Saturday, April 17, 2021

 Who Can Stand?


My son is a freshman in high school and stands 6’1” tall.  I am 45 years old and hold a one inch height advantage…when I stand up straight…which is less often than when I was a freshman in high school myself.  Isaac has been lifting weights regularly and working hard in all areas of his athleticism…so much so, that he recently called me out.

“Dad…I think I can take you.”

“Huh?...What was that?...You say you want to take me?...Like you are going to take me out and buy me a coffee and a donut?...Why what a nice boy I have?...Yes son…I would love to have you buy me a coffee and a donut!...When do you want to go?”

“No dad…I think I can ‘take’ you…as in…I want to meet you on a wrestling mat…and take it to you!...Take you down…beat you!”

“Wait…so…there is no donut and no coffee?”

“Nope…just me…taking it to you.”

“Let me get this straight…You…who have 4 years of ‘elementary’ wrestling experience, and…I…who have 13 years of competitive wrestling experience, including college…not to mention 4 years of volunteer coaching experience and 9 years of paid high school coaching experience...and you think that you have what it takes.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because you are 45…and I am 15.”

“You’re on…the loser buys coffee and donuts.”

“No way!…I have no money.”

It took us a few weeks to find the time and space to get onto the mats.  I will spare you of the painful details of what transpired…you can ask him yourself...but, I would expect that you may hear him say things like…

 “Wow! He moves fast for a 45 year old.”

“Crazy arm drags!”

“Oh, the pain!”

“My nose bled.”

“I was really hoping to take him down.”

Or perhaps…“He graciously let me have a point.”

I would be willing to bet that most every human being who has ever lived has experienced both victory and defeat…both, the highs of dominance and the humility of lowliness. Each of us, at some point in our lives…need to endure a nice slice of humble pie.  I have endured plenty of bitter slices myself…including one from this same son of mine, who totally surprised me as a four year old, and full on tackled me from behind during one of our backyard football games. 

Despite the pain and bitterness of defeat, I think humility is a better place to be than in the place of pride.  At the end of Revelation 6, we find a group of powerful prideful people, suddenly aware of the power of God…and they cry out in fear and humility…the chapter ends with a phrase that is stated while under the wrath of the Lamb…”Who can stand?” The simple answer is no one.  No one can stand.  There is no one righteous enough to stand under the wrath of the Lamb.  Yet…what we find in chapter 7…is that the love of the Lamb…seals those who follow him. Picture the love of the Lamb…acting as a shield…to the wrath of the very same Lamb.  It is a paradox.  It is a mystery…yet it is true.  As a believer I have been sealed…protected from the wrath of the Lamb, by the very Spirit of the Lamb.

Who can stand?

Not me…unless I have been covered by the seal of the Lamb!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

 Better Way


They say that necessity is the mother of all inventions.  I don’t fully understand this concept…because I feel like I personally…“need”…a great deal of things…but, as of yet, I have not personally invented anything that is patent worthy.  Over the years I have spent many hours walking through the halls of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, (my beautiful wife’s…and Henry Ford’s home town). This massive brick structure filled with antiquities is one of my favorite historical places to visit, not just for the historical relics, but also for the plethora of inventions that have been placed on display.  While walking the grounds, you can find original, as well as replicas, of great created items like Edison’s light bulb, Gutenberg’s printing press, steam engines, telegraphs, firearms, automobiles and so much more. 

These inventions are great examples of how human beings strive to make things easier.  Firearms make hunting easier.  Light bulbs make seeing at night easier.  Automobiles make getting to places easier. Telegraphs…make understanding Morse Code…about as difficult as ever…but…you get the idea. 

Struggle is in some capacities a way of life.  That is why we work so hard to invent.  When we suffer…we work to end our suffering.  As we grow older and more mature, we find newer and better ways to do things. 

I remember working at the cabinet shop while I was in college.  At the end of every day we were required to clean the shop.  On my first day in the shop I took to the sweeping…creating a large pile in the center of the shop and then went looking for a dustpan or a shovel to pick up the mess.  I could not find one…anywhere.  I proceeded to use a thin scrap piece of ¼“ plywood and struggled to get all of the sawdust, wood shavings, scrap and dirt lifted off of the floor and into the garbage can.  As I suffered at my lot…the shop foreman stared at me…shook his head and said… “There is a better way.”

I argued with him…“Hey! I looked for a dust pan and a shovel and I couldn’t find either…so unless you can show me where they are…I don’t think that there is a better way.”

“There is no shovel…there is no dustpan…but there IS a better way!”

“I think, I am managing just fine.”

“No…you are struggling…and this will be you plight every day…until you let me show you the better way.”

“Fine! Oh guru of the better way…show me!”

