|Paid the Bill
|Thursday, June 18, 2020|
They say that troubles and tragedies come in threes.
First, there was the washing machine. Aged and infirmed, it died an inconvenient death when we were in the middle of building a room addition and were stretched for cash.
The next week, on a bitterly cold night, we woke to the sound of our smoke detectors. It was our furnace—nearly melted and ready to explode. Replacement cost: five thousand dollars.
A 66-passenger school bus rammed into our car just one week later, totaling the thing—another few thousand bucks we didn't have. Though there were no injuries on the bus (which thankfully was empty)— my wife ultimately needed shoulder surgery.
This trio of disasters put us so far into the hole there was little hope of finishing off the room addition—essentially a wooden shell with insulation, electrical, and drywall all waiting to be done.
So there I was in the check-out line with a bunch of conduit pipe and assorted electrical supplies. My dad was with me, as I knew nothing about electrical work (or most of the work that was needed!).
As the cashier rang up the parts, I got out my credit card. We'd long run out of available cash. But my dad waved me off. Instead, he pulled out his own credit card—and paid the whole bill. Approaching $100, as I recall.
I was stunned. Understand that my dad has always been generous. But there was something about this gesture—the sense of futility I felt about our finances, juxtaposed against the kindness of his gift—that etched this scene into my soul in a flash. It was a ray of hope, signaling that maybe someday we’d get back on our feet and get that room addition finished.
When I think about Father's Day, that scene never fails to come to mind. And I wonder if maybe it's an image of a more profound truth. While we were morally and spiritually hopelessly in debt, our Heavenly Father sent Jesus and paid our entire sin bill: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
You might not be blessed with a generous dad like me. But your Heavenly Father has paid the ultimate price to forgive you your sin, by sending Jesus to the Cross. That’s something to celebrate on Father’s Day—and every day!
|Thursday, June 11, 2020|
There’s magic in those undulating waves of orange and red. Magic in the mesmerizing dance of smoke and ash. Sitting around a campfire conjures up an uncommon sense of tranquility.
That tranquility, of course, ebbs and flows when little tykes are around. Noting the many little ones enjoying the fire with us, my dad started tossing out single-serve packages of M&Ms. The kids happily snatched them up—all except Ava.
Bundled in a blanket on my wife’s lap, Ava was easy to overlook. Noting the grand fortune that the other kids were enjoying, she unbundled herself, a three-year-old on a mission. Skittering off my wife's lap, she announced, "I have to go ask Grandpa something..." We couldn't help but chuckle at her thinly veneered intention.
But do you think Grandpa could deny her request and leave her without candy? Not on your life! What good grandpa could? And in a way, you have to admire Ava. She knew what Grandpa had. She knew he would grant her request. So she went to him without hesitation.
Not a bad metaphor for the generosity our Heavenly Father extends to us. He tells us in James 4:2, "You do not have because you do not ask." And in Matthew 7:11, we're encouraged, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!"
So what is it you lack? What is it you need? Take a cue from Ava. Unbundle yourself from your anxiety and simply ask your Father. He can't wait to give you what you need most. Just ask.
|Thursday, June 04, 2020|
I miss the fringe kids. The ones with the Mohawk haircuts. The ones that wore spiked collars and weird shirts.
Somewhere along the way, we got swept into the high school ministry as small group leaders. The students in our group didn’t come from church.
At first, it was jarring learning about the boy with severe depression, abusing his medicine. Or the girl with sexual orientation issues. Every one of these fringe kids had a story—and they were mostly all quite sad.
But over time, we got to know them. More than that, we loved them. So the weird hair and clothes and body piercings virtually ceased to be visible.
When our worldly-wise neighbor saw this same motley crew showing up in our backyard for a cookout, he came over on the sly to ask if everything was okay. We chuckled and assured him all was well.
The cookout was simple, though hardly nutritious: hotdogs and hamburgers. It was also revealing. My wife was serving one of the girls who grabbed a burger, exclaiming, "This is so nice having a home-cooked meal." When offered a paper plate, she seemed puzzled and then said, "at my house, we just grab whatever food we can.”
