Saturday, April 6, 2024

 I Can’t Wait

 


I arrived home after services this past Easter Sunday and I was famished.  I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.  Unless, of course you count the multiple slices of banana bread, of which I had just stuffed my face with 30 minutes prior.  Incidentally, I was still famished…very famished and I felt that I just could not wait for Easter Dinner.  I walked into the kitchen, only to find that the beautiful ham dinner, mashed potatoes and dinner rolls was still cooking and wouldn’t be ready for several minutes. 

It is at this time that I may or may not have attempted to snitch some pretzels to pacify my urges, only to have my hand swatted away before I could even reach into the bag.  This was just as well, since someone had crushed the entire bag of pretzels into pulverized crumbs and they were hardly worth eating.  Who even does something like that??

I find that life is filled with yearnings.  Food is often near the top of my list of yearnings, but so are activities like hunting and fishing and hiking and biking.  I frequently find myself longing for days and events of the future, which promise to be filled with satisfying experiences and opportunities.

Take camping for example.  I love camping, and I yearn for the quiet getaway in the woods where I can sit by the warm crackling fire and sleep in the cool night air.  It all sounds so satisfying.  Until…it isn’t.  My longings of restful camping have at times turned into longings for home.  Like when the clear evening suddenly turns stormy and leaves the electrical system in the camper shorting out and constantly tripping the breakers. The desire for camping ebbs when mosquitoes chase you away from the campfire and into the camper and still they find a way into the temporary shelter only to leave your hands, arms, neck, legs and feet covered in dozens of itchy bites.  The aspirations of camping wane when you wake in the morning yearning for a cup of hot coffee but realize that, you have no electricity and the matches are soaked from having been left overnight in the rain next to what had been the fire.

Like camping, so many things that promise satisfaction, only leave one left with the feeling of longing and dissatisfaction.  What you had thought would satisfy…doesn’t.  The experience may have been good…but the satisfaction that came with it doesn’t last or it was not what you thought that it would be.  What you had originally yearned for has morphed into a desire for something else.

There are so many things in life that I truly enjoy. These are things that I long for and even find a sense of satisfaction in…even if only temporary.   Yet, there is only ONE thing that I believe can truly satisfy, and that is Jesus.  I know that we may hear this statement a great deal and perhaps we struggle to believe it.  Jesus, himself, speaks of this truth on several occasions in the Scriptures, including John 4, but also, He speaks of it in a short phrase during His Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied.” 

Oh, what it would be like to be satisfied?  It would be like being able to Easter dinner forever, without getting full and without feeling hungry.  You get to enjoy every bite.  You get to indulge in its full flavor and exceptional texture without worrying about over eating and without worrying about having enough.  It is perfect satisfaction.

We get a taste of the satisfaction that Jesus has to offer here on this earth, but it is merely an appetizer of what is to come in the perfect satisfaction that is promised for eternity.

May you find yourself yearning for the righteousness of Christ, because only in Him can you find complete satisfaction. 

Saturday, March 30, 2024

 The Trade

 


I’ve got problems. For the most part, I am ok with this fact, mostly because…so do you.  In fact, we all have problems, it’s just that some of us know it and some of us don’t.  Yet, even with that reality, I (we) likely have problems that I (we) am still as of yet, totally unaware that I (we) have. 

For example, a week ago I was driving home on a Saturday, after having spent some time reviewing and tweaking my sermon for the Sunday morning service.  I had spent some time at the office as well as the local bakery.  Some of my best work is done with a donut being stuffed between my teeth.  Overall, it was a problem free morning.  Yet, as I entered into the three block radius of my home, I noticed a Silver Dodge Grand Caravan parked in front of a neighbor’s home.  The vehicle looked strikingly similar to the one that my daughter is currently the primary operator of. 

Though there are Silver Dodge Grand Caravan’s in nearly every block of every city in the continental United States, it seemed to me that even from a distance that this was, indeed, our van.  There are a few unique indicators that set our vehicle apart from others, such as the dark bug deflector on the hood, the half eroded Little Falls Cross Country decal on the rear window…the rust…the bald tires…the tiny little bright colored plastic ducks and chicks lining the dashboard, the Holstein patterned steering wheel cover, and of course the “baby Yoda” phone cradle on the heating vent. 

