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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.”

 
Separate from the World  

Nobody wants to stick out.

Everybody wants to blend in.

That’s the mantra of a middle school kid.

Unfortunately, it’s also the way many of us approach our faith as we navigate our culture. We don’t want to make waves, ruffle feathers, or stick out in any way. 

And that's a problem. Because Scripture calls us to be separate from the world. In 2 Corinthians. 6:17, we hear God calling:

"Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord.

What exactly does it mean to be separate? Godly Christians haven’t always agreed. But we know the Almighty doesn’t ask us to wear dorky clothes or speak in King James English.

That said, there ought to be plenty about us that marks us as different.  So different, the world sees us as separate. And that’s not a comfortable place to be.

What grid can we use to make choices that separate us from the world?  J.C. Ryle has some ideas:

The first secret of victory over the world is a right heart. By that, I mean a heart renewed, changed, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit—a heart in which Christ dwells, a heart in which old things have passed away, and all things become new (2Co 5:17). The grand mark of such a heart is the bias of its tastes and affections. The owner of such a heart no longer likes the world and the things of the world, and therefore finds it no trial or sacrifice to give them up. He no longer has any appetite for the company, the conversation, the amusements, the occupations, the books he once loved, and to "come out" from them seems natural to him. Let him who wants to come out from the world and be separate make sure first and foremost that he has got a new heart. If the heart is really right, everything else will be right in time.

So…how’s your heart?

 
Why We Must Bless Israel  

Did you know that within 24 hours of the United Nations' declaration of Israel's statehood, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria launched a full-scale attack?

Did you know that nearly 30 countries—including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Somalia, and North Korea—still do not recognize Israel as a nation?

Did you know that Arab leaders have publicly stated they want to “throw the Jews into the sea?”

Did you know that in 2017, Iran constructed a large clock that is right now counting down to what they hope will be the end of Israel’s existence?

Did you know that Hamas fired more than 1,500 missiles into Israel in May of this year? Israel's Iron Dome Defense Missile System shot down about 1,400 of those. But there are members of our Congress who actually voted to defund America’s support of this defense system!

Did you know that the Palestinian Authority pays convicted terrorists a monthly allowance? And the families of terrorists killed by Israeli security forces during a terror attack receive a monthly "pension" as well.

Despite what you've read or seen on television or online, Israel is not the big bully in the neighborhood. In truth, tens of millions of hostile neighbors surround Israel.

In Genesis 12:3, God makes this extraordinary promise regarding the Jewish nation “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you, and in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Exactly how well are we doing at blessing Israel? May I suggest two practical action steps?

Action #1: Stop the Assault on Israel and Jewish people.

Learn the truth! Keep others from slandering Jewish people here in the U.S. or slandering Israelis abroad. Email the TV station when their coverage is plainly biased against Israel. Stand up! Speak up! Pack up! Yep, consider a trip to the Holy Land (afterward, you’ll never read the Bible—or the headlines—the same).

Action #2: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

I’m serious! Ask the God of heaven to bring peace not just to Jerusalem but to the entire region. Of course, the only lasting peace we'll ever see is when Jesus finally returns, but meanwhile, He tells us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Now more than ever, it’s time to bless Israel!

 

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure.

—Psalms 122:6

 

 

 
Shrinking Self  

In Richard Matheson’s novel, The Shrinking Man, the lead character Scott Carey is exposed to a radioactive cloud causing him to begin shrinking. In just months, he loses three inches in height and continues to get smaller—to the point a Black Widow spider pursues him in his own basement.

John the Baptist’s life exemplifies a different kind of shrinking. When comparing himself to Jesus Christ, John declares, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  Could seven words possibly pack more punch?

Ours is an age of shallow slogans and empty talking points. But when John the Baptist made this famous declaration, he wasn’t trying to be glib.  He was doing what he always did—speaking truth boldly.

This business of an increasing Jesus and a decreasing self is not for the faint of heart (it cost John his head, remember?). So how do we go about it—making Jesus large and ourselves small?

F.B. Meyer writes, “The only hope of a decreasing self is an increasing Christ. There is too much of the self-life in us all….But how can we be rid of this accursed self-consciousness and pride? Ah! We must turn our back on our shadow and our face towards Christ. We must look at all things from his standpoint, trying to realize always how they affect Him."

Unlike the fictional Shrinking Man, who lost a seventh of an inch every day—without trying, our struggle will be lifelong. But it’s a battle we must face—and win.

"If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”    —Jesus (Mark 9:35)

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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Jon Gauger Media 2016