Saturday, August 6, 2022

 The Little Bother


“Oh! NOT FAIR! Why does he get to stay up past 10:00? We never got to do that when we were his age!” I cried to my father.

To which he flatly replied, “Well, that’s because we love him more.”

My mouth dropped open in astonishment and readied myself to speak…but nothing came out.  Certainly, I had wondered if my parents loved my siblings more than me, as it was obvious that I was the victim of unfair treatment for years.  Yet, I couldn’t figure out as to why that could be the case.  My little “bother” was nothing but a nose-twitching pain in the neck.  Every time I looked at him I wanted to punch him in the face.  I couldn’t understand why my parents wouldn’t naturally feel the same way.  It seemed obvious to me and I was convinced that everyone must secretly feel that way. 

I remember when he was 5 years old.  My parents chose not to start him in kindergarten and keep him home from school for one more year.  I took this as more evidence that he was too dumb for school.  I have always thought of myself as being more intelligent that my little “bother”.  It didn’t matter that he received nearly straight A’s all through school.  I was still smarter.  It didn’t matter that the teachers all thought that he was a perfect little angel.  I knew better…he was the little bother. 

Even today, I am smarter.  Sure he has a PhD and wears a white coat to work.  Yes…he can understand the complexities of the human genome.  Yet, it is I who knows where his GI Joe action figure was hidden…and still lies…snuggly in the basement wall secretly behind the drywall.    

Considering all of my own personal feelings of superiority, it is no wonder that my dad’s words took me by surprise. Yet…the words HAD BEEN spoken. 

“Well, it’s still not fair!” I finally retorted.

I know that I am not alone in these feelings.  I hear some of the same phrases coming from my own children like a constant drip from a leaky faucet. 

“Not fair! Why do I ALWAYS have to be the one to walk the dog?”

“You don’t…now go walk the dog.”

“Not fair! Why am I ALWAYS the one who gets into trouble?”

“Because you are ALWAYS the one who is doing something wrong.”

“Not fair! Why don’t I get any ice cream?”

“Because I paid for it…and I ate it all.”

“Not fair! Why doesn’t Erica ever get into trouble?”

“Because, we love her more.”

Even my wife, Sarah, has experienced the “not fairs.”  Recently she was sorting through a box of papers that her mother had kept from her childhood.  As she was reading through some of the old articles and notes, she came across a brief message that had been written to her parents.  “Nobody loves me…TRUE!”

As much as it likely pains my little “bother,” my parents did love me.  In fact, it is quite possible that they even loved ME more.  I love my children more than anything.  Sarah’s parents loved her…even in the midst of the note.  Yet, we often fall into our own self absorption and cannot see the truth that exists right in front of us.  I find it ironic…that in an act of cherished “love,” Sarah’s parents kept that little note of sorrow. 

The book of Malachi reveals the truth of the unconditional love of God.  In this incredible book we will see the patient and unending love that God has for us…even when we don’t see it.  Like the keeping of the note in a box, Malachi 1:1-5 reveals the evidence of the love of God. 

May you be assured that God loves you…and God love me! 

What do you think of that Little Bother?

Saturday, July 23, 2022

 True or False


I remember sitting in my Principles of Biblical Interpretations class in college.  Dr. Lanpher, being true to form, began his Monday morning class as he did all of his Monday morning classes…with a single question pop quiz.  Each quiz was based off of the assigned reading from the previous class.  In this case the one question pop quiz consisted of…“True of False…The Bible contains the actual words of Jesus.”

Score! This was a no brainer! The answer was so simple…of course it was true…it had to be true.  Just then, it occurred to me…it seemed too simple.  The question lingered with the rotten odor of the answer seems to obvious smell. The confidence I held just a moment ago began to ebb away as I began to ponder the possibility…could it be false?  “It must be false!,” I concluded, “Why else would he as the question THAT way?”

Yet, It had to be true.  The Bible is the Word of God…and the words of Jesus are in the Bible…“It must be true,” I countered to myself. 

“Put your one word answer on your paper…PLEASE ensure that your name is clearly printed on your paper and turn it in.”

“Wait!” Several students exclaimed from around the room, “I’m not finished!”

“What is so difficult?” Dr. Lanpher asked. “It is either True or it is False…write one word on your paper and turn it in.”

Oh! How I wished that I had read the chapter! My pen shook as I sat there…believing that he wanted each student to write “false” on their paper and turn it in.  But I couldn’t do it!! It went against everything I have believed and held onto when it came to the inherency of scripture.  I…I…I wrote TRUE on my paper and turned it in.”

After the quiz papers had been collected, Dr. Lanpher asked, “All right students…what is the answer.”