As America continues to boil and broil, I can’t help but wonder if part of the answer is for us to be just a bit more intentional about getting to know people who don’t look like us or dress like us or vote like us (we all look different to folks outside our circle!).
Imagine getting to know them enough that—like those youth group kids—we ceased to underscore the differences, but only knew them as friends.
I'm not suggesting there aren't deep-seated problems. We can't trivialize brutality of any kind. But surely, followers of Jesus ought to be the first to say, "Hey, let me hear your story."
|Thursday, May 28, 2020|
“It seemed like an ordinary day at first,” said my friend Jack. “Then we got the call.”
“What call?” I asked, knowing a story was brewing.
“A call to visit Eddie and his family—immediately.”
“Why the rush?”
"Hospice had moved in, and his kidneys were shutting down after a bout with cancer."
“Did you know Eddie well?”
“Well enough to know he didn’t seem to know Jesus. Eddie was bony and drugged. He slept mostly, while his two boys took turns stroking his arms or shoulder. Occasionally, they were able to rouse Eddie to share a quick memory or funny story, which he acknowledged with a grunt or nod. One of the boys tried to show him phone pictures of some recent house remodeling, and Eddie repeatedly reached for the phone, but lacked the strength to hold it.”
“Hard to watch that. So Jack, were you able to speak with Eddie at all?”
"Briefly. His wife gathered the boys around Eddie's bed and asked me to pray.”
“How do you pray for a guy like that?”
“Not sure. So I paused and asked God. Then I prayed God’s comfort on Eddie and explained that if he wanted to know he was going to heaven, he could. I quoted Romans 10:9, ‘If you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.' I said, 'Eddie if you want to be saved, squeeze my hand at the name of Jesus. I quoted the verse, and he gave my hand a good squeeze."
“Think he meant it, Jack?”
Jack shrugged. “God knows. We took a quick iPad photo of Eddie with his wife and two boys—and then left so another friend could have some time. Three hours later, he was dead.”
He looked away, hoping I wouldn't see the tear coursing down his cheek. Then I had to wipe something in my eye.
“He squeezed my hand,” Jack whispered.
|Thursday, May 21, 2020|
Marvin H. Mischnick did not look like a hero. He was wrinkled, hard of hearing and in need of a shave. Understandable for a man at the unlikely age of 99. As I sat in his living room, his World War 2 stories oozed out.
“I was a photographer for division headquarters, G2 Intelligence section. We were advancing in the city of Cologne, Germany. Our general wanted to know if the bridges over the Rhine River would support our troops and equipment. So they sent me behind enemy lines to take pictures.”
Marvin recalls operating the camera was “hard to do with frozen fingers in the winter.” But that ended up being the easy part of his assignment. In taking images of the bridges, he had to duck behind a rock wall along the river. “Every time I wanted to take a picture, I had to stand up and focus. And every time I stood up, the Germans fired sniper rifles. Then I had to move again. I was almost killed several times.”
Nor was this adventure his only brush with death. “After the invasion of France, I was sleeping in a pup tent. There was a dog fight overhead with Nazi planes, and while I was sleeping, a piece of shrapnel fell into my pup tent. It missed me by six inches, almost going into my stomach. It sure woke me up!" Marvin recalls with a chuckle.
Normandy Beach? Marvin recalls arriving many hours after the opening assault. "The sand was still stained with the blood of our young boys killed in the initial invasion."
Battle of the Bulge? Marvin was there, too. “I thank God that He was watching out for me (19,000 Americans died there), and when I got home, I thanked Him for watching out for me."
Upon returning home, Marvin hung up his uniform, but not his camera. He launched a successful career shooting photos of babies and weddings and was hired by Sears and other stores to take pictures of children on Santa’s lap.
Just weeks after Marvin shared these adventures with me, he passed away. Sad to think there are thousands of other Marvins out there with stories untold. But you’ve heard his. So as we approach Memorial Day, I invite you to join me in saluting the bravery and legacy of Marvin Mischnick—a hero.
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