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The Darkening of America  

America is growing darker—literally.

Consider. Everybody wants to sell you an LED bulb that's "the equivalent of 60 watts." But what if you have a somewhat larger room or a higher ceiling? What if you want the equivalent of a 100-watt bulb? Not as readily available.

Then there's the dimming of hotel rooms. It's not just that they've switched to LEDs (in this economy, who could blame management?). The problem is they use the absolute lowest wattage bulbs money can buy. Which means your room is quite dim.

Another example. This summer, we installed a new ceiling fan in my home office. The attached light fixture allows for a maximum of 19 (wimpy) watts of power.

For thousands of years, civilizations struggled to find enough light to illuminate their homes adequately. Today, we have the technology but live in dimmer and dimmer rooms. You could almost believe that in America, we love darkness.

Of course, my gripe about lightbulbs is small potatoes compared to the moral darkening we seem to encourage, culturally. Our movies, music, video games, and schools are moving from dim to dark—all the while calling darkness light and light darkness.

We vilify anyone who suggests that having biologically born boys showering with girls at school is wrong. We assault (legally) anyone who offers gender conversion therapy. Would anyone just ten years ago have believed this could happen in America?

The prophet Isaiah said, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isaiah 5:20).

How shall we then live? The words of Jesus come to mind:

"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." —Matt 5:16

The Price of Purity  

Imagine hearing this conversation…

"I was all excited—and then—not so excited."

"What do you mean?" I asked Timothy as I offered him a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. 

"No secret that I love to read," he mumbled as he crunched one I'd left in the oven too long. 

"You're forever talking about your latest book," I teased. 

"And you know I like action novels, right?"

"Again, not exactly a secret."

"Well, I recently discovered this author—an ex-military guy that spins a story like few others. Gritty characters. Action that never lets up. And, of course, the good guys always win."

"I'm not seeing the problem here, Timothy," I said, unable to resist the stack of cookies myself. Here, Timothy grew thoughtful—nervous maybe—and he wolfed down the last of his original Toll House treat. And then the conversation took an abrupt turn.

"This year," Timothy blurted, "I've felt like God is calling me to focus on personal purity. And one phrase keeps echoing in my head: 'Purity—in all my thoughts, words and ways.'"

"Great goal, Timothy," I encouraged. 

"It's just that in these books I was reading, the language got rough. Tons of F-bombs. The more I read, the more uncomfortable I got."

"I see your point."

"Here I am having conversations with God about purity and then reading conversations that are anything but pure."

"Whatcha gonna do?" I ventured.

"It's what I already did. Took those books out of the house to a donation center. Bummer. I'll never know how the stories end." 

I wanted to say something wise, pithy even. But nothing came—until Timothy half whispered, "I guess purity comes with a price."

Guess so. 

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
-Psalms 51:10

P.S. If you like action books, too, Timothy shared some Christian authors you might like:

  • Ted Dekker
  • Jerry Jenkins
  • Joel Rosenberg
  • Frank Peretti
  • Terri Blackstock
  • Amir Tsarfati


Trash Talk  

As the new year swallows up the last of this year’s Christmas memories, one story lingers.

Like many pragmatic folks, Emma's parents' stuff Christmas presents into empty household boxes: detergent, cereal, Amazon boxes, whatever happens to be around. It makes wrapping gifts like stuffed animals or plush slippers a bit easier. To the young, though, it can be confusing.

We watched three-year-old Emma tear the wrapping off one gift, revealing a box of trash can liners. Not fully understanding, she shouted, “Hey, Dad. I get my own trash can!” As she spoke, she had the nicest smile on her face. Emma was genuinely grateful for a gift she probably hadn’t expected—a garbage can.

After all the chuckles subsided—and the true gift was revealed—a question jabbed at me. Are we as grateful when God sends us gifts that don't look like the blessings we expected? Are we as apt to smile and be gracious when the gift doesn't feel like much of a gift?

