Saturday, July 20, 2019


Spilled Milk


My son loves cereal.  He always has.  He comes by it honestly…because in this capacity, he is just like his mother.  I like cereal fine…however, cereal in my eyes, always seems to lead to messes and spills...I can tolerate messes to a degree…but I do not tolerate spills well, and messy spills are the worst!

When my wife was pregnant with our 4th child, she was appeasing one of her prenatal cravings by making herself some late night oatmeal.  This was a nice change to some of her other cravings, as it was not uncommon that I would find myself making a midnight run to Perkins to pick up some mozzarella sticks and a chocolate shake to satiate her appetite.  On one particularly snowy December night, I drove through town in a blizzard to get her a Subway sandwich…only to find the restaurant had closed due to the inclement weather.

Oatmeal…even late at night…meant that I did not have to slip on my winter boots and head out! As she picked up her hot bowl of oatmeal and began walking into the family room…ready to settle in and enjoy her hot cereal and watch a late night episode of Martha Bakes on PBS…the bowl burned her hand and she threw the bowl onto the floor, splattering the oatmeal everywhere!  I would have preferred to go get some mozzarella sticks in -20° temperatures, yet I bit my tongue.  I have not always been so silent at the moment of the messy messes, but this was one of my better moments.
They say there is no use crying over spilt milk.  Really? I cry over spilt milk all the time…I mean like ALL THE TIME!!!  My poor children are well aware of my aversion to spills and when spills take place I can see their whole bodies tense up… “Oh No!...I spilled!...What is Dad going to say?...he is going to be so mad!” 

Sadly…they are correct.  I take no pride as to how I react to spilled milk.  I am sorry family…but I am trying to grow in this way.  My son probably spills more milk than anyone in the house.  It is likely because he is always eating cereal…and is about as reckless as a squirrel on a jet ski and has about as much laser focus as a teenager driving while texting.

I remember on one occasion, as he was pouring a brand new gallon of milk over his cereal, the heavy jug slipped out of his hand landing sideways and began pouring all over the table and the floor.  His shoulders slumped and his chin sagged as he knew that I would not be happy.  But what was worse for me…was watching him…just sit there…watching all of the milk continue to pour out of the jug!

“Pick it up! Pick it up!” I cried.  See…there is a use to crying over spilled milk.

In actuality…what can you do?  You grab a towel and you begin to sop it up.  There is no way to salvage any part of it.  It’s not like dropping an Oreo cookie that you can quickly snatch back up…claiming the 5 second rule and pop it back into your mouth.  Licking the floor looks weird and has been known to be unsanitary.

What can you do?  Nothing.  You can clean it up and move on.  You can continue to live your life…and learn to not get so riled up about spilled milk.

In Daniel 12:5-13 we find God giving Daniel some final words of counsel.  Daniel is late in life and has had visions of a future that has left his armpits sweaty and his heart deeply troubled.  He wants to know some answers to questions like,“When is all this going to happen?”… “Who will this man of lawlessness be?”  God doesn’t necessarily give him the answers that he is looking for.  Rather the answer is more along the lines of…“It is not for you to know.”

So what IS for Daniel to know? Simply put, God tells Daniel to “Go your way.” God calls Daniel to live his life for Him…to continue to serve Him…even if he does not know all of the answers.

Sometimes God calls us to move forward…to follow Him…to trust Him…even without knowing all of the answers. There are some things that we just won’t fully know.  There are some things that we cannot do anything about.  It’s kind of like spilled milk…I can sit and cry over it…or I can understand that it is done and I can move on.  Daniel knew the future…he worried about it…he wanted to understand it…yet, it was not for him to know or do anything about…he needed to move on. 

Maybe it’s time for me to stop crying over the spilled milk and just, “Go my way”…perhaps after I have sopped it up…off of the floor with a towel…and tried wringing as much as I can back into the container.   

Saturday, July 13, 2019


The Card


A couple of weeks ago, I officiated a wedding.  I had known the bride for years, and had worked extensively with the couple, as we prepared for their marriage and the ceremony.  Upon the completion of the service, the pronouncing of the couple and the signing of the marriage license, I watched the wedding party board the bus and head off to rejoice with their friends as they celebrated their new marriage.  Eventually they would make it to the reception, where I would once again be needed.  But, as for now…I spent the next hour cleaning and tidying up the church before the next day’s service.

By the time I got home, my wife and I found that we only had about 30 minutes or so before we had to turn around and leave again to make it to the reception in time.  It is remarkable how quickly time can get away from us.  My wife had the gift wrapped and ready to go, but the card had not yet been signed.  She slid the card in front of me and said…“You are the one who knows the couple…sign this for them so I can put it with the gift.”

“Sure thing.”

I spent some time and wrote a very sincere and heartfelt message to the couple. I expressed how much I enjoyed participating in their special day and encouraged them in their new lives together.  We then drove to the reception where we forgot the card and gift in the truck.  We didn’t want to look stupid, and turn around to go back and get the card as soon as we stepped into the reception hall…so we decided to mingle and eat first.  Before departing we made the special trip back to the truck, walking 4 blocks one way…and then 4 blocks back…uphill…both ways…in sweltering heat…wearing dress shoes…just to retrieve the gift and the card.  We walked into the reception hall once again…dropped the gift into the gift box and turned around and headed for home. 

The following Wednesday afternoon (4 days later), my wife called me at the office.  “Hello dear.”

“Well, hello Honey.” 

“I was just curious if you read the wedding card that you signed for the wedding last Saturday.”

“Honestly…No I did not…I wrote a nice message on the card…but no, I did not read it. In fact, who cares what the card said…a wedding card is a wedding card.” I said.

 “That’s just it.” She replied.

“What’s just it?”

“I bought two cards that day…and I just found a wedding card.”

“Fine…we used one and we have one on hand for the next wedding.”

“No, you don’t understand…I bought two cards that day…a wedding card and a sympathy card…and I just found the wedding card!”

“Oh my goodness!!!...that is super awkward!”

Well…it is not uncommon to find the marriage announcements right next to the obituaries…so…maybe it’s one in the same?

In times like this, I can’t help but wonder…what will these people think of me? What do we do? How do we fix this? Eeeek!...why did we have to remember to go back and get the gift from the truck? I wish we had just left it!

In Daniel chapter 11 we see Daniel receive a vision which causes him to be aware of what is prophesied to come in the days ahead.  Jesus even tells us to “watch” as we look toward the future…to be aware of what is going on around us.  I should have been more aware of what I was signing.  In Daniel chapter 12, we essentially see Daniel nervously asking God… “What now?...What do I do?  How do I deal with thisl?”.  God’s response is to challenge Daniel with a call to continue to live for God…to “…go your way…” even if we don’t know what the next day holds.  We are to keep on living for him.

