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Broken Things  

On morning walks after the holidays, I like to smell the different Christmas trees piled out by the curb: Balsam fir, Blue spruce, and Scotch pine. (I'm so crazy about the smell; Diana makes our fake Christmas tree smell like the real deal!).

Walking by those curbside trees, I often break off a small sprig and breathe in the fragrance--my feeble attempt at hanging on to Christmas just a bit longer. Interestingly, the pine smells the strongest where the twig is broken off. That arresting aroma is not found in the luxurious green needles. But you cannot escape it at the point of the wound.

I’m learning that the same is often true spiritually. Let me explain.

I visited an elderly Christian friend whose wife now lives in a memory care unit. He misses her terribly—to the point you sense something (someone) has been torn from him. Yet, to be with him is to breathe a fragrance of kindness and warmth that can only be described as Christ-like.

Another friend is in the middle of a months-long knee replacement nightmare. Talk about broken! He is entirely immobile—but spiritually unwavering—the fragrance of Christ.

This week, I met a Christian woman who remembers Adolph Hitler's motorcade driving down her street. Not long after, her family faced the horror of the Russian occupation. She heard the screams of women raped at night, the shots of guns executing neighbors, and the incessant growl of her stomach as starvation loomed. Incredibly, she, too, had this fragrance of Christ about her.

Like the Christmas trees I sample, that fragrance is not released in seasons of comfort—the easy times. Look for it in seasons of brokenness.

My point? Someone reading this right now is at a place of great hurt. I would not minimize your pain or pretend I know all you're going through. I can only tell you what I've observed in those who refuse to turn bitter but instead cling to the Savior. When the focus is Jesus, the fragrance is Christ.

 

For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.

—2 Corinthians 2:15

 

 

 

 

 

 
Touchless  

I do not like what COVID has done to eating out.

Apart from some upscale restaurants serving thirty-dollar steaks with baked potatoes for an additional ten bucks, almost nobody wants you in their space these days. Fast food restaurants no longer wish to be restaurants. They've become food factories: Get in line, pay in line, leave the line.

Here’s what I’ve experienced in restaurants after COVID—and maybe you can relate.

They don’t want your face. Sure, their doors are open, but their hearts aren't. Fast food places act like you've shoved a tire iron in the spokes of their wheel merely by walking in the door. Be prepared to wait and wait for someone who will wait on you. After COVID, the drive-through lane has gone from priority to deity status. And there are daggers aplenty for anyone who dares to order at the counter rather than using the kiosk. (But have you ever tried telling the kiosk you prefer a soft taco over a hard shell? No can do!). 

They don’t want your cash. Some restaurants take it, but they often give you a dirty look because you insist on using real money.

They just want your card. Swipe and get out. That’s the feeling you get in many places these days.

Touchless Times. Ironically, many restauranteurs cling to the mantra of "touchless" service. Really? But a machine didn't flip the burger. Or pull the fries. Or put the lid on your Coke. Or pack it all up in a bag. Many people have touched your meal!

May I turn this conversation toward Christ for a moment?

I'm so glad that when Jesus faced a man with an infectious disease more horrible than COVID, He didn't insist on a "touchless" encounter. Instead, He deliberately touched the leprous man and said, "I am willing" (to heal you). "Be cleansed" (Luke 5:13). 

In a world that only welcomes you when you swipe—and is oddly comfortable with touchless service—Jesus is more refreshing than ever. Don't you just love Him?

 

 

 

 

 

 
After the Mudfest  

As I write this, snow is falling—enough white stuff to make me fire up the snowblower snoozing in my garage. Now, you might be a warm weather worshipper, but to me, a walk in the snow is one of God’s great gifts.

Still, as I walk, I'm constantly amazed at how quickly the pure white blanket is stained. Scarcely has the snow landed when a car spews black exhaust on it or a muddy boot stomps its dirt. To say nothing of dogs who pause long enough to…well, you get the idea.

Where are we going with this?

As followers of Christ, you and I have complete forgiveness. Spiritually speaking, we stand dressed in pure white. Yet, I'm dumbfounded at the speed with which I can muddy the robe of righteousness given to me by Christ Himself.

A careless word, a me-first thought, a clinging to myself more than my Savior—these are as dirtying and disgusting as yellow snow.

Can you relate to what I'm saying? If so, you're familiar with the guilt after the mud fest. Our enemy—often the one who has enticed us in the first place—now scorns our muddied state.

What to do?

Confess the crime. Ask forgiveness—and speak the truth. That truth is spoken with a grand and glorious eloquence in Romans 8:1.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus.

If you've stepped in the mud—like me—and feel defined by the filth of your failure, it's time to hear the decree of the Almighty once more:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Hear it again. And again. But don't just hear it! Shout it aloud every time you hear the wicked whisper of guilt. It's the rightful song of everyone wearing a robe made white by the Blood of the Lamb!

 

P.S. If you'd like a beautiful graphic version of this verse—something to use as a bookmark or note for your mirror—email me at Jgauger@moody.edu. Just say, "I'm tired of the mud!" And I'll email you the free pdf you can print.

 

 
Jesus is Coming Again!  

When asked if Jesus “will return to Earth someday," a Pew Research poll finds:

  • 55% of all U.S. adults say this will happen.
  • 86% of historically Black church traditions agree.
  • 92% of evangelicals believe in Jesus' Second coming.

The same Pew research poll shows:

  • 25% of Americans do not believe Jesus will return to Earth.
  • 16% say they do not believe in Jesus.

I have news for you. Whether or not ANYONE believes it—Jesus is coming back to Earth!

David Jeremiah points out that scholars have identified 1,845 unique biblical references to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament refers to Christ's return in no less than 17 books, while the New Testament authors speak of it in 23 of 27 books. The Lord Jesus Himself referred to the Second Coming 21 times!

In fact, one out of every 30 verses in the New Testament proclaims that Jesus Christ is coming back to this Earth.

If it’s that important to the writers of Scripture—and that important to our Savior Jesus—don’t you think we ought to prepare? You and I certainly make a big deal of Christ’s first advent. But what about the second? Here’s how to prepare:

If you don’t know Jesus, Acts 16:31 urges, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." Ask Jesus to forgive you for your wrongdoing—your sins. Invite Him to take charge of your life.

If you do know Jesus, does He have your whole heart—or just part of it? The Christmas carol compels us, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” Jesus isn’t looking for a spot in the corner. He wants the entire throne. Does He have it?

It was great celebrating Christ's first coming (most of our decorations are still up!). But how much greater will our delight be at His second coming?

Joy to the World, the Lord will come!

 
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

 

 

 

 

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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