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.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


Dandelion


I remember as a small boy, late-spring in Minnesota, I would go outside in the early morning, and pick fistfuls of beautiful, yellow wild flowers.  I would fill both of my hands so full, that I could not open the front door to the house without either setting them down or crushing their stems and petals…while, unsuccessfully, attempting to turn the dirty door knob with my sweaty elbows.  Once inside, I would cram my harvest into the rough chewed rim of a Tupperware cup, and fill it with water. 
I couldn’t wait to give them to the most important woman in my life.  The woman who fed me fish sticks and gave me spankings that didn’t hurt…(that is why I told my dad if I ever were forced to choose between  living with him or mom, I would have to choose to live with mom…dad doesn’t cook so well…and his spankings hurt a whole lot worse than mom’s…though I didn’t tell him THAT).  My mother would graciously thank me for the gift and set them up on the window sill…to wilt.
It was my brother that first broke the news to me.  “Those aren’t flowers,” he said.  
“What are you, stupid!?...Look at them,” I replied. “Of course they are flowers…man, for someone fourteen months older; you should really know better…you are an idiot.” 
He insisted, “Those aren’t flowers…they are weeds.” 
“No,” I said. “Pigweed is a weed…Milkweed is a weed…Creeping Charlie is a weed…these are flowers.” 
“No, they aren’t…go ask mom.”
“Mom...are dandelions weeds?”
“Yes they are, dear.
All this time, I had been convinced, that I had been giving my mother beautiful flowers…only to find that my gift…is nothing but weeds.
Comparatively…my offerings to God are nothing but weeds.  Sure, I may think that I am being generous…selfless…a “good” Christian…but, my gifts really are nothing, compared to the grace, generosity and goodness that the Lord has offered to me.
Yet, he accepts my “filthy rags” as worthy unto himself. 
In John chapter 6:1-14, we find this story where Jesus has compassion on thousands of people who have followed him…(chased him, is more fitting) across a lake.  They are tired…and hungry.  All they have collectively between them is five barley rolls, and two small fish.  It is an offering that is worthless to so many.  Yet Jesus, takes what is offered…and He makes something great! He feeds thousands of people with His generous, miraculous gift from His hands.

What do you have to offer?  He will take your gift…which comparably may be “nothing” and make something great out of it…if you will let him.  Without Jesus, we wander around like lost sheep…with nothing to offer…often not realizing that we are lost.  Jesus has enough for us…if we are willing to receive his everything.

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Skeletor


Several years ago I wanted to illustrate the difference between death and life, to a group of middle school students.  I borrowed the skull of a cat from a friend of mine, who works as a cat incinerator…(a sub-chapter of Bob Barkers efforts to help control the pet population).  I’m JOKING!!! …He’s a High School Biology Teacher.  However, in order to accurately demonstrate the contrast, I also needed a “live” cat.  So, I asked a mother of one of the attending middle school students.  She graciously agreed to bring in…Skeletor…a black and white, male, long haired, beastly king of fat cats. 
The crowded room of high strung and chattering middle school students, immediately set Skeletor on edge…all the girls swarmed the poor cat, like flies on a week old bratwurst…or wait…maybe that’s not a bratwurst…and the boys were throwing wads of play-dough at each other…and the girls…and the cat.  It is no surprise that at this moment, Skeletor wants out!. 

He imbeds his claws into his owner’s cradling arms and frees himself from her grasp…then bolts under a table.  The girls chase after the frightened feline…reaching five simultaneous sets of tender hands at the angry cat…pulling him out by his feet, ears, skin and whatever else they can get their hands on…screaming with excited glee at each and every moment.  Holding the cat firm…one of the girls gently pets Skeletor, trying to calm him, while the fat cat extricates a low…meow? roar? growl?...hmmm…guttural sound emitting from the very depths of the demon that exists within most…maybe all?…cats.

