Saturday, January 16, 2021

 Good News



It is really quite easy to get depressed, and in the opposite fashion, it is certainly quite challenging to stay optimistic. 

For example, with the recent snowfall from this past week…a pessimist may say…“Ugh!...I don’t like the snow…it is so wet…and cold…and then it gets slushy…and I really DON’T want to build a snow man…despite the catchy song!” Whereas, the optimists among us may exclaim, “Good news! It’s snowing!...Now I don’t have to go to work today and I can stay in my jammies all day!...Hooray!” Incidentally, COVID-19 has given many Americans the equivalent of 320 consecutive snow days.

I listened to someone say recently, “Good news! 2020 is over!...bring on 2021…it can’t be any worse!” Yet, I have heard others proclaim, “2021 might be ok…as longs as you don’t watch or pay attention to the news…especially the political news.  Ooops…too late…rough start to the new year.”

I remember, once, when my sister’s Barbie doll lost her head. She was so angry and frustrated with the mean brother who ripped the head off.  I tried to soothe her, by offering some encouraging and heartfelt words of consolation, “Hey look at the good news…now I won’t have to listen to you make that annoying Barbie doll voice that you do.”  She proceeded to attack me with the headless plastic figurine.  Oddly…my words landed on a hardened heart that day.

When my wife was giving birth to our first child…and fully wired to the contraction monitor, I once stated, “Good news honey here comes another contraction!...Ohhh! This looks like a really BIG one!”

My smile quickly faded, as her finger nails drew blood from my biceps and she kindly asked me to, “STOP GIVING ME REPORTS!” through gritted teeth.

Perhaps you are feeling like I am…in some desperate need for some Good News.  In Acts 27-28, we find the Apostle Paul on his final journey by boat…from Caesarea to Rome.  Along the way, he and the others on the ship are caught in a major storm for 2 weeks…adrift aimlessly at sea, eventually they are shipwrecked, and to top it all off, Paul is bitten by a poisonous viper.  Most would consider that journey to be a series of most unfortunate events.  Interestingly, throughout the story we find Paul seemingly poised…if not relaxed.  In fact, at one point, Paul breaks bread…and gives thanks.”  Paul seems so secure.  He seems secure with his current circumstances…he seems secure with his future…he seems secure in who he is and what God has called him to do.  Paul sees the Good News. 

I have come to believe that this Good News…is the very reason as to why Paul is so secure and at peace.  He has Good News.  He has a message of Good News.  In fact, when he finally arrives in Rome…the only thing that we really see him doing, is telling people of the Good News.  The Good News is this…Jesus’ Kingdom…is COMING!

So no matter how difficult we have it here and now…no matter how many Barbie dolls lose their heads or how much political mess the world finds itself in.  The Good News is the same.  Jesus IS COMING!, in which he will bring the Kingdom of God into fullness!

That…is some REALLY…GOOD NEWS.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

She Said Yes       



I was 23 years old and had just been hired at the Alliance Church in Little Falls, MN.  The year was 1999, and truth be told…I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing…who I was…or where I was going.  In contrast, I now know…who I wasn’t…where I have been…and I still don’t really know what I am doing…but, at least now, I am closer to learning who is in charge.  I was single at the time that I was hired…kind of.  Sarah and I had been dating for about 2 years…(I consider it 3 years…but apparently there was a year where I thought we were dating…but she didn’t see things in the same way)…so I will say 2 years. 

It was at this point in our relationship that I wanted to seal the deal.  I was desperately afraid that she would find out that I wasn’t really that great of a catch…so I needed to act quickly.  If I didn’t, she may learn that I only had 11 dollars to my name and cut things off because she didn’t want to live in the cardboard box I kept in the back of my 1991 Ford Escort.

I drove 12 hours to visit her…a week before I began my new job.  Technically speaking…visiting her was my second priority for that trip.  The top priority lay with the intimidating task of asking her father for permission to propose to his daughter.  That was the second scariest moment of my life…the first being watching “The Shining” at age 6.  On the morning before I was supposed to head back to Little Falls…I knew that it was time to pull the trigger. I got up early that morning…and spoke to her father…asking his permission…which he granted…after lecturing me about finances and providing for her…I told him, “I’m good!...I have 11 dollars!”

