Thursday, August 10, 2017


Fargo Open


Several decades ago, back when M.C. Hammer was “2 Legit 2 Quit,” North Dakota State University would hold an annual freestyle wrestling tournament…The Fargo Open…(imagine that being announced in a very low dramatic echoing voice…sounds cool doesn’t it?).  Growing up around the sport of wrestling, and having had wrestled since first grade, I thought that expanding into the realm of freestyle wrestling would enhance my technique.  This led me to enter the elite competition of the Fargo Open.  The brackets were put together by weight class and limited to somewhere between sixteen to thirty-two wrestlers…honestly I don’t remember…it was over twenty-five years ago, cut me some slack.  My weight class was packed.  In fact, my weight class was so full, the tournament officials had to create two brackets for my weight class.  I was placed into a secondary bracket after the first bracket had been filled.  For years, I have proudly stated how I placed third in this elite tournament, and received the largest trophy in my collection of trophies that I keep proudly displayed in an office box in the attic of my parents’ country home.  What I usually neglect to share, is that this secondary bracket only contained three wrestlers.  After two straight losses, I received the equivalent of a “millennial” participation trophy.
It’s remarkable to me how we pose ourselves in such a way that we attempt to make ourselves look better than we really are.  I read recently online…so it has to be true…how 70% of people, who share personal information and events on social media, intentionally lie, exaggerate or alter their posts in such a way as to make themselves and their families more attractive or appear better than they believe that they really are.  In other words…the 70% are attempting to deceive their readers…and I believe in many cases, they have come to deceive themselves, in such a way, that they believe that their posts are entirely true, or at the very least…justified adjustment.
Why is our culture so afraid of the truth? Everyone lies…why? When you break it down, it really just doesn’t make sense…yet we do it.  In the Gospel of John, chapter 8:31-59, we find a moment when Jesus is talking to a large number of Jewish people.    Jesus accuses them of being “slaves to their sin and darkness.”  This upset these Jewish people…after all…no one really enjoys being called a sinner.  These wacky Jews, tell Jesus…“You’re crazy…we are slaves to no one…” Jesus lays it out before them…that they are deceiving themselves in believing that they are sinless…he tells them to believe in the “truth”…and that the “truth will set them free.”
Lies leave us in bondage.  We are bound to the effects of the deception.  We all lie…we all lie to other people…but often I don’t think we see how we lie to ourselves.  We think we have it all together…we try to convince ourselves of this deception…when Jesus really wants us to say…“You know Jesus…You’re right…I am a sinner…and I need your forgiveness…please forgive me.”  There is the Truth…and that Truth is the Truth that will set you free.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Light


