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Unplug First  

To visit Bureau County, Illinois is to unplug.

You unplug from the roar of incessant traffic.  Instead you find yourself on roads where you are as likely to encounter a deer as another vehicle.

You unplug from a terrain of cement and asphalt, trading that in for farmland and grass and stands of ancient trees.

You unplug from the density of urban living.  There are more people living in my Chicago suburb than in all the towns that make up Bureau County combined. 

You unplug from the cocooned way of life that cautions us against waving to strangers or being too open with anyone about anything.  People in Bureau County wave whether they know you or not (which they probably do).

One of Bureau County's greatest treasures is the Kasbeer Community Church, parked just off of Route 26.  Here, I married my wife, Diana. Climbing the stairs into the entryway, I found it reassuring to observe that the pews and cushions and carpet and piano were all there, all the same, just as I remember them.

By my count, there were 21 of us attending services a couple Sundays ago. The Kasbeer Community Church has certainly seen larger crowds, but those who were there were definitely blessed.  We unplugged from the Chris Tomlin culture of worship and instead sang this:

The Lord's our Rock; in Him we hide,

A Shelter in the time of storm;

Secure whatever ill betide,

A Shelter in the time of storm.

O Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,

A weary land, a weary land;

O Jesus is a Rock in a weary land -

A Shelter in the time of storm.

 

There is something real and right about singing an old hymn in an old church.  But beyond the nostalgia, I found myself almost overwhelmed by the weight of the song lyric. 

If ever there was a weary land, it is ours.

If ever there was a time of storm, it is now.

The shelter for that storm is—and will always be—Jesus.  But to really get close, we have to unplug first.

 
I love them--but you don't  

One of the cool things with which God has blessed me is the opportunity to narrate audio books.  The most recent project is a book by Ed Silvoso titled, Prayer Evangelism.  While in “normal life,” I really love to read (a passion my wife, Diana and I share) forgive me for admitting that after six or seven hours in a studio, reading in front of a microphone is more like a job than a pleasure. 

But narrating page 39 of Prayer Evangelism, I was slammed, smacked, and convicted.  So much so, that I took out my phone and took a picture of the iPad screen so I could refer to Ed’s words again.   Here’s what he wrote:

We need to declare peace because we, as Christians, have been at war with the lost. Too often, “Repent or burn” is the banner under which we approach the unsaved of this world. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to strongly dislike sinners, and this soon becomes obvious to them.

I became aware of my own belligerence toward the lost the first time I tried to implement Luke 10 in our neighborhood. Instead of claiming the promises of God to deal with the problems I saw in my neighbors’ lives, I told God about everything that was wrong with these people. I talked to Him in disgust about the unwed mother and how she had to change because she was such a bad example to my daughters. I demanded that He do something about the couple who kept us awake at night with their arguing and fighting. I complained about the depressive neighbor whose front yard was a disgrace and a bane to real estate values on our block. And of course I did not forget about the teenager on drugs. I made it perfectly clear to the Lord what a detriment this young man was to our neighborhood.

All of a sudden, I sensed God saying, “Ed, I am so glad you have not witnessed to any of these yet.”

Surprised, I asked, “Lord, why is that?”

His reply was very sobering: “Because I don’t want your neighbors to know that you and I are related. I hurt when they hurt. I reach out to them. I constantly extend grace to them. I am the God who causes the sun to rise over the righteous and unrighteous alike. I love them. But you don’t. You resent them.”

-------------------------------

Ouch!  I feel Ed’s pain.  Because it’s my pain, my sin.  And maybe it’s yours, too.  It’s time to end the “wars”—all of them.  It’s time to start the peace.  Let’s quit judging unsaved people for acting unsaved!  Let’s learn to give them Jesus’ favorite gift—mercy.

Acts 2:21, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 
Stained!  

Walked into the Apple store the other day.  Wanted to take advantage of their special $29 battery replacement offer, as my iPhone is several years old.  So we dropped it off and perused mall stores selling products considerably beyond our income or station in life (among them a Tesla in which I dreamily sat).

When we came back to claim the phone, I was informed Apple refused to replace the battery because the phone had been exposed to water—which is true. About a year ago, I wrote of this disaster in The Thursday Thought

But in the kindness of Jesus, the phone came back to life and has functioned perfectly in the year since. Not a hint of trouble of any kind from my quick dip in the lake.  Like all phones, though, the battery only allows so many recharge cycles before it fades. Time for new.

