Saturday, March 17, 2018


Quite a number of years ago, my wife and I purchased a Japanese fighting fish, better known as a Beta fish, from one of the students in our youth ministry at the church.  We were guaranteed that it was a male fish…the male fish are the ones that grow these long flowing fins, and you have to keep them alone in their own fish bowl or they will kill whatever other fish that enters their water.  She was wrong…we got a female fish…they don’t grow the long flowing fins…nor do they look fancy or pretty.  The female Betas pretty much look like an angry Crappie minnow.
So we asked her… “Since it is a female fish…and not a male fish, can we put other fish in with her?”
“Yes…that should be fine…it’s only the male Beta fish that you have to keep separated.”
This was good news! Now we had the green light to buy a Plecostomus…(an ugly algae eating fish), so that we wouldn’t have to clean the 10 gallon fish tank which contained the equivalent of a single one inch fish.
Two days later…I couldn’t find the Plecostomus, affectionately named Hoover.  I scoured the tank until I finally spotted something “fishy”…well…formerly “fishy.”  I observed that there was a cleanly picked Plecostomus skeleton settled gently against the pea gravel waving its tail in the current of the circulation pump…that’s creepy.
“Hey! I thought you said you could put other fish in with a female Beta!?”
“You can.”
“Well…how do you explain this?” showing her the skeletal remains.
“Maybe she just needs time to get used to a new fish.”
“It’s dead…how much more time does it need?”
“Try another one.”
So we did.  Since Hoover met an untimely demise…and thus the name was retired…we opted for “Hickie.”
It seemed to be working…Hickie lasted over a week and we thought we were good to go. Until…we turned our back for one night…and in the morning we had our second Plecostomus doing a back float.
“That female Beta killed another fish!”
“What kind of fish?”
“A Plecostomus”
“Try a Goldfish.”
We tried the goldfish.  He was picked finless before he finally cashed it in.
When we lose something…like a pet…or something of value to us…or even a close friend or a family member, it’s irreplaceable.
In John chapter 14:13-31…Jesus says something remarkable.  Leading up to this passage he has just told his disciples that he is leaving…but then he says…don’t be troubled by that…because I am going to send “another” counselor.  If I were the disciples I would be like…“I don’t want “another”…I want YOU JESUS!.” However, what is interesting to note is…that this word “another” in the original Greek language it was written in means… “Another JUST LIKE Jesus.”
Jesus comforts his disciples and us…by sending “another” that is JUST LIKE HIM. He sends us the Holy Spirit.  I think it is time for us to take a closer look at this Spirit…who is just like Jesus.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Casa de Luz

I knew where we were going and I didn’t want to arrive.  It had been a long week…I was mentally exhausted and physically spent.  I had brought a team of students and volunteer leaders into a foreign culture to build relationships near the southern coast of the Dominican Republic.  We had engaged in ministry to young children and played basketball with people living in the community.  I don’t play basketball.  It’s not that I just don’t play basketball well…it’s really more that I don’t play it. 
I remember in college and even in my early days of youth ministry, it wasn’t uncommon for a group of guys to pull together a “pick up” basketball game.  I was frequently asked to play…and on a mere handful of occasions I conceded. 
“Can you shoot?” they would ask.
“Can you dribble?”
“Not on purpose”
“Can you pass?”
“Only when I am in a fast car”
“Ok…You stand here and rebound the ball”
I was usually given a rule clarification at some point during those games. “You can’t wrestle the ball from him…nor can you tackle the ball carrier…”  Apparently…when they say basketball is a non contact sport…they are serious.
I was talked into playing one of these basketball games while in the Dominican.  It appeared that the strategy of our team, was to have me continually run from one end of the court to the other end of the court and never touch the ball.  I did make contact with the ball once as I jumped for a pass that I thought was directed to me and tipped it out of the reach of my teammate…the one who the pass was intended for.
So it was needless to say…I was tired…and ready to go home.  Yet, I knew that this last stop was necessary.  Anxiety was building within me, because I knew what I had been told about this place and I didn’t know if I had the capacity to handle it at this time.
The building was extraordinarily ordinary…but the inside was about to be something that I had never experienced.  The first thing you notice as you cross the threshold of the entryway door is the silence.  Not the kind of silence you find when your 5th grade teacher has made the entire class put their heads on their desk because the class has been insanely crazy and they need a respite.  Rather, the kind of silence you find as you walk into a formal restaurant …probably by accident…hushed tones and whispers.  There is a long hallway…and in each room to the left and right you find children…but, these are not the sounds you would normally hear from children.  Every one of these children has something in common…they have been abandoned.  Not just abandoned…they have been rejected because they were seen as useless.  These children are physically and mentally broken.  Many of these children will never walk…many will never talk…most will never leave this orphanage.  This is the only life they have or will know…and honestly, in their mental state…do they even know life? Do they experience it?...Life?
That is the question isn’t it?  Is there value to these lives?  Many people would look at these children and argue…why let them live? What kind of life can they even live?
Here is my conclusion…each of these children do have something in common…they were created in the “Image of God,” just the same as you and I.  They bear the same stamp of divinity in every fiber of their being.  So what is their value? There value exists within me…because here I am…three years later, still reflecting on how the Lord has used their lives to affect and change my life.  He is using their lives…their “Image of God” to work on my own “Image of God”…that I may express Him even more.  And this is not even to state the “Image of God” that the caregivers emitted as they loved and cared for these children.  The love of God was evident in that orphanage…the Casa de Luz (House of Light).  The life of God was known there.  Perhaps an even more fitting name for that place would be the Casa de Vida…the House of Life.
John 14:1-12, we find a very well known passage in Scripture.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Sometimes we get stuck on the way…Jesus is the way…but he is also the life…I have seen it…and now I want to live it.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Night Crawlers