We will always make mistakes…but keep on…continue…keep following…even if we are afraid…worried…anxious…burdened.  Go your way.  Please God, not mankind…and always read your wedding cards.

Saturday, July 6, 2019


Whack-A-Mole



In 1998 I went to Six Flags amusement park in Chicago, Illinois.  I was working at a church in the western suburbs and three of us…all youth ministry workers from the church…decided to go on a “scouting” field trip to Six Flags.  It is only reasonable, that if we were ever going to bring students on an excursion to Six Flags…it was paramount that we know ahead of time; the layout of the park, the best attractions to ride, which are the cleanest restrooms and where the nearest garbage cans can be found in the event of vomiting.  This was strictly a professional and an entirely business minded trip…and I can attest…that very little entertainment occurred on my part.

We explored rides like Batman, The Joker, The Viper, and The Demon…yes…the Demon…three youth pastors stepping into the un-treaded waters of The Demon…and yes…I do see the irony of it all.  Overall, I do not care for roller coasters…in fact, I would describe them as something created by psychotic doctors as a way to induce vomiting…or by deranged psychiatrists to swarm up more business by making the average person’s sanity wane. 

I don’t understand these thrill seekers.  If you want to be a thrill seeker…try parenting.  There is nothing quite like trying to get a family of 6 ready for school, after having been up all night with a one month old new born.  This makes roller coasters look like nap-time. 

After we had ridden enough spinning rides to make a figure skater sick, I suggested we go look for a place to take it easy and where we could take turns spewing into the fly infested trash receptor.  This brought us near the local “Arcade” area.  There standing before us…was the king of all arcade amusement games…the infamous “Whack-A-Mole.” Upon spotting the mighty ring of Whack-A-Mole games…the oldest and most mature of the three of us stated….”I challenge you both to a game of Whack-A-Mole… Who’s in?”

We entered into the gaming area…each of us selecting one of the “Whack-A-Mole” games that formed a ring around an overly under-enthused high school student worker, standing on a platform in the middle of the circle.

He chirped away, in his non-expressive, monotone, Midwestern accent…“Step right up…try your hand at Whack-A-Mole…challenge your friends…high score wins…a winner every time…only 15 minutes until my shift is over…”

Despite my recently acquired dizzy spell…I was able to accurately take out my sickly aggression on the heads of the little plastic rodents.  One by one, the moles would pop up…and I would whack them back down.  Here a mole…whack!...there a mole…Whack…everywhere a mole whack!.  I don’t think I missed a single mole. 

“Congratulations…you win…here is a stuffed Wile E. Coyote that you can carry around the park for the rest of the day, while trying to act masculine…good luck with that…I am outta here,” announced the pimple faced pubescent carnival worker.

As we finished our day at the park, I learned he was right.  There is something that is just not right about buckling in a stuffed cartoon doll in the roller coaster seat next to you…while humming “My Buddy and Me…”

I couldn’t help the humming…it just popped into my head like a bad song that you just can’t forget.
I think it was Rick Warren who referred to life being like a Whack-A-Mole game. Sin rises up…we whack it down.  A problem arises…we whack it down.  In the same capacity, “World leaders are like the moles in a Whack-A-Mole game…they just keep popping up and God just keeps hammering them down.”  That resonates with me, perhaps because of my championship Whack-A-Mole run…or perhaps, because it sure seems to be the way that it is. 

In some capacities these world leaders look much the same…power hungry, greedy, ruthless, self-centered…caring only about doing whatever it is that they “want” to do.  Daniel chapter 11 has something to say about that.  We find in this passage, a great amount of detail that expands the visions that Daniel has already had in Chapters 7-9.  In fact the detail is absolutely astounding.  One of the noticeable elements that we find all throughout Daniel is the character of the leaders.  Here in these verses we find the leaders who are all about building themselves up…doing whatever it is that they desire…i.e. Dan. 11:36. We see it in Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, the King of the North and the King of the south.  In fact, we see it in world leaders and rulers in modern history as well…in the likes of Stalin, or Hitler…and perhaps even more recently in some of our current world leaders. 

We tend to emulate those who we follow.  Who are you emulating? Who are you following? Don’t just be another “mole” that looks like all of the others, that God has to whack back down into place.  Perhaps it is time for us to start emulating someone who is unlike any other.  Perhaps it is time to emulate Jesus.

Saturday, June 29, 2019


Radar


There is really something quite astounding about mothers. It often appears that they possess supernatural powers. They can see things that the normal human eye cannot see…sense things that are about to happen before they occur…they can see right through the false statements of children and turn anything thing they can find in the pantry or refrigerator into a gourmet masterpiece.  Each mother may obtain any one or more of these super powers.  My wife possesses the super power of, “vomit radar.” She can tell that one of our children is about to hurl well before the bile appears.  “Ryan…go get a bucket and give it to Carissa.”

“What? Why?”

“Just do it…and you might want to hurry…you have 72 seconds…”

“What? Huh? Fine!...Ok…Here you go Carissa…what did you need a buc…”  BLAHHH! “Oh…I see.”

Despite their super powers…mothers need to get away from time to time. There have been a few times when Sarah has had the blessed opportunity of getting away from the home for a few days.  This has inevitably left me home to parent the children solo.  So far…so good…I began with 4 whole children and I still have 4 mostly whole children…perhaps a few less blood cells…or brain cells…but all in all…we got by.

When Sarah leaves town she will always write down a list of instructions.  This list will include items like: Feed the children, bathe children, change diapers, clothe children, pay bills, put the children to bed, repeat, etc…

On one given Sunday afternoon, when Sarah returned from her time away and I was just getting home from church with the children, she asked, “Well, how did it go while i was away?”

“Overall, it went pretty well…I was even able to get the girls to wear dresses this morning!” I said proudly.

“Good for you!...Did Erica go to church with her dress on like that?

“Yeah…why do you ask?

“It’s on backwards?”

“Huh!?”

Sarah’s lists are actually quite beneficial.  She will often give a day by day break down, giving specific instructions for each day that she will be gone.  Not only do her lists help me to function, but they also give the children a picture of what to expect while she is gone and a way to target her return.  Often, each day will have pieces of encouragement for the family that holds her heart, to spur us on until we are reunited with her. “Mommy loves you…only 3 days left!...Don’t hit your sister!...etc…”

I think God does something similar for His people in Daniel chapter 11.  The exile to Babylon is concluding…but there is still a great deal of trouble yet to come. In fact, the Jews are about to enter into what has become known as the “silent period”…the period of about 400 years between the Old Testament and the New Testament. What I find to be so striking is that God is giving them some very specific instructions…pictures…encouragements…to get them through the “silent” years.  The silent years are not about God abandoning his people…they are about how God has prepared them and encouraged them as they await the great plans that He has in store for them.

