Saturday, December 2, 2023


As I watched another Thanksgiving Day pass, I reflected on some Thanksgiving days of the past.  Despite popular belief, I did not attend the first feast with the pilgrims.  However, each Thanksgiving dinner in our family holds to some of the national recognized traditions including a roasted turkey, cranberry sauce (though I refuse to slice mine from a can), mashed potatoes, stuffing and, of course, pumpkin pie. 

I recalled one year when I had invited myself…and my family out to my brother’s house in South Dakota for Thanksgiving dinner. 

“Hey Ross!?  How are you?  What are you plans for this weekend?  What time are you eating? Ok…we’ll be there…see you then!”

I am pleased to report that he did not serve the Peanuts special of popcorn, toast and jelly beans.  He did however make me provide the turkey and the pumpkin pie.  We baked the pies ahead of time but not the turkey…that we brought raw. Unfortunately, as we pulled into his driveway, one of my daughters was so excited to see her cousins that as she rushed out of the van, she put her little size 6 right into one of the pies.  It still tasted like pumpkin, so we ate it…plus the massive cavity provided additional vacant space to fill with whipped cream.

One year for Thanksgiving, my family went up to my parents’ place to enjoy the day with family.  The unfortunate aspect of this particular year was the fact that my dad happened to be violently ill with a kidney infection and he kept walking through the dining room…while we were eating…to vomit in the bathroom.  I thought about offering him a 30 gallon garbage can that he could use until we were done with the pie…but I refrained…I guess I am just humble that way.

There was a year before Sarah and I had children that we again decided to head up to my parents place for Thanksgiving.  We had been contemplating the purchase of a new vehicle and a friend offered to sell us her car.  She even offered to allow us to take it for the extended weekend and test drive it.  What she neglected to tell us, however, was that the gas gauge did not work…and that ¼ tank realistically translated into empty.  We did not learn this nuance until we were between Little Falls, MN and Randall, MN. 

This got me to thinking about hope.  On that unfortunately eventful Thanksgiving morning, I “hoped” that there would be enough fuel in the tank to get us to Randall where we could fill up before finishing the trek. The interesting thing was that as soon as the fuel was gone…so was the hope.  There was no longer any hope of making it to the meal on time, getting the first slice of pumpkin pie, or staying warm inside a running automobile.  With the red Lumina stranded on the side of Highway 10, we walked several miles home to get a gas can and the other car.

When we lose hope, we risk falling into despair.  There are so many things in this chaotic world that we can try and place our hope in.  Yet, I am convinced that each worldly hope will all leave us hopeless and falling into eventual despair.  At some point we will “run out of gas.”  There IS however ONE hope that will NEVER run out or will NEVER run dry…and that is the HOPE found only in Jesus.    

At Christmas, we remember when that Hope first came into the world.  We remember the birth of the Christ child.  The Israelites had waited in hope for hundreds, even thousands of years for the promised Messiah.  Even during all of that time, the True Hope continued, because the True Hope is based on the promises of God.

Likewise we wait in hopeful anticipation for that same Jesus to return.  Though we may wonder when this return will happen, we need not lose hope because His returns is based on the same promises made by the same God.

Even though I may run out of gas…yet will I hope…in Him.

Saturday, November 18, 2023



Recently, I was speaking with a friend who had graciously given me and my family free reign to enjoy his beautiful land.  My daughter was so pleased and appreciative that she excitedly exclaimed, “Wow! Thanks so much for letting us use your land!”

It was at this time that my friend broke into song…attempting to sing… “This land is your land…”

As his voice struck the notes, I was suddenly awakened with a deep core memory from my Jr. High years.  I remembered sitting in the Jr. High choir room while Mrs. Bjorkland went from student to student demanding that each one sing the opening chorus of “This Land is Your Land.”

Apparently, her purpose was to identify which students were sopranos, which ones were altos, which ones were tenors, which ones were basses and which ones had no business being involved in the middle school choir. 

Row by row she went.  She got closer and closer to me as each occupied seat near me was required to sing.  I sat waiting.  Just 5 people away…then 4…then 3.  I could feel the cold sweat running from the back of my neck, go down my spine and collect on the waistband of my BVD’s.    

