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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?

 
Wrong Way  

Bergen is beautiful. 

Like all of Norway, Bergen oozes with a rustic charm, storied history, and luscious landscapes impossible to capture on canvas or camera. But because Bergen is so old, its hotels are often cobbled together from adjacent buildings creating different levels and twists. 

For example, our hotel could be entered through a revolving door—or through an alley you might easily overlook. Once inside the hotel, finding your room can be equally challenging.

I kept forgetting that I needed to make a left turn off the elevators and then walk past the “ice machine” (about the size of a  Keurig—and rather than cubes, it dispenses tiny pearls of ice you collect in six-ounce plastic cups they supply).

To get to our room, you had to continue beyond the electric shoe shine machine, then turn right.  Then it was a left turn a few paces later at the window overlooking industrial heating pipes.  Next, you would make another turn at the double doors, walk down seven steps—and there you would find it on the right—our room.  

 

But here’s the thing.  I kept turning the wrong way.  Time after time, the elevator doors would open and I would head off in the wrong direction—or at least feel that I wanted to go in that wrong direction.

With so many epic fails at basic geography, I concluded this: my every inclination is to go wrong—at every turn.  A light went on for me the vey moment I acknowledged this painful flaw.

Isn’t the same thing true—and more so—spiritually?  Isn’t it equally true that apart from God, our every inclination—all of us—is to go the wrong way at every turn?

Surely Isaiah speaks of us when he writes, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.”  And you’ll notice, it’s always the wrong way!  Romans 3:11 bluntly states, “There is no one that seeks for God.” In other words, our every inclination is to go wrong.  At every turn.

If there is to be any hope for us, we must invite God to be our GPS.  Time to humble ourselves and join David in his prayer:

Show me your ways, Lord,

    teach me your paths.

Guide me in your truth and teach me,

    for you are God my Savior,

    and my hope is in you all day long.

—Psalms 25:4,5

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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