Saturday, December 3, 2022

 Expected Surprises


I remember when I first became a father. My wife, Sarah, had taken the home test in early June of 2003 and the diagnosis???… “parenthood.”  The condition was confirmed a few days later when Sarah visited her doctor.  We were so excited that later that night we went to supper with my parents at Applebee’s, where we intended to share the good news.  We decided to reveal the surprise by inserting a picture of the ultrasound into a wad of other photos of our recent mission trip to Mexico.  I grinned from ear to ear as I waited for them to come across the ultra sound photo, because I knew that they too would be ecstatic!  I inwardly hoped that in their excitement that Dad would offer to pick up the tab for supper.  They came to the photo.  My mother squealed, “Oh, what is this!  Eeeek! You are having a baby! How wonderful!”

“Congratulations you two!,” my father added, “Here is your half of the bill.”

Nothing could shake our excitement…even having to pay the Applebee’s bill was tolerable.  We knew that things were going to change, but I was convinced that we were going to be the best parents ever.  I had given parental lessons to all kinds of parents through the years, enduring their scowls and bitter looks of resentment as I offered counsel and advice of how “I would do it if I were in their shoes.” Now I was going to prove that not only was I a “know it all,” but also a “do it all.”  I wasn’t worried in the least.

Until…

As part of our birthing classes, which apparently new parents are strongly encouraged to attend…and new fathers are required to attend by their “soon to be a mother,” spouse. 

It was at these classes where you learn how to breathe, push, flip and bounce out a baby.  It seemed simple enough…I figured I would let the doctors take the lead…though I was ready to advise if needed…after all, I had taken several night classes on the subject. 

Then one night, the class instructor rolled out a large thick television with a VHS player mounted below.  She began to play countless videos of birthing, mommy care and baby care.  The birthing videos made me a little more nervous…but it was really the “How to take care of your baby” videos that freaked me out.” 

These videos spoke of all of the dangers that lurked in your home; radon, carbon monoxide, bleach, toilet brushes, plastic bags, Lego, Asian lady beetles, dogs, cats, cribs, pillows, bedding, diaper changes, falling chandeliers, car seats, refrigerators, fishing fillet knives, vacuum cleaners and sleep deprived parents shaking their babies…pretty much EVERYTHING that you have in your home is a vessel of death to an infant.  THERE WENT MY PEACE!!!!

I was not afraid of fatherhood…until…I watched those videos!

I was suddenly paralyzed by fear. The expected anticipation of fatherhood was now replaced with expected apprehension. 

I feel similar in other aspects of life, one moment I am ok and feel that I have everything under control and the next my peace has been swiped from me like a shaken Etch-A-Sketch. 

All throughout the Bible, the Lord repeats a promise of a Savior to come.  Yet, in the anticipation of the promised Savior, the world has had to endure the struggles of this life.  Mankind continues to wrestle with fear, hunger, pain, disease and oppression.  In Luke 1, we find that the promise of the Savior is refreshed.  It had been about 400 years since God had last spoken to mankind directly.  In his last message, he promised a prophet was coming.  In Luke 1…after a LONG silence…God delivers on that promise!  It is a promise of hope and peace and joy and love.  It is a promise of Jesus, the Savior.

O come thou long expected peace…thou long expected Jesus and save us from this world of anxiety and oppression!

Saturday, November 12, 2022

 Grass on the Moon

 


I don’t really believe that Murphy’s Law, (the adage stating that if something can go wrong it will go wrong), but it certainly seems strange to me, how every time I am running late to an event, bad things seem to happen.  It is in times like these that I catch every red light, have to wait for a train, and I get stuck behind the slowest driver in a 50 mile radius.  This happened just this morning as I was driving my daughter to her piano lesson.  I had to wait for EVERY stoplight…YES! ALL THREE!  On top of that, we had to wait for a train…and…since I am the slowest driver in the 50 mile radius…other slow drivers don’t matter. Needless to say…she was late. I blame the stoplights.

Speaking of stoplights…I was reminded recently of my son’s internal conflict with these mechanical, magical, and mysterious traffic controllers.  Apparently, in his younger years, my son Isaac believed that there were little men that would sit inside the stoplights and make them change colors whenever they felt like making the change.  If they wanted one light to stay green for the entire day, they could.  Or in the case of my trip across town, the little men living inside the stoplights could sadistically turn every light red making me wait…and eventually late.  I am relieved to know that my son now knows that little men don’t operate the traffic lights...its aliens.