When my turn arrived, I did the best that I could…which was not good.  In fact, I am fairly certain that when the Biology teacher Mr. Jeffers busted through the door, just as I was proclaiming, “the Redwood Forest,” he was looking for a live honking goose to dissect…or cook…or both.

When the painful experience was over, Mrs. Bjorkland separated the class into groups.  She put about half the girls in one corner and half the girls in another corner.  She then put about 75% of the boys with the second girl group and called them “Alto’s.”  She then sent about 10 boys to a third corner as Tenors and finally she placed one bearded 4 year middle school boy alone to the fourth corner.  He was the Bass.   

There were three of us left in the center of the room.  Mrs. Bjorkland looked at us quizzikly, muttering, “What to do with you three.”

“Are you sure you want to be in choir?”  She asked?

“We have to be!” we said in unison.

“Mr. Amundson said that we have to be in band or choir, because he wasn’t going to pay a teacher for just the three of us to be in “General Music.”  I added.

“Oh...” Mrs. Bjorkland voiced tersely.

Thus began my brief middle school choral career and for the next two years our class exasperated 4 different choir directors, each lasting approximately 4 months.

Everyone in that room knew that I had no business being in choir.  My forced “audition” revealed as much.  There have been other auditions and tryouts in my life from time to time.  I would “tryout” for a spot on the varsity wrestling team, I would audition for the fall play at my high school, I even auditioned for the all school talent show in 3rd grade.  Despite earning a spot on the wrestling team and even being casted as Little John in Wadena-Deer Creek’s version of Robin Hood, (No singing required), I was not placed on the docket for the talent show. 

Here is an incredible realization that struck me this week.  In spite of my lack to 3rd grade talent and inability to sing, and regardless of my wrestling and acting abilities, I am still wanted by God.

In fact, God does not even require an audition!  He loves you and invites you to be a part of His family.  He does not put conditions onto your acceptance.  It does not matter what I can or cannot do.  My “audition” not only has no effect on His love…it is fully unnecessary.

Here is a question that I asked myself this week.  “What is the greatest gift that God has ever given.” I believe that answer is love.  God’s greatest gift that he has given to mankind, (you and me) is His love.  It is out of His loves that he sent Jesus(Himself) for our salvation.  It is out of His love that He sent the Spirit to indwell those who have put their trust in him, and it is out of His love that he promises an eternity for those who will ACCEPT his unconditional invitation.

No auditions required…just one invitation.

When we accept the invitation we become members of the team…His family.  Then we learn to live as He would have us live empowered by His Spirit.

Saturday, November 11, 2023


I just spent the last week on vacation.  It seems that the Lord teaches me lessons during all of my vacations.  For example, several years ago while on a vacation, I learned that one should never use a child’s Superman fishing rod to cast a Johnson silver minnow.  It is quite likely that said silver minnow may find itself embedded into the head of the caster.

I have also learned that when your nine-year-old daughter says that she has a stomachache during vacation…it is quite possible that it is appendicitis. 

I have learned that if you jump into the lake from the dock, you may end up with water up your nose which can likely lead to a major sinus infection and nullify any further enjoyment of the vacation…especially when you add into the fact that you become feverish with the sinus infection and it happens to be in the midst of a global pandemic shutdown for Covid-19, which you now become convinced that you have.  Once you test negative for Covid, you may find it possible that a family member suggests that you have a brain eating amoeba and you only have hours to live.  (Considering that this took place over 3 years ago…I think I am in the clear.)

Over this past week, I again have learned a few things.  I have learned that despite the fact that I am 47 years old, I am still physically able to give my son with a broken foot a piggy back ride up a ladder to get him safely into a deer stand without putting any weight on the broken foot.  He was perfectly safe the entire time…but I would ask that you not bring this up to his mother.

I have also learned this year that just because there were more deer than you could count running around the woods in September and October…doesn’t mean that they haven’t become incredibly skilled at playing hide and seek in the same woods…or perhaps they went south for the winter.