One month later…the moment of truth came.  I had it all planned out.  She and I were going to attend my college roommates wedding for which I was a groomsman.  I was going to pick her up when she arrived and take her to our favorite park and walk along the beach on the shores of Lake Minnetonka and pop the question.

The problem was…she was delayed in traffic…and arrived 2 hours later than planned.  She told me that she would meet me at the groom’s dinner at the church after the rehearsal.  Hesitantly I agreed and went to the church.  She arrived just minutes before the rehearsal was finished and we went to sit at the meal together.  Time was not in my favor.  The weight of the ring in my pocket continued to grow as I watched the clock tick away.  I needed to get to the tuxedo shop before they closed at 8:00…and it was already 6:45!  I ate my 8 oz. parmesan chicken breast in two bites and my mixed vegetables in one…shoved the dinner role in my pocket for later and asked, “Are you finished?”

“Wow!  That was nuts! What’s the hurry? We haven’t even had dessert yet…it’s cheesecake…and you know how I feel about cheesecake.”

I sat there…shaking…my knee bouncing under the table, rattling the flatware and splashing droplets of water out of the short plastic cups.  “Chill out!” she uttered.

“Easy for her to say,” I thought….but said, “I need to go get my tuxedo!”

“Fine,” she said…just as the cheesecakes arrived.  It took her 16 bites to finish the 2” square! I had my done in 1.

“Do you want me to finish that for you?” I asked!

“Why are you so jumpy?!” She begged?

Finally when she finished…I grabbed her hand and drug her to the Ford Escort...I pointed us eastward toward the tuxedo shop and put the accelerator to the floor.  The small 1.9 liter, manual transmission made it to 30 mph in about 4.5 minutes, just as we were finally getting up to speed…I slowed down and swung into the parking lot of our favorite beach…“The Plan”…was back on. 

“What are you doing?” she tersely beckoned!

“I just thought it would be nice for us to walk along the beach before we go to the tuxedo shop.”

“What??? We don’t have time for this!”

“Now she realizes it!” I thought.  “Just a quick walk…from one end to the other…”

“This is stressful!”

“Come on! It will be quick!”

“Fine”

The disgust in her voice was dripping with frustration and confusion.

“Let’s take off our shoes.”

“What!? What is wrong with you? Have you lost your mind?”

“Let’s just take of our shoes.” 

We took off our shoes…and I grabbed her hand…and we began to speed walk to the other end of the beach.

“Why are you walking so fast?”

“Because we don’t have time for this.”

“Exactly! That is what I was saying!”

“Come on! Move it! Get your knees up!...Look alive there, sweetheart!”

Just as we approached the other end of the beach…I cried out, “OUCH!!”

“What now?” She implored.

“I stepped on something…some glass or something.”

“Seriously!?”

“Owie…owie…owie…It hurts!” I squeaked, “I need you to look at it!”

I hobbled over to a large rock…sat down…reached for my foot and lifted it to my lap while secretly slipping the ring onto one of my toes.

“Do you see anything?” I asked.

She said nothing for a moment…and then…“What?.....Ryan….What?”

I took the ring…got down on one knee and said, “Sarah…I love you…Will you marry me?”

She said…”Did you ask my dad?”

“Yes…I did.”

“And he said it was ok?”

“Yes…He did.”

Then she said, “Yes!”

I cannot tell you the relief I felt at that moment. She said YES!

“Great!  Let’s go get my tuxedo!  We don’t have time for this!” I grabbed her hand and drug her back to the less than sports car.

She couldn’t take her eyes off of the ring…and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her (fortunately it was a 3 lane high way and I had plenty of room to swerve).

It was after this moment…that I was obsessed with telling everyone that she said YES…she actually said yes!.  I told everyone.  Why? Because I loved her…and she loved me…and she said yes. She was just as obsessed as telling the story as I was!