He calmly took the broom from my hand...pushing what remained of the mess toward a wall.  He pressed a large green button on the wall and the huge dust collection system fired up…he opened a valve on a vertical ductwork chute right in front of him that ran from floor to ceiling and suddenly the entire dust pile that I had created was sucked up the chute and out of sight.

“Oh…there is a better way.”

I believe that God has a better way for us as well.  As humans, we continually attempt to navigate this life and do everything on our own, often acknowledging that there is no better way…than our own way. 

God has a better way…but sometimes…that better way includes suffering.  Revelation 6 is a very challenging passage.  We may read it and wonder…why does God do all of this?  I can’t say that I understand all of God’s intentions…yet, I do believe that I can see his goodness even in these challenging verses.  I can see His way…and it is a better way…than what I could ever invent.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

 Life Saver


As I sit here eating my annual Paczki on this Saturday before Easter, I can’t help but contemplate how this might benefit my life. The delicious, blueberry filled, pastry was baked “fresh” this morning…so I cannot claim that the preservatives will somehow lengthen my lifespan like a 45 year old Twinkie.  Though the sugar was sweet, and exploded with flavor on my tongue, the actual nutritional value will likely not last until lunch.  On an up note…I can confirm that due to the delectable reaction of my tastebuds…my “self initiated Covid Taste Test”…came back negative.  I could perhaps even argue that the fats added around my waist may help prevent me from freezing this next winter…or serve as a life preserver during the upcoming “lake season” of Minnesota. 

Those who know me well, know that any extra buoyancy available to me while in the waters of Minnesota is of great personal value.  I am not a strong swimmer…thus keeping floatation devices near is of great importance to me.  In fact, I am often quick to ensure that there are lifejackets available on my watercraft, pool noodles on the dock, and I don’t stray too far away from the swim platform.

I am not the only one.  The next time you head to a public pool and even some beaches, take a look around…you are likely to see flotation devices at the ready, in case any water emergencies may arise.  I like to be safe…yet, I have begun to notice that our American culture seems to be obsessed with safety.  We look to create and keep everything safe.  We find safety checkpoints at airports, train stations, and courthouses.  We have street signs telling us to use caution, slow down, watch for bumps…we not only have stop signs…but also stop ahead signs.  Perhaps, we will soon have stop ahead, ahead signs.  Need I talk about masks and social distancing?...I didn’t think so.  It is like our world is being filled with life preservers. 

Do I have an issue with it? I don’t know…that is my real issue.  My real issue is…I think that most of the world is drowning in sin…and we have a Life Saver within reach…yet we continue to struggle in the water…until we die.  I find it ironic that with all of our efforts to preserve life…we often miss the most significant Life Preserver.  Mankind works hard to make our earthly lives last as long as possible…sometimes over 100 years, yet, reject the offering to preserve our lives for eternity.

May we come to take an honest look at Easter this year.  May we come to take an honest look at Jesus Christ and make a decision to the question, is Jesus who He says He is? Is He God? Is He the Savior? Is He the way to eternal life? In John 8:12-59 Jesus gives an incredible testimony about who He is…and why He came.  He claims to be God! Is He? That is the question that every person MUST answer! It doesn’t matter what I “think,” or what you “think.” What matters is the answer…Is He?  He says He is…and I have come to believe it to be true. 

I think John 8:24 wraps this proverbial picture well.  Jesus said, “ I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” We are drowning in our sins…and the Life Saver is right there…inviting us to take it…to take Him!

I think this is the year…where we stop swimming…and hold on to the Life Saver!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Spotlight


We arrived at the small, elementary school gymnasium at 2:00 in the afternoon.  The lights were set low and the seats were filled with parents and grandparents, siblings and friends. The risers remained empty, as did the staging.  We made our way to the few open chairs remaining and waited for the show to begin.  Our oldest daughter, Hannah, had been cast for the lead role as Mother Goose in the Lincoln Elementary production of “Lemonade”…soon to be a Broadway hit…if by Broadway, one would mean the main street in Little Falls, Minnesota. 

The entire 2nd grade cast took the stage and filled the risers. The play began, and we quickly learned that the cast was having a very bad day! Little Bo Peep had lost her sheep, the Three Little Pigs had just endured the destruction of their homes by the Big Bad Wolf, and Humpty Dumpty had just gotten all cracked up!

Just as the calamity reached the crescendo, the lights went out…and a single spotlight shone on one individual on the stage.  It was Mother Goose! My daughter!  My heart swelled with fatherly pride as she began to sing with the shaky voice of a nervous 2nd grader.  The spotlight was fixed on her.  My eyes and ears, along with everyone else’s in the building were all directed to her.  There she was…lit up in the light…the center of attention, and I was proud of her!  She was amazing…she nailed her solo!