All the while, I am attempting to gain the rooms attention to emphasize what God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel…where the dead dry bones of the deceased nation of Israel…will rise up and become alive again.  When suddenly…Skeletor breaks free…bolts to the window…and jumps onto the mini blinds…and SHREDS them!…Skeletors owner peels the cat off of the blinds…while his claws pull the blinds down with him.  The trauma, continues as Skeletor then proceeds to urinate all over his owner’s shirt…pants…shoes… and floor.  She takes the cat…throws him outside…where he will not be seen for two days…he will then be found dead within a week…It’s not all my fault…just somewhat my fault.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I don’t think any of the students grasped the point of my illustration, though I think they will long remember the saga and tragic death of Skeletor.  Especially considering, we did what He-Man was never able to accomplish…defeat Skeletor.  Yet, even as I recall the story…I can’t help but see the contrast of life and death.  Skeletor…though un-cooperative…was very much alive…scared stiff…but alive…until he was scared to death.  That’s kind of the point though isn’t it?  Naturally our lives go from life…to…death.  But, Jesus takes our death…and makes it life.  We are born into sin.  The Bible says, we are “dead in our sins.” Yet, Jesus doesn’t let us stay there…he offers us life…he forgives us from our sins…from our death…and offers us a life…that is a true life…a real life…an eternal life. 

Just as God made the dead nation of Israel come alive again, Jesus offers life to us.  Jesus can take the death of our sins…and make in us a life.  When everything else in this world is dying…Jesus is still bringing life.  Ephesians 2:1-10 makes this incredibly clear.  Jesus makes us alive by freeing us from the “dead” weight of our sins.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


Rest


It seems inevitable, as soon as Monday arrives; we are already beckoning the return of Friday…and the weekend.  Week after week, this cycle continues, until something out of the ordinary occurs.  Perhaps, we look forward to a holiday, like Independence Day, where we are gifted with a bonus day or two that is added to the weekend!  Or perhaps, we anticipate the arrival of our vacation to Rothsay, Minnesota to see a statue of the world’s largest “booming” prairie chicken. 
You know how it is…you take a full day or more to pack up the van…or camper, load the children into the back “arena” of the van, where they can grapple it out like MMA fighters in the octagon, for the next two to six hours.  When you arrive at your “prairie chicken” destination, you unpack everything out of the van, and either set up camp or haul it in to your lodging accommodations, only to do it all again in repeat order three days later.  During those three days of restful bliss, you battle mosquitoes, flies, ticks, rabid chipmunks, and days of fishless fishing. On the day you finally arrive back home, unpack everything into your garage or basement…where it will sit for the next week to ten days, until someone finally gets around to putting it away, you collapse onto your sofa and say, “Ahhh…I need a vacation.”

A few years ago, we took the family up to my parent’s cabin in northern Minnesota for a week.  On the night we arrived, we took the kids to a movie, where we purchased one of those great big bags of popcorn for them to share…you know the ones that are like the size of a five gallon bucket, that comes with unlimited refills...by the end of the movie, my children (who you would think we never fed by the way they eat popcorn), had probably consumed three bags of popcorn totaling fifteen gallons worth, (that is an exaggeration, don’t take that literal…that much popcorn would be silly).

Day two, of the vacation, consisted of our oldest daughter having a TERRIBLE gut ache.  After watching their dietary intake of the previous night, it was easy to deduce where the stomach pains were coming from.  We were wrong.  When the pains intensified for her, we finally took her in to the hospital…she was released from the hospital five days later, on the last day of our vacation.  Her appendix had ruptured, and so my wife spent the five days with her in the hospital and the other three children and I spent our time driving back and forth three to four times a day between the cabin and the hospital.  When all was said and done…we needed a vacation.

