Saturday, July 18, 2020


Water-Skiing



Reflecting back on the recent July 4th weekend I have come to realize that there are many dangers that can arise during these holiday weekends.

·        Explosive fireworks
·        Explosive family interactions
·        Congested highways
·        Congested waterways
·        Potato Salad left too long in the sun
·        Unattended campfires
·        Waterskiing

Just to name a few.

Back in high school and college, my brothers and I used to do a fair bit of waterskiing.  Incidentally…it is a lot easier to stay above water on Minnesota lakes…in the winter…though the boat goes much slower. We were not great water-skiers…but we weren’t bad.

Thus, every year, if I can, I like to try and go once a summer. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity for the past two summers, but during this recent holiday weekend my opportunity arose when my brother brought his boat up to my parents’ lake cabin for the weekend. I have come to learn that I pretty much have ONE chance to get out of the water.  If I fail…you can just about stick a fork in me because I am DONE! I intentionally waited until evening when the water was calm and there was less activity on the water…then I went out.  I put the ski on my left foot as I have always done and dropped into the water.  I took hold of the rope in my hands with my usual cross grip and gave my brother the green light to hit the throttle.  Piece of cake…I drug a short distance and was just pulling out of the water when the tow-rope handle snapped in two.  I would like to think that the handle must have been in a weakened state…as opposed to any increase in size since my last skiing endeavor…but only God really knows that. 

As I sank back into the water…I pretty much knew it was over as I felt my left hamstring lock up and say things to me like…”I hate you! I hate you! Why are you doing this to me?”

“Quiet!” I said back…“This isn’t over!”

As my brother circled around with the broken rope, I took the two broken handles…one in each hand and said, “Let’s try this again.”

“Really?” he said.

“Yes!” I said.

“No.” My hamstring said.

Attempt number two brought in the same result, the handle broke again, only this time a part of which remained in my hand. Failed.

I should have stopped there.  But I didn’t.  My pride would not let me. We went and borrowed a neighbor’s tow rope and went back out. If my hamstring would have had arms…I am quite certain that it would have been punching me in the face saying, “Stop! Stop! Listen to me! You are going to regret this!”

“Quiet you!...What do you know? You are just a hamstring!”

I managed to get out of the water 3 different times…but because of the incredible weakened state of my left hamstring…all I could do was skim across the water on my one ski and backside, screaming, “Stand up! Stand up! You wimpy foolish hamstring!”

“No way! I am not going to do it.” The selfish muscle replied.

No matter what I tried…I had no strength left in the left leg…to simply stand up on the ski. Finally…with my pride crushed and my tail between my legs…I quit.

“I told you so.” said my hamstring.

I came to realize…that in some ways…my time has passed. However, an interesting contrast to the weekend, I that I was able to help my son learn to water-ski for the first time.

I am reminded of how the old passes on to the new.  The old does not become invalid or worthless…but rather has its purpose fulfilled in the new.  Much like how God’s Old Covenant with Moses…pointed to…the New Covenant of Christ.  The Old Covenant…did not become invalid…or no longer valuable…on the contrary…it was fulfilled with the coming of the New Covenant.  Certainly, we are no longer “ruled” by the Old Covenant…now we are driven by the New Covenant…a covenant of grace! In Acts 15, we find this very topic coming to the forefront of the New Testament Church…and the Jewish Council.  They must find the truth for themselves…did Jesus come to abolish the Law…or to fulfill it? What does fulfilling the Law even mean?

How does the Old point to the New…and how does the New gain strength from the Old? Great questions to wrestle with.

Now…if my old hamstring will ever forgive me and help me to learn to walk new again…

Saturday, July 11, 2020


I Don't Know



On a recent hot day our family sat on our deck enjoying our ice cream sandwiches.  The beauty of ice cream sandwiches as opposed to ice cream cones…is that ice cream sandwiches contain added emulsifiers to keep the ice cream and chocolate from melting and making a huge mess!  I have become convinced that the more preservatives I eat the more money I will save my family in funeral costs. “Wow he looks great!” “Yeah, the funeral home hardly had to do anything…they think that he ate enough ice cream sandwiches and Twinkies to keep him looking this good for the next 20 years.

I am left to personally conclude that if Kenny Rogers had eaten more ice cream sandwiches he may not have needed so much cosmetic surgery.

I watched my children as they finished their cold treats, and then witnessed half of them take the wrappers from their hands and just drop them onto the surface of the deck.

“Hey what’s the deal with that?”

