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The Last Snowman  

“As snowmen go, it was borderline pathetic.” 

Right then, I knew there was more to this story.  There always is with my friend, Jack. He immediately launched into a description of a snow creature that bore no resemblance whatsoever to the fabled Frosty.  

“The middle section was lopsided. The head was too small.  The pinecone nose looked goofy.”  Jack shook his head with a chuckle.

And what exactly was the occasion for this snowy silliness?  “We had an overnight visit from our nine-year old granddaughter, so we wanted her to have a little fun.”  The Windy City having lived up to its name, a dramatic mid-March snow blanketed the lawn. 

“‘Can we go out and throw snowballs?’ she asked me.  And really, it was the last thing I wanted to do right then,” admitted Jack.   “But I didn’t have the heart to say no. She is nine, ya know,” he said wistfully.   “Won’t be too much longer and staying at our house won’t be cool anymore.”

So out they went into the snow. First there was a sled ride, then there were was a snowball fight.  Finally there came the idea for the snowman. 

“There just wasn’t all that much snow on the ground, so we really had to work at it.  Believe me, I was sweating by the time that big bottom boulder was finally done,” Jack acknowledged. Even then the thing wasn’t right. 

Instead of three symmetrically shaped spheres, there were misshapen lumps.  Instead of white snow, there was a mottled skin of leaves and dirt and pine needles. 

“Frosty would not have been proud,” said my friend.  But maybe Jack’s judgment was hasty. 

Ephesians 5:16 urges us, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  From where I sit, it seems to me that a snowman and sled ride and snowballs with a nine-year-old truly represented the best use of Jack’s time.  It’s hard to envision Jesus—who insisted the disciples, “let the children come to me”—passing up such an opportunity.

“It was the last snowman of the season,” Jack mused.  “And who knows when we’ll build another?  She’s getting so big.  Nine years old….”   Abruptly, he grew quiet, and so did I. Started thinking of my own little grandkids.

Silence. More silence.  He whispered, “Ya know, there really is gonna come a day when we’ll have built our last snowman.”   And then Jack looked away, for which I was grateful.  My eyes were doing something that reminded me of melting snow.

 

 
Photobombing Jesus  

Honestly, I was not trying to photobomb anyone.  The doors to the Metra train whooshed apart, and I padded down the steps into a dense crowd.

I’ve ridden the train for three decades now, so I instantly knew upon exiting that something was going on. It was somebody’s big moment.  Worthy of a photo or two.  Or three.  Flashes were firing and phones were clicking and there was laughter and a palpable excitement. 

Me, I was just trying to walk toward my car and get home. I didn’t want to pry, so I snaked my way through the crowd and found an exit.

In retrospect, I'm thinking there’s little doubt I showed up in several of the pictures those folks snapped.  I'm in the background, maybe half out of frame.  Or blurry.  Just a nameless section of wallpaper for somebody’s grand occasion. 

Have you ever thought about the people that show up in the background of the pictures you take?   To you, they are nameless, almost faceless. But every single one of them has a story—even as they “invade” your story.

Ponder with me the fact that you and I with our individual lives are definitely part of some kind of larger scene Jesus is directing.  At His invitation, we play a small part of His story.   But we are not the center of the action.  He is.  John had it right when he said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Just like a crowd scene wouldn’t be a crowd scene without lots of people, Jesus somehow has determined He wants us in the scene with Him.  But we dare not ever take His invitation as an assignment to the leading role.

We are background.  Jesus is foreground.

We are “extras.”  He is the star.

He must increase but you and I really must decrease. 

Anything else would be photobombing Jesus Himself!

 

 
You are Loved  

It was a desperate search.  A Hail Mary.  I was looking for a misplaced check.  A big one. Previous attempts had turned up nothing. 

So there I was, pulling out the large drawer under our bed.  The one where I keep my cards.  All of them.  That’s when I knew this was going to take some time.

There were cards from my wife, Diana: birthday cards and Christmas cards and Valentine’s cards and cards for no other occasion than her simple desire to express her love. By far, these took up the most space.  It was fun to read through many of them (though the ticking grandfather clock several feet away reminded me I hadn’t time to look at them all).

There were cards from our kids.  Some with little squiggly letters when they could barely write their names.  Notes and letters and jokes and drawings.

There were cards from my parents, many of them homemade or accompanied by kind notes and letters.  And I was touched to see cards from my mother and father-in-law, both of whom are now in heaven. 

An emerging category of cards was also there: those from our little grandchildren.  These were really hard to resist reading. To me, owning these is better than owning stock certificates.

With the drawer nearly empty and the elusive check still eluding me, I decided it wasn’t all a waste. After all, I ended up sorting the cards and stuffing them into cardboard folders (more organization than I’ve shown in thirty-plus years).