Nearly the entire class echoed together with a resounding, “True!”

“False,” He said.

“What! How can that be?,” several students rebutted.

Dr. Lanpher replied, “The New Testament was written in Greek…and Jesus spoke Aramaic…it is impossible for the Bible to contain the exact words of Jesus.”

“THAT IS A TRICK QUESTION!” Shouted my Hmong friend Vu Yang.

“This is college Vu.” was Dr. Lanpher’s curt response. 

It strikes me as interesting, as to how I was holding to a belief that was not as substantiated as I had previously thought.  Did the Gospel message change? NO! Did the inherency of scripture change? Absolutely NOT! It was I who was deceived…by…myself.  The message of Christ hadn’t changed…just what I “thought” that I knew about it.  What I believe is not what truly matters. What is TRUE is what really matters.  Yet, we often believe things that are not true.

It is so easy for humans to be deceived and to deceive ourselves.    

Paul challenges us to be careful of this very thing…self deception.  As we have read the book of Galatians we have found that Jews had been deceived.  False teachers had been deceived…and were deceiving others.  Gentile believers had been deceived. Paul challenges every believer to NOT be deceived.

If humans are so easily deceived…how can we avoid it?  I think that we can find the answer in Galatians 6:14, where Paul says, “May I never boast in anything…but in the Cross of Christ.”  I think that is it. We can easily be deceived into believing in and boasting about every kind of crazy thing in life.  But, if we can keep the Cross of Christ before us…and boast in that, then I think we can learn to trust the Spirit to guide us into all truth.  Let us therefore keep our eyes on Christ and the Cross, so as to not be deceived.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

 Community


My first real experience with community was in middle school when our church youth group went swimming at the nearest “community” center.  In this case, the nearest community center was 18 miles away in the neighboring town of Staples, MN.  I had certainly been exposed to community prior to this event, but in my self-absorbed, egocentric, middle school mind, all other community aspects in my life, like family, church, school, etc…would have been lost to the fact that life was all about me and not to the communities in which I dwelt. 

The Staples Community Center, was the ONLY community center within a 50 mile radius or more from my home town of Wadena.  In fact, it held the ONLY indoor pool…with a diving board…that I knew of.  It is a widely held belief that a community center is called a community center, because it offers all kinds of wonderful opportunities for everyone in the “community.”  However, as I look back on those care free days of community center living, I can easily spot the real reason for the less than flashy title.  I am convinced that the title is derived from the fact that at places like these…everything is “shared” with the “community.”  Here we find that the showers, lockers, benches, the diving board, experiences and influenza are all shared.  I remember watching one particular 6 year old boy share a head full of snot with everyone in the water, when his sneeze sent floating currents of mucus across the pool’s surface.  Next to him, my friend Matt obliviously sucked up water in his mouth and shared it with others as he shot it at the cute girls in a pre-pubescent effort at flirting. I won’t even mention the small children wearing…or not wearing…swim diapers.

When our youth group finished up with all of our “sharing” within the “community” center, we all shared a ride home, and we shared stories of our chicken fight victories.  The next day we would all show up to church with red blood-shot eyes and itchy skin as a sign of the solidarity of our community.

Since I have grown older, I have learned two things about community. Number 1: Community pools are gross. Number 2: Community is much deeper, more powerful and vital, than I had ever realized before.

Living in community is difficult, but it is worth it.  Interestingly, one of the greatest challenges to community is conflict, while one of the greatest builders of community is…also conflict.  Living in community is exhausting. It is inevitable that conflicts will arise and we will become tired of investing so much time and energy into many of our relationships.

Likewise, Paul recognized this in the Galatian churches as well, so he encouraged them to persevere.  Paul encouraged believers to carry each other’s burdens, to not bite or devour each other, and to not grow weary from doing good.  To Paul, the Gospel in community was so important that he called the believers to endure.  He also spurred us on to “not grow weary.” The he exhorted that if we will hang in there, that a harvest will be reaped if we do not give up.  As I look at this passage, I believe that Paul was speaking these words to and in the context for community and the relationships within the community.

May we not give up on relationships.  May we not grow weary for doing good, and may the Lord bring the harvest of restored relationships within the community.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

 Hand


A few years ago, as I was single parenting the children for a weekend, the inevitable happened.  It never seems to fail, that some unexpected, perhaps even catastrophic, event will always occur during these, “Mommy is gone, Daddy is in charge weekends.” It could be a vomiting 5 year old or a concussed toddler.  It could be a broken, glass mixing bowl or a small fire in the oven.  Nothing is really off limits.

