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Read the Bible--Got Terrified  

Have you ever been terrified while reading Scripture? Numbers chapter 20 gave me quite a zap. In the middle of the desert, the Israelites were without water—or faith.  Their grumbling against Moses quickly morphs into the ridiculous: “Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?” (vv. 4,5). 

God’s response to Moses: “Tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

Instead, Moses first reams the people out, arrogantly challenging, "Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (As if he and Aaron personally possessed the power to do so). Then, instead of speaking to the rock per God’s instructions, Moses struck the rock twice with his staff. Disobedience!

If it were me, I might have shut off the faucet of my generosity.  Not God. Verse 11 says, “water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.”  All was well, right?

Wrong. Ultimately, Moses’ anger and arrogance cost him more than he could have imagined. God said, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).

Get that?  After facing Pharaoh, announcing the plagues, exiting Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, receiving the Ten Commandments, surviving the wilderness, Moses would never place so much as a toe on the promised land. Two spine-chilling takeaways for you and me:

First, God might well appear to bless our ministry, despite our sin. Observe that the water gushed out! But success does not equal holiness. (Remind you of any recent leadership failures?)

Second, note that we can live lives of great faithfulness, doing great things for God over a great span, and yet sin in a way that results in great disappointment. Like Moses.

Are you terrified yet?

Lord God,

Keep us from arrogance and pride. Keep us from keeping ourselves from entering whatever Promised Land you have intended for us.

Amen!

 

 

 
Not of this World  

Have you ever seen so much frustration in America? Forget the “melting pot,” America is a boiling pot! Between the tragedy in Afghanistan, the venom over voting, and the gender revolution, we’ve become a cauldron of the caustic. Federal mandates versus states’ rights, masks versus anti-maskers, vaxers versus no-vaxers—everybody’s angry over something. And that includes Christians.

Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion. Disagreement is the stuff of democracy. Unquestionably, believers should vote for candidates and policies that honor Christ. But I fear many of us—myself included—may have forgotten something Jesus said when on trial.

Addressing Pilate, Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And neither is yours. That’s not to say we’re not allowed an opinion. It’s not to say evil should be called anything other than evil. Nor does it mean we wanly smile at godless politics or policies pretending all is well.

We're concerned—and not without reason. But we seem to be more concerned with our concerns than with the one objective Christ left us: “Go and make disciples.”

Our priority is not saving America but saving American souls (and, of course, lost people everywhere). Our kingdom is not of this world!

My Christian friend, Jay, has a gay neighbor named Shawn who endorses nearly every value the Bible opposes (talk about a potential battleground!). But Shawn is without Christ, and Jay has decided he needs to be more concerned about Shawn's eternal life than his lifestyle.

Recently, Shawn's feet have given him awful pain, to the point he can barely walk. Doctors and prescriptions have been only marginally successful, so Shawn has mainly been immobile. In the process, his lawn has grown shaggy.

Unannounced, Jay showed up one afternoon and plowed through the long green mess. It cost him some sweat—and about an hour. But I suspect it bought him a future hearing with his neighbor.

After Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world,” He went out and died for it. For lost people! It’s time you and I kept the main thing the main thing.

 

 

 

 

 
No Giraffes  

Spiky branches thwacked at the edges of our trail as we rolled deeper into the thicket. An emerald canopy overhead created a cooling air pocket as the tractor-pulled wagon groaned at every jolt on the rooted path.

It might have been a safari. Except this was northern Illinois. Nevertheless, two-year-old Emma kept her eyes open for any possible animal sightings. Upon her return from the would-be rain forest, where she missed nothing, she announced, "I saw squirrels and turkeys. But no giraffe." She seemed genuinely disappointed.

Given the density of the woods and Emma’s less-than-1000-days-of-life perspective, it’s not unreasonable that she expected to see a real jungle animal. Alas, apart from a few zoos, there are no giraffes in Illinois.