I delivered pizzas in college…lots of pizzas…it is possible that I may have eaten more pizzas than I delivered.  Minnesota winters can be nasty for pizza drivers.  However, like our U.S. mail service, our motto was, “The pizzas must get through…” except on holidays…like Christmas, Thanksgiving,…birthdays…Columbus Day…Canada Boxing Day…walks with girlfriends or finals week.  I remember getting caught in several snow and ice storms while driving…thus finding myself pushing my ’81, rear wheel drive, Plymouth Grand Fury up a hill, with no traction under the tires…or my shoes, but the pizzas must get through…even if they are cold…or fall on the floor of the car, sliding all the cheese off the top…but hey…they arrived!
Minnesota winters also bring darkness.  Because of the darkness, I often couldn’t see the house numbers let alone read them.  This made it necessary to practically memorize as many house numbers as possible.  After several encounters of attempting to deliver a pizza to the wrong house, I invested in a little flashlight.  It was a Q-beam Maxi-million.  A one million candle power…who just turned on the sun…and every other light inside the house…including the refrigerator…spot light.  This thing could literally light up your life…and the neighborhood.
As I would drive down the delivery street, I would use the Maxi-million to shine from house to house looking for the correct house number.  In the darker neighborhoods, it wasn’t uncommon to see people duck down below their windows, behind curtains, or quickly turn off their lights, at the flash of the spot…pulling their Glocks and flushing their drugs…thinking it was the Po Po.
This light was so bright…and hot…that one time I forgot to turn it off before setting it on my passenger seat.  The light burned a hole in it, and nearly set the car on fire…that is what I call “hot ‘n ready.”
For the most part, this light was used for the forces of good.  However, on one occasion, I did use it for evil…though in my mind…a justified evil.
After finishing up my deliveries, I was driving home and waiting at a stop light…because it was red and that is what you do at red lights.  There were two lanes at the light.  The left lane, which is for turning left or going straight, and a right lane, which is used to turn right…ONLY.  As I am waiting for the light in my 318 V8, posi-traction, full suspension, former Hwy Patrol, Plymouth…a loud and very large Chevy pickup pulls to my right…but does not turn.  It is very apparent that this gentleman intends to use the “right turn only” lane…to go straight and get ahead of me, before his lane ends. After thinking about this for about 3.5 seconds…I decide to not allow this to happen.  So, when the light turned green, we both gunned it.  My Mopar out accelerated him easily…forcing him to hit his brakes and quickly cut in behind me.
In his anger, he pulled up close to my rear bumper and flipped on his bright lights.  At this moment, I decided to introduce him to Maxi-million.  This was naughty…I should have not done this.  However, I have never seen someone back off my bumper as fast as he did that night.
Light is powerful.  Light overpowers ANY darkness.  Light cuts through darkness like a hot knife through butter.
There is a moment, when Jesus is in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Each evening of the feast the Israelites would light huge torches that were on top of 50ft. towers.  The lights were intended to remind the Israelites how God had provided for their people when He led them out of Egypt and through the desert for 40 years.  It is near the end and the pinnacle of the celebration, when Jesus calls out in a loud voice…“I AM the light of the world…anyone who believes in me, will never walk in darkness.”
Are you tired of walking in darkness?  Are you tired of striving and working and feeling like life is going nowhere?  Are you tired of being stuck in sin?  I believe that there is only ONE way to step out of the darkness.  It’s Jesus.  Jesus himself refers to himself as, “that light.” We often like to keep our dark places secret…like that closet or cabinet or drawer, where everything gets shoved to keep it out of sight…and then we close it quickly, so it doesn’t come crashing out on us.  Perhaps it’s time to let Jesus deal with the darkness.  Perhaps it’s time to let Jesus shine his light in your life…and then through your life.
Maybe it’s time to see the light.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Transformers




In 1984, Hasbro introduced some of the greatest toys to ever hit the market…Transformers…not the big electrical boxes sitting atop the power poles outside your home…rather the amazingly cool robot action figures that “transform” from battling robots to far-out stylish vehicles and devices, like boom boxes, sports cars and semi tractor trailers.  As a boy, I always longed for transformers.  I think my younger brother was gifted one at some point from some Rich Uncle Pennybags…otherwise we mostly settled for the less popular “GoBots”…same idea, but not nearly as hip.
I remember several occasions where I would be over at a friend’s house, and I would want to do nothing but play with their Transformers.  Some friends had Starscream…a robot that would transform into an F-15 fighter jet…another friend had Optimus Prime…a semi tractor and trailer, and the General of the good guys (Autobots). The envy of all my friends was Jason...(Truth be told...I made up his name...it could have been Jason...but I really don't remember...all I remember are those fabulous TOYS!).  Jason had an original Megatron…the leader of the bad guys…the Decepticons.  Megatron would transform from a robot, into a Walther P38 semi automatic handgun with scope on top…it was totally the coolest!
I love stories of transformation. Transformation where you have a man like David Berkowitz, better known as the Son of Sam killer, who terrorized New York City in the late 70’s, a man who was a devout Satanist, who finds forgiveness and hope in Jesus Christ.  Recently I heard Justin Bieber talk about his choice to follow Christ…how his life has changed…how his life is different…transformed...that's great!...his music is still not my favorite...sorry Biebs...I'm probably just too old.
I am amazed at how Jesus continues to draw people to himself…and through the work of the Holy Spirit…transforms their lives into lives without hope…to hope filled lives…lives in relationship with him…and a hope of a future to be with him forever.
2 Corinthians 3:7-18, tells us about this glorious transformation.  In the Old Testament, there is a story of Moses, coming down from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets…his face shining so brightly that the Israelites can’t even look at him.  Yet, in this passage, we find that the experience is NOTHING compared to the glory that can shine through us as followers of Christ. Now that, is a transformation that I want to be a part of.
If anyone is in Christ…he is a new creation…the old has passed…the new has come…
Transformation

