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Small Gifts Matter  

Small gifts matter.

Check out this email from my friend, Jack:

 

Peppermint bark in a metal tin. That—and a Christmas card—were in one hand as I knocked on the door with the other. It was just a small gift. With the house cloaked in afternoon shadows, the window's reflection made it difficult to see if Mark was home. Mark lives a few doors down from us, but he’s been existing in a world far from ours: grief.

When at last I saw someone behind the door glass, it was not the face of Mark, the home repair guy we know. This was a girl with braces on her teeth and sadness in her eyes—Mark’s daughter.

This Christmas would be her first without her mom.  She opened the door tentatively, and I explained that I was a neighbor a few doors down. As I handed her the peppermint bark, she brightened, and a smile crinkled her eyes.

The next part was hard. How do you express sympathy to a first-year high school student? 

“We’re…umm…very sorry about your mom.”  She nodded, still smiling as she looked at the candy. “So—please say hi to your dad for me, okay?” I added. She smiled even wider.

 


 

Hearing Jack's story reminds me that many of us have long taken a cautionary stance on Christmas gifts as evangelicals. "It's not about the gifts we give, but about the gift He gave,” we proclaim. We absolutely don’t want Christmas to be about the presents we buy. No argument, right?

It's certainly true we could never give a gift like God gave us in Jesus. But at the same time, I'm convinced our gift-giving matters—small gifts matter.

Consider how surprisingly few ways there are to express love to someone. You can tell them, write them, hug them, visit them—or give them a gift.

One last thought on Jack's gift. For years, he's prayed for an open door with his neighbor, Mark. Sounds to me like that door is open, at least a little.

Small gifts matter.

 
A Shortage of Listeners  

You've heard there's a national coin shortage, a computer chip shortage, a cream cheese shortage (I'm not joking), and a truck driver shortage. Supposedly, there's also a shortage of Christmas trees—real and fake—and we can likely expect another toilet paper shortage soon.

To this list, add one more: a shortage of people who care to listen to others. Everybody loves a conversation. But hardly anybody likes to listen.

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of asking someone about their day—and then been fire-hosed with a ten-minute monologue. (Of course, you’ve never done that, have you?).

Despite Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, people feel less heard than ever. It seems to me people are also hurting more these days. But there are fewer people around who care to listen.

This, it seems to me, is our golden moment as Christ-followers. It's our opportunity to witness for Christ by showing the compassion of Christ—merely by listening.

What if we excelled at listening? What if we were the absolute best listeners our lost neighbors and loved ones ever encountered?

You say, “I don’t have the patience—or the time.” Really? Isn't it true we spend most of our prayer time asking of God or confessing to God rather than listening to God? Consider: the King of the universe has time to listen to us. How dare we be less gracious?

What if we listened by locking eyes with our friends and coworkers rather than stealing glances at our phones? What if we nodded our heads in empathy rather than nodded off? And—most difficult of all—what if we resisted the twin urges to either comment on their diatribe or go off on our own?

Ours is a bruised planet. Hear the hurts of others.

Ours is a worried planet. Hear the worries of others.

Ours is a lonely planet. Hear the pain of others.

As we have been listened to by our King, let us listen well to His subjects.

 

Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

-Philippians 2:4

 
Light Trouble  

With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, it was time to set up our Christmas manger scene. Slot A met Tab B, and the white cut-out boards snapped together in no time. The final touch—a white floodlight to illuminate Jesus and the manger scene.

Having shoved the plastic fixture into the lawn, I connected the extension cords, turned the light switch and…nothing. A quick examination revealed a crack that was more than a little suspicious. Time to replace it.

We found a new fixture at Home Depot the next day, and I eagerly threaded the floodlight into the socket. We turned on the switch, and this time the light came on. Then went off. Then went on. Perhaps the bulb wasn’t threaded in all the way? I cranked it firmly a quarter turn—and the darkness was disappointingly dark.

Aha! I needed only to swap out that old bulb for a new one! Problem is, I’d cranked it so tight, the bulb’s glass actually separated from the threaded insert. My (brand new) fixture was doomed.

After a second trip to Home Depot, we returned with an all-in-one LED fixture, plugged it in, and—finally enjoyed the glorious light. Funny how sometimes, shining a spotlight on Jesus takes more effort than you might think.

