Us.  

In too many homes church is a Sunday thing, but not a Monday thing. Like Maybelline make-up, you put it on Sunday morning but wash it off by nightfall.  Come Monday, parents who on Sunday were raising their hands in worship, are often clicking their mouses to porn sites.  Or watching garbage on TV.  Or playing fast and loose with the IRS. 

Though they claim to be just like Christ, too many moms and dads are just like the world—an observation not lost on our kids.  Rather than a spiritual legacy, we pass on a spiritual fallacy.  So they've simply decided to skip the pretense. 

Now the truth is, there are boat loads of parents who are really doing things right. God-fearing Moms and Dads who practice what they preach, pray on their knees, and are truly seeking the God of Israel.  But if there are boatloads of these, we must also acknowledge there are fleets full of Titanics captained by parents charting courses of self-fulfillment and ruderless Christianity.   

There's no need to wonder at the numbers. But we SHOULD wonder what will it take for followers of Jesus...to follow Jesus.

Slighting Christ  

Recently, I stumbled on to the writings of the Puritans.  One of my first  books: Richard Baxter's work titled, “The Causes and Danger of Slighting Christ and His Gospel.” 

Born in 1615, Baxter  was a a church leader, theologian and prolific writer.    For 25 years, he endured persecution and imprisonment for his stand on the gospel.  

I figure a guy who endured all that he did for Christ deserves my attention when he cautions that you and I who claim to know Christ just might be guilty of slighting Him—and His gospel.

Here's one example of what Richard Baxter means when he says we slight Christ.  It reads a bit like King James English—but you'll get the gist. Baxter writes....

It is a making light of Christ and Salvation when Men will profess their willingness to have Christ upon His own terms, and to forsake all for him.  But they nevertheless cleave to the world, and to their sinful courses...  This is the sin of making light of Christ and salvation. 

Ouch.  Baxter does not waste words. He goes on to say...

Men have houses and lands to look after, wife and children, and body and outward estate, and therefore they forget that they have  a God, a Redeemer, a Soul to mind.   These worldly things are near at hand, and therefore work naturally and forcibly .  But the other are thought to be a great way off, and therefore, too distant to work on their affections.

To read Baxter is to be convicted.  But you and I ought not to stop there.  How do we move closer to the biblical ideal of being in the world but not of it?  Baxter tells us...

Set a higher value on the Word of God....You cannot esteem Christ without esteeming His word.  Will you daily read it?  Will you resolve to obey it whatever it may cost you?

Those are questions each of us must answer for ourselves.  And let there be no mistake—someday we will have to give an answer.

A View from the Waiting Room  

They want you to feel relaxed.

They want you to feel like you're in a friend's living room.

But you're not.  

You are in a surgical waiting room.  You and fifty others, doing everything to avoid thinking about the surgery your loved one is undergoing.

On a sofa-like chair, one woman knits what appears to be a soft baby blanket.  An older gentleman is playing Sudoku, while his wife is engaged in a computer laptop version of Solitaire.

Off to the side, a woman sips coffee, staring pensively into the cavernous room.  Another lady scribbles crayons in a kids' coloring book.  (She does a nice job staying inside the lines). Still another snoozes.

In the back corner around a table sit three women--the high tech trio.  Between them are two laptops and an i Pad.  But they appear to be processing more dialogue than data.

All these people share one thing in common: they are waiting. Everyone of them holds a pager—and a slender strand of hope.

Any other day, this might be an inordinate wait time for a favorite restaurant.  But the only thing being served today is life-changing news: “We were able to get the tumor entirely”....or....”We're sorry, but the cancer has spread.”  The veneer of chatty good naturedness in the room is as thin as a sandwich bag.

Me?  I'm one of the fifty—waiting.  But I have something many of these people lack—a ring of prayerful brothers and sisters, from several area churches who have been with me all day long.  From morning until evening they stay...because their love for Christ extends their love to me and my wife—now in surgery.

Seeing the body of Christ in action—loving and serving quietly for no glory but the glory of God--is a humbling, heartwarming thing.  The faithful presence of this loving platoon—who come from an army of praying soldiers--makes sharing the surgeon's good news really great news.

Funny thing how knowing Jesus even changes the view from a waiting room.

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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