We know God is still at work in these silent years…He is doing everything that He promised that He would do…but his revelation has been stopped for the moment.  Now it is up to the Jews to read and remember what God has said…and eagerly wait for the coming of the Messiah, which has been promised through the prophet Daniel.  The Jews can read and know that God will not remain silent…He will be coming again…this time, in the flesh!

When we find ourselves in times of “silence,” may we remember the promises that God has given to us in his Scriptures.  He has more to come…He is coming again…He has given us His note…His instruction…His encouragement, for us to cling to, as we await His return.


Saturday, June 22, 2019


Solocam


At least once a year, I have the unfortunate privilege, of driving across the state of Wisconsin.  I don’t intend to be degrading to Wisconsin…that would be unnecessary…the Packers take care of that for me. Yet, it is because, second only to a drive across the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, eastern Montana, or Texas…it is to me the longest and most mind numbing trip that I have ever encountered. It is inevitable, with my wife having been from Michigan, that we would traverse this territory once a year or more. The trip is only 4 or 5 hours from the southern border of the adjoining Illinois, to the Minnesota border near the Twin Cities…but WOW! Does it feel like 10 hours!  In fact, one return trip in January, our navigation was 10 strong hours long, while we endured a snow storm while driving through the entire state.  Maybe Wisconsin had to wait for Minnesota to finish their plowing and then rent out the Gopher State’s equipment.  Go Gophers!

It was a bit over two years ago, when we were making a return trip home after an early summer trip.  The day was hot and our air conditioning was not functioning…at all!!  The journey had already been long…after having been stuck in Chicago traffic for 2 hours in 94 degree weather…did I mention no air conditioning? When we hit Wisconsin, I actually felt relief to be through what I thought was the worst of it…but the traffic through Wisconsin was behaving oddly.  Like the rhythm of panting lungs, the traffic would accelerate up to cruising speed…70 mph…and then suddenly come to a complete stop!  Only to do it again…and again…and again.  This had been the pattern from Beloit to Black River Falls.

I had been recently passed by two Floridians. I remember these two Floridians because they had unique license plates…one said Mathews, and one said Solocam…and to the fact that I got a REALLY close look at them!.

I remember considering their plates, while cruising in the left lane at the posted 70 mph…never a mile per hour faster…5 miles per hour faster? Yes…but one mile per hour faster? No. I thought it odd that these two Floridian plates were so closely related, thus I pondered, “I wonder if they are for the Mathews company?...or perhaps they are a family of bow hunters?...or perhaps just a crazy coincidence?...so many questions…”

When very abruptly the Floridian license plates began getting very close to my windshield…very quickly!

I swiftly changed my thinking from “hunting” to…“Great SCOTT!...there is no way I am going to be able to stop!” And I was right…there was no physical way to stop the car before striking their customized plate…and it was going to be bad! I did the only thing that I could do…I briskly steered left onto the shoulder of the highway…praying to avoid finding a Solocam in my teeth.  I have never had braces and really did not want to start.

As soon as I hit the shoulder the tall grass swatted at my grill and the loose gravel was pushing me further to the ditch…and the DITCH was DEEP.  I am in the perfect position to roll this van!
I had some decisions to make and I needed to make them quick! Two options came to mind. First, I could take the nose of the minivan and steer it down into the ditch.  This would prevent rolling the vehicle…but there would be no way of recovering our journey and making it home that day.  It would take a tow truck with a ¼ mile winch cable to extract us…or more likely a helicopter would have to lift us out of the swampy bottom of the ditch.

My second option was to risk rolling and pray that we could hang to the shoulder.  I chose the second…or perhaps more accurately, I chose not to attempt the first.  After 500 yards of shredding ditch hay and the grace of God, the tires secured some traction and I found the van climbing back onto the highway…right behind the Solocam. 

There were imprints of my fingers left into the steering wheel from my white knuckle death grip…sweat pouring down my head and under arms…not just from the 94 degree heat. I am thinking, “That was intense!”

I hear Sarah say, “Wow! You are an amazing driver!”

Isaac saying, “wow! That was fun!”

Hannah saying, “I thought we were going to die!”

Carissa saying, “Dad! You made me lose my colored pencil”.

Erica, waking up, and saying, “What happened? I was sleeping…what is everyone talking about? Can we do it again?...that’s not fair!”

Solocam, raised their hands through their sunroof and applauded my efforts.  As much as I would like to take full credit for my inner Dale Earnhardt, I really feel that there were angels pushing the side of our van…keeping us out of the ditch and leading us back onto the road.

Some may mock and call me crazy...that’s fine…then you have to acknowledge that perhaps I should see if Richard Petty has an opening for a driver on his team. 

I think that sometimes we believe that the spiritual realm doesn’t really exist…or perhaps only existed in the stories that we find in the Bible, but not in REAL life.  I would argue…that perhaps the spiritual realm is more “REAL LIFE”…than the life we live.  We see but one realm…our own.  Yet, if a spiritual realm is there…and we don’t see it…which is more real.  That which we see? or that which is truly there?

In Daniel chapter 10, Daniel, is gifted a very real picture of the spiritual realm.  The veil is removed, that allows him to briefly see what is going on in the spiritual realm.  What he sees is astounding! He sees angels and demons and battles and warfare! It is incredible!

Perhaps we too need to take a few moments and consider the real realm that is around us, the realm that we cannot see.  If we “could” see what is going on…I think we would see angels and demons…battling it out…for our sake! Fighting for you…and for me!

May you come to see that there is a real…spiritual realm…where God is calling his angels to fight for you and your behalf!

Saturday, June 15, 2019


Noise


Pedal-click-creak…pedal-click-creak…pedal-click-creak…

I find bicycle noise quite irritating.  In fact, there are times when I will deliberately use ear buds and music to block out annoying bicycle noises…particularly, when I cannot find the source of the noise.  The obnoxious noise continued as I continued to navigate the bi-ped. This specific noise had been my bane for weeks if not months.  Every time I pump a pedal, the click and creak would resonate through my ears and whole body.  In my efforts to eliminate the sound, I had tightened my chainring bolts, replaced the chainring, tightened the cassette, secured the steer tube, lubricated the chain, tightened my hubs, cleaned and re-secured the steer tube, replaced the brakes, greased and tightened the pedals, I even went so far as to replace the bottom bracket…nothing eliminated the racket.