I find it interesting how my children have taken to personalizing these vehicles that are still titled in my name.  My daughter has placed all kinds of scents and fresheners and accents to the inside of her vehicle. While my son’s vehicle is filled with filthy football clothes, cleats, sweaty shirts, fishing gear, (including portable ice house and auger), and one oversized stuffed Mickey Mouse doll pulled from a neighbor’s dumpster.

Despite how much ownership as they have taken to these cars,  their “ownership” seems to suddenly go out the window when the cost of repairing the power steering, the dead battery or the wheel that falls off on the way to school, becomes a factor of ownership.

As I drew near the van on this Saturday afternoon, my first instinct was to question what boy lived at this house and why my daughter was parked here, along with what must I do to this now unfortunate teenager?  I soon found that this was not the issue and a teenage boy was not my immediate problem. Yet, my Saturday afternoon was by no means problem free.  It appeared that while I was away from the house working, problems were arising that I had no idea were becoming a reality.  The left rear tire of the van was flat…in fact it was entirely mangled.  The tire was not unlike a tough steak that has been chewed and spit out, being too tough to swallowed. 

It was time to fix yet another problem. 

About 120 minutes, and dollars, later the problem was fixed.

There are other problems in life that time and money cannot fix. 

In fact, there is a problem that all humans face; though not all may be aware of the problem.  We may be driving through this life, totally unaware that there is a proverbial van with a flat tire that needs our attention. 

Our greatest problem…My greatest problem, is not a flat tire.  It is sin.  I know that I sin.  I know that I sin a whole lot more that I care to admit or even am aware of.  I, like all humans, have a propensity to justify my actions and pretend that I live a pretty good life…a life that is not as bad as others.  Yet, the biblical truth is that my sin condemns me to death and an eternity in Hell.  Yep! The Bible talks about a real place called Hell and that is where I belong.  In fact, that is the ONLY place that I am headed unless my sin problem is repaired and I have NO ability to fix my sin problem. 

Yet, I know that is not where I am headed.  Not because I have done some secret task or earned enough credits from good deeds somehow building up imaginary karma.  It is because of what we celebrate at Easter.  When Jesus went to the Cross, he fixed my sin problem.  2 Corinthians 5:21, tells us of how Jesus fixes our sin problem.  It says that He, Jesus, who had never committed one single sin…BECAME sin.  Jesus offers us a trade.  He makes a trade with us...he takes our sin…though he is innocent…and in return he gives us His righteousness. 

If you want to engage in this incredibly unfair trade: all you have to do is agree with it.  “Ok, Jesus…let me get this straight…You will take my sin…and give me your Holiness?...Your Righteousness?...Your Perfectness?...if I simply ask you to do it?”

“Yep!”

“How can this be the case?”

“Because the tomb is empty! I am ALIVE! All Authority has been given to me!  I can do it, because it is finished!  What do you say?  Will you follow me?”

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Elm


It is possible that safety is an overrated concern for some parents, and a constant obstacle of interference for adolescent boys.  It has produced a never ending battle between mothers and sons.  Mothers diligently strive to keep their young boys safe from the foolish decisions that promise unavoidable injury, further brain damage, or even death.  Boys, on the other hand, cunningly scheme to overcome the safety precautions that have been unfairly placed upon them.  For example, a potentially hypothetical situation may find a mother whose 8 year old son has been using a ladder to climb onto the roof of their home.  He does this to gain the high ground in attempt to shoot unsuspecting squirrels, gophers, and crows from the peak of the second story gable end. 

“Ryan! What in the world are you doing up there!?!”

“I am shooting at squirrels and gophers and birds and stuff!”

“Where did you get the gun?”

“Dad gave it to me!”

“Get down from there now! It’s not safe!”

Bang.

Bang.

“Drat…I missed.”

“NOW!”

“Fine…”

Now you would think that the problem would be solved when the mother insisted to have the ladder put away and locked up to prevent the possibility of a repeat offense.  However, it could happen, that as the mother was hanging the bed sheets out on the clothes line she once again heard, “Bang. Bang.” followed by “Drat…I missed.”

“Ryan! What are you doing up there?!...Wait..no…HOW did you get up there?!”

