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Kindness--Before its too Late  

We’ve all seen the greeting cards, or maybe read the quotes on Pinterest.  You know the ones—where they encourage you to “do that act of kindness now.”  The edgier ones add the phrase, “while you can.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out, “You cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late."

William Penn offered his sobering perspective when he wrote, "I expect to pass through life but once.  If, therefore, there by any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to a fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

Charles Kingsley summed it up in his poignant observation, “There's no use doing a kindness if you do it a day too late.”

It should come as no surprise that the Bible has a lot to say about kindness.  According to Colossians 3:12, kindness ought to be the most visible part of our conduct:

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.”

Earlier this week in checking my inbox,  I discovered an email from an online floral service I had previously used.   The message read, “Jon, hurry!  Send Virginia birthday flowers today!”  Virginia is my Mom—a person with a long track record of kindness. 

But no amount of hurrying on my part could ever be fast enough. Mom is gone.  In heaven.

Today is her birthday. So I sent her flowers anyway.

In care of my Dad.

 
Get Small  

When you’re four years old, you want to “be big.” Same thing when you’re forty. 

 

We want the big salary. We want the big reputation. We want the big following on social media. 

 

Curiously, the disciples were just like us—minus FaceBook. Proof? In Matthew 18 they asked Jesus, “Who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” In other words, “Who will be the big man on heaven’s campus?” Their intent was that Jesus poke a finger at one of them and declare the big winner. 

 

Instead, Jesus plopped a tot in their midst and said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, get small.

 

But doesn’t this yank against every fiber of our flesh? We want to make a big splash, earn the big bucks, get a big house on a big lot, and drive a big car. We want to play in the big leagues, hunt with the big dogs, make it to the big time—or even to the big screen! We like big rings, big checks, and Big Macs. We want to score big, live big, talk big.

 

And in the middle of all this high and heady “big” talk, Jesus calls us to get small, to humble ourselves like a little child. 

 

Jesus wasn’t saying we couldn’t have big dreams. He was saying that bigness itself must always be calibrated by heaven’s standards if it is to have any eternal worth. 

 

Consider: there are no big shots in heaven. No big wigs. Only small people. People who have humbled themselves. Like a child. 

 

The world says, “Go big or go home!” Jesus says, “Get small, so you can come home.”

 

THAT is how you become greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. 

 
Halloween Scar  

Halloween.  It scarred me forever—in a good way.

 I’m not talking about being freaked out by a Freddy Krueger costume (why does our culture gravitate toward such gore?).   I’m talking about a lesson I learned on a neighbor’s front porch when I was a kid.

That October, Dad assembled us four boys one night, and we dug up a bucket of dirt from the garden.  We took it inside the kitchen and wetted it down to the consistency of mud (protective newspapers on the table, of course).  Dad patted, carved, and shaped humorous faces in 3D.  When the mud dried, we applied paper- mache over the hardened faces.  He then sprayed the masks with life-like skin tone and wrinkles, finally fastening an elastic strap. 

So off we went that Halloween sporting cool new masks.  One problem: the eye slits in my mask were a tad undersized—and maybe misaligned with my eyeballs.  So seeing out of the thing was a bit iffy.  At one home, I stood there as candy plopped into bags and a man finally yelled that he'd already put something in my candy bag.  As if I was being greedy and hoping for more. But I simply couldn’t see!

Though the guy was grumpy and it scared me, I've never forgotten that message—to say thank you.  What a great gift we would pass on if we made an effort to demand (yes, it requires that) of our children and grandchildren that they learn to verbally express gratitude.  Not just for a piece of candy—but for anything good that comes their way.

As believers, we love to trot out that greatest of worry-busting verses, Philippians 4:6.  But is it possible we have undersized the role of a thankful heart?  The verse says in everything “with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  In other words, say thanks along with the request!

Is your vision of gratitude a bit like my mask—a tad undersized?  Best get this fixed!  Failing to learn gratitude is a trick nobody appreciates—least of all our Heavenly Father.

 
Heaven on My Mind--Or Not  

How much do you think about heaven? 