There are some things that my beautiful wife does not appreciate in the same way as myself…pickled herring, cold weather, cold toes on her back, dirty socks left in the middle of the living room floor, night crawlers in the refrigerator.  Sarah does an amazing job of concealing her joy, using leery eyes of dissent, upon finding a new or gently used box of night crawlers in the refrigerator.  “Ewww, Ryan, You know how I hate night crawlers in the refrigerator!”
“Hey, don’t accidentally eat those!...I need those to catch some (one…if I am lucky) delicious Walleyes…and then I can clean them on your kitchen counter!”
There was a short window of time, when I chose to appeal to my better graces, and attempt to keep the night crawlers in another cool dry place in our home.  The garage would get too hot in the summer…the bedroom was cooler, but I didn’t anticipate it being a good idea to keep night crawlers within 10 feet of the bed, so I opted for the laundry room.  It was perfect…cool, dry, and much more spacious. This allowed me to expand into raising my own night crawlers, thus saving money and refrigerator space.  I invested in a nice 6”x8” Styrofoam box with elastic lid straps…filled it with night crawlers that I found after a heavy rain…added bedding and food and stored it on the cement laundry room floor.
“I don’t like worms in the laundry room!”
“They are not just worms! They are night crawlers...and, hey, at least they aren’t in the refrigerator!”
“What if they get out?”
“There is NO WAY they are going to get out…it’s not possible.”
Then…one morning, I was awakened by my red faced bride screaming “IT ISN’T WET LAUNDRY,” while spearing me in the side with a finger as sharp as a dagger.
“What are you talking about?”
“I thought I was walking on wet laundry…it wasn’t wet laundry,” she seethed.  “It was worms!...You said they wouldn’t get out!”
My mirth quickly ended upon finding how many of my precious night crawlers had been crushed by foot of my dear, unsuspecting wife.
I was certain that they wouldn’t get out.  I was wrong.
In John 13:31-38…Jesus predicts that Peter will deny Him before that night is even over…Peter declares “Never!” Peter was certain that it wouldn’t happen…yet…he was wrong, just as I was wrong.
Now I keep night crawlers…in the refrigerator.

Saturday, February 17, 2018


“Hey?! Where did you get that Dr. Pepper?” I asked.
“My friend bought it for me, because I had no money,” my son replied. 

“Where did you get those Skittles!?” I asked.
“My friend gave me a dollar, and I bought them at the concessions stand,” he answered. 