Before my hike down memory lane concluded, there were two unexpected moments. The first happened when, having concluded the check was simply not in that drawer, I finally found it wedged at the oddest angle in the very back, almost defying gravity (time out for a prayer of thanks).

The second moment came when staring at the piles of cards cascading all around. It was this humbling sense that, “I guess I really am loved.”  A wife who sends me love cards…kids who say kind things…grandkids and parents who express their affection. The cumulative effect was almost overpowering.

I don't know how long it’s been since someone told you were loved.  Maybe it’s been way too long.  Maybe the one you love the most can no longer even send you a card because they aren't around, or their mind has gone.  Then let me say it for them.  You are loved! They would want you to read that—hear that.

And as much as they want you to know that, God wants you to know it even more. In Jeremiah 31:3 God says to you, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

How can you really know that?  John 3:16 tells us, “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

You are loved.

Really.

Loved.

 
Had a Job to Do  

His ship was in flames.

His path was blocked.

But Jim Downing had a job to do.

Sprinting toward the harbor, he dodged machine gun bullets from an overhead fighter plane, and then slid across the five-inch gun barrel of a neighboring vessel to launch himself onto the inflamed deck of the battleship West Virginia.   December 7, 1941. 

If the gun magazines aboard Jim’s 624 foot long boat were to overheat from the fires, the explosions would be enormous.  So he grabbed a hose and aimed at the flames.  “Several times that day, I was sure I would shortly be in heaven,” Jim recalled. 

Once off the ship (which eventually sank) Jim circulated among the burned and bleeding memorizing dog tags, assuring these mortally wounded soldiers he would write their loved ones—which he did.

Exactly who was this fearless fighter?  Jim Downing of the United States Navy—second oldest survivor of Pearl Harbor.  In a rare moment, my son Tim and I got to meet and interview Jim this past December 14.

What’s it like to shake hands with a man who is 104 years old?  I wondered. Answer: Jim extended a manly meaty grip.  His reflexes and wit were off-the-charts fast.  For example, I asked if he remembered the Bible verse his wife quoted to him as he headed down to the embattled Pearl Harbor.  “Yes!  Deuteronomy 33:27—The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

I confessed to Jim that had it been me, I would probably have run away from the burning ship that he risked his life to save.  He calmly replied, “On December 6th, I woke up with a job to do, and I did it.  On December 7th, I woke up with a different job to do—and I did it.”  No false humility.  Just the facts.  And Jim Downing had a long lifetime of jobs to do, including serving the Navigators organization for many years.

On February 13, almost exactly two months after our interview, Jim Downing went to heaven.  But his testimony lives on--and recalls the words of Jesus in Luke 17:10, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Jim Downing lived that way.   Now numbered with the “great cloud of witnesses,” he bids us do the same

 
"Would you like a Coke?"  

Imagine that you are 23 years old, standing outside a door.  On the other side is the confidant of presidents and princes—the most famous evangelist of our time—Billy Graham.  You are there for an interview.  But what will he say to you?  What will he actually be like?

That was me, along with my friend Dave, waiting for our appointment  in Amsterdam’s Rai Convention Center.  It was a muggy July afternoon more than 30 years ago.  Feels like an hour ago, though.  

Had we prepped enough?  Would we come across as hicks?  And what about the formalities—do you call him Dr. Graham or Reverend Graham or Mr. Graham or what?

The door swung open and there we were, shaking hands, exchanging smiles.  Reverend Graham’s opening statement shocked me.  In that North Carolina drawl of his he said with a slight grin, “Would you like a Coke?”

No air conditioning on a hot day. Saying yes to a Coke was a no-brainer.  But then came a follow up from the man who graced the cover of Time Magazine not once but twice.  “Would you like some ice?” 

I’d never been to Europe before and was shocked at the lack of ice.  So we readily agreed to his offer and did our best to express appreciation.  Yet in my mind, this was all so surreal.  THE Billy Graham is offering me a Coke and a glass of ice?

But that’s the way he was—and who he was: common, courteous, affable.  No one was less impressed with Billy Graham than Billy himself. 

Our entire conversation revealed nothing other than a North Carolina boy who loved Jesus and still seemed a bit caught off guard that God had put him on the world’s largest stages. 

I suppose  a profound theological truth or golden biblical nugget from one of his addresses at the International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists should have stuck with me.  But it was Billy’s servant attitude that blew me away.

Pundits and preachers will seek to define Dr. Graham’s legacy.  But for me, it has always been—and will always be—his humility.  I saw a tiny glimpse of it for myself in his kind offer, “Would you like a Coke?”

Thank you, Billy Graham.

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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