“I was going to take care of it when I went inside.” said one.

“What did I do wrong?” said the other.

“Seriously?” I questioned. “You just dropped your wrapper on the deck.”

“Yeah…so?”

“Why would you do that?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?...What do you know?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you care that you just threw the garbage on the floor?”

“It’s not the floor…it’s the deck”

“You know what I mean!”

“I don’t know.”

“Is that where it belongs?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let me help you…it doesn’t belong on the deck…it belongs in the garbage…why would you just drop it there.”

“I don’t know…that’s what I do in my bedroom.”

“What!? Why would you do that??...no wait…don’t tell me…let me guess…You don’t know.”

“I guess.”

Here’s the thing. We all have areas in our lives that we care about. Likewise, we also all have areas in our lives where we just don’t care. I don’t like littering.  It bothers me.  Yet, if you looked at the floor in my garage, you would think that I had an odd affinity for garbage laying around the floor.  I am a bit of a paradox at times.  But then again…aren’t we all?

I was riding my bike along a country road a number of months ago and I saw that someone had thrown an old TV and a dresser into the ditch.  That really bothered me. I felt frustrated that whoever dumped their trash in the ditch didn’t care enough to treat the land differently.

I find that many of the arguments that I have with my children at home have to do with my efforts to make them care about certain things that they do not seem to care about…like littering on the deck, or respecting other peoples’ things, or listening to their mother…or listening to me.

These are things that I think that they “should” care about. Yet, I cannot make them care. To care can only come from one place…our hearts.  I cannot change the heart of my children.  I want to…but I cannot. They surprise at time when seemingly out of nowhere they do something incredibly thoughtful for someone else. It gives me hope that their hearts are changing. There is only one way that anyone’s  heart can be changed.  They must ask God to do that work within them.

That is true for my children…for me…and for every one of us.

Do we care?

Do we want to care?

In Acts 14:19-28, we find Paul and Barnabas do an amazing thing in my eyes.  They go back to the newly planted churches that they have just help get started.  Their commissioning work is done…they have been a witness…they have shared the Gospel…they have planted a number of churches on their way. I can’t help but question…why do they go back?  The simple answer I see here is…because they care.  They care for the people in those communities and in those churches. It is not just a job to them…it is not just about numbers…it is about people…and caring for those people.

Holy Spirit…help me to care…like Paul and Barnabas…help each of us to care, like these men.

Saturday, July 4, 2020


Independence


In 1992 I got my first “real” job.  Certainly, I had found employment before this time, but all of my previous opportunities were odd and end jobs like mowing a lawn for a local Veterinarian, who paid me with buckets of “fertilizer”… “Hey…that there bucket comes from a sheep…that is worth a pretty penny…don’t go ‘wasting’ it all in one place.” Additionally, my brother and I worked for a number of area farmers, usually “throwing bales” of hay…seemingly, on the hottest day of the summer. 
Despite literally running from bale to bale and working as fast as possible…each farmer would encourage us with the same lecture at lunch time.  “Well…that wasn’t too bad…but after you finish your dry bologna sandwich, we can go out in the really hot weather and hit the other field…you should know what you are doing now…so we can really work fast!” 
“Boy thanks Mr. Farmer for the bologna sandwich and the pickled pig’s feet…by the end of summer, this .50 cents per hour will allow me to put new tires on my bicycle that I rode to your farm…and now get to ride home…in the sweltering heat…with my brother riding behind me on the banana seat!
This new job…was a real job! I was hired as Gas Jockey at a full service fueling station!  Now I was paid minimum wage to run out to the gas pumps in 90 plus degree heat…and or…-30 degrees below zero to fill people's cars up with gas…check their oil and air filters and wash their windshields.  The customers didn’t always appreciate their windshields being washed with a block of blue ice frozen to the end of the washing wand.  My bigger concern was inadvertently leaving my frozen fingers stuck beneath a wiper.
As I filled out the paper work (W-4 form), on that first day I called my dad to help me understand the language of the tax code.  He is an expert at translation…likely due to his expansive experiences while growing up in the 60’s.  He knows and understands the meaning of some pretty keen phrases like, “far out” and “it’s a gas.”
“Hey Dad…it’s your favorite son!”
“Oh…Hi Rory…how are you doing?”
“Uh…No Dad…it’s Ryan…”
“Oh…I thought you said you were…”
“Never mind that…I have a question for you…about filling out my tax forms on my new job!”
“Oh, that’s a drag,” He said, “Uncle Sam is going to Bogart all of your lettuce.”
“What?”
“Keep a cool head…when you hit retirement it will all be Marvy.”
“What?”
“You really don’t have much choice…you gotta let them have their bread or the Fuzz will be knocking down your door.”
“Huh?”…”Dad…I just need to know how many ‘dependents’ to claim on my W-4.
“Oh…well that is easy…you claim zero…I already have you claimed as a dependent…so you can’t…”
“What?? This doesn’t seem fair…I have a new job now…I am independent!”
“Really? Are you planning on buying your own food, cooking your own meals,  and getting your own apartment?”
“No…I am only 16.  I want to be "16 year old independent"…you know where I get to do what I want…when I want…and you can’t tell me what to do…but, when I need something like gas in my vehicle, I want to depend on you!”
“Put in zero…or you will find your independent mattress in the front yard.”
I claimed zero.
Today is Independence Day…and I cannot help but find the irony in that as we celebrate our independence…we are still so dependent. 
Let’s be honest…we (as a nation) are dependent upon things like foreign oil…free trade…and military security.  These are not necessarily bad things to be dependent on. Additionally, we are in many ways dependent upon our government…local, state and federal.  We are dependent on our cell phones and our internet and the power grid.  Again, none of these are necessarily evil things.
However, I would challenge us to consider…that perhaps we should place ourselves in the dependence of an even greater authority.  I believe that God actually desires for us to be dependent upon him…not as some craze ego trip…but because of the intimate relationship that dependence creates.  When we are truly dependent upon someone…intimacy is created.
In Acts 13:44-14:18, we find that Paul and Barnabas continue on with their first missionary journey.  Along their way they encounter great revival, strong persecution, acceptance, rejection…but most of all an incredible and healthy dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, June 27, 2020