But what would you think if, instead of Emma, it was me looking for giraffes? If I persisted at such silliness, you’d question my competence.

Yet isn’t that the mistake so many of us make as we process personal trials and troubles? We’re looking for a life filled with cuddly long-lashed giraffes.  We anticipate Disney World rather than the real world. But just as Illinois isn't a jungle, this earth isn't heaven!

Job declared, “For man is born for trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” Paul’s sober promise is that “All who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Jesus assured us, "In the world, you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

That’s not to say that our Christian lives will be nothing more than a bleak canvas filled with hopeless hues of gray. There is joy in serving Jesus!  We’re to encourage one another with the expectation of Christ’s return.

As for trouble on the trail? Let’s keep it all in perspective.  And—don’t expect any giraffes.

 
Book of Life  

Cheese fries, funnel cakes, and elephant ears.  The air was heavy with the smog of greasy grills and heart-unhealthy taste treats. But what a fabulous fragrance it was smothering the grounds of the Bureau County Fair. Fleeing these temptations—and the sun's unrelenting heat—we dove into buildings where colorful ribbons declared the winners of creative competitions: largest pumpkin, tastiest apple pie, best pen and ink drawing, etc.

In one building, we saw folks handing out safety brochures, nail files, cup holders, and ten-thousand other logo-emblazoned products: many of them solutions in search of a problem.

Then there was the unassuming table where two unassuming men smiled at each person who walked by, offering them a Bible. Politely and winsomely, they asked, “Would you like a Testament?” Nothing huckster about them or their offer. Just plain folks with a plain invitation.

I watched as the steady trickle of humanity flowed past, the majority declining the New Testament. For a brief moment, it seemed that God might be pulling back the layers of time, showing me the scene from an eternal perspective.

These were not merely folks at a fair.  They were souls trudging toward eternity. Most of them—biblically speaking—were headed for hell itself, the Abyss. Yet overwhelmingly, they declined the Bible as casually as they might a branded pen or politician’s pamphlet.

Facing certain death, a horrific eternity in hell, they walked away from a little book that offers escape and abundant life. What foolishness!

Still, some—a few—were intrigued. Some took that Book—the only book that offers Life. And some will no doubt find it.

Humbly accept the Word God has planted in your hearts. For it has the power to save your souls.

-James 1:21

 
We care--but not that much  

I should never have clicked the link that came with the headline.

I’m talking about the images of Zaki Anwari the 17-year-old soccer player determined to leave Afghanistan hanging on to a C-17. Capable of flying two M1A2 Abrams battle tanks, or 16 Humvees, the plane's belly swelled with passengers desperate to evacuate. You’ve seen the photos.

Zaki clutched at the landing gear with a gritty resolve as the transport accelerated to 50, then 100, then 120 miles per hour. Just a few hundred feet into the air, Zaki lost his grip. Nor was he the only one to die this way.

As awful as that is, I’m wondering if many of us who call ourselves Christ-followers are guilty of a very personal war crime. We’re able to feel sympathy for that boy—and others like him. But we are strangely unable or unwilling to go much further and engage this tragedy on a spiritual level.

We care—but not that much.

  • Not enough to hold personal—let alone—national prayer gatherings.
  • Not enough to ask what relief efforts might need our financial support.
  • Not enough to resist seeing this as a geopolitical crisis that “was bound to happen at some point.”

That is a crime.

If you’ve seen the video sequence of Zaki’s fall, you’ll note that “all” we see is a black speck tumbling to earth. But Zaki wasn’t a speck. He had a soul. As do every single one of Afghanistan’s people. Shouldn’t that somehow soften our hard hearts?

Let’s stop seeing this as mere fodder for office banter. Let’s stop seeing politics and start seeing people.

When He gasped for breath hanging on those splintered beams, Jesus had the faces of Afghans in mind. How do I know? "God so loved the world."

Why shouldn’t we?

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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Jon Gauger Media 2016