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The Best Day  

What’s the best day you can recall? 

For me, it would be the day I married Diana. Unforgettable.  Our honeymoon trip to the tourist trap known as Wisconsin Dells is without doubt the most fun and the most fabulous memory I have.

(You who are more spiritually minded will have to forgive me for not mentioning the day I received Christ as my favorite day.  But I was such a little kid at the time, I sort of took it all in stride). 

For our daughter, Lynnette, her favorite day on the whole calendar is….can you guess?  Hint: It’s not Christmas,  Give up?  It’s the Fourth of July.  Her flags and bunting and red-white-and-blue decorations are up weeks before the big day.   She and her family wouldn’t dream of taking in just one fireworks show.  They go to several.

This year during Fourth of July celebrations, Lynnette commented happily, “This is the best day!”  With four little kids around, she never lacks for an audience.  Five-year-old Caleb heard his mom’s pronouncement and begged to differ.  In a respectful but forthright tone, he countered, “Actually, the best day is the day we get to heaven.” 

Ka-pow!    Score one point for the five-year-old. 

The very first second we are conscious in heaven, we will certainly conclude, “this is the best day.”  Perfect health. Perfect faith.  Perfect rest.  Best of all, we’ll enjoy a perfect Savior whom we’ll worship perfectly doing perfectly suited tasks in a perfect environment perfectly satisfied for ever and ever.   

Caleb reminds us of Paul’s happy assertion in  1 Corinthians 2:9: “This is what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.’”

No wonder Paul later declares in Philippians 1:23, “I'm torn between two desires” (going to heaven versus. remaining on earth). “I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.”

Next time somebody asks you about your favorite day, I dare you to resist choosing any date from your past.  Instead, point to the future.  Point to heaven

Premature Death Notice  

The words came through but didn’t quite register.

At exactly 1:47 on Tuesday afternoon an email arrived announcing that my father had died—”please pray for the family.”  But before I ever saw the email, my son Tim called and asked if I’d heard the “news.” 

Something wasn’t adding up, so I placed a quick call to the email source (a wonderful family friend) and learned that they had made an error in identifying the deceased.  The lost loved one in question was actually my aunt.   A follow up email was immediately sent out to correct the error.

Obviously, we are sad for the family of Dad’s sister.  They have lost a caring mother and there is a hole in their family that will never again quite be filled.  And Dad, of course, has lost a sister.  The day previous we’d paid our respects at the funeral home. 

Still, it was strange to think that others were now thinking someone was dead who was actually fully alive (these things have a way of taking a while to get sorted out).   But Dad is hardly the first to be mistaken for dead.

In May of 1897, American humorist Mark Twain was traveling in London when someone started the rumor that he had become gravely ill and died.  When questioned by a reporter about the story, the much-mustached Mark Twain quipped, “The reports of my deaths are greatly exaggerated.”

I couldn’t resist texting my Dad, “How does it feel to have been declared dead—and come back to life on the same day?”  His response is choice.  He simply quoted Paul:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

The sobering truth is, whether our death announcement is premature—or on time—we shall all have one eventually.   But followers of Christ need not let this sobriety check send us into a dark funk.  Why?  Our lives here are but shadows.  We shall have all of heaven and all of Jesus for all of eternity!  Allow me to quote again from Paul who said,

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.   —Romans 14:8,9

I belong to Christ.

Christ belongs to me.

Everything else—even death—is pocket change.

The Girl Who Cared for Anne Frank  

Everyone has heard of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who died in a Nazi concentration camp.  Fewer have heard of Gena Goldfinger, the girl who nursed 15-year old Anne as she lay dying.

Before Gena's journey to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, she spent time at Auschwitz, where an apparent malfunction in a gas chamber spared her life.  But a brother was shot by the Nazi SS.  One of Gena's sisters was gunned down trying to smuggle food into the camp.  Another sister died a horrible death after being injected with gasoline by Dr. Mengele.  

But little Gena—not even ten years old—was a survivor, and she intended to stay that way.  At the time, an epidemic of typhus fever had swept throughout the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she and her mother had marched.  Hundreds died every day.

Gena, of course, saw the effects of the epidemic up close.  Determined to ensure her and her mother's survival, the plucky girl talked her way into a job at the camp hospital. 

As for Anne Frank, Gena remembers, "She was delirious, terrible, burning up." Gena brought water to Anne in an attempt to relieve her discomfort. 

"I washed her face, gave her water to drink," recalled Gena, whose bunk was around the corner from Anne's.  "I can still see that face, her hair, and how she looked."