20 Years


My wife and I celebrated our 20th Wedding Anniversary this past Wednesday. There are a vast number of great ideas on the internet as to how a couple could spend such a monumental event.  I considered several. One popular option is to go on a second honey moon…you know…back to those first days of the first year…for us that would have meant a trip to New Hampshire…on Lake Winnipesauke…looking for Dr. Leo Marvin.  But…Covid ended that.

I considered taking her on a cruise, after all, that is really what she wanted to do for our honey moon, but I was too cheap to take her.  But…Covid again put a stop to that.

Perhaps, a nice bed and breakfast up the coast of the North Shore of Lake Superior might be nice? Nope…Covid.

I even debated for a while about heading up to Lutsen, Minnesota to enjoy the many lodging amenities while I entered the Lutsen 99er bike race…yep…you guessed it…Covid.

So…we ended up going camping for a few days.  Nice you say??? Well…we brought the four children.  Who does that? Who brings their 4 children with them on their 20th anniversary getaway? Short answer…we do.

We arrived to the site on Tuesday.  The weather forecast was perfect…bright and sunny everyday and each day becoming warmer.  I lit a fire to cook our supper and just as the fire hit peak cooking potential our beautiful forecasted weather turned sour with an unexpected torrential down pour.  There is an equation that the Olson family has come to live by and trust. Olson + Camping = Rain.  Try it sometime…it appears to be a certainty. 

On Wednesday, our official anniversary day, Sarah and I exchanged gifts.  We had agreed ahead of time to not exchange any gifts and both broke the rules. She gave me a nice package of Lindt Dark Chocolate Truffles.  I gave to her…an inflatable rubber duck pool floatie…hey after 20 years, a guy runs out of ideas. Next year, I think I will get her an electric air pump…my lungs and lips can’t take another inflating episode.

The children spent much of the three days fighting, attacking and criticizing each other.  Do you have any idea how exhausting it is to endure the never ending bickering? I think I would have been less exhausted with a 99 mile bike race.

Just when I think that I can’t take another minute of it…our children pulled out a small envelope.  The outside said “To: Mom and Dad, Happy Anniversary.” Upon opening the envelope, I pulled out the blue card that simply said “Just a little note,” with a single musical note near the writing; I opened the card and found a $20 bill and sweet words of encouragement from our children.

It nearly brought my wife and I to tears. I barely managed to squeak out the words, “But the campsite costs $28 per night,” before my wife of 20 years swiftly backhanded the wind out of me and prevented me from asking them for more money…after 20 years, she really knows me well.