Finally, I have learned something more about the Lord.  As I sit and look at the same trees all day long, and listen to the squirrels and the blue jays and the occasional ruffed grouse…but no deer…I find myself compelled toward the Lord.  I learned how the Lord and his goodness and grace draws me, (us) into deeper communion with him.

This astounds me.  I know my life…including my own thoughts and actions and the unrighteous life that I have lived and still wrestle with.  This week I found myself drawn…compelled to a closer relationship with the Lord, not because of guilt…but rather because of grace.  Certainly, guilt and shame can be great motivations for behavioral changes.  Yet, how much MORE am I compelled to obey the Lord of grace who has bestowed upon me, grace upon grace.

1 Corinthians 12, emphasizes the “gifts of grace.” May we find ourselves compelled by his grace…to offer grace…as he empowers us in grace.

May we come to be compelled by His grace.


Saturday, October 21, 2023

 The Body

My son loves hunting.  In fact, I have come to believe that he loves hunting more than I love hunting, and that is saying quite a great deal.  Even as a young boy, he would insist on wearing his camo pants and his camo shirt and even his snot covered camo fleece hood whenever at all possible.  He would prefer that such items would not get washed, so that they could always be ready for whenever the need arose to disappear into the wilderness. 

His young obsession with hunting would last deep into the late fall of every hunting season.  Even after the Christmas tree had been set up, and most of my hunting equipment had been put away for the season, you could still find the boy dressed in his camo, hiding within the pine boughs of the Christmas tree armed with his suction cup bow and arrow waiting for his little sister to come by.  When she did, he would launch his arrow at her and if he hit her, she would graciously play dead while he dragged her out of the living room by her arms.  His excessive imaginative play would abruptly end when he began to speak of field dressing and his younger sister would hop up and bark, “Oh no! You are not field dressing me!”

Inevitably challenges arrive that limit hunting opportunities, such as…school, work, girlfriend, chores, football and of course…broken bones.  In 2021, my hunting loving son broke his clavicle during a football game of his sophomore year.  It was the night before the bow hunting opener.  He resiliently endured the pain in his shoulder as I waited alongside him in the ER.  He seemed to be handling it well…until…the doctor said, “No hunting for you this year.”  Tears welled up in his eyes as his pain went from his shoulder to his heart. 

Sure enough, his bow hunting season was done.  Yet, he was determined to spend some time rifle hunting,and so spent time practicing shooting from the hip…shooting left handed…putting the butt of the rifle against his bicep instead of his shoulder.  As I was practically hauling him into a stand to hunt one evening he said, “Oh man! I wish I had broken my foot instead of my shoulder! Then I could still hunt.”

Well…in 2023 his wish came true and he has found that it is just as difficult to hunt with a broken foot as with a broken shoulder.  I have to practically carry him to his stand…and haul him up into that stand, and then do the same upon exit.  He said to me just yesterday, “You know…I thought the shoulder was bad…but I didn’t realize that how much of life is affected by a broken shoulder or a broken foot…everything is affected.”

He is right.  The principle in his observation also carries on in the spiritual realm.  Paul speaks of charismata, (Gifts of Grace), in 1 Corinthians 12.  Paul emphasizes how each part of the body, has received this gifts of grace and is to use these gifts of grace to build up the body.  In verse 26, Paul says this, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  My son has encountered this reality first hand.  My wife and I have felt the effects as well.  His football team will feel the effects during the rest of the season.  His sisters have felt the effects as they already have had to do more chores around the house than before. (On an interesting note…they usually complain that he doesn’t do anything around the house. Now??? Huh…interesting).

The bottom line I guess is this.  As the body of Christ, we are called to build up and support and encourage the body as a unified body.  When one suffers, all suffer…and when one rejoices, we ought all to rejoice.  We are a body with many parts and sometimes these parts can be broken and hurting.  This will affect the whole body.  Let us follow the leading of the Spirit, as we use our gifts of grace to build up this body for God’s glory!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

 “Ta Ta Ti Ti Ta”

Ms. Shoemate entered my 1st grade classroom wearing one blue shoe and one red shoe…the irony was lost on me at the time.  She wheeled a shelving cart stacked with bins containing a vast array of rudimentary musical instruments.  I could see blue sticks and green sticks, black wooden boxes, mallets with long skinny handles, a few different styles of drums, a variety of bells, and even a triangle. 

