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Long Lines at Bethlehem  

Every heart is built differently.  I’m convinced of it.

God seems to have placed within me something of His own passion and compassion for lost people.  Wish I could say I’ve always been a good steward of that heart.  I haven’t.

But it happens once in awhile I’ll be in a big crowd and the thought suddenly sweeps over me, “Wonder how many of these people really know Jesus?  How many of them are headed for heaven?  How many marching toward Hell?”

I’ve thought that thought staring at SuperBowl crowds.

A month ago we were in Bethlehem…visiting the Church of the Holy Nativity—built over the cave where Jesus may well have been born.

I’d been there before when tourism had shriveled to nothing.  Not this time.  The place was mobbed.  There were lines snaking up and around and over.  Scads of tourists snapping pictures and standing…and waiting to visit the place where Messiah is said to have been born.

But the thought occurs to me…how many were there merely for a photo…or a passport stamp…rather than to worship the Savior of the World?  To my earlier point, how many of these travelers would someday travel to heaven?

It’s sad, in a way.  People who would spend so much money, exert so much effort, stand in such long lines…and maybe only know Jesus as a souvenir, not a Savior. 

Regardless of whether or not your heart is built like mine, we are all called to share Christ---with our lives and with our words. 

Going and telling the Good News is as close to the heart of  Christmas as anything on your to-do list. 

So who are you going to tell this Christmas?  About Jesus!

A sister?  A friend?  A mom or dad?   The neighbor next door and the one two doors down?  I remind you…apart from Christ, they are at this moment marching directly for Hell.  Do you care?  Enough to speak up?

A Weed in Drought  

The summer of the drought. That’s where we’ve been. Hot.  Dry.  Hostile to life.

Yet a curious thing caught my eye the other day as I wheeled the mower down our driveway to cut the front lawn.

Right there in the middle of the asphalt…pushing up through tar and stone…a weed.  Sturdy, green.  If not alone.

How did it get there?  What force gave it the guts to push through a gravel base and up through a layer of asphalt?  How could it thrive when my lawn is patchy and thin?

Life is not supposed to thrive in drought conditions.  Yet there it was, defying the odds, defying the circumstances and doing its thing. (:45)

It struck me then as a living metaphor of Christ followers at this season of our lives.

Spiritually speaking, there’s no question that America is in something of a drought. 

Most churches are losing members.

Christians are no longer merely marginalized—they’re being dehumanized.

A superheated blast of angry atheism is swirling across the nation. 

Thoughts of revival are whispered today on only a few parched lips.

But as surely as that weed I observed pushed through unlikely odds, followers of Jesus must now do the same.  Right now.  In the middle of our spiritual drought.

It’s time to push on through at prayer meeting.

It’s time to push on through sharing Jesus with—quote, unquote—unlikely friends.

It’s time to push on through with the love of Jesus in the face of hatred.

Droughts, you see, don’t last forever. But God’s Kingdom does.

“Growing like a weed.”  It’s an old expression.  Never gave it much thought.  Until now. Until this drought.

So let me ask you: How’s it growing?

Your faith…

Your prayers…

Your witness…

How’s it growing?

The weed got through.  So must you and I. 

Cooling off Hell  

They're trying to cool off the flames of hell.  Have you noticed?

I have no scientific proof--just my own observations.  But it feels to me like whatever Christian circle I visit, the concept of Hell is increasingly described WITHOUT fire.   It's being replaced by the phrase "eternal separation from God." 

The trade out bothers me.  It bothers me because the Bible makes no such allowance. 

Hell is a literal place.  The lake of fire is a biblical destination. Revelation 20:15 says "Whoever's name was not written in the Lamb's book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

Mark 9:43 speaks of the 'lake of fire which shall never be quenched."

So what's behind the move away from Hell?   I have three hunches.

First, avoiding the language of Hell is consistent for a culture that way overemphasizes God's love, while neglecting His role as judge.

Second, avoiding the language of Hell makes Christianity a whole lot more tolerable for a religiously intolerant society.  Besides--the lake of fire is so extreme as to conjure up images of Crusaders of old--or more modern Ku Klux Clansmen.

