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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?

Offended--and Proud of It  

Taking offense.

In the last two or three years, it has replaced baseball as America’s pastime. These days, it seems everyone is offended and going to bat about something. There is nothing, it seems, over which we will not be offended.

While humans have managed to irritate each other since Adam and Eve, today's cultural climate offers two distinct differences. First, social media has created a global platform to air those grievances.  And air them we do. Second, a sustained pattern of lawsuits has given birth to the notion that "If I am offended, so you must placate me."

The implication is that others must change for me—so I can feel "safe" or valued or equal.  Gone is the idea that reasonable people might share reasonable—even sharp—differences of opinion without demanding one side cave in.

We should be able to disagree and remain civil. Anything else is opposed to biblical virtues like kindness, gentleness, and "esteeming others better" than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). The Bible argues love "does not demand its own way" (1 Corinthians 13:5). Who should be more civil than Bible-believing Christians?

But increasingly, I see believers adopting the world’s self-centered mindset, slapping godly labels on godless attitudes. We’re offended—and by golly, this evil world had better know it!

Certainly, there is much in our culture that is opposed to our Christian faith.

Certainly, there is much over which we could be offended.

Certainly, we must never call evil good or good evil.

But with all that said, there is precious little over which Christians have a right to be offended. Consider Christ. He endured insults, slander, jeering—regularly.  Yet we see not one hint of offense taken on His part.

The old chorus had it right:

They’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Not our sense of offense.

Pray for Me  

A friend at work recently texted to thank me for praying about a family health situation. Good thing it was a text and not FaceTime. I’m sure there was a strained look on my face as I pondered whether, in fact, I had prayed. Perhaps I did pray initially, but not nearly as much as my friend credited me.

Can you relate to that? Someone asks you to pray, and you give hearty agreement to their request with every intention to follow through. And then, you don’t. Your friend is assuming you’re praying—counting on it. They've told others that you are praying, and people naturally think that you are. Only later do you find out that you've let them down. (Is that letting God down?).

My friend’s good medical report should have made me feel good. Instead, I felt guilt. Surely, I should have prayed more. But since God doesn't beat us up over these things, I concluded that perhaps my self-condemnation was a bit harsh. Maybe the worst of it—and this is no small thing—is that we miss out on the blessing that comes from being a committed prayer team member.  

Dr. Bob Moeller, a mentor of mine, once advised, “When someone asks you to pray for them, do it right there on the spot. Whether in person or on the phone—pray for them.” I haven’t always lived up to that advice, but I try.

Maybe that’s the best rendering of 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”

The very moment someone asks, or the very moment we remember we’re supposed to pray—we pray.

I dare you. Next time a friend or loved one asks you to pray about a situation, do it right then. In your office. In your house. As you’re together in church. As you’re out in public together.

The moment you hear the words, "Pray for me," go ahead and pray—out loud. The place doesn't matter, but the prayer does. So—pray!

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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