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Clergy View: Thinking about what really counts

Did you see Zion Williamson play basketball in the NCAA tournament? This freshman starter for Duke University has it all—size, speed, agility, power, touch and great savvy.

Yes, basketball has had my attention. I've been enamored by some of the greatest players.

In 1957 after a game at the old Minneapolis Auditorium, I caught Minneapolis Laker Elgin Baylor, walking off the floor. As his sweat dripped on my program, he signed it for me and gave me a big smile.

One afternoon in 1960 my dad called me on the phone just as I got in the door from school. He said, "Come down here. I want you to meet someone." I walked the short block down the hill from our house in northeast Minneapolis to Tony Jaros' Bar. There was my dad in a booth with Tony Jaros, Vern Mikkelsen and George Mikan. Three retired Minneapolis Lakers in the same booth with my dad—including Mr. Basketball George Mikan. As a teenager beginning to have some success in sports, meeting these guys was a mountaintop experience.

But there is another Laker you may not remember—a 6-foot-5 forward, Richard "Dick" Schnittker. In 1950, Schnittker played football for Ohio State. He was awarded the game ball for catching a winning touchdown pass in the Rose Bowl game against the University of California. Soon after that game, he was drafted by the Washington Capitals to play basketball in the fledgling NBA (National Basketball Association). Then, in 1954 the Capitals traded him to the Minneapolis Lakers, where he played with Mikan, Mikkelsen, Jim Pollard, Slater Martin, Whitey Skoog, Clyde Lovellette and other greats of that era.

In 1989 at First Lutheran Church of Crystal, Brooklyn Park, we needed a speaker for our father/son/daughter banquet. Through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes I invited Schnittker to be our guest speaker. He did not disappoint us.

At the banquet, after reviewing his athletics days with Ohio State and the Minneapolis Lakers, Schnittker reached into a paper bag he had with him. First, he pulled out an old deflated football (the game ball from the Rose Bowl) and tossed it out to the group. Next, he pulled out an old wrinkled Lakers jersey (his) and tossed it to us as well. Then he told his faith story.

Simply put, when the Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960, he retired from basketball and sadly fell into a severe depression and landed in the hospital. No longer was he the "big shot" at the parties. His "friends" seemed to have disappeared. He basically fell apart. But by God's grace, while in the hospital, he caught a Billy Graham Crusade on TV. Graham's message realigned his life. The Gospel of Jesus Christ changed everything. Thankfully, he saw clearly what was the greatest value in his life—and it wasn't football and basketball. As he renewed his faith in our Lord Jesus, the door opened for a new life as well. Amazing grace.

The Apostle Paul would have understood Dick Schnittker. While in prison, thinking death was near, writing to the Philippians, Paul put his own life into perspective. He recalls several reasons to boast about his pedigree: his Hebrew roots, his superior knowledge of the Jewish Law and his status among the learned. One could say, in his spiritual context, he was more accomplished than Zion Williamson and/or George Mikan. But, as Paul ponders his relationship with Jesus, he makes this amazing confession: "I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I might gain Christ and be found in Him ..." Philippians 3:8-9, New King James Version

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday. For Jesus, in a few tumultuous days, the celebration on the Mount of Olives turns into his ugly, mocking death on a cross. For believers, His death on the cross turns into the promise of new life beyond the grave.

Yes, beloved Paul and my hero Dick, there is Jesus ... and there is rubbish.