Every time I saddled up and rode, I would find myself listening carefully trying to identify the source of the clamor.   At one point I was bending my head down…listening intently…looking down at my chain…cassette…hubs…etc…trying to find any indicator of the cause.  When BAM…a parked car jumped right out in front of me and I ran smack dab into the backside of the small hybrid.  Who parked this car here? At this point I did what most people would do…I made it look like I knew what I was doing and that I meant to run into the back of the vehicle…while simultaneously glancing casually around to see if anyone had witnessed my embarrassing snafu.  Then, I rode away…wondering…“Why is my bike making a new ‘womp, womp, womp,’ sound?”

Here I was…extremely focused on discovering the cause of a mechanical problem, so that it could be repaired…only to miss a much bigger picture in front of me…a large white automobile! Tunnel vision is a natural response to the circumstantial elements in our lives.  When a problem arises, it is only reasonable to focus on the issue at hand.  When your wedding anniversary is speedily approaching, it is only reasonable to focus all of your energy and attention to ensure your wife’s happiness…or at the very least scramble enough to make it “look” like all of your attention has been on her for the last week and a half.  It can sometimes be beneficial to order some gifts from Amazon the day before her birthday that will never arrive in time…only to save them for your anniversary…just remember where you hid them.

In Daniel 9:20-27, as Daniel is continuing his prayer, we find God give an answer. Yet, what is perhaps most striking to me, is that while Daniel is praying about the “end of the exile,” God’s answer actually gives Daniel a much larger picture.  While Daniel’s focus and concern is on the end of the 70 year exile…God’s focus is on the 500 years to come…which will culminate in the astounding work of grace that Jesus gives us on the cross!

Daniel’s perspective isn’t bad…it is just short. God wants Daniel to see the big picture of what he is doing…offering grace to mankind!  Noises of life can often distract us from the bigger picture…whether bicycle noise, interpersonal conflicts, unfinished jobs at home or at the office.  Perhaps the next time we run into a car with our bicycle…or smash our face into a  light post as you are looking for pennies on the sidewalk, or get down about the rain on our wedding day, we can be reminded to turn off the noise and look to the great and glorious picture of grace…and a bigger picture that there is still MORE TO COME!

I replaced the chain...and he sound was gone.

Saturday, June 8, 2019



I remember standing in the garage as a child, while my dad was replacing the front brakes on his 1978 Chevy pickup.  He had lifted the front end and secured it with jack stands.  As any good father would, he told me to keep back so as not to get hurt…or accidentally kick him in the face as he crawled beneath the vehicle to inspect the ball joints.  I recall him telling me a story, as he crept along inspecting the under carriage, of a young boy who lifted a car off of his dad when the car accidentally fell on him.  I stood there pondering his story.  “Interesting timing,” I thought...it was a little freaky to think about the car falling and crushing your dad while he worked beneath. Finally, I replied, “Don’t get your hopes up…I can hardly carry the big pieces of wood to the fireplace.”

He rebutted, “Sometimes when faced with incredibly difficult challenges…we can find ourselves going beyond what we thought we were capable of.”

“Really! Like lifting a car?”

“Yep, when under stress, your adrenaline can empower you to do amazing things.”

“Wow!...What’s adrenaline?”

“It’s a hormone”

“Oh…ok…What’s a hormone?”

“You’ll find out when you’re 12.”

“Don’t get your hopes up.”

I have yet to lift a car by myself…although, 3 fellow high school wrestlers and I, did pick up my buddy Norman’s car and turn it sideways in his parking spot after school one day.  I have, however, found myself doing things that were indeed beyond what I could have expected…like singing a duet at a wedding! The father of that bride could sell ice cream to an Eskimo…because…I can’t sing…I don’t sing…my voice is like a screaming frog fighting its way out of a blender! It’s bad…really bad…yet, there I was…somehow finding myself going beyond what I thought myself capable of!

Similarly, during a recent spring day, I found myself playing basketball with Isaac and two high school freshmen.  I play basketball like a pit-bull with the jumping skills of a donut.  Yet, when I saw these two kids and the basketball, I knew that God was calling me to something beyond my own comforts.  I was convinced that I needed to submit to the leadings of the Holy Spirit and engage these students…a refugee and his buddy, into relationship. I want to love people more than I love pain free living…more than my comfortable relationships…and more than self preservation.

The Bible is filled with stories of God calling people to go beyond what they could do on their own.  Moses, leading the people out of Egypt…Gideon fighting the Midianites with only 300 men…Israel conquering Jericho…Daniel facing the den of lions…the stories go on and on.  I must wonder,  “Does God still call us to go beyond what we can do on our own?”  I proclaim the answer with an exuberant, “YES! Yes He does!”

In Ephesians chapter 2, Paul expresses to the young church in Ephesus the amazing transformation that each one of them has experienced.  A common bond existed…and still exists…each and every one of them has once been “dead in their own sin”! Now, they are alive in Christ! What is even more stunning…is that Paul is speaking to both Jews and Gentiles…racial opponents.  We too, hold to this common ground…with every man and woman who has ever lived.  We are all dead in our sins…without Jesus! 

I think that the time has come where we must see others for who they are…men and women created in the image of God…and JUST LIKE US…they are desperate for Jesus.  We need to go beyond where we are comfortable…beyond what we know…and allow Jesus to do what only He can do…save people.  Our job…is to go beyond what we can do…and let the Holy Spirit work.  We do not need to be afraid.  1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love drives out fear.”  We can’t love perfectly…it is beyond us.  Thankfully, Jesus calls us to go beyond what we can do on our own…and by His power…love perfectly.

Saturday, May 25, 2019


The Graduate


Last weekend I attended my little brother’s graduation ceremony.  He graduated from high school in 1998…I think…and I am pretty sure that he graduated from college in 2002.  I didn’t attend either ceremony…so what am I doing here…attending his graduate school graduation?...I don’t exactly know…but I will tell you this…he owes me.  As I sat in the auditorium, hanging on every word of a soon to be PhD graduate in Bio-science and specializing in something, something, etc., etc, I realized that I hadn’t been surrounded by so many degrees since 2004, when I took a group of high school students to Phoenix, Arizona in mid July.

To occupy my time during the pomp and circumstance, I attempted to order a pizza from my older brother who owns a Pizza Ranch in South Dakota.  He was not in attendance because he “had to work.” I told him, “Well then, get to work and bring me a pizza.”

“I am not going to bring you a pizza! We don’t deliver to auditoriums…especially auditoriums that are 3 hours away!”

“The way things are going here…I think that if you hurry, I’m pretty sure you can have it here before this ceremony is over!”