My final hunch is that the enemy of our souls--himself destined for the lake of fire--has a vested interest in blinding us to the horrors of hell.

But I'm not buying it.  And neither should you.

When Jude 1:23 urges us to "snatch others from the fire” the verse isn't talking about a campfire or a house fire.  It's Hell.  

So the next time you hear somebody trying to edit out--or redefine--Hell, give 'em the Book.  The B-I-B-L-E...which speaks ever so plainly and ever so sadly about Hell: the lake of fire which burns forever.

The Scars of Communism  

Recently, I returned from a ten day trip to the Balkans area of Central Europe.  This is a region that was firmly in the iron grip of Communism for decades.  Walking the streets of Bulgaria and Romania, I was hit hard with a sad reality.  

We Americans continue to underestimate the lingering effects of Stalinism and overestimate the success of post-Communist Europe.   We view Communism like a physical house of brick and mortar that was toppled by the wrecking ball of geopolitical change.  We assume the whole nasty mess was scooped into a dumpster and hauled away. The truth is, Communism is much more like a poisonous thorny weed whose tendons have quietly grown back after the main plant was whacked off in the late 80s.  Those remnant thorns continue to scratch and draw blood.  

Take a walk down the streets of Bucharest or Sofia or Kiev, and the lifeless gray Soviet style concrete apartment buildings are everywhere. While you're out walking, note all the faces of the people you pass by: an expression that falls somewhere between stern and scowl.

Then there's the work ethic—or lack thereof.   A shopkeeper at a tiny stationary shop was visibly irritated when I politely asked to take a closer look at a notepad.  Under communism, she was paid her fixed wages whether she worked or not.  So why be bothered with customer service?

Indeed, the scars of Communism are deep and depressing.  Call them wounds not yet healed—like a suspicious cancer.

Lessons for followers of Christ?  Let me suggest two.

Let's preserve the remnants of godly culture that still remain in America.  Remember—Christ called us to be salt and light.  Preserving is at the top of our job description.

But as we go out and minister in “post-communist countries, let's not be naive about the real state of affairs.  The scars of Communism are still visible.  And its thorns are still drawing blood.

Uncommon Warmth  

“Excuse me,” she said.  “Do you have a couple minutes to talk about human rights?”

She was standing there on the sidewalk in downtown Chicago, and I walked by at my brisk heart-healthy pace expressing a “no thank you.”

Then I looked at my watch and noticed I really DID have the time.  So I walked back and talked to her. 

The girl was in her early twenties and cradled a clipboard in her arms.  Unseasonably chilly wind blew our hair as she attempted to gain my sympathy for a bill in support of human rights.  Turns out, it was about extending legal rights for homosexuals. 

She was polite...reasonable...not edgy.  And I was determined I was NOT going to be a fist-clenching angry evangelical.  Yet clearly we stood on opposite shores, an ocean of moral truth churning between us. 

I gently unfolded my opposition to the expansion of any rights for people who choose to engage in homosexual activity.  As I did so, I was conscious of a desire to be kind to her.  Admittedly, I also struggled to succinctly define my position. 

We continued to talk.  Continued to disagree.  But continued to be civil. 

When the conversation kind of paused...and I knew I really did need to move on in order to make my train, I said to the girl, “You know what—you've been very gracious.  I want you to know you're an excellent representative of your organization.  Really.”  She beamed and said something kind in return.

Two Scripture passages come to mind.

Colossians 4:6 Let your speech at all times be gracious (pleasant and winsome), seasoned [as it were] with salt, [so that you may never be at a loss] to know how you ought to answer anyone [who puts a question to you].

Proverbs 25:15 By long forbearance and calmness of spirit a judge or ruler is persuaded, and soft speech breaks down the most bone-like resistance.

On that windy June day, there were probably no ideological battles won. No hearts convinced.  But I trust Jesus was honored by my feeble attempts.  And gently hope that on an unseasonably chilly afternoon...an uncommon warmth marked the conversation of two who agreed to disagree.

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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