“I crawled through the window and shimmied up the eave.”

As much as they try, mothers only have so much power to keep their curious sons safe.

I remember one spring day when I was climbing a tree. 

My mother had reprimanded me on several occasions for climbing trees.  Each time, I would be cautioned about my lack of safety for either climbing too high or not holding onto anything with my hands.  It seemed obvious to me that tree climbing would be safer with a ladder.  This truth must have been overlooked by my mother or she may not have taken it away from me.    

I took my mother’s concerns to heart and thus made several adjustments to safeguard my own safety for this expedition.  First, I selected a tree that my mother did not yet know about.  I did this to ensure that she could not come back to me and say, “I thought I told you not to climb that tree.” 

If she attempted to make such a statement, I could simply reply…“Not this one…that was a different tree.”  As you can see, I was a pretty thoughtful and obedient child.

Second, I built my “own” ladder with some old wood that I had found in the barn. 

Third, I tied a big heavy rope around my chest and allowed it to hang loosely behind me as I ascended.

Once my safety precautions were in place, I set to work.  I climbed the old elm easily, bouncing and swinging through its natural sturdy beams.  The large, heavy limbs generated a vast array of hand and footholds protruding in every direction.  As I reached a deep Y, half way up the towering deciduous, I lowered myself into a yawn between the limbs and tied off the loose end of the rope…and then…I slipped.  I tried to snatch a limb on my way down, but the abrasive bark only served to bruise, cut and batter my entire body on the way down.  Three feet before my face met the base of the elm, the rope tied around my chest slipped to my waist and snapped tight holding me fast. 

The good news was that my face was spared the maiming impact of the earth below.  The bad news was that the Old Timer jack knife that my grandfather had given me slipped from my pocket and fell to the ground.

Looking back on my childhood, I have come to realize that strength is only as good as the cord that is holding you.  Self confidence and pride can easily build as we gain abilities and talents.  Naturally, this brings into our lives a sense of self assurance and boldness.  It is often at these times when the pride comes before the fall…sometimes proverbially…sometimes literally. 

Matthew 5:5 states, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”  Meekness is not something that is championed in our culture.  Yet, that is what Jesus exemplified.  One of the most astounding moments of both His meekness and majesty are reflected in his entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.  Why can Jesus be so meek?  I think that, perhaps, it may be because He knows how secure He is in the strong cord that holds Him tight to the Father.

May we come to see that meekness is relying on the strength of the Lord and not on ourselves.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

 Regret

 


My life is filled with regret.  I can’t help it. It seems, every day of my life leads to more regretful moments.  Regret is like that unwelcomed and uninvited uncle who always shows up to Easter dinner, even when great pains are taken to keep the hosting venue a secret. 

“Grandma, can you please pass the ham?”

“Egad! What do you think you’re doing!? Keep your voice down! Uncle Anson will hear you!”

“How in the world is that even possible? He doesn’t know where we are and the last we heard from him he was in the Himalayan Mountains of southern Chile.”

“The Himalayans are in Asia…not Chile.”

“That makes it all the more impossible for him to have heard.”

Ding Dong.

“Hey all! Happy Easter!”

“Well! Would you look who’s here!? It’s Uncle Anson!...How did you find us…I mean…I hope you got the Easter invite this year…we left it under that big rock behind the barn, under the old rusted tractor.”

“I must have missed it! But no worries, here I am! You all have no idea how difficult it has been to find you…but I did!  Who would have thought that a destination Easter dinner in the bowels of Alcatraz was in the cards for this year! Could I get me some of those mashed potatoes?”

Regret…kind of makes you wish you hadn’t asked for the ham…despite Grandma’s reputation for delectable hams.

Like the inevitable arrival of the unwanted guest are the perpetual visits of regret.  Regret appears everywhere.  It is there when we miss our highway exit and find that we have just added 2 hours onto our already 12 hour road trip. It is opening the jar of peanuts believing that you can have just one serving, only to find that the jar is empty in your hands just 33 minute later.  It is telling yourself that you have enough gas to make it to the next gas station, knowing full well that you are pushing it pretty thin, only to run out 5 miles before the fueling station…without an empty gas can to even carry any fuel back to the stranded vehicle. 