I didn’t get my pizza.  Thus, I resorted to pass the time by reading the commencement program where each graduate was pictured.  Alongside each image, was a list of the graduate’s accomplishments and where they were going to head off into the wild blue yonder of jobs, families and paychecks.   Each of these graduates was heading off to new horizons and exciting new occupations…except one. There was one graduate who apparently had no idea what she was going to do after graduation…nothing was listed…hey!, maybe she could deliver pizzas! Hey, I could use one right about now!

I reflected on my own college graduation day…seems like just 20 years ago.  I walked up onto the platform…received my degree…went back to my seat and thought…huh…now what?  I had no idea what I was going to do next.  In fact…as soon as I walk out of that auditorium…I was homeless.  

This truth seemed to frustrate my dad…which is weird…it’s not like he was homeless…I was.

“Hey Dad, if you are so concerned with me being homeless…how about giving me a couple thousand dollars…that would help for a couple of months!”

I received nothing but a rolling of the eyes and long lecture.

“What are you going to do?”

“What do you mean?” I replied

“We are packing up your car…where are you going to take your stuff?  You have no place to stay.”

“I will figure something out.”

“Like what?”

“Hmmm…I don’t know…I think maybe I will head over to my friend Jim’s apartment…he has let me sleep on his couch before…I can probably just stay there.  Look…here he comes now…I can ask him.”

“Hey Jim, can I stay at your apartment tonight?”

“Sorry man…my lease is up and I am heading to Virginia”

(Cue Chirping Crickets)

Well…didn’t see that coming.

“Now what are you going to do?” My Dad asked in a very, “I love you, but you are a fool” tone.

“Well…first I have to go pick up the boat that I just bought and then I have to work tonight at 4:00”…I delivered pizzas…and just for the record…I may have considered driving 3 hours to deliver a pizza to my brother…and maybe stayed for a few months.

“You bought a boat!?”

“Yeah…coolest thing…I bought this boat, but it had no trailer…and then the DNR just gave me this abandoned trailer to haul it…sweet deal huh?”

“How can you afford that?”

“I found $350 in my glove box! I must have forgotten that I had put it in there…and then when I needed it…boom! There it was!  Awesome huh?”

“How did you NOT know that you had been missing $350?”

“I fail to see your point on this.”

While my dad and I were continuing our consultation…one of the Crown College administrators walked up to me and asked…”Hey Ryan, do you need a place to stay? I just had a place open up here at the college…I can get you an apartment for about ¼ of what you would find anywhere else.  Craziest thing…I had been booked up for months…but this just opened up.”

“Hey Dad…would you mind helping me unload the car? Looks like I’m staying.”
I have probably frustrated some people by the way I live…perhaps my wife included…but I tend not to ask, because I really don’t think I want to hear the answer.  Yet, is there not a beauty in watching how God has provided and handled so many unknowns along the way. 

In the Old Testament Book of Daniel Chapter 9, we find Daniel, anticipating the end of the 70 year exile to Babylon.  There are only a few years left and as he waits, we find him engaging in time with the Lord.  He is reading the Scriptures and he is praying.  Time and time again Daniel has experienced how God has taken care of every little detail in his life.  One key note in this prayer of Daniel…is that Daniel ALWAYS prays prayers that coincide with the will of God.  God has given us promises.  God had given Daniel and the Israelites the promise we find in Jeremiah 29:11…"I know the plans that I have for you…plans for you to prosper and to give you a hope and a future." God is going to restore Israel back to the Promised Land and take them out of exile. 

Daniel was able to see clearly how God honored his covenant of love with his people.  Daniel knew that God was going to continue to take care of them.  Even if they, in fact, found themselves homeless…God had more for them that was yet to come.

How do we respond when we don’t know what’s next? Where is the first place we go? It appears for Daniel…that place was the Scriptures and to prayer.

May you find yourself connecting with God in the Scriptures and in prayer…waiting for Him to do all that he said he WILL do…knowing…that He desperately cares and loves you.

Friday, May 17, 2019


Loaded Diaper


There is one task that strikes fear into the hearts of new fathers more than any other…the changing of a baby’s diaper. There are some men, more innovative than myself, that have somehow managed to avoid this bone chilling chore,  perhaps, going their entire fatherhood careers without having to engage in the act of dispensing of the diapers of doom.

As men, we spend countless hours conjuring up excuses to alleviate the obligated operation.  I have found that it works best to have a list of alternative “emergency tasks” to divert from the parental duty.  For example, if you could keep a hammer stashed near the water main and you hear the paralyzing words…“Ryan, the baby needs a diaper change,”…you could quickly use the hammer to strike the water main.  “Sorry dear!...I am dealing with a water leak…I wish I could help but I can’t…this is a serious emergency!”

Other copious options could include: shattering a mirror, starting a grease fire in the oven, burning eggs on the stove, plugging and overflowing the toilet, ripping a door off of its hinges, or simply running out of the house yelling…“What’s that? I can’t hear you! I have to go save this squirrel in the street…he is about to get hit by a car!”

There is a final option…you could just pull yourself together and walk into the baby’s room and dial 911.

Some men are just smarter than I am and have managed to create a larger distance between themselves and the dirty diapers.  I somehow had to face my fears and learn to change diapers.  Before I engaged in the toxic practice, I went to the local hardware store and purchased the necessities…a respirator, goggles and large rubber gloves. 

The things you encounter during a diaper change are some of the worst encounters known to mankind.  Babies are amazingly cute until they fill their pants and need you to expose the filth.  The first clue is the odor…but even that is nothing compared to the revelation of the filth.  There is a reason that seat-belts have been added to changing tables…because when you buckle your baby in…they will stay safe until you regain consciousness from the vapor induced coma. 

There is no one, I don’t care how experienced they might be, that is not affected by the filth that babies create.  Some deal with it better than others…but to all people it is the same thing…filth…and the filth MUST be dealt with.

The Prophet Daniel had a dream that he recorded in the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 8.  In this dream, he sees a series of troubling images…but perhaps the most disturbing image he sees is sin in its true nature…filth.  It is easy for us to keep our sins concealed…hidden…unexposed.  After a while we may even get used to the stench. 

Remarkably, my diaper changing experiences helped harden me to the stench and filth created by my fourth child.  By this time I was no longer wearing a mask…at least not all of the time…sometimes I even went without gloves!

When Daniel sees sin in its true nature…it says that he is “sick for days.”  Are we ever sickened by sin?  Are we sickened only by other peoples’ sin? Do we ever become sickened by our own sin?  Sin is a big deal…and we should be sickened by it…yet we should see that we have Jesus, who willingly cleans up our filth. 

I wonder if he ever wears a mask and goggles?

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Assured


While the lightsaber hung from my hand, above the 30 gallon garbage can, my son cried and screamed, “Dad! No!”