On this particular Saturday afternoon, I sent my son Isaac out to the minivan, which was parked in the garage, to clean it.  I commissioned him to throw away all of the trash, which there was A LOT of trash. He was to remove the items that didn’t belong in the van, (i.e. bowls, spoons, notebooks, pens, toys, etc…) and vacuum out all of the dirt.  While he was diligently working in the van, I was still in the house working on cleaning up other areas of the home.  I empowered the 3 girls to help me.  I encouraged them with exasperated exclamations, beckoning them to clean up their messes…and stop making more messes. 

Isaac had been at his work for about 20 minutes when, between my barks at the girls I would hear a periodic… squeak…from somewhere that I could not place.

“Girls! You need to take care of your Lego Friends and your dolls!”…squeak…

“Ok, Daddy!” they replied…but continued to do nothing. …squeak…

“Girls! Why is there milk spilled all over the kitchen floor? I just cleaned it!” …squeak…

“We don’t know Daddy!” they squawked back cheerily.  …squeak…

As this squeak continued…it seemed that the noise began to take on a literary form.

“Girls! Why are your clothes on the kitchen floor!”  …Dweack

“We used them to clean up the milk Daddy!”  …Dwaaadck

“Girls! Do you hear something?” Dwaaaaad!

“Like what Daddy?”

“Quiet girls!...Listen…” … … …Dwaaaaad!...

“There…did you hear that?”

Dwaaaaad!   The sound squeaked again.  It sounded as if it were coming from the garage.  I went out to check on Isaac, and as I stepped into the garage, I heard the squeaking sound much clearer.  My son’s small but muffled voiced echoed from inside the van.

“Daaaaaad”

I looked and saw his screaming face through the window of the sliding side door of the van.

 “Daaaad! Heeeaaallllppp!”

I reach to open the door. It wouldn’t move. My son continued to scream.

“Daaaad! Heeealp! Ouououch!”

I scurried to the other side of the van and opened the opposite door and crawled inside next to him. 

“What’s going on?”

“Myyyy haaand! Ahhh!” he squelched as tears flowed from his eyes.

I now saw that his hand had been slammed in and was stuck in the closed door.  I reached across and attempted to open the door.  It still would not open.  I checked the lock.  It was unlocked, but completely stuck with his hand caught tightly inside.  He couldn’t pull it out and I couldn’t open the door.  He continued to wail as I hopelessly worked to open the non-functioning door. 

Finally, all I could do was brace my feet on the opposite side of the car while pressing outward on the jammed door, and performed my best horizontal squat.  I gritted my teeth and growled in effort, pushing as hard as I could against the door, not knowing what I could actually accomplish.  To my relief, I was able to create just enough clearance for his hand to slip out of the lodged van door.

I think that this is the picture that Paul is referring to when we read Galatians 6:1-5.  Paul describes a person who is “caught in sin.” In Paul’s context, to be “caught” is to be “trapped.”  Paul then calls for those who are “walking in step with the Spirit,” to help restore them.

Consider how absurd it would have been for me to walk away from my son who was trapped with his hand stuck in the door.  Consider how absurd it would be for me to sit down next to my screaming son and tell him how foolish he was to close the door on his hand and tell him how messed up he really is.  It wouldn’t make sense.  Likewise, when we are following the Spirit…we are led to help one another…we are led to “carry one another’s burdens.”  Paul is calling people to help one another out of the trap of sin.  Paul is not calling us to point out everything that a person is doing wrong.  There is a huge difference.  Yet…we are responsible to HELP restore!

May we come to see the Spirit’s work in our lives and help to carry one another’s burdens.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

 The Race


“Hey Dad, do you wanna race?” asked my 8th grade son.  It was the spring of 2020 and the entire country was shut down due to the COVID 19 pandemic…including the schools.  The snow had recently melted and the ground was still soft and soggy as the frost worked to break free from the grip of winter. 

“No, I do not want to race,” I replied.

“Why not? Are you afraid that I will beat you?”

“No…I am not afraid that you will beat me…I am afraid of getting injured.”

“Oh, come on! We can race just one lap around the house.”

“One lap is plenty of distance for someone to get injured…namely me.”

“Oh, come on Ryan! Race the boy!” interjected the wife of my youth.

 “I will probably get sore muscles in my legs!”

“Oh Please! With all the biking that you do, I don’t think that is going to be your biggest pain.  Your biggest pain will be the blow to your ego when you realize that your 8th grade son is faster than you.”

“That’s it! Fine…I will race!...Let’s go!” I barked, and then I took off without warning. 