Some of God's most awesome gifts come wrapped in packages we don't recognize.

When the distracted driver of a 66-passenger school bus slammed into the back of Diana's car, it didn't appear like much of a gift. The kids were in shock, Diana was in pain, and the car was totaled. Worst of all was the shoulder surgery Diana underwent. It temporarily immobilized Diana's arm, forcing her to change our baby boy's diapers using her teeth.

But many years later, we learned God used the drama of that experience to turn the bus driver's heart to Christ. She might never have come to faith apart from her implacable guilt.

I'm guessing someone reading this has come into their own "unexpected gift." Something you wish you could return or undo. Life looks grim, and the future seems dark. But Scripture promises, "Every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights."

I dare you to be like Emma. Smile—and thank God for your "trash can."  I promise you. There's a gift inside. 


With Christ in the School of Self-Denial  

Imagine if Jesus opened a “School of Self Denial” right in your neighborhood—and He invited you to enroll. At what grade level would He place you?

Self-denial is not exactly trending these days. Self-actualization or self-assertiveness—there, you'll get some clicks. But self-denial? My Amazon search revealed only three book titles—all written by Puritans more than 500 years ago.

Apparently, today’s Christians don’t care much for self-denial. Odd. Because this was Jesus’ sweet spot, His thing.

  • At the Incarnation, He denied Himself the majesty of heaven.
  • In a prayer life that often began “while it was still dark,” He denied Himself sleep.
  • In a 40-day wilderness odyssey, He denied Himself food.
  • In the never-ending throngs that hounded Him for a miracle, He denied Himself alone time.
  • In the repeated attacks of religious skeptics, He denied Himself the right to His divine reputation.
  • In the ridicule of the Calvary crowd, He denied Himself personal peace.
  • On the cross, He denied Himself comfort, relief—and life itself—trading them all for agony and atonement.

And now, He has enrolled us in His School of Self-Denial. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”

But honestly, I struggle just to give up one meal a week to pray. What's with us and our discomfort with self-denial?

How is it we can applaud the self-denial of Christ but avoid it ourselves?

  • Why can't we deny ourselves just one TV show a week—and invest that time in encouraging people who are hurting?
  • Why can’t we reduce our daily phone time just enough to memorize a verse of Scripture?
  • Why can’t we skip one meal a week and invest it in focused alone time with God?

From these small sacrifices, we can move on to larger ones. But—only if we take seriously Christ’s welcome into His School of Self Denial. Class is in session. Are you ready?

Our Advent Problem  

Houston, we have an (Advent) problem.

We love celebrating Christ's coming with carols, candles, crèches, and cookies, not to mention cash. And we are right to celebrate so joyously. God came to dwell among us! But there’s another Advent that gets comparatively little enthusiasm. I refer to Christ’s second coming.

Curiously, those who claim to know Christ best often show much more enthusiasm for the babe in the manger than the King on His throne.

Think I’m being too harsh? Ponder all we’ve just experienced with Christmas, the First Advent, and then ask yourself:

  • Where are all the songs about Christ’s second coming?
  • Where are all the creative sermon series about His return?
  • Where are all the special concerts and community outreach events based on the Second Advent?
  • Where is all that excitement and enthusiasm we happily funnel into Christmas?

Here’s what I think. When it comes to Jesus, we love His first coming, but merely like His second coming. Many of us are so comfortable in the here, and now, we don't look for—let alone long for—the return of Jesus.

We love baby Jesus, but Warrior Jesus—Judge Jesus—we don’t know what to make of Him. So, we end up making very little of Him.

Ironically, it is only at His second coming that we enjoy the fulfillment of the promise of His first coming. Only after Christ’s second coming will we finally and forever know “peace and good will toward men.”

In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul testifies,

In the future, there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

So, I ask. Do you love His appearing—or merely like it?

Joy to the world! The Lord is come—and IS coming!

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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