It was a wonderful experience for her…as well as for myself.

 I have often pondered the purpose of spotlights.  They are designed to draw our attention to the focal point of the light. I used to use a mega-bright spotlight while delivering pizzas in college. The light would light up the neighborhoods as I searched houses and mailboxes for the house numbers. The light drew my eyes to each point it touched.  In fact, many home owners would come to the window expecting to find an officer of the law searching for some vagrant.  Little did they know, it was a vagrant…searching for a place to deliver a pizza.

In John 12, we find a proverbial spotlight.  As Jesus enters Jerusalem, all attention is on him.  A crowd of up to 2 million people gather…wave palm branches, spread their cloaks in front of him and cry out “Hosanna! Praise him! Praise The King of Israel!”

All attention is on Jesus.  Shortly after this moment…in the same chapter…we find Jesus and God the Father in a verbal exchange…all about Glory!  It is an amazing scene…Jesus pointing to God the Father…and God the Father pointing to Christ!  The Triune God of the universe is pointing the spotlight of glory towards each other!

Glory is about revealing what is really at center stage…it is like a spotlight to draw our attention. 

May our focus be on Christ our Coming King this Palm Sunday…as we remember that triumphal entry…and the triumphal entry…yet to come!


Saturday, March 20, 2021

Ice


I first started winter biking in December of 2013 on a mountain bike with 2” tires. On just my second ride, I was heading home on the recently plowed streets when my tiny tires slipped out from beneath the dark blue frame and threw me to the hard pavement.  My helmet bounced twice on the icy avenue, and I lay sprawled on the road not knowing what had just happened.  I heard some honking and a voice yelling, “Hey get off the road, you bum!” as a yellow school bus full of children passed and laughed at me.  I peeled myself off of the street like a slice of peanut butter toast from the kitchen floor and attempted to remount my bicycle.  I hadn’t realized that my seat had snapped off during the fall, leaving a sharp post protruding upward, until I attempted to settle into the saddle.  I quickly bounced back up with a “yeieiaah,” slipping from my breath.  I rode the rest of the way home…standing…without incident. 

This is not the only time that I have fallen on the ice.  I am sure you can relate…as I can’t imagine anyone growing up in the long, frozen winters of Minnesota without enduring a similar experience of falling on the ice. 

I recall falling on the ice while delivering a pizza in college…sacrificing my much younger body to save the pizza.  Nowadays…I’d forget the pizza and save myself. 

Some of the worst moments of ice catastrophe occur when I fall in front of my mother or my wife.  For inexplicable reasons, they find my near death experiences worthy of uncontrollable laughter. 

I spoke with an orthopedic surgeon at one time and asked him what created most of his patients.  He replied, “Ice…always ice.”…”Ice.”

When we fall on the ice, it happens so FAST! It is incredible! One moment I am standing...or riding my bike…or running…and the next…I am flat on the ground, sometimes on my back, sometimes on my face, and sometimes upside down.

I think that on the day that we come face to face with God Almighty and see Him in all of His glory…a similar experience will happen.  I think that when we see God…we will fall flat on our faces immediately…faster than a fall on the ice.  When we see His Holiness…we will not be able to stand…we will drop.  In fact, we see it evidenced in the Scriptures, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1:28 and Revelation 5, (as well as others). In Revelation 5, we see angels and Godly people falling on their faces before, “He who sits on the throne and the Lamb!”

I don’t like falling on the ice…but honestly…I think that I am looking forward to falling on my face before God Almighty.  I know this…I am not even worthy to fall on my face before him…but He IS WORTHY…thus…on my face I will go.

May we come to see…and worship…the Holy God!

 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

 I Held Her Down

 


My daughter was gasping for each breath that she took.  Her tiny, one year old body shook as her microscopic lungs pressed against the inside of her chest trying to draw in each fill of air. Her tears soaked the bed sheet as the nurses tended to her. My job was to hold her down and keep her hand still as the nurse took a 3 foot needle and poked her repeatedly trying to find a vein to service the intravenous tubing.  Hannah’s small raspy voice moaned to me, “Dada...” sob, sob, sob, “Dada…” Thus, I held her down, fighting my own watery eyes.

The children’s ICU unit is an intimidating space.  You watch as your, barely, toddler crawls around on a bed with high Plexiglas sides to keep her from falling…or crawling out.  There are wires on electrodes all over her to monitor her heart rate, temperature, blood pressure…hair color…vocal volume, among other options that I am surely unaware of.    