“Where did you get those Fritos!?”
“I traded the drink box from my lunch for them.”
“Where did you get those fruit snacks?”
“I traded my Clementine for them.”
“What did you eat for lunch?”
“Ummm….Fritos and fruit snacks…”
“That’s not a lunch!...What did you eat yesterday for lunch?”
“…Ummm…apparently nothing…”
“Why don’t you pack a lunch and eat a lunch?”
“I don’t like what we have to pack in a lunch.”
My son loves to eat…donuts, potato chips, ranch dip, pizza, cheeseburgers, chicken wings, cookies, Cheez-Its, Doritos, Salami…if it’s cold, cheese…if it’s cold, toasted bagel…if it’s hot…cream cheese…if it’s cold.  He does not like to eat…anything else.
Seriously!? What kid doesn’t like a peanut butter sandwich?...apparently my wife and I have generated one!
This has been an ongoing problem that my wife and I have been wrestling with him about.  Some of it was our fault for getting upset at finding out how he had been bringing his lunch back home and throwing the uneaten sandwich or bagel in the trash.  “Why are you throwing away your lunch?”
“I don’t like peanut butter sandwiches…I don’t like warm cream cheese on my cool toasted bagel”
“Then stop bringing it! You are wasting food!”
So now…he doesn’t eat…or at least he trades his cheese stick or Clementine for a bag of chips.
In John 13:13-30, we find Jesus predicting the betrayal that he will suffer at the hands of Judas.  Judas, has been with Jesus for three years…and yet, the importance of who Jesus is and what Jesus is about to do is lost on him.  Judas has something before him, that is good…in fact, great! Yet, he can only see the other items that he wants…money…prestige…high position.  Thus, Judas trades Jesus…for a bag of money.  Judas trades something good…for something empty.  He trades something “good for him”…for garbage.
Truth be told, I see the same in me.  I know full well, the rich, deep value of Jesus…and still, I find myself trading what I know is good for something empty.  I find emptiness in my anger.  I find emptiness in my gossip.  I find emptiness in my criticisms, selfishness, and apathy.
We do not have to trade Jesus for something empty…rather, we can embrace Jesus, and all that he brings.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Full Extent

Mae West is quoted as saying, “If a little is great, and a lot is better, then way too much is just about right!” However, I would have to argue…after attempting to put 17 gallons of gasoline in the 16 gallon tank of my truck…that more is not always better.
When it comes to eating , there are some things that I can have more than enough of, before ever taking the first bite…olives… sauerkraut…liver… cows’ tongue…(I have pledged to never eat anything that can taste me back).  Yet, there are some things that I can’t ever seem to quite get enough of…ice cream…potato chips…pie…coffee.
My dad tells a story of when he was a boy. He was visiting his sister and brother-in-law. During the visit, his brother-in-law asked him, “Would you like a piece of pumpkin pie?”
“Do pigs wallow in the mud?!...Yes!”
His brother-in-law cut a generous slice from the freshly baked pie and asked my dad the question, “Do you want the big piece or the little piece?”
“The big one!”
His brother-in-law proceeded to lift the “big piece” onto my dad’s plate leaving only one, lonely piece of pie.  Half a Cool Whip container later my dad finished his big piece of the pie only to be offered by his brother-in-law, “Want another piece?”
With nothing remaining but an empty Cool Whip container and a crumby pie tin, my dad encountered a pumpkin pie to its “full extent.”
In John chapter 13:1-20, Jesus does something amazing.  It says here in this passage that he now demonstrates the “full extent” of his love.  After saying this, Jesus then proceeds to get down and wash the feet of his disciples.  Jesus has loved people, especially his disciples, all along, during his time with them.  Yet, we find his love takes a huge step forward, and now he demonstrates his love in the fullest possible way!  Jesus empties himself…humbly gives himself up for them…he takes the role of a servant as a precursor of how he will empty himself on the cross and serve them by taking all of their sin upon himself.
That is love…to the full extent! It’s crazy! It’s incredible! It’s complete.
In this case, “A little is great, a lot is better, way too much is the full extent!”