Unlike Anne, who died three months shy of her 16th birthday, Gena survived and lived a long life after the war, leading school children in tours of the death camps in later years.  

She had lost three brothers and two sisters in the Holocaust—along with a friend named Anne Frank.

On June 7 of this month, at the age of 95, Gena passed away.  I look at her life and wonder—when I finally come to the end, will there be anyone who remembers me giving them a cup of water?  We may not be in a concentration camp, but the parched and dying are all around us, some of them even appearing healthy on the outside. 

In her famous diary, Anne Frank wrote, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."

Jesus said, "And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded."  --Matthew 10:42.

Know anyone who could use a cup of cold water?

How Many Balloons?  

How many balloons would it take to lift you off the ground?

I’ve wondered about this question since I was a kid. Staring at the Pixar movie, Up, did nothing but stoke my imagination.  Maybe you’re curious, too. 

Adventurist Tom Morgan was determined to find the answer to this question. He and some friends jetted to Botswana in southern Africa, having determined the wide open planes and plateaus were a perfect fit for their crazy experiment. 

Strapped into a chair, Tom’s team attached 86 very large (think five-feet in diameter) helium-filled balloons.  And then he lifted off, higher and higher.  And higher. 

According to an article in The Red Bulletin, Tom Morgan eventually climbed to an altitude of nearly 8200 feet, choosing to remain airborne for three hours. Then it was time to settle down to earth. Morgan touched down safely on terra firma, having traveled a lateral distance of fifteen miles.  “It was like I knew what I was doing,” he bemuses.

Can you imagine the vistas he drank in at more than 8000 feet?  Stretched before him, the carpet of the African Savanna.  The photographer in me drools at the thought of peering through the lens of my Nikon at such a height.

Imagine the panoramas that you could stitch together in PhotoShop!  Lacking the smog and smoke of more industrialized countries, you would hungrily eat up the sights of Botswana, never to forget this banquet of beauty.  You would constantly stare, turn, look—and look again.

This business of constantly looking takes me to a favorite verse, 2 Chronicles 16:9. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.”

Our God is not looking for beautiful scenery.  He’s already gone on record as giving approval to His creation (“and behold, it was very good”).   So what is  God really after?  “A heart that is blameless toward Him.” 

He’s looking, searching, to and fro.  His “camera” is ready.  The question is, what does He see when He stares at your heart?  At mine? 

Not long ago, a doctor insisted I get a scan of my heart.  I was afraid of what it might reveal.  To my relief, everything looked great.  Yet I’m sure a scan of my spiritual heart would reveal plenty of concerns.

A blameless heart is not just God-approved, it’s God-supported.  He wants to give “strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.”

So…how’s your heart?

The Bear  

Have you ever felt the blast of a bear exhaling on your hand?   Happened to me a few days ago.

We were visiting a small town Wisconsin zoo and I found myself frustrated trying to take pictures of Bugaboo and Berryboo—a pair of Black Bears.  In addition to the very sturdy chain link fence that kept the bears where they belonged, there was a secondary fence that kept us back even further.  So taking pictures of the bears was more like taking pictures of the fence.

In talking with one of the animal trainers I explained my dilemma, suggesting that if I could jam the lens of my camera up against an opening in the fence, the pictures would be much better. Taking pity on me, she led me to a spot where I could do just that.

But Bugaboo immediately padded his nearly 400 pounds over, shoved his mug against the fence and began to sniff at us. Not exactly an ideal shot, because once again, the fence was in the way of the shot.

Fiddling with my camera, I could actually feel his warm exhale on my wrist. At one point the bear let out a jolting snort, and then I got a face full of his breath. Not hideous.  But not pleasant, either. We were that close.

Peering at Bugaboo from my side of the fence, it was tempting to think that maybe he wasn’t all that dangerous after all.  Hadn’t I seen the zoo keeper let him sniff the palm of her hand?  Maybe he wasn’t the fierce killer I’d been led to believe.

That silly way of thinking is the same road many of us foolishly travel down when we wrestle with sin. We reason, “it can actually be rather tame, so there’s no need for all the handwringing.”  Until we get bit—with all the force of a Black Bear (more biting power than a leopard, a cougar or a gray wolf).

2 Timothy 2:22 urges, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace….”

There’s a reason for the fence that God has set up as a barrier against sin.

Tame looking or not, we’d best remember that sin—all sin—is ferocious and deadly.  Soft fur coat and his cuddly name notwithstanding, Bugaboo will always be a killer.  Just like sin.

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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