Saturday, July 8, 2017


Water


For years, it has been recommended that, each person should drink 6-8 glasses of water each day.  At my age, if I tried that, I’d be making hourly trips to the little boy’s room…not to mention, three times each night.  According to “verywell.com” there are signs that point to the fact that you may need more water.  Here are some of them.
#1, You may need to drink more water if…you are thirsty.  Hmmm.  I wouldn’t have thought of that…but…good to know.  Usually when I am thirsty I dig into a big bag of potato chips.  Maybe next time I’ll try a nice cup of coffee…hey there’s water in it.
#2, You may need to drink more water if…you have bad breath.  I wonder if that is what is going on with our dog.  Water…huh…yeah let’s try giving him some water…never given him water before…what could it hurt?
#3, You may need to drink more water if…you can’t think straight.  I did not know that…next time my wife asks me “what were you thinking?” I’ll simply say…”I think I should have a glass of water.”  Hey students, keep this in mind for math class…that way during your next big exam, you have every right to ask to go get a drink…it will help you think straight…plus if you are really thinking straight you could have a calculator hidden beneath the fountain, (bubbler for all of you Wisconsinites)…wait…that would be wrong…I must not be thinking straight…I’ll be right back...I'm going to go get a drink of water.
#4, You may need to drink more water if…you are sweating.  Ok…I may just need to wear a Camelbak on my back. I am a perpetual sweater…not the kind you wear…the kind that makes your face and armpits wet.
#5, You may need to drink more water if…it is hot outside.  Seriously?!…who’s the guy that wrote this stuff…perhaps he needs a glass of water…
#6, You may need to drink more water if…you are in the mountains.  This one I did not know.  I have learned however that you should not drink from the streams coming down from the mountains…unless you have iodine tablets or a filter system…can you say “beaver fever?”
#7, You may need to drink more water if…you have a fever.  My mom taught me this.  Although I always preferred my water in the form of 7up…it’s the same…trust me.
#8, You may need to drink more water if…ummm….how should I say this…ahh…coming out both…ummm…let’s just say, “beaver fever.”
#9, You may need to drink more water if…you are pregnant.  I have nothing to say here.
#10, You may need to drink more water if…you have run out of coffee…(I added that one).
Water is vital to our world in so many ways.  We cannot live more than three days without water.  Plants need water to grow.  Animals and insects and virtually all aspects of our lives and this world are affected by water.  Water is known as the universal solvent.  We use water to fill tiny latex balloons and smash our siblings with them, leaving big red welts on their backs until the victim grabs the garden hose and soaks anyone within reach with a volley of pressurized retaliation.
We also see water taking on a very important role in the scriptures.  God provides the Israelites with water on several occasions.  Twice from rocks on the ground…and once God changed bitter, nasty water into sweet water for the Israelites to drink.  The Israelites would not have made it those 40 years in the desert without God’s provisions of water.  Moses parted the red sea.  Jesus calmed the waves.  Jesus turned water into wine.  Elijah soaked his altar with water before the Lord consumed it with fire.  John baptized with water.  Jesus was baptized in water.
In John chapter 7, Jesus attends the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles.  It is the equivalent to our “Thanksgiving.”  On the final day of the feast, as the celebration is reaching its climax…Jesus stands in the midst of a crowd of people and he calls out…”If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink…whoever believes in me…will have streams of living water flowing from within him.”
Are you thirsty?  Maybe you need some water.  I will tell you this.  Too often have I tried to dig for myself, my own water source…a well…a cistern…a pond…a puddle…all of my efforts in life have left me dry…but Jesus has given me a living water.  When I find myself fully dependent upon him…I find myself fully satisfied in him.  Maybe you have been digging your own wells…looking for something to satisfy…yet have found yourself thirsty.  Jesus says that he is the only one who can take away your thirst.