I instantly began salivating upon spying the triangle.  I had watched enough episodes of Gunsmoke to know that the triangle was primarily used to call for victuals.  Not only did my tummy rumble with hunger, but my gut longed for the opportunity to play such a splendid and unique instrument. 

Before we could get to the distribution of the instruments, Ms. Shoemate began working through the regular music instruction, cuing the class on proper rhythms and tempos. 

“All right class…listen carefully and repeat after me and follow my lead.”

Ms. Shoemate then clapped her hands together once and sharply inserted the word, “ta,” at the same time.

“Ta.” We clapped and repeated.

“Ta, Ta.” Ms. Shoemate called out…clapping her hands to the rhythm.”

The class copied her perfectly.

“Ta, Ta, Ti, Ti, Ta.”  The Ti, Ti’s were quicker, but we managed the challenge fluidly.

After spending an exorbitant amount of much time mimicking this musical binary code, the time came for the instruments to be distributed.  My hand instantly shot into the air and waved around as if trying to hail a cab in down town Chicago.

“Ooooh, uuuh, eeeeh,” I cried trying to get my hand to touch the louvered fluorescent lights secured to the white, concrete ceiling. 

“Yes, Ryan…do you have a question?”

“Yea, ummm, can I have a triangle?”

“You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit,” Ms. Shoemate curtly replied.

I slumped back into my seat and anxiously awaited my assigned instrument.  As if to add insult to injury, I watched Ms. Shoemate give the triangle to Julie…the obvious teacher’s pet…as the first instrument to be handed out.  As each student received their offering, I continued to hope beyond hope that I wouldn’t get the sticks.  Anything was better than the sticks. Though the triangle was gone, a drum would be nice…even the wood block or the bells…but not the sticks.  They are so boring.

As Ms. Shoemate approached my desk, I saw her pull out a pair of blue sticks and extend them to me.  Reluctantly, I received them.  Once all of the students had their instruments, the music teacher then orchestrated a first class rendition of “Ta Ta Ti Ti Ta” that is yet to be matched to this day. Each student played their given instrument as instructed, and as a whole, the production was a passable success.

I did not receive my instrument of choice, yet, I was just as much a part of the symphony as everyone else.  I can’t help but reflect on Paul’s teachings about the gifts of the Spirit as found in 1 Corinthians 12.  In this passage, Paul addresses one of the problems that the Corinthian church was facing.  It appears  that people were fighting over who had the better gifts.  It was as if the people in this church were all asking for the triangle and no one wants to play the sticks.  However, what Paul clearly lays out for them…and for us…is that EVERY person in the body of Christ matters and is given a gift to be used to encourage the church.

In the same way that I did not get to choose my instrument, I do not get to choose my spiritual gift.  That is the work of the Lord.  My responsibility is to use whichever gift is given to me, for His glory and purpose.    

May we come to, willingly, receive what God offers us and then use every gift faithfully…no matter how great or insignificant the gift may seem. 

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Gifts of Grace

There are certain days of the year that ring of the utmost importance.  Christmas and Easter ought certainly to top the list.  Thanksgiving would closely follow, just below the ultimate duo.  Then…we come to a series of holidays that we just don’t know what to do with…namely, Halloween, Presidents Day, St. Patrick’s day, Columbus Day…or should we say Indigenous People’s Day, and of course…Valentine’s Day.  Of these holiday’s, Valentine’s Day is NOT one of my favorites.  I struggle with having Hallmark tell me to spend my money to purchase flowers and candy for my wife on this specific day…or else.  What gives Hallmark this kind of power?  It can’t be their movie making skills…cuz seriously, if you have seen one Hallmark Christmas movie…then you have seen ONE too many Hallmark Christmas movies.  Yet, I know that if I don’t obey the Hallmark rules…then I may NEVER see another Hallmark Christmas movie…but, let’s be honest…is that really a bad thing?