That’s been our experience with neighbors whom we’ve been trying to get to know—so we can introduce them to Christ. In Mathew 5:16, Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

As for “good deeds,” we’ve made some effort—but it hasn’t seemed to pay off. We tried bringing over a food basket. They seemed to appreciate it, but it didn’t make much of a connection. We gave them a small photo canvas of their little girl. A thank you—but no sense of relationship afterward.

It's tempting to write this off as a friendship that probably won't take off. But back to Matthew 5:16. When Jesus challenges us to let our lights shine, He speaks of letting others “see your good deeds.” Notice that the deeds are plural. As in many. Over time.

So, maybe (like us) you have yet to connect with a neighbor or coworker. You say, “I tried, but nothing’s happened.” Maybe not. Not yet. But try again—I dare you. Because sometimes, shining a spotlight on Jesus takes more effort than you might think.

 
Thanksgiving Miracle  

Just an average-looking envelope. Not so much as a scribble on it. But inside was a ring. A wedding ring? It sure seemed that way to Laura, a neighbor lady.

She'd found it in the street, not far from our home, while out for a walk with her dog.

The ring bore a tiny inscription suggesting it was a gift from Gabe. But Gabe who? There are 50 some houses on our street. Though we know many of the neighbors, we surely don’t know them all. And what proof was there that it belonged to anyone on our street, anyway?

Nevertheless, Laura called my wife and asked us to take the ring and do what we could to return it. So, I knocked on the door of a guy who lives across the street and a few doors down. Wasn't home. I went back a few days later. This time, he answered.  But had his wife, Natalia—by any chance—lost a ring? Gabe acknowledged she had, then went to get her.

Long story short, Natalia was equal parts giddy and shocked as she slid the ring on her finger. “Just this week, I’d made a call to a jeweler stating I needed to replace my wedding ring.  But now….!”

After explaining that I was merely the messenger and that the lady who found it lived up the street, Gabe immediately got on his shoes, and we walked together to Laura's house so he could express their thanks. As we waited for Laura to come to the door, Gabe muttered, “Miracles DO happen!”  Was this a Hallmark movie?

Consider: a tiny ring plucked from the gray cement by a random neighbor. Who called us. We took a guess and knocked on a door and…voila.

But there’s more to this miracle.  For months, we’ve prayed for an open door to get to know Gabe and Natalia better. Nothing has happened. And—we’ve also prayed for Laura and her family, asking for an open door there, too. In one day, God opened both doors—literally.

We enjoyed lengthy conversations with both of these neighbors we’d love to see come to Christ. And through no personal merit, they now connect us with their Thanksgiving miracle.

How good of God to let us play a role in sharing some good news: that which was lost is now found. Ironic—because that’s a favorite theme with Jesus, right? But I’m just a messenger. In the end, isn’t that all God asks of us—to be a messenger?

 

The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.

—Luke 19:10

 
After My Master  

We are just back from a trip to Israel.

In eight days of audio and video recording, we interviewed 18 different people for some upcoming Moody Radio specials. Among them is a guy named Nizar Touma. He is pastor of the church of the Nazarene in the heart of Nazareth.

If you’ve never been there, here’s what would likely surprise you if you were to visit Jesus’ hometown today.

First, Nazareth is noisy. It's a city of nearly 80,000 with all the bustle and business of a busy place. Indeed, Nazareth is the largest Arab city in all of Israel.

Second, it’s hilly. Remember, it was in Nazareth where they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff. In the 2000 years since His sandals crisscrossed this land, the peaks haven’t flattened out any.

Third, Nazareth—in fact, the whole region—still has little interest in the Nazarene we know as Jesus.

Not so with Nizar Touma. Introducing himself, he told us, “I’m a native of Nazareth. I was born here. I’ve lived here. I met Jesus in His hometown. I became His disciple.”

Then he offered this summary: “I’m a person who is after His Master. I am pastoring the church, ministering in Nazareth, reaching out to the Arabic-speaking community for the last 21 years."

That description of his still grips me: “I’m a person who is after His Master.” Could I say the same thing? Could you?

We go to church, give our money, help with Sunday School, do our devotions. And on and on. Those are good things, but their achievement doesn’t necessarily answer the question, am I after my Master?

Not unlike the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, we Christians love a check box religion. The problem is, we can “do the list” but not really love the Lord.

In Mathew 15, Jesus quoted Isaiah when He said of the Pharisees, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."

Time to check our hearts!

Me? I want to be “after my Master.”

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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Jon Gauger Media 2016