Regret often runs deep…much deeper…as well.  Regret follows the allowance of irresponsible words which spill from between the lips and wilt the recipient with a crushing blow.  It is the unjustified burst of anger that conflicts with a testimony of grace, of which a believer is called to reflect.  Regret comes to visit when a poor action results in loss…the loss of life, freedom, affection or more. 

My life is cluttered with regret, like a long forgotten storage room in the unfinished basement of my soul. The space is filled with old dusty mistakes that lie dormant in the corner waiting to be remembered and suffered over from time to time.  As life goes on, the regretful basement of my soul continues to collect junk.  My sin is the greatest contributor to the junk of regret filling the cellar.

Unless something is done, the soul…my soul…will soon be overrun with the burdensome regrets of grieving mistakes and unattended sin.  Jesus not ONLY offers forgiveness of my sins…but he also offers a path of healing through the mourning of my sin.  Matthew 5:4 reveals that “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”  Jesus certainly offers comfort from our grief, but I am learning that in the case of this passage, Jesus is drawing his followers into a deeper mourning.  He is drawing us into a grief…a mourning…over our sin.  Not only do followers of Christ need to be aware of their spiritual bankruptcy (as found in Matthew 5:3), but we are also told to mourn over the sin that has left us there.

It is one thing to sin and hide it in the basement and it is quite another to mourn over our sin.  When we learn to grieve over our sin in such a way as to mourn over it, I am convinced that we find Jesus not only forgiving us of our sin, but also de-cluttering the overrun basement of our souls.

May we come to grieve and to mourn our sin, so that we will be comforted by Jesus Himself.  May the comforts of Jesus lift up our weary souls. 

Saturday, March 9, 2024

 The Majestic


I recall one evening when Sarah and I were still without children.  We would have thought that we were living a busy lifestyle at this time, but until we decided to parent 4 kids, we really had no idea what a busy lifestyle really looked like.  Yet, somehow a telemarketer had tricked me into using the ONE…“free”…evening that my wife and I been able to find for the entire month. 

“What do you want to do tonight” I asked Sarah.

“It doesn’t matter…I am just glad that we don’t have anything to do…period!!” She sighed in response to my question.

DING DONG

“Who is at the door?” she bequeathed.

“I have no idea.”

I answered the door to find a young man and a young woman standing at our door with a clipboard and a rather large chrome cylinder resembling that of a silver R2D2.

“Hello Mr. Olson, we would like to thank you for having us.  If you will just step aside and allow us to enter your home I think that you will find your time with us to be very worthwhile.”

I stepped aside and said nothing.  I was stunned and struck dumb.

Finally, I stammered, “Excuse me…what? Who did you say you were?”

“My name is Heather and this is Michael, we represent the Majestic Cleaning Company, we carry the world’s foremost cleaning and filtering products.  We sure appreciate you agreeing to have us into your home and give you a demonstration of these fabulous appliances that can revolutionize your home.”

“I don’t remember to agreeing to anyth…”

“Sure you did.  If you remember the phone call you received on November 14,…we have it recorded so there will be NO arguing…there was a brief moment when you said yes…and we took full advantage of “that”…to take advantage of “you” and your free evening.  Now if you would just kindly get out of our way…go ahead and sit down and shut your trap while we give you this remarkable demonstration.”

I did as I was told, trying to avoid the shocked and glaring looks of my beautiful young wife.

“What did you agree to!?” Sarah tersely whispered to me as we sat down next to each other on our used sofa.

“Nothing…I mean…I don’t know!”

“This was our ONE night!...ONE night!”

“I know…maybe we will still have time to enjoy something once they leave?”

After 3 hours of demonstrating how great their product was and…how filthy our home was, the sales representative, Heather, asked how much I would expect to pay for this fine tool of the future.

“Are you asking how much I am willing to pay or how much I expect it to cost? Because I MIGHT consider paying up to $60, but I am guessing that it will cost more like $260.”

“So, you are willing to pay $60”

“NO! I am willing to ‘consider’ paying $60”

“Well…would you consider paying $60 per month for three and a half years?”

I did the quick math. “Wait…are you saying this costs $2500!!!???’

“Technically, $2600.”

“No way!”

“But you saw all that it can do! Don’t you want a clean home?”

