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Just Ask  

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. 

 
Fringe Kids  

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."

 
God Knows  

“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.”

“Jack!  I.....”

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.

God knows.

 
Real Hero  

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. 

 
Lawn Care...Soul Care  

As temperatures climb up, the lawn trucks roll in. I refer to the fleet of yard care vehicles that will clog the streets of suburbia from now until Halloween.  They will mow, trim, weed, and fertilize—for a fee.

Though our town prohibits the roar of their mowers and blowers before 7:00 am, the convoy carrying the platoon of lawn care commandos is in place and unloaded by O-dark-thirty most mornings.

While we could probably afford to outsource our lawn care, I’ve decided to do it myself.  Want to know why? 

First I need the exercise! Mowing the lawn gives me a few thousand vital steps.  I need that!

Second, it gives me a big-picture view. My weekly walk-around has revealed a problem with our sump pump drainage, divots we need to fill, and pavers that need leveling.

Third, mowing my lawn offers the unexpected benefit of connecting me with neighbors.  Whether it's people waving as they drive by, or the guy across the street who wants to talk—mowing connects me with my neighbors. 

They say ours is a service economy, and I can hardly argue that. With every tug of my Honda’s starter cord, something whispers I'm part of a dying breed. But I wonder.  Have we Christians imported that service economy mentality into our faith life?  Examples:

  • Personal devotions—we’re too lazy to look up passages in traditional paper Bibles.  So we insist on electronic devotionals for our phones or tablets that include the Bible text (hate to wear out our fingers flipping actual pages).
  • Evangelism—we’re happy to pay the pastor to do that for us.   As if someone else could.
  • Prayer—most of us are comfortable leaving our requests with “the prayer team” because...well...that’s their specialty.
  • Interacting with our teens—we’re particularly happy to pay the youth pastor and have the spiritual care of our kids outsourced to him.

On it goes.  But should it?  Maybe it’s time to rethink our attraction to outsourcing spiritual responsibilities that only we should handle.  Maybe it’s time to do that spiritual walk-around ourselves. In the end, this is soul care, not lawn care.   Way more important.

See you outside—and don’t forget to wave!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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Jon Gauger Media 2016