Children believe strange things.  As a toddler, this same son of mine was deathly afraid that the bathtub drain would suck him in with the draining water to live in the sewers with the rats and crocodiles. When his mother would finish his bath, she would be sure to remove him from the tub before draining the water or he would scream in ghastly fear!  I, on the other hand, would purposely leave him in the tub and pull the drain plug.  This served two purposes. Firstly, It was funny to watch him scream breathlessly. Secondly, the boy needed to learn to toughen up. You never know what life will throw at you, and you need to be ready for that random whirlpool in the ocean.  Perhaps Captain Nemo would have survived through that whirlpool if his dad had pulled the drain plug while he was still in the tub?

I just learned today that my oldest daughter had the same irrational fear of draining water. Perhaps she never spoke of this fear…for another fear…of her dad pulling the plug while she was still in the tub.  I am offended. How mean does she think I am?

My daughter Carissa could handle the draining water just fine…it was the fear of being sucked into the vacuum toes first that consumed her dreams.

When I was a child, I believed that every time that I lied to my parents that I would get a black spot on my heart.  Each black spot would then work at eating through my heart like a worm through an apple, and once the black spot got all the way through the heart…I would die. I don’t know what was more concerning…the black spot eating through my heart…or the number of black spots eating through my heart!  I wonder what made me believe this stuff?  Oh…I know!...it’s because…THAT IS WHAT MY MOTHER TOLD ME!!!!

My wife believed that if she got any wrong answers, or was not fast enough with the flash cards in elementary school that her teacher would be angry with her and wouldn’t love her any more.  So to hide her imperfection…she lied and said that she couldn’t “see the cards.”  Hmm…I wonder if she got black spots on her heart too?

My little brother once saw grass on the moon with a little cardboard and plastic telescope.  Ha Ha! What a fool!  Oh Boy! I can’t tell you how my older brother and I laughed at him!  My little brother was always so stubborn and irrational.  He adamantly held to his claim that he saw grass on the moon. He wouldn’t even recant the claim under the threat of a “swirly.” Ironically, he now works in the field of science and wears a white coat to work.  I don’t know if he still believes that there is grass on the moon or not, but there is a chance…a white coat can’t fix everything. 

In Romans 12:2, Paul speaks of our need to have our “minds renewed.”  We need to think differently. In fact, I think Paul understood this transformation incredibly well, perhaps better than anyone.  In 1 Corinthians 13, as Paul is speaking on love, he inserts a powerful statement on transformational thinking.  In verse 11 he says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

I am so glad that I no longer think like a child. Oh…did I mention that it is only 6 weeks until Christmas! I wonder what Santa will bring me this year?

May we come to invite the Holy Spirit to lead us to transformational thinking and a renewing of our minds.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

 What’s in it for Me?


 I have come to believe that parenting is one of the top 100 hardest jobs in the world…and it monetarily pays the least.  This is not to say that there are some aspects of parenting that are, in fact, quite simple and easy.  For example, the other day my son asked me, “Dad, will you buy me supper from Dominos Pizza?”

“No! Your mom has supper on the table…like right now…sit down and eat!” 

That was one of the simplest parenting moments in the history of parenting. 

However, there are other aspects of parenting that are much more difficult...i.e. “Mom, where do babies come from?”

Boy, am I glad that sentence began with, “Mom!”

Just this morning, Sarah and I were mandating that our children get off of their screens and go hiking in the north woods with us…all day.

“Ugh! I don’t want to go!” argued my youngest daughter.

“You need to go.” My wife calmly rebutted.

“Why!? I don’t want to go! Why do I even need to? Why do you even care if I go? AND BESIDES…WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME anyway?”

That can be a difficult question. “What is in it for me?”

My wife, however, is much more brilliant than I and immediately responded with the truth, “You need the fresh air, it is good for you.  You need the exercise, it is good for you. You need to get your face off of your brain sucking screen, it will be good for you.”

“So what! I don’t need any of that stuff!”

“Well, we will be bringing snacks to eat in the woods.”

“Ok…I’ll go.”

Fascinating!!!

I would never have thought that such a simple offer could be so motivating.  That is until I saw the snacks…2 kinds of trail mix, meat sticks, dried jerky, summer sausage…AND…PEANUT M&M’S!!!

The psychology of motivation is amazing.  It doesn’t happen very often, but there are times when I slow down enough to reflect on what keeps me going.  What motivates me to continue the battle?  What motivates me to keep up the battle of parenting, working, living, cleaning the house…etc?  What keeps me continuing to testify to the grace of Jesus? I think that Paul helps me to understand the answer in what he writes in 2 Cor. 5:11-6:2. 

