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I am sitting on a train pondering.  Pondering a presentation I’ve just seen from an Israeli archaeologist with the City of David—a site currently under excavation in Ancient Jerusalem. 

Over the course of 30 minutes, we were shown remarkably preserved artifacts discovered recently.  Among the colorful slide images, we saw a clay tablet referring to the House of David more than a hundred years after his death.   We saw steps from the Pool of Siloam …seals referring to kings and conflicts mentioned in Jeremiah 34-38.

As a follower of Jesus and a lover of His Word, this visual evidence of Israel’s history was engaging and affirming.  Yet a closing story from the speaker jerked me back to reality.  He mentioned that he teaches courses on Israeli archaeology and history at the university level. The courses are open to people off all faiths in Israel.  Curiously, among his students have been a few Muslims.  He shared that despite months of field study, hands-on exploration…reams of indisputable facts, it’s not unusual for a Muslim student to simply wave it all off—refusing to acknowledge Israel’s right to the Land. The facts are there.  History is there…but none of it seems to matter. 

All of this is disturbing enough, but then I ask, what am I personally doing to affirm the nation of Israel?  Does the existence of this tiny nation really matter to me?  If so, what evidence is there to back my claim?  In Genesis 12:3 God clearly says, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

Maybe like me, you have bemoaned the eroding support of America for Israel.  But what have we done about it?  Have we spoken up?  Where are the Christian voices speaking out in defense of Israel?  God’s promise in Genesis 12:3 is one we cannot escape:  “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

Lessons We Must Now Learn  

As technology has rocketed us into the future, it has simultaneously, if not unintentionally spiraled us into a much lower orbit in our comprehension of basic human interaction.  The fact that we CAN   communicate with a code-like instant message...means that we now feel compelled to —as a baseline standard.  The fact that it’s easier to use abbreviations, abrupt expressions and short phrases means we do—to the point that an emerging generation understands this to be normative.  What was once the exception has become the rule.

Complete sentences...basic grammar structure...and the most fundamental of language issues have been overtaken by blurts and tweets.  So increasing numbers of us stand in the need of remedial writing instruction.

You say, “Big deal.  All that matters is that people connect with each other.  Who cares about the language?”   Maybe that's true.  And maybe it isn't.

Either way, poor grammar is not the only language we've dumbed down.  There's the language of human posture...of politeness and respect.

With our smart phones constantly beeping, we are constantly checking...constantly interrupting existing  conversations.   And believe me when I say I struggle with this just like you do.   Yet every single glance away from another human face says, “I will happily jettison the connection you and I now share for whoever wants to make my phone light up.”  In other words, “Anything and anyone is more important than you and whatever you and I are now talking about.”  Of course, we would never actually verbalize those thoughts, but what else do our actions convey?

So I ask, shouldn't followers of Jesus be set apart?  Shouldn't the knowledge that the friend we are sitting across from is made in the image of God mean we treat our phones—and our friends--differently than the rest of the world?  I say it should. A text is not a person.  Facebook is not a face. 

To the extent we “get that” you and I will be able to counter the ironic reality of emotional disconnect in a technologically connected world.  The face in front of you ought always to trump the phone beside you.    

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.

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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Jon Gauger Media 2016