Saturday, July 1, 2017


Rejected


I didn’t have a lot of dates in college.  It may have been my own fault.  I had a fear of rejection.  The fear of rejection is a powerful thing.  It can keep us from doing the things that we really long to do…like asking our dad to take us somewhere special…“Dad, can we go to McDonalds?”
“No!...We can’t afford that!...What do you think, money grows on trees?...We can go home and eat a cold ham sandwich on the stale, dry bread heels…and if you are real good, I might let you put some butter on it too."
Rejected.
“Dad, can we buy Cocoa Puffs?”
“No!...I just bought cereal”
“Dad, it’s shredded wheat…it’s like eating miniature bales of hay!”
“You will eat and you will like it!”
…Ok…How does that even make sense?...
Rejected.
I remember one particular moment in college.  Our chapel time had just finished (we were required to attend four chapel services per week) and I had really been trying to amp myself up to ask this particular girl out.  Day after day…for weeks, I would, intentionally, wait outside of the chapel doors and watch for her to arrive.  When I would see her arrive, I would watch closely to try to find a place in the near proximity of her. 
On this particular day, I had contrived a plan.  My younger brother, who was still in high school, had a wrestling tournament on the Saturday of the upcoming weekend.  I was going to ask her to accompany me to this festive event.  This was the perfect plan that would lead to either A: It would inform me if she was a wrestling fan, or B: Give me an opportunity to expose her to the great sport of wrestling.  After all, is there a better first date than to go watch sweaty guys, in tight fitting singlets, pound each other relentlessly into submission inside a loud echoing gymnasium for 8 hours? I thought not.
After the concluding prayer that concluded chapel, I made a beeline for her.  She was already talking with friends…some girls…some guys…bad guys if you ask me.  I stood nearby waiting for my moment, and just the conversation allowed me to interject I asked...“Hey, do you want to go with me to watch my brother wrestle this weekend?”
She curtly replied, “Ummm, I’d want to do this because….?”
Rejected.
In John 6:60-72, we find that Jesus Christ gets rejected.  He has been doing amazing things.  He has been healing people, feeding thousands of people, walking on water, calming the winds and the waves…and countless other miracles.  Despite all of these wondrous signs…many people reject Jesus, in a sense saying…“No thanks Jesus…if you don’t give me what I want…I am out of here…in fact Jesus…you are not teaching the way I think you should…so I am done following you.”
Rejected.
It makes me wonder.  What happens when we don’t agree with what Jesus says?
Will we reject him? Or will we come to understand that Jesus is sovereign…and He is who He is…not what we want Him to be.
Oh…and I ended up marrying that girl.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Bread


I like bread. Bread is good.  I like to put peanut butter, jelly, butter, cheese, egg, salami, ham, turkey, and, sometimes, gravy on my bread…not all together though…that would be nasty…each separately…for the most part. I like most kinds of bread…wheat, white, rye, donuts, pumpernickel, danishes, sourdough, English muffins, donuts, baguettes, croissants, Italian, French, flatbread, tortillas, cornbread, kaiser, bagels, brownies…are brownies bread?...they should be…let’s say yes…anyway you get the idea.
On some occasions, if I am wanting bread badly enough, I may be willing to pick off moldy areas and eat the un-moldy areas.  On other occasions, I will eat the old bread without looking for mold…hoping that there won’t be any.  Still, on some occasions, I have found that I have eaten the old bread…only to find mold on the next piece…bummer.
In ancient times, a full meal would often consist of only bread and wine.  As much as I like bread, I usually prefer other options to be included with my meals.  Back in the 19th century, prisoners were given bread and water until they’d earned the right to eat meat and cheese with their good behavior.  In biblical times, bread would have been the primary food source.
When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they were in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to put yeast in their bread and let it rise…so they prepared “unleavened” bread (without yeast) to take with them as they fled Egypt.  It was this same group of people, who found themselves starving in the desert, that had run out of the bread that they had brought with them.  God, then, provided a “bread from heaven,” manna.  God provided this bread for them because they literally needed it.  They had to have it or they would die.
At one time in Jesus’ life, he said to a large group of people, that HE is the “bread of life” (John 6:16-60).  Jesus is saying that HE is what we really NEED.  We need him MORE than we need food itself.  The next time you take a bite of whatever delicious bread you choose…may you remember that there is something we need so much more than food…we need Jesus.