In Acts 26, we find Paul speaking to King Agrippa after about 2 years of imprisonment.  When he is given an opportunity to defend himself…he uses it as a time to tell Agrippa…ALL ABOUT JESUS!  Why does he do that?  He could have defended himself and been set free.  (The Bible says so in vs. 32)! Paul speaks about Jesus…because he LOVES Jesus.  When we truly love something…or someone…we can’t help but to testify to that love.  I love my wife and my kids…and I love Jesus.  I will speak about all of them…anytime.


Saturday, December 19, 2020

 Come on Down!



There are some days where we wish we had just stayed in bed…for some of us…that would describe most weekdays.  I recall one given day, in late summer 1997, when I had slept through too many snooze cycles on my alarm clock and found myself running very late for work.  On this particular Monday morning, the boss was pulling me from my usual role in the cabinet shop to work in the field on a roofing job.  I jumped in my car and hit 4th gear before I was out of the driveway.  By the time I arrived to the job site, the entire crew was already on the roof pulling shingles.  This was a bummer…because it meant that I was going to have to be the ground man.  I hated being the ground man.  That is the guy who has to keep picking up all of the shingles off of the ground and collecting nails from the client’s yard.  As I was making laps around the building with a large magnet to find nails, I came across a peculiarly long rusty one as it penetrated through the bottom of my shoe and into my foot.

When The Boss arrived on site and was looking for me to find out why I was late, he was told to follow the blood trail…which he did and found me sitting in the truck tending to my punctured sole.

“Why are you not on the roof?”

“I was trying to stop the bleeding…I was just about to apply a tourniquet.”

“Forget the blood and get all of these new shingles hauled up onto the roof…by hand.”

“Yes sir.”

I began carrying bundle after bundle, first setting them on the edge of the roof…then making trips from one end of the roof to the other, carrying multiple bundles at a time.

As I was repeating these trips, I found a sudden change to the monotony, as I began to plummet through the roof after stepping on a weak board.  If it had not been for my tool belt wrapping around my armpits and breaking my fall, I may have found myself interrupting the client’s Price is Right with my own “showcase.”  I could hear Bob Barker’s voice below my feet calling, “Come on Down!,” while I was mentally begging my coworkers to “Pull me on up! Pull me on up!”

“Hey what are you doing?” The foreman gruffly demanded.

“Nothing much…just falling through the roof.”

“Well…fix it…we don’t have time for this.”

At this point, I couldn’t wait for lunch…during which time I found myself getting hammered from behind by my coworker’s car as he rear-ended me at the stop sign.

“Hey, why did you stop here?”

“Because of the stop sign!”

“Well get going!”

“But you rear-ended me!”

“How would you like me to hammer you again…only on your head with my Estwing?”

…I went.

By the end of the day…I just wanted to quit…I wanted to give up…I wanted to go home and not return…but…I didn’t

My suffering was all pretty superficial...especially when I consider how Christ suffered.  I am reminded of how he took our sin and shame…my sin and shame…and he bore it on the cross.  He “endured” it. The weight that Jesus endured is a weight that I just cannot fathom…and yet he carried it…he bore it…he endured the weight.  Why?

Because of love.

He endured it because of love.

He didn’t quit…because God is love…and love doesn’t quit.  1 Corinthians 13 speaks of this incredible love.  Vs. 7, “Love does not give up…”

May we come to know that Jesus’ love for you, will never give up, and may our love become as enduring as the love of Christ.

 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

 Stockings


When I was a child, I loved Christmas.  Now, as an adult, I still love Christmas, which I truly find intriguing considering how much I despise putting the icicle lights on the house.  Don’t misunderstand me, I love the fact that the lights are up…and lit.  They bring something festive to a relatively bleak time of the year.  I am reminded of how at “just the right time,” Jesus came…bringing “light” into a very dark world.  We need that light all the more in 2020. 