In protest to Hallmark, I briefly created my own annual holiday. I called it June Day.  June Day would take place on the 1st of June every year, and it was celebrated by me…giving my wife a surprise gift of some form.  It began with flowers and maybe some chocolates.  Then as the years progressed the holiday developed into the giving of shoes and taking her out to eat and sometimes having to do different jobs around the house. 

June Day has now officially and permanently been cancelled due to a variety of reasons including, finances, busyness, forgetfulness, children and likely politics. 

As I look at my history as a husband, I must confess that I have often given gifts to my wife out of “obligation.” I have given the flowers, and candies, and jewelry etc…because I “had to.” I hate to admit it, but it is true.

There have been other times however, that have been different.  For example, after seeing my wife endure a particularly hard day of stressors including, children, work and the like, I surprised her by taking care of supper.  No…I didn’t cook…I ordered pizza, but to her, you would have thought that I had baked a beef wellington. 

There is something different about a gift that is given out of grace as opposed to a gift given out of obligation. 

The Apostle Paul speaks extensively about gifts in the New Testament.  Specifically, he speaks about “Charismata.” Charismata is literally translated to “gift of grace.”  Paul uses this phrase to speak about the gifts of the Spirit.  We find this phrase in many of Paul’s writings including 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.  I believe that if we look closely to Paul’s writings we will see how he draws our focus to what is behind the gift rather than just the gift itself.  For example, Paul reveals the need for love to be behind our every action (1 Cor. 13).  The heart behind the gifts…is grace!    

Believers are given these gifts of grace, so that we may use them…as gift of grace to others, that they too may experience God’s grace.     

May the gifts of grace that have been bestowed upon us, be expressed in grace to those around us, not out of obligation, but rather for what it literally is…a gift of grace.

Saturday, September 30, 2023


Over the past five weeks I have placed my backside on the cold hard bleachers of local high school stadiums every Friday night to watch football.  I have a vested interest.  My son is in the midst of his senior season and I don’t want to miss a game.  Additionally, I feel that it is my fatherly duty to keep a close eye on my two younger daughters who also attend these games.  Unbeknownst to them evil boys are on the prowl and I must ensure that these boys DO NOT make any “non-football” moves. 

Over these past five games I have enjoyed both wins and losses along with the varsity squad.  I have jumped to my feet in response to incredible big plays and I am sure that I have incidentally kicked the lady sitting in front of me as I have contorted my body in agony as the opposing teams scored yet another touchdown.  Sorry about that Cindy.

Although every game is different, they share common threads.  Every game includes amazing catches, wonderful runs, powerful tackles and touchdowns.  Additionally, every game includes missed tackles, dropped balls and incomplete passes.  Each game consists of its own combination of victories and mistakes.  It seems impossible to not allow my emotions to build.  Mistakes are made and emotions build. 

I took special care during the game last Friday to pay special attention to the larger picture.   

One of the interesting things that I noticed was that there appeared to be mistakes made on every play.  As I reflected back on past games, I concluded that there must be mistakes on every play of EVERY game.  Not only is no one perfect, but no team is perfect and no game is perfect and no play is perfectly executed.    

For just a few minutes on Friday I watched the game looking for both mistakes and adjustments.  Here is what I observed.  I watched teammates in a constant flow of encouraging one another during their victories as well as their struggles.  I watched young men miss tackles, only to have other teammates step up and finish the tackles.  I watched these boys encouraging one another after a bad pass, a dropped ball or a missed block.  I watched coaches pulling athletes aside to correct their mistakes and teach them a better way to play.  It was at this moment that I had an epiphany…“What would it be like if none of those things took place.”

I imagined that the opposing team would run for a score after each missed tackle.  I envisioned players criticizing each other after every mistake.  I concluded that players would continue to make the same mistakes over and over again because no coach would step in to advise them to make adjustments.

I watched a team in unity.  The team lost on Friday, but they lost together.  The root of unity…is unit.  The football team is a unit…and so is the church.  In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-18, Paul teaches on the value of “good” confrontation.  Let’s be honest, no one likes to be confronted.  Yet it is vital to the health of the individual and the unit. 

The ONLY good way to approach confrontation is out of love for the individual and the love of the unit.  Good confrontation brings about peace and grace.

May we come to love Christ, the church and our brothers and sisters in Christ.