The angel, Gabriel, flew down from the celestial glories to visit a pastor as he prepared a sermon on heaven. The angel promised he would answer the pastor's single most pressing question about life in the bliss to come.  So the pastor asked Gabriel if there would be golf courses in heaven, and if so, what was their condition.

“Pastor, you’ll be excited to know we certainly have golf courses in heaven,” the angel smiled. “The fairways are, of course, immaculate. The scenery is agonizingly beautiful.  What’s more, I looked at the schedule and noted we have you down for a foursome—-this Saturday morning!”

Everybody wants to go to heaven.  Just not today.  Why?  More to the point, why do we secretly feel so drawn to this world—and distracted from the world to come? I admit that I resonate with Richard Baxter.  In his classic book, "The Saint's Everlasting Rest," he asks tough questions:

“What interest has this empty world in me?  What is there in it that seems so lovely, as to entice my desires from God, or make me loathe to come away?   When I look upon earth with a deliberate eye, it is a howling wilderness, and too many of its inhabitants are untamed monsters.” 

Our preoccupation with the here and now is at odds with Scripture. 1 John 2:15 warns, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him.”

Perhaps Baxter's most persuasive argument comes with his observation, "So much as the world is loved and delighted in, it hurts and endangers the lover.  And if it may not be loved, why should it be desired?”

Do you struggle to love the idea of heaven?  You are not alone. But let's not give up.  The answer is to continually "Set your mind on things above," as Paul urges in Colossians 3. After all, heaven is not so far.

“Yonder is the region of light!  This is a land of darkness.  Yonder twinkling stars, that shining moon, and radiant sun, are all but lanterns hung out by your Father’s house; to light you while you walk in this dark world.”

It’s time to get honest with God about heaven.  Time to set our hearts—and our minds—on “things above.”   Baxter’s brief prayer says it best:

"O, let not this flesh so seduce my soul, as to make it prefer this weary life before the joys that are about your throne!"

 
At Auschwitz  

The gravel crackled underfoot, as we trudged to our next stop at Auschwitz.  Here, 1,300,000 people were imprisoned between 1940 and 1945—with only 200,000 surviving.   Among other displays, we stared at shoes.  Hundreds of pairs—all belonging to little children who were slaughtered—composed a portrait of agony crafted in leather. We winced at the piles of women’s hair the Nazis shaved off of their victims. There were confiscated combs and pots and pans and suitcases—almost all still bearing their owners’ names.

A sensation like emotional nausea clamped my stomach as I pondered the 1.1 million who were tortured, starved, shot, gassed (2,000 lives per hour, thanks to Zyklon B gas pellets) and burned.

We had just walked through the courtyard where thousands of prisoners were executed against a brick wall.  Next, we hiked down to a basement complex where so-called trouble makers were starved or poisoned to death. 

Two-inch round door windows revealed cement floors, hangman’s hooks, crude toilets and the potential for inhumanity without equal.  The spiritual darkness of such evil is palpable in this basement more than 75 years later.

Yet walking away from Auschwitz, I am left with a different kind of heaviness. On the ledger of history, Auschwitz is recorded as a German catastrophe, a German wickedness.  While it happened to be Germans who created this death factory, the truth is, Auschwitz is alive and well in the heart of every unredeemed human.  The point is not just that Auschwitz happened (horrible as it was)—but that it is now happening—and will always be in the process of happening.  The danger is our inability or unwillingness to see it.

Consider that between 1986 and 1989, 8% of the Kurdish population of Iraq was killed. In the 1994 Rwanda genocide, as many as one million were slaughtered. Today we have Darfur, Sudan and ISIS and on and on.

Jealousy, hatred, and pride all lead to the same place.  It’s the place where marginalizing and suffering and persecution become our daily bread, with torture and death our familiar drink.

When the Bible says “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” this is not a reference to Nazis.  It is a reference to all of unredeemed humanity. 

Apart from Christ, we are all mockers, haters and killers.  So apart from Christ and His capacity to heal all hatred, there will always be another Auschwitz. 

Let us be warned. Sharing the gospel is not just “nice.”  It is not merely “important”—it is imperative!

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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Jon Gauger Media 2016