There can be many motivators in life.  Fear can be a huge motivator.  Likewise, food can be a magnificent motivator. Yet, what I believe that Paul points to in this passage is the most powerful of motivators…love.  Here we see the love of Christ compels us…AND…our love for Christ…also compels us.  It is like a double edged sword that motivates on both sides!

May we come to be compelled to testify of the grace of Christ.  May we be compelled to love others.  May we be compelled…because of Christ’s love for us…and our love for Him.

 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

 Camping: Revisited

 


I really enjoy camping, always have.  I love the preparation, execution, and the clean up! Who wouldn’t?

Most of my camping trips consist of the following…or some combination thereof.

5:00 a.m. Wake up.

5:05 a.m. Start Coffee.

5:06 a.m. Sit down and wait for coffee to finish.

5:15 a.m. Get up and pour a cup of the finished coffee.

5:16 a.m. Sit back down to drink the coffee…just one cup.

5:17 a.m. Fall asleep in recliner with coffee in hand.

5:45 a.m. Wake up because coffee spilled in your lap.

5:46 a.m. “Hey kids…we are going camping, we need to get everything together and hit the road by 8:00 a.m., get out of bed…let’s go!”

6:00 a.m. Load 5 sleeping bags for 6 people.

6:15 a.m. Put all food into a cooler.

6:30 a.m. Get the tent down from the attic.

6:45 a.m.  Load 5 camping chairs for 6 people.

7:00 a.m. “Hey kids…we are going camping, we need to get everything together and hit the road by 8:00 a.m., get out of bed…let’s go!”

7:15 a.m. Load 5 pillows for 6 people.

7:30 a.m. Set wallet on top of the car so that you don’t forget it.

7:45 a.m. Load everything else into vehicle.

8:00 a.m.  “Hey kids…we are going camping, we need to get everything together and hit the road by 8:00 a.m., get out of bed…let’s go!”

8:05 a.m.  Jump start vehicle because the doors were left open too long while loading and the battery is dead.

8:10 a.m. Sit in car and honk until all others arrive into the vehicle and share words of affection to their loving father and husband.

12:10 p.m. Arrive at campsite only to find that the site is still occupied.

3:00 p.m. Reach for your wallet in your back pocket to pay for the campsite.

3:01 p.m. Empty the entire vehicle looking for lost wallet.

3:02 p.m. Receive a phone call from stranger saying, “Hey I found your wallet on the highway.”

3:03 p.m. Dig through the vehicle, collecting all of the lost coins to pay for the campsite.

3:15 p.m. Spend the next hour trying to remember how to set up the tent.

4:15 p.m. Realize that the tent has been set up incorrectly and start over.

5:15 p.m. Finish setting up the tent…only to realize that you are missing one pole.

5:30 p.m. Fashion a willow branch to substitute for tent pole.

5:35 p.m. Use a rock to hammer in the tent stakes.

5:36 p.m. Bite your tongue because you smashed your finger with rock.

5:45 p.m. Answer your wife’s question about where you put the cooler. “I left it in the kitchen.”

5:46 p.m. Answer your wife’s question about what you are going to eat. “We will have to cook the canned foods I guess.”

5:46 p.m. Answer your wife’s question about where the can opener is. “Ummm…in the kitchen drawer?”

5:46 p.m. Answer your wife’s question about how the can will be open. “A hammer and a screwdriver.”

5:46 p.m. Answer your wife’s question about where the hammer is. “A rock and a screwdriver.”

6:00 p.m. Begin to build a fire…without matches…because you are not willing to admit to anyone that you also forgot to bring matches.

6:15 p.m. Begin to cry as you hands develop blisters from rubbing sticks together.

6:20 p.m. Ask your neighbor campers to let you borrow some matches while still in tears.

6:21 p.m. Listen to them laugh at your ineptness.

7:00 p.m. Finally get fire lit.

7:05 p.m. Sit on the ground and eat lukewarm baked beans, while 5 family members sit in camping chairs.

7:10 p.m. Scramble into tent because of torrential downpour.

7:15 p.m. Inflate air mattress and go to sleep…without a pillow…or a sleeping bag.

3:00 a.m. Wake up to a deflated air mattress

3:05 a.m. Look for leak in air mattress

3:15 a.m. Quit looking, sigh, and sleeplessly lay on your back for the next 3 hours.

6:15 a.m. Ponder about how you are going to get your 46 year old body off of the cold hard ground to start a fire…in the rain…without matches and cook your breakfast of baked beans…without a can opener.

6:16 a.m. Groan

6:17 a.m. Allow the rain water to drip on your face from the leaky tent roof. 

6:18 a.m. Groan some more.

7:00 a.m. Head back home, to your own bed, your own pillow, and your own can opener. 