“Not for $2600!”

“But…”

This was my turn to interrupt. “You don’t understand. We really don’t buy anything.  In fact, if you look around this home most of all that you see has been given to us. We didn’t purchase most of what you wee.  That recliner that you are sitting in?…given to us.  This sofa? Given.  The end tables, coffee table and dining room table? All given to us.  The refrigerator, the microwave, the oven…given.  Our washer and dryer down stairs…given.  The TV and VCR (yes…I did just date myself)…given.  That china hutch…given.  I even built our bed with wood that was given to us.”

“What about your car?” He asked is a mildly snarky tone.

“GIVEN TO US!!!” I proclaimed in triumph!

“Heather, you must understand” I continued, “Pretty much all that you see around you is nothing that I have gathered and accumulated for myself.  Rather it is all representative of the provisions that the Lord has provided.” 

Heather and Michael left a short time later after packing up all of their demonstrative items.  As they left through our front door…they GAVE us a fake Christmas tree for our time.

I remember that story well, but I never made the connection until now,  of how this symbolized the Lord’s righteousness in my life.  Every good thing in my life has come from the hand of God.  The ONLY righteousness that can be found in my life is what falls under the cloak of Christ’s righteousness, which covers me.  The home of my heart is filled with righteous furnishings that have ALL been given to me by Jesus.  If it were up to me, my “home,” would be found void and empty and broken.  He however, covers me in His righteousness.  Without Jesus, I am spiritually bankrupt.

I think this is at the heart of Jesus’ teachings specifically the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12.  Those who want to inherit the Kingdom of God, must first find themselves…spiritually bankrupt.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

 Walking Alone


Yesterday, my son Isaac and I engaged in a brief excursion to spend 24 hours with my dad ice fishing.  On our trip northward, my truck began to act up.  Truth be told…that is not a true statement.  The truth would be that the truck had been acting up for about a two and a half years and I have continued to ignore the problem.  The acting up in this particular moment, actually refers to a transition from “acting up” to… “Houston, we have a problem.”  It appears that the growing moaning of the 4.3L V6 over the past 700+ days has developed into an alternator which is now refusing to charge the battery.  I watched as the voltmeter bounced erratically from right to left.  One moment the system was charging and the next moment the blinking red light on the dash told me that I should be ready to walk the rest of the way to the cabin.  I spent the next 45 minutes watching and hoping and praying that I would not have to walk in the bitter and blustery cold February afternoon. Praise be to God…we made it!

I cannot count the number of times that I have found myself stranded on the side of the road and having to walk alone down the highway looking for some way to find help. I have run out of gas. I have had flat tires…without a spare…or a flat spare…or a tire that was rusted to the hub and could not be removed to use the spare…or two flat tires simultaneously.  I have also found myself in snowy ditches, and with stalled engines.  Each of these moments has required me to extract myself from the comforts of the cockpit and put my feet to the pavement and walk…alone.

I am please to say…that I am still here.  In every one of those occasions, in one way or another, help arrived.  It did not always appear in a way that I had expected, yet I found that even after a few miles left behind, I found myself in the presence of a helper.

It seems that perhaps…I was never really walking alone after all.

Matthew 4:23-25, reveals Jesus walking.  He is walking all throughout Galilee and beyond.  He is not alone, as to the fact that many people…including his disciples…are following him.  But more so, I think I see that Jesus is walking with the purpose of being WITH the people.  He is walking WITH them.  I find myself asking the question, why?  Is it just to reveal his power as he heals and performs miracles?  Certainly that is entirely true.  I am convinced that there is more still.  I am convinced that Jesus CARES!! He walks with the people, because he cares for them. He cares about their struggle, their diseases and their affliction.  He also cares about yours.

May you come to know that no matter where you are walking, whether hardships or joys, you are not walking alone…because Jesus cares!!

Saturday, February 10, 2024

 Tethered


I used to be an energetic, adventurous father, who would regularly take my young children out of town  to shop, in order to give their dear mother a break from the unending demands of mothering. These outings had a reputation of going about as smoothly as expired cottage cheese forgotten in the back of an unplugged refrigerator, only to be discovered accidentally after a stench, not dissimilar to that of a rotting dairy cow, as it permeates its way through the entire shelter that is your home.