I stayed with my daughter for 3 straight days in the ICU.  Why me?...because my wife, Sarah, had just given birth to our son a few weeks prior…thus giving  her a free pass from doing anything but caring for the newborn.  I don’t think that she really understood how difficult it was to sleep in a chair for three nights…with your 1 year old constantly pulling off the colored wires from her chest saying, “Uh Oh…Brown.” It wasn’t long before I could have rewired her color coded electrodes in my sleep. My nights were pretty sleepless…hearing Hannah’s difficulty breathing and her incessant color identification.  I was kept awake by the heart monitor’s constant beeps and occasional alarms blaring when her beats per minute climbed too high.  On top of it all…the worn voice calling “Dada…Dada…Dada…” made it impossible to rest soundly.

Hannah and I spent the entirety of all three days binge watching the same 30 minute episode of Veggie Tales, “Rack, Shack and Benny,” (aka…”The Bunny” to the one year old…referencing the chocolate bunnies in the episode). Let’s see…7:00 a.m….until 9:00 p.m…30 minute intervals…3 days…that is A LOT of chocolate bunnies!

By the third night I was tired and exhausted.  I needed sleep…at least I needed some “good sleep” and the rocking chair was just not cutting it.  I rocked Hannah to sleep…and carefully set her back in her Plexiglas prison and tried to sneak into the waiting room to lie on a rock hard sofa.  Inevitably, she stirred as soon as I set her down.  Never the less…I stepped out to let her settle in to sleep on her own. I laid on a couch and fell asleep within 6 minutes…only to be awakened by a nurse 10 minutes later, saying, “I am sorry…but she is not settling down…her heart rate is spiking too high…I think you need to go be in with her.”

I stepped back in the room…reached my hand on to her hand…and gently held her down.  She quietly rasped, “Dada,” and went to sleep.  I didn’t.

The croup had hit her hard that year.  She doesn’t remember much of the ordeal…but I remember about everything.  What strikes me most, is that there was only one thing that she wanted…only one thing that she needed.  Her body would recover…she would heal with time, but to do that she needed to stay calm.  She had to relax, and the thing she needed the most to be able to do that…was me.  She only needed me to be near. 

We serve a God who is near.  Though Revelation 4:1-11 paints an amazing picture of God on his throne…he is a God who is NEAR!!!  He is all seeing, all knowing…and all present. He is worthy…of all power and glory and honor…and…HE IS NEAR!

May we find the nearness of God…and his power…and his glory…and his majesty…holding us secure.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

 Fin



We currently have no living plants or fish in our home, though we have had both in our home from time to time…they both tend to fair poorly.  I take the blame entirely upon myself

I have shared about my murderous brown thumb in the past.  If the plant is green, I will turn it brown.  The saving grace to any of my plantitary (intentionally made up word, in which I claim all credit to its eventual inclusion into Webster’s fine work…of boosting children’s height at the dinner table) successes is when I can place the trees, shrubs or flowering bulbs into the ground and let God take care of the rest.  I remember in college when my mother gave me a “Devil’s Ivy,” an ironic name for a Bible College student, as a gift.  As she delivered the item to me, she instructed me in the proper care for the plant saying, “It is really hearty…it will liven up the apartment...and it is durable…if it doesn’t get the care that it needs it will likely still survive…it is really hard to kill.”

I killed it.

Sadly, pets have been another victim.  When our third child was born, I bought 5 goldfish…one for each member of the family.  Each family member named their own personal fish.  All 5 are dead, and have been so, since the first few months of purchase. 

Over this past year, it looked as if my luck might change! Last March, our oldest daughter “won” a goldfish. My first thought, as I set my eyes on the small innocent beast, was, “You poor thing.” We cared for the fish about as well as we have cared for any plant or fish in our home, changing its water every so often and feeding it when we would think of it.  I must give credit to this little aquatic creature, because he appeared to be more resilient than even my Devil’s Ivy.

Some mornings, I would awake to find the fish floating belly up! The next morning, I found him swimming around like he was as healthy as can be! Seriously!

If ever I have encountered an “overcomer”...this fish…was it.  Yet sadly, this overcoming and enduring fish, Fin was his name, has gone to be with everything else that goes down the toilet.  His endurance finally ran out, and he gave up trying about a week ago. 

But Jesus didn’t.  Jesus is THE Overcomer, and He calls us to overcome with Him.  In Revelation 3:7-22, we find Christ speaking to the final two of the seven churches of Revelation.  He gives the same encouragement to these two, which he has to the previous five.  Endure! Overome! I don’t know what you encounter and struggle with from week to week…but there are times when I feel that I am just done….flush me down the toilet and end my misery.  I can’t do it anymore.  Jesus knows that I can’t do it anymore.  That is why HE did it…and now He invites me to fellowship with Him so that I can overcome, endure, hang-on…because He is my strength.  Without Christ, we cannot overcome.  With Christ, we WILL overcome.