I was ready to drop it into the trash and he knew that I was willing and intended to do it. After multiple less than stellar events as a father, I had earned the reputation of “Dad the Toy Trasher.  My parenting has been heavily influence by my father who threw many of our toys away. “Clean up your room or I will give your toys away to someone who will take care of them!,” he would bellow.

In which my sister ignorantly replied, “Oh! You could give this to Emily…she would really like this!”

“Let’s try this again…pick up your toys or I will throw them away!”

“No! Dad! Don’t!”

But there were times…many times…when he did.

In this particular case however…it was my mistake that led to this ordeal.  My mistake was taking my wife out on a date and leaving my children home with a sitter…I should have known it would end in disaster.

This poor sitter’s only mistake was overcooking the recently frozen pizza. When she took the darkened pie out of the oven my only son flipped out screamed, “I’m not eating that!”
Unfortunately for him…he was really hungry…hungry for pizza…but did not want to eat the black crusted slice that was offered him. So instead he began his tantrum…slamming cupboard doors and drawers until one of the drawers broke…falling to pieces before his eyes.  He stood there in shock…realizing what he had done…and that he would now be in even bigger trouble… he leaked out the word, “There…you see…that’s how mad I was.”

You can imagine how mad his dad was upon returning home.

When we received the report upon our arrival, I instructed him as to how he would be paying for the repair of the drawer and that he would need to write an apology. 

He refused to write the apology.  Thus, I stood with the dangling Star Wars weapon.  I had already thrown away a toy shotgun…and a Nerf dart gun.  It was now the lightsaber’s turn.
“You will write an apology or the lightsaber gets it!”

He knew what was going to happen next…because of what had already happened in the recent past.

Finally he relented and agreed to write the apology.

In Daniel chapter 7 we find our main character, Daniel, have a very disturbing and prophetic dream.  He sees strange and scary beasts coming up out of a churning and chaotic sea.  Each creature representing a different nation that rises to power…yet, in the midst and timing of it all, God almighty arrives on the scene as well as the Son of Man who will kill the final beast and set up an eternal kingdom.  We can easily become overwhelmed with the prophecies and symbolism we find in such readings.  But, I think that there is a beauty in these prophecies that we should be careful to not overlook.

Do you ever wonder why God even used prophecy?  I have become convinced, that God gives us these prophecies to help us to see who he really is.  He is the Almighty God.  He tells us what he is going to do ahead of time so that we recognize him…we see his work…we see what he is doing and know that once again he is trustworthy and true to his promises.  We can know that he will do what he says he will do…because he has done what he said he would do.  We know that Jesus is coming back, because he said that he is coming back.  We know it because he came the first time…and God said he would come the first time. 

That is what the prophecy in Daniel 7 points to.  Daniel sees the Son of God almost 500 years before he came the first time!  God gives us this prophecy so that we can see and know who Jesus is!...the Son of God…was…and is…and is to come!

Jesus will come back…even more assuredly as the lightsaber would have hit the trash.  So maybe we should just relent…and say yes to following him?

Saturday, April 27, 2019


A Den of Lions



When I was growing up, there was a location of fear and doom for awkward 3rd grade boys.  Every day at the same time, my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Olson would line up the class at the door to be sent out for a drink from the water fountain and to empty our tiny weak bladders in the lavatory.  Often, as 

I stood in line I was thinking…praying even… “Hurry…hurry…hurry…let’s go!” though no words passed through my lips.  How long did we need to stand here waiting?  Timing was everything! As we prepared for our trip to the restroom, my impatience came to near explosion.  Not just because my eyeballs would be floating…but, also because, if our dismissal was delayed any longer we would be sent into the tiled walls of doom which would already house countless 5th graders. 

The goal was to get in, finish your business and get out, before the 5th graders entered. It seemed a rare occasion where I would find such success.  More often than not, our paths would cross.  Sometimes, we were sent into the toilets of terror before the 5th graders arrived…only to get halfway through our duty before a 5th grader would come up behind you and torture you, while you are still unable to flee.

However, it was even worse when you knew the 5th graders were already occupying the space that Mrs. Olson was ignorantly sending us into.  “Go on now boys,” she would say.

“That’s ok…I don’t really have to go.”

“Now, now…none of that…I know you Ryan and if you don’t go now you will be asking to go as soon as we get back into the classroom.”

“Exactly!,” I thought, but didn’t state…“then, I would know that the lion’s den would be empty!”

“Go on…get in there!”

As my heart beat against my ribs and my knees trembled like grandma’s thanksgiving Jell-O, I shuffled into the chamber of creative tortures. If I could just get into a stall as quickly as possible and lock the door…I would have a chance.  As I hustled in, I came face to face with Mike McFlushya*.  Mike was well known as the Soldier of Swirly.  I think even his mother would have feared him if she hadn’t had pythons for arms, a tattoo of a cobra on her neck, serpents for hair and answered to the name Mommy Medusa.  Mike laughed as a fellow 3rd grade classmate exited the lavatory curiously wet above his ears. “Ha!,” chortled Mike, looking me squarely in the eyes, “You’re next.”

“Who me?”

“Yes, you!...bwahaha”

Gulp!

Mike grabbed me by my shoulders and began escorting me toward the last stall. “Please God, help me!”

Just then…the 5th Grade teacher Mr. Nelson walked in.

“You boys get back to class now!...What are you doing anyway?”

“Just helping this poor 3rd grader find an open stall.”

I am pretty sure I saw white wings on the shoulders of Mr. Nelson that day.

There is a story in the book of Daniel that makes my experience look like a trip to the restroom…oh wait…it was.

When Daniel was an old man he was still in the service of the king, (Darius the Mede).  He had remarkably kept his integrity beyond that of any other man.  So much so, that his enemies had to create imaginary accusations to make him guilty of a crime. His punishment was to be thrown into a den of hungry lions.  Throughout Daniel’s ordeal we see him continually serving, following, and praying to God almighty.  Astonishingly, the lions didn’t touch him. Daniel’s life was spared.

What I find to be the most motivating element of this story is Daniel’s confidence in God.  Whether he lives or whether he dies is irrelevant.  He knows that there is more to come.  There is more to come if he lives and there is more to come if he dies.  God is bigger than his circumstances.  Daniel remains faithful to God…and God as always, remained faithful to Daniel.
God is bigger than our circumstances too, and just like Daniel…no matter where we are at…there IS more to come.

How do you face the lions in your life?

*names have been changed to protect the guilty

Saturday, April 20, 2019


Green Jacket


Three of my brothers-in-law and I stepped out of the Ford Freestyle, just as the sun was making its appearance over the distant pines of south, central Wisconsin.  Once a year, the four of us would gather in a central location to battle it out on the fairways.  We play to win.  We play for pride.  We play for a Goodwill green jacket.