I realize that some may call this cheating. I would have to argue.  Though technically I did leave before anyone “else” said go…someone in fact DID say “go.”  It was me…and thus…I went.  My head start garnered me at least a 10m lead before my son took up the challenge and sprinted behind me.  I held the lead around the first two corners and as I came up on the North side of the home I could foresee a dilemma spread before me.  The North side of our home was a muddy swamp, residual from the still melting frozen winter ground.  The North side wall had been shielding the ground all spring from the penetrating and drying effects of the sun. 

I made the decision to run right through the swamp, as straight as I could.  My path veered wide, allowing a wide gap to my left…the “inside” of the path, that could potentially allow a would be runner…a younger runner…an 8th grade runner…a faster runner, to get past me.  But, I knew better than to try and get traction and “turn” while immersed in the wet ground.  The 8th grader behind me…did not.

As Isaac tried to cut in and pass me on the inside, he lost traction.  His feet went out from beneath him and he landed hard onto…no…into the wet, swampy, muddy ground.  I finished my race by trotting the rest of the way around the house.  I was both dry and injury free,  My son however, was not.

I am convinced that if Isaac had continued to follow my path.  If he had gone in the exact same spot and the exact same way as I did, he would have beat me around the house.  He was faster, but, I knew the way.  I find a picture of what Paul is talking about in Galatians 5:13-25 here.  In vs. 16 and 25, Paul says that we are to be led by the Spirit.  When we try and take our own path rather than the path of the Spirit it leads to the perpetual slip in the swamp of life.  So often in my life I think that I can be better if I just try harder.  It is in times like this…when I lose sight of the Spirit and rely on my own strength or confidence that I find myself, “down on my backside”…in the swamp.  Oh may we come to keep in step with the Spirit.  May we trust in the way that He is leading.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

 Keep Up!

Recently, I was visiting with some friends.  We were reminiscing about the state of the world before cell phones.  I know that this is hard for people, namely my children, to comprehend, but there once was an entire world that existed and functioned before the invention of the cell phone.  One notable difference between the prehistoric world of non-cellular technology and today is the regular implementation of…a map. 

When Sarah and I were in our early dating years, I began making trips across the Midwest from central Minnesota to the Detroit Michigan area (her home town).  This trip wouldn’t be so bad if it were not for the incredibly large lake that lies between these two lands…namely, Lake Michigan.  The fact that this lake is there forces would be travelers to navigate through the pernicious city of Chicago, (or the Upper Peninsula, but that is even farther).

The first time I drove the perilous paths of the city of Chicago, I tuned into local traffic reports, while trying to read any one of the half dozen maps scattered across my lap and the front seat.  It is incredibly challenging to read a map, eat a Big Mac, avoid collisions on all four sides…AND count out .40 cents for what felt like unending toll booths along the way.

The city of Chicago uses names rather than numbers for their highways system, which made the local traffic reports confusing and of absolutely NO value. “The Dan Ryan is at a total stand still, while the Kennedy is struggling to clear a 12 car pileup.  The Eisenhower is under construction, so the Jane Adams is about your only way out of the city…but I wouldn’t get your hopes up about leaving the city any time soon.  Whatever you do stay off of the Tri-State!”

I didn’t know where any of those roads were or where they were going…but considering that I was at a complete standstill on I294…I assumed that I was on one of them.

One time, before the inundation of the cell phone and its GPS capabilities, I found myself without a map and needing to head into downtown Minneapolis. The good news however, was that I had a friend who was also heading into the city and he said that we, (my wife and I), could “follow” him.  What he did not say however, was that in this process of “following” he was going to do all that he could do to “lose” me. 

Just as he pulled his Ford Taurus away from the curb and I my Chevy Lumina, he gunned the throttle and took off screaming down the country back road like Ricky Rudd.  I did my best to keep up with him, but being a compulsively cheep person, I struggled to push forcefully enough on the accelerator for fear of consuming too much fuel.

At each stop, acceleration and turn, he continued to put distance between our two cars.  When we hit the interstate he was weaving in and out of traffic and I was white knuckling the steering wheel, with beads of sweat running into my eyes.  The stresses of the driving and the wasting of fuel were getting to me. 

I barely caught sight of him as he took the downtown Minneapolis exit.  By this time, it was getting dark so I kept my eyes glued to his red taillights.  I knew that if I lost him now, I was hopeless.  I didn’t know the Twin Cities at all and if I got lost, I would be lost indeed.  I did not know the way.  I NEEDED to keep up with him! I gunned the accelerator, did some weaving of my own, even going so far as to cut off some other “city” drivers.  They seem to have experienced this before, as they all seem to share the same knowledge of hand gestures that were mutually shared with me.  I HAD to keep up! I needed to keep in step!  I watched him enter the parking ramp…on two wheels. I followed suit…barely avoiding a collision with a yellow concrete post.  I had done it…I made it into the city…I made it into the parking garage.  I parked the car and asked Sarah pry my hands off the steering wheel and massage my forearms just so I could open my car door. 