As tech savvy readers know, Apple incorporates a small sensor inside the phone case that turns colors once it detects water damage.  A technician told me my phone was “stained.” 

I couldn’t argue the assessment. Guilty as charged.  Yet it all felt so harsh.  So final. No hope.  No second chance. Be gone!

It seemed to me a sad metaphor for the state in which sin leaves us: guilty—and stained. Like my incident in the lake, there’s no use in denying my culpability, my wrong doing. The sad truth is, I’ve stacked up a lifetime of selfish choices (the Bible word is “sin”).  

We are stained—every one of us—and therefore barred from the possibility of heaven and a right relationship with God. Like my fate at the Apple store, there was no hope for any of us.  No second chances.  Here’s how God assesses the situation:

“Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder, the stain of your guilt is still before me,” declares the Sovereign Lord” (Jeremiah 2:22).   

But unlike my misadventure at the Apple store, the story doesn’t end there.  When Jesus died on the cross, He offered us the choice to be made clean by receiving the twin gifts of His forgiveness and assurance of eternal life. Consider I Corinthians 6:11, “But now you have had every stain washed off.  Now you have been set apart as holy.  Now you have been pronounced free from guilt, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of our God.”

That’s not just good news. That’s great news. Way better than a new phone battery!

 
A Concert Demolished!  

Did you ever destroy a musical performance? I have. 

Once when our family traveled as the Gauger Brass, we provided music for more than a thousand people at a banquet in Dayton, Ohio.  I was tasked with giving the pitch for a certain song which started with acapella vocals—simple.  But the note I played was one half-step off.  When the instruments started playing their accompaniment, it all sounded rather hideous.  Concert demolished!

A friend recalls attending a performance of Handle’s Messiah where one of the soloists—a baritone—began the evening with a polite smile on his face. Yet as the lengthy instrumental introduction to his solo went on, the gentleman grew less serene.   Gone was the smile, replaced by a furrowed brow. As the orchestral strains continued,  his mood turned to fear.  Then terror.  Abruptly, the confused soloist stood up and just started singing his part (nowhere near his proper entrance), while the conductor valiantly sought to put the whole thing back on track.

Having just come through the Easter season playing French horn with our church orchestra, I’m reminded that hitting the high notes without squawking is only half the battle.  Maybe the easy half.  The other half is keeping track of when you are supposed to play.  Or not play!

A lifetime of counting measures has brought about a simplified theology of living the Christian life. It goes like this:

  • Stay focused so you know where you’re at.
  • Play your part when you’re supposed to.
  • Don't play when it’s not your turn.
  • When it is your turn, do your very best.
  • Watch quietly for your next turn.

When you think about it, that’s really all God is asking of any of us, isn’t it? 

Be focused.  Be ready. Be patient.  Our Conductor knows the score!

 

 

 
Where's the Tremble?  

I have a problem. Maybe you’ve got the same one.  It has to do with our worship.  Can we talk?

Most of us really love to sing. Love to wave our hands in worship.  But we seem to have little capacity for something that Scripture says is a big deal: trembling in the presence of our holy God. That part of worship has largely evaded us.

In our Java-with-Jesus culture, God is increasingly portrayed merely as a benevolent friend.  But He is much more than that.

Hebrews 12:29 reminds us our God is “a consuming fire.” We are told in 1 Timothy 6:16 that He “dwells in unapproachable light.”  In Revelation 19:15 it says of Jesus, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword so that with it He may strike down the nations.” 

Psalms 114:7 urges, “Tremble, O earth, before the Lord, before the God of Jacob.”  Doesn’t sound to me like this is optional behavior.  Indeed, Philippians 2:12  commands us to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling.” 

A consuming fire…unapproachable light…a sharp sword. Did you read that?  So where’s the trembling in our times?

Isaiah 66:2 further clarifies, “This is the one I esteem; he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”

So I ask again, where’s the tremble?  Our tremble?

I suggest we do not tremble for one of two reasons.  Either we are ignorant of who God is, or we do know and are so arrogant that we simply don’t care, which is just plain reckless.  It seems to me we had better find our misplaced sense of caution.

Because the I Am has not become the "I was."

Because the Almighty has not become the “some mighty.” 

Because He’s not the duke of dudes—He’s the King of kings!

Where's your tremble?  Where’s my tremble?  The refrain of the old spiritual is a corrective we desperately need: Sometimes it causes me to tremble…tremble…tremble.

Ignorant, arrogant, or full of tremble.  

Which are you?

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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