Since the fall of mankind, we have been seeking rest.  We long for our days off.  We beckon our weekends to come sooner.  Children lose their minds in anticipation of summer break…parents lose their minds, during summer break.  We are all seeking rest…and when we finally receive the rest that we are looking for…we often find ourselves just as tired afterward.  Often the rest we seek is superficial…it doesn’t last, and we are left feeling just as “un-rested” as when we began our time of rest.  I am learning that God has a different kind of rest prepared for us.  He promises a rest in our future…a time when we will experience a perfect rest with him.  Yet, he offers us a rest today.  It’s not a “weekend” rest…it’s an “in Him” rest.  I am learning that as I find a confidence and a trust in Him…He offers me a rest…a rest over my worries…my anxieties…my stresses…and maybe…someday...a rest during summer break.  Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…” Matthew 11:28.

Saturday, April 29, 2017


Re-Morse


My wife and I were, recently, enjoying unhealthy pastries and coffee at a local establishment near our home.  This was a rare opportunity for the two of us to get away without children.  On this particular day, we dropped all four children off to school, and we went out for a short, forty-five minute date.  Though the pastries were delicious…it was difficult to enjoy ourselves.  Two tables away, sat another couple…one of which I am convinced must have been the great, great, great, great, great grand-daughter of Samuel Morse himself.  The fingernails on her right hand were clicking the table top faster than a tap dancer, after a weeklong binge of gummy bears, chased down with Pikes blend from Starbucks. 
I don’t know that it would have done any good…but I really wanted to say something to get her to stop.  I felt like I was about to lose my mind!  I know it sounds extreme…but you were not there!! It was insanity…and I could feel the insanity creeping into my very being.  We left.  I had to get out of there, before I did something that would have left me with a lifetime of re-“Morse”…pun intended.
We all have done things that we regret.  Perhaps, you have purchased a vehicle that turned out to be a lemon.  Perhaps, you have bought a house, only to find out that it has been rotting under your nose for the last decade.  Perhaps, you struck your siblings with the dead bones of animals…oh wait…I was talking about things I regret.

It is difficult to find contentment in our culture.  There exists, a pressure, around us at all times, attempting to convince us that we “need” this or that to make us happy…or content.  Yet, after we fall for these deceptions, we can find ourselves in a deeper sense of despair than before the purchase was made.

I remember in college I bought a $2 scratch ticket.  I lost.  I bought another $2 scratch ticket…lost again.  $20 later…I cannot express the deep remorse I was experiencing…$20 could have filled my car twice in 1994.  I guess I won’t be eating lunch for the next week. 

I think we get confused as to what we really need.  Sure, we need food and water, or we will die.  We need shelter, or we will freeze in the Minnesota winters.  However, I think, we look at our “needs” as those things that will make us “comfortable.”  Sure, we need food to live…but how many of us would be content with peanut butter sandwiches for the rest of our lives.  Yet, we would have what we need.  Instead…we “need” steak. 

Sometimes I think we look to Jesus to give us the “comforts” we desire…rather than what we REALLY need…HIM.  In the Gospels, we see Jesus heal MANY people.  Have you ever asked yourself, “Why does Jesus heal people?”  I don’t think He heals them just to make them “comfortable.”  I believe that Jesus heals people…to point people back to Himself, so that more people will believe in Him.  All that Jesus does, or doesn’t do, is intended to point back to Him…to lead people into a deeper relationship with Him.  It’s all about Him…and all we need is...Him.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Ribs


It was just over four weeks ago, that I was riding my bicycle on a wooded trail in the early morning darkness, when I fell.  I have a nice bright headlight, so I saw the mud coming, however, as I veered left to avoid the deepest portion of sludge, I kept my center of gravity too high and my rear wheel washed out, and down I went.  My body landed hard on my left side and a protruding tree root caught me in square in the ribs.  Ughh! I laid there for a few moments…in the mud…groaning loudly and trying to catch the wind that had been knocked out of my chest.  I got up…and while in considerable pain…I finished the ride.
For weeks now I have been trying to kill the pain of my broken ribs.  (I self diagnosed the injury.  It is a lot cheaper if I just decide what the injury is, rather than going in to visit a doctor and have x-rays done and then have them send me home saying…”yep you broke some ribs…take it easy…there is nothing we can do.”  So in this case, I decided that my ribs are broken.  I then self prescribed 800mg of ibuprofen every 6 hours to keep the pain at bay).  It would really only hurt when I would touch it…or when I would breathe…or cough…or twist…or raise my hands…or lie down…or stand up…or get dressed…or move in general…other than that, I hardly noticed anything different.