We like to arrive early…so early, in fact, that the course has not yet opened and even the squirrels were still snug in their nests.  Why so early?...to avoid the possibility of being seen by onlookers who may ridicule our game or unfashionable clothing.  I stood and waited for my fellow competitors to secure their cleats to their feet.  As I lingered, I couldn’t help but sarcastically mock them at the “imperative” value that these cleats will have on their game.  “Wow! Now you are going to win for sure!  I would hate to have you slip and fall while making that crucial putt! Boy I wish I had cleats…because then maybe I would have a chance to win!”

We walked to the first t-box.  I set my overpriced coffee down on the dew covered grass.  It was a short par 3…only 115 yards or so to the pin.  I pulled out my pitching wedge and teed the ball nice and high to limit my distance.  I can modify my swing to three stages…hard, harder, hardest.  I stepped up to the ball and gave it a nice hard stroke.  The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back looking at the tree tops…while all three of my brothers-in-law were rolling with laughter…I should have worn cleats.

I was so inspired this past week, as I watched Tiger Woods achieve legendary greatness by winning his 5th green jacket…at the antiqued age of 43. I am astounded that he can even walk, let alone play golf.  You would think he would need a walker by this time…perhaps even a wheel chair…or at the very least a cane…although he could probably get by using his putter to keep him upright.  I know how he must feel because as I rolled out of bed this morning to popping knees, twisted neck, and a back that kept me folded in half until 30 minutes after my shower…I realized…I am also 43 years old...in fact, I am a month and a half younger.  Thus…by the definition of the transitive property…I should also be able to win the next Masters tournament…although my odds may increase just a bit if I played golf more than once a year.

During one of our annual tournaments I was leading heading into the last hole.  My brother-in-law was easily within striking distance.  I was on the t-box and all I needed to do was a nice easy swing and keep the ball in the fairway.  So I wondered, “What swing should I use? Hard, harder or hardest?”  I opted for hardest…that should be a nice easy swing to keep it onto the fairway.  I swung the club nice and hard…crushing the ball!...hooking it hard to the left…on a “dogleg right!” Yikes!  There goes the game…the match…the tournament…the green jacket!  Until…my ball hits high and hard on a giant white pine…and kicks hard right…into the middle of the fairway…set up for a lovely look to the green.  My brother-in-law rolled his eyes and said, “What was that!”

“Clean living Dave…clean living.”

There is a story that Jesus shares in the Gospel of Luke.  It is a story about a father who had two sons.  The younger of the two sons, insults his dad by asking for his inheritance early…a request that pretty much says…“Dad, I wish you were dead so I can have my share of your money.”  This disrespectful son then goes off and spends all of his inheritance and finds himself broken and poor. When he comes to his senses and goes back home…his father lavishes love and riches on him once again…while the older brother looks on with disdain.  He says “Dad…I never received a party in my honor…what about me?”  The irony…is that both sons were not in love with their father…they were in love with themselves.  They only saw their father as a means to “get what they wanted.” Both sons were lost…only one comes to realize it…but the other does not.  Have you been lost? Are you lost now? Are you lost but you don’t realize it?  There is direction.

Sometimes we go through life thinking that if I do all of the “right things”…if I live a “clean” life, then God will bless us.  In a case like that…what are we concerned about?...God or ourselves? Do we want God or do we want stuff from God? Do I care about God or do I simply care about keeping my ball on the fairway.

Are you lost? There is direction…it is Jesus.

Friday, April 12, 2019


Winter Storm Wesley



Sometimes it is difficult to look out the window and watch the snow fall in torrents…especially as we have all waited so patiently for spring to arrive.  Yet, I think if we try really hard, we can come up with some benefits…advantages…nicenesses (made up word) about our recent encounter with Winter Storm Wesley.

Top 10 advantages to the recent snow storm:

10.  We can be thankful that our name is not Wesley.  Unless of course your names is Wesley…in which then I am desperately sorry for all of the ridicule, hate mail and blame that you may have received with the recent mid April snow fall that you brought us.  How could you? What were you thinking? This is all your fault!

9.  Many of us were able to spend an extra day at home with our children since their school got cancelled.  Is there a better way to spend a snow day than to be locked inside with aggressive, stir crazy children that cannot find anything better to do than to fight and make messes?  What a blessing to have them around!

8.  We were able to double check the effectiveness of our 4x4 transmissions…and be reminded of the poor traction of our minivans.

7.  This storm allowed us to divert our frustration from our children to the plow driver who just plowed our driveways in with 2 feet of heavy wet snow.

6.  We get to wear our favorite sweater and boots again!...and here we didn’t think we would be blessed with that opportunity again for 4 months! Hooray!

5.  Our brown lawns are no longer brown!

4. The robins in the tree are easier to see and watch…although they appear to be angry and confused, perhaps thinking that they have all gone suddenly colorblind.  I am pretty sure I just heard a baby robin say, “Mommy…what is happening! Everything is white! Am I dying? Should I go into the white?”  Or did it just say…“ Tweet! Tweet!” Hard to tell…it could have been either.

3.  This made us procrastinators look brilliant! “No dear…this is exactly why I didn’t put the snow blower away yet…No, it did not have anything to do with laziness…or watching the NCAA Basketball tournament…It was all a plan to be able to continually provide you a nice clean place to park...outside the garage…because inside the garage is where the snow blower has to be kept.”

2.  It gave us all something to talk about. “Well how about that snow huh?”  “Yep, it’s something” “Yep, sure is.” “Supposed to get quite a bit” “Yep, sure are”  “Well it’s been nice talking to you.” “Yep, you too.”

1. Well, now at least you don’t have to go to your Great Great Aunt Mertle’s 15th birthday party for her pet cat Fluffy.  “Oh, Aunt Mertle, I would love to come…but I am sorry, this snow storm has got me totally blocked in…no, no, you don’t need to use your tractor to come and plow me out…no it isn’t safe for you to come…no really…please this is not necessary...Aunt Mertle?...hello?...Aunt Mertle?...”