12:00 p.m. Arrive back home.  Pitch tent…into the trash. Promise yourself that you will never camp again as you conclude that you prefer your permanent dwelling. 

I do enjoy camping, but it doesn’t matter whether it is for one night or one week, I find that I long to get off of the hard ground and back into the comfort of my own bed in my own home.  Paul gives us a similar picture in 2 Cor. 5:1-10.  Here he describes the temporary nature of our tents (human bodies), that we live in and the promise of something better.  God promises a permanent dwelling that we will get to enjoy forever in relationship with Him! Meanwhile we groan, as our bodies ache and age. We yearn to be with Him forever!

May the Lord give us a new perspective as we learn to get our eyes off of what we see and onto that which we cannot see.


Saturday, October 8, 2022

Menacing Mike

 


The Apostle Paul speaks of being, “Pressed but not crushed.” I have been both pressed…and crushed…because…I played high school football.  More accurately, I played football through 9th grade…which though, is technically “high school,” is essentially glorified middle school football.  As a 9th grader I stood 6’1” and weighed a meager 135 pounds.  Yet, due to my height, I was placed on the offensive line as the right guard…next to the only player on our team who actually could be classified as your typical offensive lineman…Menacing Mike Mayer.  Mike was our center…and nose tackle.  He stood 6’2” and weighed over 300 lbs.  At the beginning of each play he would snap the ball to our quarterback and then stand there as defensive players bounced off of him like kangaroos on pogo sticks.

Menacing Mike was the kind of guy that everyone wanted on their team and no-one wanted to play against.  Playing next to Mike was great…until…it wasn’t.  It happened one late October Tuesday.  The 9th grade Indians of Wadena MN, met the Eagles of New York Mills.  The two mediocre teams were battling for gridiron glory when it occurred.  I saw the gold number 34 on the bright blue jersey streak through the hole between Menacing Mike and myself.  However as the white jersey-ed Eagle made contact with Cory, the owner of number 34, the brown ball was left behind, tumbling between the yard markers.  Seeing the fumble, I quickly jumped on the ball, securing its safety, while opposing white jerseys scampered to take it away.  A mere moment later, I felt the overwhelming presence of Menacing Mike in all his weighted glory, also attempt to secure the ball.  I was crushed under the massive frame of Menacing Mike.  The formerly inflated pigskin pressed deeply into my gut and I lost my breath.  I struggled to speak.  I struggled to breath. I struggled to struggle.  Never had I experienced such an overwhelming heavy burden before. 

After what seemed to be an eternity, Mike rolled off of me…and I was figuratively dragged off the field.  That was my last game for the blue and gold.  I couldn’t handle the heavy burden that high school football required. 

In 2 Corinthians 4:13-18, the Apostle Paul goes on to speak of the light and momentary troubles that we experience in this life.  He reveals that they are preparing us for the overwhelming weight of glory that will divulge God’s greatness, majesty, righteousness, magnificence…His Glory that believers will enjoy with him forever!

May we come to see how our struggles are so momentary compared to the glory of God that is to come! 

 

Saturday, October 1, 2022

The Vase


When my wife and I were married, we were given an exorbitant amount of generous gifts from our family and friends.  We received a whopping 29” television that was about as thick as it was tall…and wide.  Gifted with the TV was our very own VCR.  In the year 2000, people would go to a store and pay money to rent a movie on “video tape.”  These video cassettes were often abused, seldom rewound and at times would be damaged beyond the ability to watch.  Just a few years after our marriage, DVD’s entered the picture, which, could also be rented.  These discs were often abused, never rewound and more often than their predecessors, damaged beyond the ability to watch.  Additionally we also received two Coleman camping chairs, which despite appearing to have endured WWII, are still our favorite and most comfortable camping chairs that we own.  Other wedding gifts included wall hangings, bowls, plates, flatware, kitchen appliances and a number of silver and crystal pieces.  We still have most of these items displayed or stored somewhere within the confines of our humble home. 

One such piece is a crystal vase that we have owned since day one.  It is a large vase, capable of embracing 2 or 3 bouquets of store bought flowers at one time.  It may go without saying…but the sheer size of the vase has led to the rarity of its usage.  In fact, I cannot remember a time when this vase was used in our first 10 years of marriage.  This was mostly due to the fact that I could not afford to fill the vase for the wife of my youth…or perhaps more accurately, I was too cheap to purchase enough flowers to fill it.  I do recall that at the end of our first year of marriage, attempting to “fill” the vase with one single red rose that I had purchased and given to Sarah for our anniversary. 