“Were you trying to lose me?” I asked my friend.

“Huh?” He replied.  “What do you mean?”

“Never mind” I said.

I have since learned to traverse many areas of the country, including Chicago and the Twin Cities…but I still don’t like them.  Yet, in that one night, I am reminded of my desperate need of direction.  In our days of cell phones, GPS and even maps…we rarely have a need to “follow” any longer.  In fact, as people we have become incredibly independent.  We don’t need anyone or anything…except maybe our cell phones.   

Paul reveals a different picture in Galatians 5:13-26.  Here, we find a battle that rages on within every believer in Jesus.  That battle is between the Spirit and the Flesh.  The Flesh wants to produce fleshly fruit and the Spirit wants to produce Spirit fruit.  Our job…is found in vs. 16…to “walk in step with the Spirit.”

May you grow in your walk with the Spirit…that He may produce in you ALL of the good fruit of the Spirit.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

 Expert


According to some sources it takes 10 years to become an expert at anything. I have been a parent for over 18 years now…that must make me an expert…nearly two times over in fact.  Other sources say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert…well, if that were the case, I had that covered in less than 14 months…although I must admit I slept through a good portion of that.

I would like to take a moment and encourage every parent out there.  Even though I may be an expert…you are likely still a better parent than at least one person…me.  I have made more mistakes as a parent than I would care to admit or am even aware of.  On one occasion I accused my third born child of “faking an illness,” because she didn’t want to go to school.  By lunchtime that day I sat down to eat my slice of humble pie as my daughter spewed hers.  Upon the completion of my slice of pie and her “vomitous” (made up word), episode, she spitefully proclaimed to her mother, “Dad said I was faking.”

On another occasion, as I was wrestling with my son, I dislocated his jaw.  It wasn’t a huge deal really...a quick jerk to the mandible set it right back in place.  I had no problems with my own jaw however, as I ate yet another slice of pie.

Despite all of my parenting mishaps, I am astounded as to how well my children have turned out…it must be their mother.  Throughout the formidable years of teaching and disciplining, my children have vacillated between choices of obedience and disobedience, (as I am sure all children do). It often leaves me in awe as to how quickly these moments can piggyback each other.  One moment children do exactly what you ask, the next moment they have done the exact opposite.  These moments leave me pondering, “What draws my children to obey or disobey.” I am sure that there are many physiological factors…but I am not an expert in that…just parenting.

Just a few days ago my son did something that truly left me astounded me.  Sarah and I had endured another day of exhausting parenting, yes, even experts get exhausted.  As supper was being finished, we were pressing hard to get the children to engage in the clean up.  This act alone brings a plethora of obedience and disobedience opportunities.  In the midst of these efforts, we asked our son to take the dog out to do his doggy duty.  The request was followed by the usual arguments and resistance that a non-expert parent may have conceded to…but I, being an expert parent, pretended to care about his concerns…and then made him take the dog out.  As I watched Isaac approach the back door upon finishing the duty, he stopped and opened the lid of the grill and brushed the surface, preparing it for next cookout…WITHOUT BEING ASKED!

WOW! I was dumbfounded!…blessed!…honored!...yes I…even as an expert parent, couldn’t believe what I had just seen.

I pondered this…“Why do you suppose he did that?” I wondered.  I am convinced that as he walked by the grill, that something in him knew that cleaning the grill was the right thing to do.  I think he actually “wanted” to clean the grill! Why???  There are times when this kid doesn’t seem to “want” to do anything.   But I think he really wanted to do this…at least at this time.

Here is my conclusion.  I think he wanted to do it…because he knew that I would appreciate it.  This is an illustration of sorts of what Paul is showing us in Galatians 5:1-15.  Isaac did not need to clean the grill…or even walk the dog to “gain my acceptance.”  He is accepted no matter what.  Even if he never walks the dog again…he will be my son, (though he may receive some consequence if he does not). Yet, he did something that will please me even though he was not obligated to do so.  He was not obligated, but he was motivated.  I believe that he was motivated out of love.    

Paul is telling us that we are free…we are accepted by our faith in the grace of God.  We do not have to do anything to earn that acceptance.  Yet, Paul is saying…“obey the law…keep the law.” Obeying the law does not “appease God,” but it does “please God.” I want to please God…because I love him…and he loves me.

May we come to obey Him as His Spirit leads us.  May we be motivated by His love for us…and our love for Him.