I think that stockings were my favorite part of Christmas.  No…not the kind that come in the giant Easter egg that Mom kept in her drawer…the kind that you hang by the chimney with care.  The earliest stocking experience I remember as a child, was coming down the dark brown, carpeted stairs (which incidentally still exists and is over 50 years old) and spotting my stocking hanging on a curtain rod.  We used curtain rods, nails, screws, door knobs, and may have had to resort to ceiling fan blades if we hadn’t finally had a chimney installed.  Sticking out of the top of my large colorful stocking was a new, red, toy airplane…right next to a package of “big boy pants” and some tube socks.  Had it not been for the airplane…I might have written Santa a nasty note.  I remember taking the airplane out of the stocking and thinking…“How did Santa’s elves make this?  Boy, are they good at making toys.” I then considered… “I thought elves just made toys…what’s with the underwear?”

I remember talking to my friends about Christmas and stockings and such.  I was confused as to why some of my friends got presents from Santa…while others, like myself, only received a filled stocking from Santa…and still others, got nothing from Santa at all.  I came to learn a very important truth…Santa loves some kids more than others. I knew that this was much more likely than that silly “Naughty/Nice List,” because I was perpetually on the naughty list…and yet, my brothers and I, both received the same load of goods in our stockings each year.

As I have aged, so has my taste in desirable goods brought by Santa.  Now, instead of airplanes and toys…I like coffee, chocolate, tools, and fishing lures.  I still wonder how elves make all of that stuff.

Over the last few years, I have taken the liberty of “helping Santa out.” Each year, I secretly purchase things that “I” would like in my stocking…and then, when no one is looking, I stuff the items into my own stocking.  I do this mostly because I think it is funny…and, I suppose, to be fully truthful…because I am a little bit selfish.

Despite my intentions of humor...this practice paints a picture for me, of something that we read about in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.  This New Testament chapter is all about love…it speaks to what love is and what love is not.  Love is NOT self seeking. Love IS kind.  Love does NOT make things about ourselves.  Yet, let’s be honest with one another, I am NOT the only one doing this.  Perhaps I AM the only one doing this with his stocking at age 44…but we all…yes ALL…tend to make this life about ourselves.  We tend to make the love in 1 Corinthians 13 about ourselves.  In an interesting paradox…we make church about ourselves…when it is supposed to be ALL about Jesus.

As Paul writes in Philippians chapter 2, “We are to be like Christ Jesus…who was God…but He lowered himself in humility…may we learn to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus” (paraphrase). This life is all about Him…and yet…He…in an amazing act of love…made His love all about us.

Despite the fact that I will likely stuff my own stocking again with goodies this year…I pray that I can come to fill other’s stocking with love more than my own…but...I should probably make sure that there isn't a foot in them at the time.  May you be led to do likewise.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

 The Sweater



Christmas time is stressful.  It always feels like there is plenty of time to buy all of the necessary Christmas gifts, but inevitably, I end up scrambling to make all of the last minute purchases in time.  One year the final Christmas gift arrived on Christmas morning…(I gave the Creative Memories associate who personally delivered my item an extra generous tip of $1.00…doubling my standard donation).  Once I had the package in hand, I scurried the item away…wrapped it…and then watched my wife tear it open 45 seconds later. 

Last second gift purchases can be some of the most memorable…and most often returned…including the Grinch jammies given to one of my daughters last year.

I suppose I come by it honestly.  My father once gave my mother a XXXXL Sweater one year.  That’s right…you did count the correct number of X’s correctly.  That didn’t go over well.  However, it was extraordinary to see how the sweater was able to be repurposed as a portable fish house.

We have all had experiences of receiving good gifts…and some not so good gifts.  There have been a few rare occasions when I have scored on the gift giving front. Such as the year I gave Sarah some handmade picture frames from an old church pew that her parents given to us from their home church.  Yet, on another occasion, it took me 6 years and 6 attempts to get her a winter coat that she actually liked.  Actually...in the end, she just returned each of my poor offerings and just bought a coat for herself.

