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Mercy--The Road Back  

Until you have messed up and fully understood the mess you've made, you can't appreciate the wonder of mercy.

Last Sunday, our church orchestra accompanied the congregation, singing In the First Light. While the lyrics and melody are powerful, the arrangement—created by our minister of music, Dennis Criser—is profound.

Our rehearsal went well, and afterward, I put my French Horn down and jaunted over to Dennis to let him know how much I appreciated the creativity that went into his work. Then came the actual Sunday morning performance.

Dennis wrote the French Horn part in an easy key—just one flat. Yet, for whatever reason, I carelessly failed to check this detail and played as if there was one sharp instead.

For non-musicians, imagine the sound a piano makes when you simultaneously play a white key AND the black key right next to it. Sour! It sounded even more sour because the introduction was essentially a French Horn solo accompanied only by piano. It wasn’t a total wreck, as I was able to correct the error of my ways in just one or two bars. Nevertheless, the damage was done.

That’s hardly the crime of the century or the disappointment of a lifetime. Still, as music goes, it was a wreck—and I caused it. After church, I apologized to Dennis and added, “The first few bars were a disaster. But then, I found the road back.”

With the warmest of smiles and the kindest of words, Dennis replied, “Jon, there’s always a road back.” And he left it at that. What a picture of mercy—the fragrance that defined Jesus perhaps more than any other.

As we stand at the edge of a new year, we can be sure that in the days ahead, there will be folks who (mostly unintentionally) create sour music: a critical word, an ungrateful spirit, a temper out of control. Ugliness has a thousand sounds.

The only question is—will you respond in anger, or will you show mercy?

Here’s to choosing mercy.

It’s always the road back. 


Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. 

-James 2:13





He Came to Restore  

While babysitting Ava and Emma recently, Emma trotted into the living room bearing two dolls—and an announcement: “This is Anna and Elsa—but they lost their legs.”

It was hard not to giggle at how this four-year-old crammed facts and fate into one tragic sentence. However, upon further examination, Emma's assessment proved reliable. The lead characters of Disney's Frozen franchise were decked out in their movie finest—but lacked legs. All of them.

The sight of the dolls’ (plastic) smiles, despite their mangled condition, felt odd. At my wife Diana’s encouragement, the girls dug through their dolly collection and found some of the missing limbs, which Diana lovingly restored. Alas, one doll is still missing a leg. Yet there’s something profound—even divine—about restoration, even when it’s just a doll getting her leg back.

When Jesus came to earth, His signature was restoration: healing the lame, the blind, and the deaf. But His mission was more sweeping and grander than that.

Christ came to restore our souls by offering forgiveness of our wrongdoing through His death on the cross. He gave us a lifetime Coach in the Holy Spirit who counsels, corrects, and—when needed—convicts us. But more than that, He promises us eternal life with Him in a new heaven and a new earth. The ultimate restoration.

Have you let Jesus restore you?

It's His Christmas gift to you—so what are you waiting for?

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool."  -Isaiah 1:18



That Rarest of Luxuries  


At the age of 99, Chuck Christensen is one of the best listeners you could ever meet. After every sentence you utter, he offers an affirming response.

When you talk, he makes unfailing eye contact. He nods in empathy, asks clarifying questions, and leans forward—as if to support you. He's the only human being I've ever met whose "Hmm…" feels like a comforting hand on your sagging shoulders.

Were your conversation recorded, stop-watched, and displayed as a pie chart, your half of that talk would invariably be larger than his. Always.

Like me, you’re probably guilty of “listening” while daydreaming, staring at the TV screen, or sneaking a peak at your phone or smartwatch. But could there be anything more Christ-like than giving someone the gift of listening—really listening to them?

This is the ultimate evidence of others-first living. It’s the lifestyle Philippians 2:4 calls us to: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

When it comes to Christmas, it’s easy to buy stuff.

But it’s costly to give time and attention.  

This season, why not treat those you love to that rarest of luxuries—listening? 


Falling Down While Reaching Out  

“How did your church’s outreach event go?” I asked my friend Jack.

“Went well—once it got started. The guy who rented us the equipment showed up 30 minutes late and took another 20 minutes to set up. So we had fifty people roaming the halls at church waiting for an event that started almost an hour late.”

“Not cool.”

“Not at all. I felt sick—like instead of hosting our guests, we’d given them a black eye.”

“Isn’t that a little harsh, Jack?”

“Maybe. But inside, I was seething—and I was blunt with the installation guy. Not over the top, but not exactly Jesus-like, either.”

“Ouch. I’ve been there.”

"Well, we talked further—the rental guy and me. He talked all about his business—how demand has been shrinking year after year. Yet, he worked hard. And honestly, he seemed to enjoy creating a happy experience for us.”

“How did it all end?” I had to know.

Jack admitted, “I…apologized to him for being gruff—and he was super nice about it. Still, I felt like a jerk. I was in charge of an outreach event designed to share Christ, but I sure didn't reach out to that installer guy at first! Ironic, eh?"


Have you ever been guilty of behaving like Jack (who gave me permission to share his story—warts and all)?

I think of my unkind conversations with arrogant tech support people. Or the un-Christlike ways I’ve conducted myself in traffic jams.

But for the Christian, there’s no on/off switch when it comes to outreach. We're to show Christ, preach Christ, and image Christ all day, every day. No room for tantrums of any sort.

Christmas is coming. And things are bound to go wrong at your church program or extended family dinner. Or whatever function you've invited non-believers to attend.

How can we sing Joy to the World and pray that our unsaved guests will have hearts that “prepare Him room”—when we’ve practically elbowed Jesus out of the room with our poor conduct?


Lord, as we gather with those outside the Kingdom over the holidays, help us not lose sight of the Kingdom—or the King! Let us image Christ well—even when things fall apart. Amen!

A Whole Lot of Nothin  

The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

Okay, it’s not exactly a house—it’s a restaurant. Or at least it was.

A while back, a team with a dream took a long look at a cavernous bar with a concrete floor. In its place, they envisioned a killer French restaurant. It would be the crown jewel of eateries in Chicago’s River North community.

But the dream would take a significant investment. For about a year, I watched truckloads of contractors pouring in and out of the old bar. They cored through the cement, reworked the electricity, curved the drywall, hung new lights, and laid terrazzo floors. Talk about investment!

In January, the place finally opened led by a chef celebrated in Paris and New York. But you know what that restaurant is serving today? A whole lot of nothin’. It closed in just ten months.

Think of all the financial backers who bought into this idea. Instead of a return on their investment, they’re getting a whole lot of nothing. Not so much as a forkful of bœuf bourguignon or the flake of a croissant.

The lights were on in the begrudging gray of an early morning, so I peered in at the restaurant that wasn't. The beautiful booths are still there, but given the restaurant's ghost town status, the floors might as well be tumbleweeds as terrazzo. As I snapped a picture, a thought arrested me.

What about the people who have invested in you and me spiritually? What kind of a return are they getting? Did your parents help lead you to Christ? Perhaps a Sunday School teacher or Awana leader poured into your life. Or was it a pastor who counseled you and prayed for you? What are they getting for their investment?

They've spent time, energy, and money on you, dreaming that someday you might nurture others in Christ. Is your soul a banquet of life-giving nourishment for others? Or are you—like that defunct restaurant—serving a whole lot of nothing?

"My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”  -John 15:8


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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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