I don’t like pain.  There are some pains that I can handle more than others…such as rib pain.  There are other pains that are far worse…such as mouth pain.  Oh how I hate mouth pain!  Canker sores are some of the worst…sore throats, biting my tongue or biting my cheek or lips are right near the top of the scale of miserable experiences as well. 

The bottom line is…we don’t like discomfort.  When we feel discomfort…we medicate.  We take pain killers for physical pain.  We may even turn to other drugs or alcohol for emotional pain, we may turn to the internet…facebook…or pornography…for the pain of loneliness.  Perhaps we even turn to business, to prevent our minds from having to engage the uncomfortable thoughts of life, such as the pain of loss.  In any case, our goal often becomes, not the pursuit of “real life,” but rather, a “comfortable existence.” 

Jesus however, has offered us something so much more than mere comfort.  He has created an opportunity for life…real life!  There is a story of a man in the New Testament, names Lazarus, who became sick and died.  Jesus went to his tomb…4 days after he died…that smell must have been atrocious! Lazarus was sick…likely not comfortable.  His sisters, Mary and Martha, were heartbroken and in great emotional pain.  Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  It was just a few days after this miracle, that Jesus raised Himself from the grave.  Through Jesus’ resurrection…we too are being offered life.  Lazarus became alive again.  Jesus became alive again.  We can be made alive again. (John 11, John 20, Ephesians 2)

Saturday, April 8, 2017


Tell

In May of 2003, my wife Sarah and I discovered that we were going to become parents.  After learning this life changing information, my blood pressure spiked, my fingers tingled, I became nauseous, and sweat immediately formed on my brow…ok the sweat may have already been there…I am pretty much a walking sponge.  It took a day or so for the panic to subside.  Once my heart rate had calmed, I found this great excitement building within me.  I was going to be a dad!  It became less scary to me…and perhaps more scary to others.  However, despite our excitement, Sarah and I had decided to keep the news to ourselves for about a month.  We decided that we would start telling people on Father’s Day.  As each day passed I felt the excitement build until I was about ready to burst...Pizza Ranch buffets may have also played a role.
It’s a fascinating experience to be privy to “little known information.”  We hold a certain power over others who do not have the same knowledge as we have.  Secret family recipes are a fine example.  We would be glad to “make” it for anyone…to show off our great “knowledge” or “ability.”  Yet, we often keep these things secret.  Why?  Does sharing the information make us know any less? No…it makes someone else know more.  There are other times, however, when we just can’t help but share the information that we have been given. 

When Sarah was expecting our fourth child, we decided to tell our other 3 children first.  Our oldest…(see above experience)…was now the one bursting to tell.  The day she learned that her mother was having a baby…she wrote a song...and then sang the song EVERYWHERE she went.  The lyrics when something like this…Verse 1: My mom’s having a baby…My mom’s having baby…Chorus: My mom’s having a baby…My mom’s having a baby. 
She couldn’t help it.  She had to tell.  There was no keeping it a secret.  Likewise…I am convinced, that when we truly come to understand what Jesus has done for us…what he has saved us from…we can’t help but tell.  I chose to follow Christ at a very young age. However, it wasn’t until I truly understood my own depravity…my own “need” for a savior…that this longing to tell others of the grace that Jesus has given to me, began to make me burst.

In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, we see how a Samaritan woman, who Jesus had been talking to, goes immediately back to her people and tells everyone she meets all about the Christ.  She could not help but share the experience that she had just had with Jesus.
What is it that is building inside of you…that you just have to tell or you will burst?  I know…that the grace of Jesus Christ, can lead you to that experience…but it starts by saying yes to him.