Saturday, June 17, 2017


Pontoon


Vacations are supposed to be filled with leisure…but, often, they are overtaken by adventure, crisis, disaster, and surprise.  Whether it is a hook in the head or a rupturing appendix, the unexpected is always lurking.  Every year, our family vacations for a week at my parents’ lake cabin near Park Rapids, MN.  There is little that is more relaxing than the family fishing from the pontoon on a beautiful, sunny, calm day.
“Hey! That’s where I was fishing."
“You moved, it’s my spot now.”

“Hey I was sitting there!”

“Mom! He ate all of the cookies!"

“Can someone help me with a worm?”
“Can someone help me with a minnow?”
“Can someone use this rod until they catch a fish and then reel it in…and then hand it to me so I can have my picture taken with it and say that I caught it?”
“Dad! I just dropped my rod in the water?”
“Dad! I just hooked the seat cushion!”
“Dad, I have a hook stuck on my shorts…and shirt…and hand."
See what I mean…super relaxing.
While fishing on one, particularly pleasant, summer afternoon, a very sudden squall came up.  We had been fishing near the west shore along a point, so we couldn’t see the storm building to the west.  The next thing we knew…we were being pounded.  I had attempted to motor along the shore to shield us from the wind…but as we approached the point…I could see what the winds were doing to the waves…and there was no way I was going to attempt to take us there, out into the open water.
The storm continued to build.  We were being pounded with heavy rain, some hail, and winds that felt like they could capsize the pontoon.  Through the storm, I could hear the voices of my children crying and screaming…(ages 2, 4, 6, and 8).  In the midst of all of the chaos…I heard the voice of our 8 year old crying out…“Jesus save us!!!”  A man ran down on his dock, nearby, and waved us in.  I steered the vessel in to the wind and buffeted the waves.  As I reached the dock, he and I quickly tied up the boat. My wife and kids ran to the man’s cabin.  My children were scared and wet…and to top things off the man and his wife have a dog…a big dog…my kids hated and were deathly afraid of dogs (at the time).
We waited out the storm in the couple’s cabin.  We were soaked, tired, and still amped up on adrenaline.  The storm passed as quickly as it came.
Later, as we returned to the boat…and eventually to the cabin, I was reminded of several stories in the Scriptures.  I, of course, was reminded of when Jesus calmed the storm.  But there is another one.  There is a story in the Gospel of John.  John 6:16-21 tells the story about Jesus walking on water.  We often recall the miraculous event of Jesus walking on the water…but, often, we overlook, how the disciples were all in a boat…fighting the waves…terrified for their lives (Matthew acct. 14:22-32).  Peter, at one time, begins to walk on water, himself, toward Jesus, but before he gets very far, he becomes afraid and he begins to sink.  His words were near the exact same words of my 8 year old daughter…“Jesus save me.”

I think that it is times like these in our lives, when we are most buffeted by life’s waves, that we are most ready to see Jesus for who he really is.  When Peter is sinking…he has only one hope…it’s Jesus.  Peter is sinking…Jesus is not sinking…who can save him?...Jesus.  When life bashes us with waves…Jesus is there to take our hand…and as we find in John 10:28…“No one can snatch us from his hand.”

May you find Jesus…standing firm on the shaky ground of your life…as your life is buffeted by the wind…may you call out for him and find your hand in his hand.