Contrarily to the whole 4X fiasco, my dad is actually a good gift giver.  He takes time and thinks about what a person likes…is interested in…and then he gives things that the person wouldn’t normally go and get themselves, but actually find delightful.  One of my favorites is a simple steel shelf that he made.  It screws into a tree…and holds my backpack and my coffee cup.  He combined my love for hunting and coffee and gave accordingly.

I am reminded of what Jesus says in Matthew 7, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

I know what you are thinking…”Wow! You just called your dad evil!”

You are right…I did.  But so am I, and so are you…so let’s move on.

The point is…even considering all of the best gifts that we have receive in this world…even the best gifts that we have given…out of love…are nothing compared to the incredible gift of God.  Jesus!

1 Corinthians 13 expresses the incredible nature of love…and 1 John 3, lays out the amazing picture of love, “This is how we know what love is…Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”

May you come to see the Gift of God this Christmas…it is a Gift of Love.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

 What is Love



Experts say that you are not supposed to spank your children with your hand.  I have heard that this supposedly causes emotional scars on the child and damages the parent child relationship to the extent that the child may associate their parent’s hand with abuse and grow to mistrust their parents. I don’t know that I can fully agree with this assessment.  My dad’s hand swatted my tush more times than I care to remember, and I don’t feel that this affected my trust in him whatsoever.  However, watching Steven King’s, The Shining, at age 6, and seeing my brother accidentally hit in the face with a splitting maul may have led to some minor distrust…not to mention, having my dad throw an arrow in front of my nose as I stepped into the garage, (because apparently it was funny) and being deserted with my brother on the side of an isolated country gravel road??, (again…funny). Yeah, that didn’t exactly bolster trust, but the spanking???... no…not so much. 

I know that there can be a great deal of opinions tied to spankings, but as a pastor, I have no choice but to adhere to this controversial correctional system. As one who teaches to obey the Word of God, including Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares the rod, hates his son,” I must therefore be willing to initiate the task as necessary…because after all…I love my children more than any father ever has…save God himself.

Despite my personal growth experience as a child, I choose not to use my hand during the disciplinary action.  I have heard countless stories of wooden spoons being broken over children’s bottoms…and being an extremely frugal minded father…I really didn’t want to have to continually purchase replacements.  The implement of choice in our home was a plastic slotted spoon.  It was by nature a cooking utensil first and foremost…I couldn’t justify the purchase of a singular spoon…just for spanking…so the spoon was utilized in the cooking of spaghetti, beans, rice and the ever famous macaroni and cheese.  This came in particularly handy…when a spanking was needed during the cooking of the evening meal.  There was no need to waste time searching for the instrument of discipline.

Each night we would begin our bedtime routine; jammies, dental hygiene, potty time, drink of water, story, song, tuck in, threaten a spanking, close the door, open the door to see the child out of bed and threaten the spanking again, yell through the closed door...“If you are not in bed when I open this door, I will have to get the spoon!,” open the door just in time to see their little bare feet dash back onto the mattress, walk to the utensil drawer and rattle it…while loudly speaking to your spouse “IF SHE IS OUT OF BED WHEN I GET IN THERE I WILL HAVE TO SPANK HER.”

On one of these adventurous nights…after rattling the drawer…and continuing to see my threats disregarded…I was left with no choice but to take the spoon of doom…and march into my daughter’s bedroom.  I held the spoon aloft like a sword at the ready and boldly stated, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS FOR????....DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS FOR???...”

At the sight of the spoon…my daughter began to cry.

”No want panking!!! No want panking!!!”

“DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS FOR???”

Sob, sob, sniffle, sniffle…”iiiittts…iiiitts….iiiits…it’s for making ‘roni and cheese…”

How do you spank a child after that?

I took her gently in my arms and placed her face down over my lap…I raised the spoon…laid my other hand gently over her footie jammied bottom…and began to spank the back of my left hand as I sternly remarked…“STAY IN BED.”

She wailed…though the spoon never touched her. I hugged her. She hugged me…I tucked her in and she went to sleep.