It is incredibly challenging to shepherd 3-4 children 6 years old and younger from one store to another.  The hazards of parking lots, moving cars, busy streets and rabid squirrels can add chaos to any and all attempts to keep the children safe and within arm’s reach. 

I had created circumstantial rules, which were to be implemented upon the arrival, and were dependent upon specific situations.  For example, if I were to take the children into a store that had many fragile items placed in the accessible regions of curious fingers, the children were required to keep their hands placed within the confines of their own pockets during the duration of the visit. If they did not obey and removed their hands from their pockets, the privilege of ice cream was removed from their immediate future. 

As another example, if we were crossing the street, the children were required to hold my hands so that I could ensure their safety.  On more than one occasion, one of my children would trip because their little legs could not keep up with my giant frame, or so they now claim. When a stumble would occur, I would snatch them up and swing them in the air and run, allowing their small bodies to flap in the wind until we had finished crossing. “Daddy! Your tight grip hurt my hand!”

“Well…my tight grip also saved you from skinning your knee on the road, slamming your face on the pavement and getting smashed by that semi-truck!”

On one such occasion, I took my 3 oldest children, who were 6, 5 and 3 at the time, shopping in the nearby town of Brainerd.  We had one primary stop to make…Menards.  Since our 4th child had recently been born, we knew that the need to finish the basement and add another usable bedroom was just on the horizon and thus it was time to pick up some of the supplies.  I along with 3 of my children, pulled into the nearest parking space we could find, and I gave my offspring the instructions.

“Ok…Here’s the deal.  We are going to stay together as we cross the busy parking lot…Isaac and Carissa will each hold one of my hands and Hannah, since you are the oldest and I only have two hands, I will need you to hold onto my pocket as we walk to the store.  Now…all three of you…be sure that you hold on and don’t let go.”

“Ok Daddy!”

“Ok Daddy!”

“What pocket should I hold Daddy? You have so many pockets on your shorts…I don’t know which pocket I should hold.”

I should have known that my over thinking oldest daughter would find a way to complicate things.

“Any pocket will be fine.”

“I think I will hold your back pocket.  Is that ok Daddy?”

“That will be just fine Hannah.”

We all crawled out of the mini-van and took our positions.  My left hand grasped Isaac’s right hand and my right held Carissa’s left, while Hannah secured herself to my back pocket.  We began to shuffle to the store front.  As we approached the curb, I swung both of the younger children up to the sidewalk ahead of me and just as I stepped up myself, it happened.  I felt a sudden tug on my shorts and heard a “rip.” Hannah had tripped on the edge of the curb and fallen to her knees and elbows, she was, however, still holding onto the fabric of my pocket.  It was at this time, that I began to feel the extended draft from the early morning, late spring air. 

“Oh, Sorry Daddy! I tripped.  I had my eyes closed because I was so scared and didn’t want to look at the moving cars and then I tripped on the curb.  It’s ok though…my knees and elbows are bleeding, but I didn’t let go of your pocket daddy!”

I reached back and realized that the entire backside of my cargo shorts had torn away. 

“Ok, kids…change of plans…we are going to Target.”

“Do you still want me to hold your pocket Daddy?”

“No…I want you to hold me at the waist from behind and stay VERY close.”

Imagine now, the repeat of instructions and walking into Target, only to have Isaac see a penny on the sidewalk…suddenly let go of my hand and run after the penny and smash his face into a nearby stone pillar...now what…band-aids or new shorts first?

It struck me at this time why I have seen some parents walk around with their children on what appear to be dog leashes.  What previously had seemed odd and unnecessary…now made perfect sense. 

Yet, I don’t see Jesus acting in the same manner when he calls his followers to “follow” him.  Jesus doesn’t throw a tether onto a proverbial collar of his disciples and drag them along like a disobedient puppy.  Rather, he beckons, “Follow me.” Here we find a key to the response of following Jesus.  In Matthew 4:18-22, we find that upon Jesus’ request to “Follow Me,” the brothers fishing in the Sea of Galilee leave their nets and their boats and follow Jesus.  They, in fact, remove the proverbial “tether” that holds them to their past and they freely follow Jesus.

May we come to release the tethers that hold us back and respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him.