Despite continually falling into my own lack of encouragement, I have become convinced, that a single word of encouragement can melt away countless burdens. Having children is great…but it is not easy…it is, astoundingly exhausting. Yet, in that one encouraging act…where my 4 children each contribute $5 for their mother and I to go out to eat…was one of the most uplifting and encouraging moments in my recent years.  We all need encouragement. Sometimes we are really good at giving it…sometimes not.  Sometimes we are really good at receiving it…sometimes not. God created us to need encouragement. Indeed, I believe that he created us to thrive on it. I would go so far as to say, that when we encourage one another…it points back to Him…because encouragement is in His nature.

Our world needs encouragement. We see the need all around us. People need to be encouraged. You need encouragement…I need encouragement. Acts 13:13-52, Paul and Barnabas enter a new city on their missionary journey.  When they arrive in the Synagogue the religious leaders ask them to “Share any words of encouragement” that they have for them. Paul shares the message of the Gospel.  The Gospel is THE and should be THE most singularly encouraging truth that this world has ever known or encountered.

Let me encourage you with this. Jesus is love and He loves you deeply and He has all of this stress that lies before us…already figured out.  That…is encouraging!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Yo-Yo


I watched it transpire from the living room window.  My wife was heading outside in the morning to water her potted plants. Despite our superlative abilities at killing any and all plant life, we continue to make efforts to better ourselves and the flowers that have been placed in our care sitting at our front door during this years’ growing season. Truth be told…we purchased them already potted…and have had to do nothing but water them.
As my wife stepped out into the humid Minnesota morning my son calls from the window…”Mom, would you grab my yo-yo from the van before you come in?”

It is shortly after this request that my son and I hear a squeal coming from the front yard.  “Aaah!...No!...Ahh!...Stop!...”  As we investigate out the window we see an incredibly large, mangy dog chasing my wife around the front yard.  The dog is stupidly smiling and panting with his tongue practically dragging on the dry brown grass, as he pursues my wife from one side of the vehicle to the other. 

This dog looks BAD!...not angry, mean or vicious…just REALLY BAD!.  His hair appears to be shaggy and falling out in clumps…he looks desperately thirsty and longing for affection.

“Aaah!” my wife cries…"Son, help me!”
He steps up to the window and calls out…”Mom!...my yo-yo!”
“Ahh!”
“Mom…get my yo-yo!”
“Son!, help!”
“Mom…grab my yo-yo!”

After seeing my son’s apparent disregard for his mother, I went down to the front door to engage the situation. I open the door and yell at the mangy beast, “No! Go Home!”  It is at this moment the 6 foot dog turns and bolts straight at me with his long tongue licking the sidewalk on the journey to the front door. “No!” I yell and quickly close the door nearly severing his large wet nose, just before he enters our home.

He turns back again to pursue my wife. “Isaac! Help!”

“Mom!...don’t forget my yo-yo!”

I open the door to attempt to re-engage…and again the dog turns.

We repeat this process until finally my wife makes a lap around the van…and sprints back to the house…yo-yo in hand. I open the door and let her streak inside and slam the door in the dog’s face. The unintelligent canine then turns and trots away.

“Mom…Did you get my yo-yo?”

Wow! Talk about centrally focused! In Acts 12 we find the establishment of the Church continuing to flourish, despite the persecution and challenges from Herod Agrippa and others. Yet, we find that the enemy of God will relentlessly continue his efforts to derail the growth of the Church.  Acts 13:1-12 clearly reveals this. The Church is moving with the central mission of Jesus Christ in mind and heart…to be His witnesses…to the entire world. The enemy…or mangy dogs…will try and distract us from the mission at hand. To be witnesses.

That IS the mission!

We do not need to over-complicate it.  We just need to stay true to it…to be centrally focused on it, just as Isaac was focused on his central mission of regaining control of his Yo-Yo. 
Let us not be distracted by the mangy dogs of the enemy…and let us stay true to the mission of the Gospel…to make Christ known.