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Wall


I was talking with my dad after my last blog entry about pulling stumps…He said to me, “You make me sound like a slave driver.” In which my mother replied…“You were!”   
However, people change. It was just a month and a half ago, that I asked my dad if he wanted to head out ice fishing, with me and my son.  The snow was too deep to be able to drive out onto the ice…and dragging a sled would probably leave my son way too exhausted to fish…especially after the multiple trips he would have to take to pull the sled out, ice augers, bait bucket, tip ups, heater, rods, and the rest of the gear.  All the while, I may have frozen to death waiting for him to get all of the equipment out and set up.  Needless to say…we needed grandpa to join us…he had the snowmobile.  My dad replied...“It’s too cold!” 
“What!?” I replied… “What happened to the man who used to make us head out to cut those three cords of wood in -30 below weather?”
“He got older…and wiser.”
Hindsight is always 20/20…but as I have grown older, I have come to know the wisdom of my slave driving patriarch.  If he hadn’t pushed me and my brothers to help with the wood cutting, we would have likely frozen to death in that country farmhouse…only to wake up to the news reports…“Family of 6 parishes in bitter Minnesota winter due to lazy children.”  But on the flip side…if dad hadn’t taught me this work ethic, I might still be living in his basement eating Cheetos and allowing my mother the privilege of washing my dirty socks…although...I would probably just walk around barefoot…unless, of course, dad didn’t have enough wood to keep the house warm…then I might wear his slippers.
This “wiser man” has now switched to propane…and now makes the three of us boys install 15 year shingles on his roof, instead of 30 year shingles...he doesn’t plan on living long enough to make us re-shingle again.
This man is so inspiring, that I cannot help but live up to his example.  “Hey Isaac…go grab a spade and start digging a hole in the back yard!”
“Why?”
“Because we don’t have any stumps and I don’t want you living here till you are 43!...Now Dig!”
Daniel Chapter 5 contains a semi-well known, but obscure, story about a spoiled brat.  At the time of this story…a man by the name of Nabonidus is the King of Babylon, but he has left the city of Babylon to build himself a palace in Tayma…(south and east of Babylon).  He has been gone for 10 years and has left his son Belshazzar in charge.  The problem is that Belshazzar is nothing but a partier…reveler…and a drunkard.  While Belshazzar is busy partying…the King of Persia has surrounded his city and is ready to attack.  However, Belshazzar has plenty of food, wine, water, pizza, Xbox and a city that is so well fortified he could about live out his life in the city without worrying about anyone…let alone Persia.  In his arrogance, he takes the sacred vessels that had been taken from God’s Temple in Jerusalem and uses them in his mockingly arrogant fiesta.
There is only so much that God will take…and at this moment, he has had enough.  God’s very hand writes on the wall and says…“Numbers, Numbers, Counted, Divided.”  Translated: Belshazzar…God has numbered your transgressions…they are counted against you…and you will be cut down!”...the writing is on the wall.
Then it happened…that very night, his city was conquered and he lost his life!
What’s the point?  We serve a very loving and gracious God…but there will come a point where as if we are not coming to know Him…and or leading others to know Him…he will cut us off.  I can’t help but to contrast the response between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar.  Both are given an opportunity to know God…however, only one finally chooses to follow Him, while the other chooses to mock Him.  It is difficult to reconcile God’s response…but He desires to transform us.

Saturday, March 23, 2019


Stump


“Hey boys!...Want to have some fun?”

“Ummm…I don’t know Dad…The last time you asked us if we wanted to have some fun, you took us out to cut 3 cords of wood in -30°F temperatures…cut, split, stacked, unloaded, re-stacked…then we went inside for popsicles.”

“No…that’s not right.” My brother replied, “The last time was when he had us help him put the 30ft. antenna pole on top of the 10/12 pitched 2nd story roof, in a wind storm.”

“Oh yeah…that’s right…Sorry Dad…I think we’ll pass on this one.”

“Nope…no passing allowed…grab an ax, a spade and the grub maul…we are going to pull some stumps!”

“Dad! It’s like 98 degrees outside!”

“A little sweat is good for ya!”

“Oooo, how exciting…maybe afterward we can go inside for some hot cocoa!”

The vast 3 acres of land that surrounded my boyhood home was littered with box elder trees.  These trees were fabulous for recreational climbing as well as escaping the retaliations of younger siblings.  Yet, these trees were notorious for falling limbs…blowing down during thunderstorms and taking all of our summer freedom and childhood dreams of play away as we spent endless hours pulling stumps.

It is possible that the “stump grinder” had not been invented yet.  Though it is more likely that my father was unwilling to rent or hire out the job of grinding the stumps…because it is much cheaper to replace ax handles, bandage up bleeding heads and rebuild manual transmissions.

My dad, two brothers and I picked up the tools and got to work.  We chipped away at the ground around the stump, following the roots out until we could sever them with the ax.  We hacked away at the roots one by one...digging deeper and deeper as we attempted to get under the stump.  We would jab away with an old steel ice chisel until we could get a logging chain wrapped under the belly of the stump.  We would secure the other end of the chain to the Chevy Silvarado…back the truck up right to the edge of the stump…rev the engine…dump the clutch and gun it.  The truck would come to an abrupt bone crushing stop!  We usually remembered to secure our seat belt…after we peeled our teeth off of the steering wheel from the initial attempt.

“Must still be some root holding on…”

“Really Dad? You think?!”

Hack, hack, hack, chop, chop, chop, dig, dig, dig, poke, poke poke…”Ok…Try it again!”

Vroom…vroom…vroom…whaaaa…slam!...”Hey Ryan…your nose is bleeding…maybe you should buckle up!”

Hack, hack, hack, chop, chop, chop, dig, dig, dig, poke, poke poke…“Ok…Try it again!”

This pattern continued until the stump would finally come free. 

I recall pulling one stump when I was home from college one summer.  As we were working, my future brother-in-law pulled up into the driveway.  My dad sauntered up to the smitten young man, 

“So…I hear that you want to marry my daughter huh?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then secure this logging chain to your truck.”

The only thing better than using a 4x4 to pull stumps…is to use a future son-in-law’s 4x4 to pull stumps.  In times of old it wasn’t uncommon for a young, bespoken, affianced man to pay a dowry for the hand of his soon to be bride…or in some rare cases…the use of your 4x4 to pull a stump…and perhaps the cost of a new bumper…seems a fair price.

If stumps are left in the ground…it is not uncommon to see some life still spring up from the base.  Small young branches may sprout and grow.  However, when the roots are cut…and the stumps removed…that tree is gone for good.

There is a story in the book of Daniel…chapter 4…about how God cuts the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, down to size.  Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and arrogance is over the top.  Nebuchadnezzar sees himself as the mightiest man in the world…yet, God does something remarkable.  God removes him from power…he cuts him down.  Yet, God leaves the “stump.”  God cuts Nebuchadnezzar down…not to destroy him…but rather to draw the king to himself.  God leaves the roots and the stumps because he desires to put Nebuchadnezzar back on the throne.  God changes Nebuchadnezzar’s heart from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh…and he does so, through some very painful experiences.  In the end Nebuchadnezzar glorifies God and praises him for what He did.

Can you praise God through the pain?  Will you?