Saturday, January 27, 2018


Life is full of unexpected events…like coming home to find a little doggie loggie, waiting for you at the top of the stairs.  You find the unexpected at school, when your 4th grader brings her lunch box home…”Oh wow! You remembered to bring your lunch box home! How nice! Good job!...Ummm…Where are your shoes?”
The unexpected finds you when the teenager, driving in the lane next to you, decides to change lanes… without signaling…while texting something very important to the passenger sitting next to him.
You don’t expect to wake up to your children yelling, “The oven is on fire!” on your 16th wedding anniversary. You don’t expect to have a Razor Scooter left behind your truck tire, nor do you expect to find someone else’s mail in your mail box.
The other day, I was battling through a runny nose and repetitive sneezing.  I enjoy sneezing.  It feels good.  It’s cathartic. Despite sensing the sneeze coming, I was still a bit surprised, as an unexpected glob of mucus and spit, shot out of my mouth and onto the floor of the public establishment, where I stood.  What do you do with that!?...Walk away and pretend nothing happened.
I should have seen that coming…
But I didn’t.
In fact, so many of our unexpected events have subtle pieces of evidence as they approach.  Most of the state of Minnesota was expecting a Super Bowl birth by the Vikings last week.  Boy were we surprised when the Vikings were throttled by the Philadelphia Eagles, 38-7.  Let’s be honest, we should have seen that coming.  This has happened 6 times in my lifetime.  The evidence is there…it has happened before…it will happen again…we should expect it!
Sometimes we say to “Expect the unexpected”…but doesn’t that then make it expected?
In John 12:12-36, we find a huge crowd of people who share the incredible expectation of the arrival of the Messiah…the person who is going to, finally, free them from their oppressors (The Romans) and re-establish the “golden age” of Israel…like what was experienced during the reign of King David.
Yet, they are shocked, when they find out that their expectations will not be met.  In fact, not only will Jesus not take their earthly throne…he won’t even fight.  Instead, He will die.  Jesus, then, calls them to serve Him in the same way that He served them….to die to what they want…to give it up…because there is something bigger…something better coming.
My expectations are often way off base…much like the expectations of the Israelites.  Yet, often, through my unmet expectations, I find that, perhaps, Jesus is doing something much deeper and greater.
One thing we CAN expect.  Jesus gives life…perhaps not how we expected…but He does give life…an abundant and eternal life.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


There was a time in my life, when I was the father of only two children.  You would think that fathering two children would have been easier than fathering my, now, four children.  However, that is not the case, when one of the first two children is a terrifying, three year old with the destructive mindset of a gremlin.  It was not uncommon to hear the words “Mom! Isaac is chasing me with a dangerous knife!”
If my memory serves me correctly, in a short window of time, Isaac’s destructive behaviors were expressed by stepping on ink pads and then making footprints across the brand new basement carpet, chiseling a hole in the linoleum with a screwdriver, pocking holes in the kitchen floor with a “dangerous knife”, coloring the white changing table with crayons, chasing her sister with that “dangerous knife,” and finally throwing the vacuum cleaner down the stairs.
There is a saying, “You can either have nice things…or you can have children.”  It appears that we have chosen children.  Even if you didn’t know we had children, someone could walk into our house and immediately conclude, “Oh…you must have children.”
“Yes we do! How could you tell?”
“Oh…just the broken window, that hole in the drywall, the tear in the recliner, the broken picture frame hidden in your closet, the broken brush in the garbage, the loose toilet seat in your bathroom, the dent in your front door…”
“I see.”
Isaac’s streak of terror didn’t go without reprimand, yet often, the consequences seemed to go without effect…until now.  Isaac has transformed into a nice young man who, now, occasionally apologizes for breaking things!  Oh, how far we’ve come.
After Isaac threw the vacuum down the stairs…and had received his consequence…he returned to the scene of the crime...and began laughing.  With his older sister standing next to him, he gazed down the stairs, to where the broken vacuum lay, and laughter came from his belly. He said, “That was funny Hannah!”
Despite the consequences of his actions…somewhere deep inside he felt, “That was worth it!”…which pretty much meant, “I did not enact the most effective of consequences at that time.”
What Isaac did was wrong…but there is a story of a woman in the Bible (John 12:1-11) who did what was right…even when all others around her thought it was wrong.
In the story, Jesus is only a few days from his arrest and execution. There we find him eating a meal with friends and followers.  While he was there, a woman named Mary takes a bottle of perfume, valued at thousands of dollars…and she dumps it out on Jesus.  All of disciples and others, who are gathered, get in an uproar, “What are you doing? Don’t you know the value of what you just had?”
The answer, of course, is, “Yes…she knows.”…but she also knows that Jesus IS WORTH IT!
Throwing a vacuum down the stairs? Not worth it.
Giving Jesus anything and everything…totally worth it.