The rose was lost among the wide mouth of the large vase.  I tried to cut it down. I tried to raise it up.  I tried adding some grass that I pulled up by the roots from next to the house.  I even tried cutting some branches from the back yard elm to add some sustenance to the display.  All of my efforts were pointless.  I finally resorted to taking the single red rose out of the vase and placing it in a small blue plastic cup.  It was a trick that I had learned as a child.  Every Mother’s day, I would go out and pick all of the dandelions from the yard and cram them into a small colored Tupperware cup…the most basic vessel for floral arrangements.  I would then proudly give the treasure to my mother early in the morning along with a cold piece of toast and some soggy cereal.  I would have probably been willing to do the same thing for my dad too…but dandelions are not in season as much in mid June. So for this first anniversary, my wife received one red rose in a blue plastic cup from Wal-Mart.

It has taken me 46 years of living, but I think that I am finally beginning to understand what Paul is referring to in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.  Here Paul describes a great treasure that has been placed in the most basic and fragile vessels…us.  He refers to us as being “jars of clay.” Plain old earthen vessels that are easily cracked and broken.  Yet, this is the very place that Jesus has placed the treasure of all treasures…HIS GOSPEL!

May we come to see that Jesus says that He will put that great treasure into us…mere clay pots…broken and battered…if we will merely receive the gift. It is not the vessel that makes the treasure great…it is the treasure that makes the vessel great!


Saturday, September 24, 2022

 Let there be light

 

It is a challenge to engage the darkness of this world…especially when it seems to continue to grow in its darkness.  It feels as if we encounter, more hate, more violence, more selfishness, more apathy, more crime, more road rage and more Packer fans each day.  It is even difficult to go throughout a day without encountering the darkness of mankind in some way or another.  Though this appears to be a growing phenomenon, it is a truth that has existed for generations…even centuries.

When I was in college I was fortunate enough to find employment as a delivery driver at a local Pizza Hut.  I had been working at the restaurant for several months and had managed to memorize the delivery area map.  This was an essential skill as it enabled me to deliver as many pizzas as possible in as little time as possible.  Additionally, I had invested in a 10 million candle power spotlight.  These were the pre-cell phone and gps days, so the spotlight was invaluable as it empowered me to find the house numbers on those dark streets, lanes, courts and cul-de-sacs. The quicker I could make a delivery the quicker I could move onto the next one, which would always end in more cash in my pockets and to a college student, little was more important.   

As I would approach the dark street, I would flip on the powerful spotlight and light up the neighborhood, shining from home to home looking for the corresponding house number associated with  the address of the order.  You could always tell the homes of “suspect activity.”  When the spotlight would shine through their window…the interior lights would go out and the occupants within would dash out of the home and take off running…thinking that my spotlight was coming from the local fuzz. This didn’t concern me…unless of course the delivery address happened to be the now vacant home of lawless young people.

There came one night, as I was driving home from my late night shift, where I was sitting at a stoplight in my 1981 Plymouth Grand Fury.  The car happened to be a former highway patrol car with a 318ci engine and a 4 barrel carburetor resting atop.  The car looked pathetic, but it had plenty of lively ponies remaining under the hood.  A large jacked up pickup truck pulled up next to me in the right hand turn only lane.  However…the truck did not turn.  It soon became obvious that the driver was not intending to turn, but rather to ILLEGALLY, go straight and get in front of me!  “HOW DARE HE!?” I thought, “NOT TODAY!” I whispered under my breath.  The light turned green and both he and I floored our respective accelerators.  I am proud to say that my spunky yet boxy Mopar left him behind to wallow in his “too big for his ego” pickup truck.  As the street narrowed he was eventually begrudgingly forced to merge into the proper lane behind me.  He made his irritation known by turning his bright lights on and blaring into my car from the back window.  I lifted my MaxiMillion 10 million candle power spotlight…pointed it out my back window…flipped it on and cried out, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!!!” His lights dimmed and he backed off…way off.

For years I have enjoyed that story and even found pride in my rusty but trust automobile, spotlight and my creative response. As I have aged, I have become aware of how prideful and dangerous my stunt really was.  Even more so, I have been confronted with a parallel that I had never considered before.  As a follower of Christ I have been given a light…THE light, within me.  I am called to shine that light.  Yet, sometimes I don’t think that I have done well at shining that light in a loving and effective way.  Perhaps I have even at times used my light as a weapon or have shone that light in aggressive ways.  The light of the Gospel is beautifully designed to shine into the darkness from hearts that have been transformed by the Holy Spirit.  Paul reveals this reality in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. 

May we come to invite the Spirit to give us that heart of flesh and to shine his light into the darkness as an act of love, empowered by His Spirit.