May we become centrally focused on Christ and his mission…while I try to help my son see that perhaps saving his mother may have been a loftier mission to attain…

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Pinned



It was the winter of 1998.  My younger brother was a senior in High School and I was a second year junior in college.  I decided to take the five-year plan…after all…I was 22 years old…knew all that there was to know and had no ability to see that I would one day have to pay back these government subsidized loans.  Who knew that the government didn’t actually give out free money…they actually wanted it back???
My younger brother was wrestling in the Section 6A tournament, in which the top two finishers would advance to the State Tournament the following weekend.  The final round was about to begin.  Two mats were laid out side by side.  One mat would feature the championship matches and the other would host the 3rd place matches.  The seats were all filled as we awaited the beginning of the round.  It was incredibly exciting.
I couldn’t help but reflect on how just a few short years prior I had been wrestling in these rounds as well.  Oh, how I longed to get out there and show the people that I still had what it took to excel at the elite varsity level of High School.  I could feel my muscles tense…I became fidgety in my seat…finally I couldn’t stand it anymore.  With about 5 minutes before the start of the round I jumped up…grabbed my mother next to me…lifted her over my shoulder and strode to the center of one of the mats amid the sea of surrounding wrestling fans.  I gently laid her down in the center of the mat…put her on her back…and slapped the mat! I pinned her!  I jumped up in jubilation…raising my arms in celebration…I had done it!!!  I was the victor…I won! I am somebody!!!
“Ryan, what is wrong with you?” asked my red-faced mother.
It is difficult to tell if the redness was embarrassment or anger…or perhaps that the blood rushed to her head as I carried her nearly upside down out to the mat.
“What!?...I couldn’t help it!” I walked back to my seat and left her to humbly walk back to her seat alone.
Now that I think about it…my mother asked a pretty good question. “What “IS” wrong with me?”
Somewhere in life I have come to realize that I long to win…to be the victor…to be of value…to be important…to not be forgotten.  I have come to see that each of those desires revolves entirely around me.
I find that I am not that much different than Herod Agrippa…who had arrested and killed the Apostle James in Acts 12.  The people were thrilled with him. So, he arrested Peter to do the same. We find him in Acts 12:18-25, at the pinnacle of his popularity…he appears before the people glistening in the sun…almost godlike…basking in the people’s pleasure. When suddenly he dies and is eaten by worms.
Why?...because it is not about him. It is about the CREATOR of him.
Thank God…that it is not about me…because if it were…it would be all about some insecure, self-focused, has been, whose past keeps getting better as his age increases.
I am glad to serve a God who is Glorious.  So, I will strive to always give Him the Glory.  May you find yourself…seeing the Glory of God and making it all about HIM.

Saturday, April 4, 2020


Get to the Table


It’s hard being a boy.  Girls think that they have it so rough…but it is boys who really have the greater hurdles to overcome in life.  Girls get to stay inside and play with tea sets and dolls…while boys have to go outside and play Cowboys and Native Americans…when we shoot our cap-guns at each other and say… “Hey I got you…”

“No you didn’t”

“Yes I did…”

“Fine…but it was only in the liver…I have a few minutes to live before I kick the bucket…so I got you back…”

“That’s not fair.”

“Oh yeah!?...I will show you fair.”

Then the wrestling match ensues which relents to fists flying and me grinding my brother’s face into the dirt, until mom calls out, “Boys!...Get to the table…supper is ready!”

When we arrive to the table and sit down…our mother then sends us away to “wash up.” 

“Why?” I ask…”I am just going to get ketchup on my face anyway.”

When girls come to the table, they are already washed up and ready to dine.  This just doesn’t seem fair.

Girls have long flowing hair…boys, lose their hair.

When you finally find your place at the table…the girls get served first, which appalls young boys because they know that they are hungrier than girls, (except for the brother who just ate a pound of dirt), because after all…they either just had the tar beaten out of them…or spent all of their energy bloodying their brother’s noses. There is nothing like physical altercation to build an appetite.

“Why does she get the first hot dog? I just spent 48 minutes looking for the baseball that I hit over the barn…Oh look mom…I just found a wood tick!...Cool!”

“Go wash again.”

Here is the thing.  No matter where I had been…or where my brothers had been…or been into…or what my sister had been up to…when it came time to be called to the table…there was a place for us at the table.

In fact, even when company was invited over…there was room at the table.  There were times when chairs needed to be added…table leaves brought in…card tables set up…TV trays and piano benches…but there was room at the table. Why? Because when it is time to get to the table, all who are part of the family…whether blood or adoptive had a place at the table.

There is a time in John chapter 13, where Jesus calls people to the table.  He and his friends are in the upper room and he begins to share the meal in a unique way.  He breaks bread and uses it as a symbol for how he will give his body for them.  He shares a cup of wine in a symbol of how he will shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  Despite my endless list of imperfections and inadequacy…that is a table that I want to be called to. The beauty is…He is calling us to the table.

Perhaps it’s time…to get to the table?

May you find yourself led to RSVP to the invitation…to become a part of the family of God…and get to the Table.