I took that one for the team.  It was an act of love.  To let it go un-corrected…would not have been an act of love.  But that day, I took the correction for her.  I don’t know that she ever realized what I did that night.  But that is just a small taste of the love that God expresses to us in Jesus.  The Bible says that God is love…and then he “manifested” (big word for “made known”) his love…in Jesus.  When we say “yes” to a relationship with him, we then have that manifested love…living in us by His Spirit…we can then love…like he loves.  This manifestation of love first came…at Christmas.

May you come to see that the love spoken of in 1 John 4:7-20 and 1 Cor. 13 is all about God’s manifested love for us.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

 Windows 95



I bought my first real computer in college.  Prior to this monumental event, I had been resigned to engage all of my research in the nerdy depths of the technology lab…which was filled with gamers and over-achieving 100mph typists cranking out their 30 page theses weeks before they were due.  It was just my luck that every time that I entered the lab to cram my paper into existence 3 ½ hours before the midnight deadline…no computer would be available. This is just another example of how life just is not fair.

I needed my own private machine!

For a short time, I was able to land a 3 foot by 4 foot mother ship computer that covered 78.5% of my dorm room desk.  However, this green monitored machine didn’t last long…due to the fact that when I fired up the 10 minute ignition cycle, the main breakers would blow and the entire 3rd floor occupancy of the men’s main dorm would storm my room throwing rotting fruit and degrading insults.

I needed to figure something out to foster my procrastinating instincts…and the solution wasn’t black bananas.  My mother told me that her sister…my aunt…was selling a computer…for $100.  That was a high price for me to pay…especially at that time, but my pizza delivering tips from the past weekend would just about cover it.

I met her at a nearby McDonalds for the black market exchange.  However, after spending $5.75 on a double quarter pounder with cheese meal while waiting for her to arrive…I was forced to negotiate the priced down to $94.25…tax free…(let’s be honest…it was her fault…she should have been punctual).

Not long after launching my new machine in my dorm room…I came across a 1995 Windows upgrade disc!  Score! Now I was going to get even more stuff done…at the last minute…than ever before. 

However…I did not know how to install the upgrade.  “Hmmm…how hard can it be?,” I thought, “The new files…just need to go where the old files were…piece of cake.”

I dug into my “system files” folder…and began removing all of the old files…so that the new files could be inserted in their place.  Everything seemed to be going fine…until the screen went white…and stayed…white…forever.

“Hmmm…I wonder if you remove the system files…if the machine stops working?...“Apparently…the answer to that unspoken question was…yes.”

Having just destroyed my new $94.25 machine…I asked my next door neighbor if he had any thoughts as to what I should do.

“Go ask Nathan…down in the Tech Department.”

I cringed at the words…“Tech Department.”

This is the area of the college that I avoided…by all means possible…if I could.  That is the reason I delivered all those pizzas…to buy a computer…so I wouldn’t have to go there anymore.

With nothing left to do…but humble myself.  I walked into the Tech Lab…to abruptly hear…ALL of the incessant speedy typing stop…instantly…and felt every eye staring into my shallow soul.  I approached the  student supervisor…Nathan…and told him what I needed. 


“What did you do?” He asked.

“I deleted all of my system files.”

The laughter began with a rolling of the eyes and a chuckle…and crashed through the rest of the lab like a tsunami…

I felt about 3 inches tall…but the Lord has ways of keeping us humble. 

Nathan said…“Yes I can fix it…but it is going to cost you.”

“How much?”

“One package of Oreos”

“Deal.”

Nathan fixed my computer in about 18 minutes.  It felt like my machine went from life…to death…back to life.  I was ecstatic! I think I would have bought him 6 packages of Oreos for what he was able to do.

There is something truly amazing…about life.  The miracle of birth can, perhaps, only be topped…by the miracle of rebirth.  Acts 21:17-23:11, brings to life several truth themes…but, perhaps, the most poignant one…the most powerful one…the one that give true hope beyond hope…the resurrection of Jesus Christ…and the promise of hope…the promise of new life…the promise of eternal life that that brings.

The Lord has struck me once again with this amazing…awesome truth.  I am slack jawed as I consider the hope of life…with Him

May we come to see the amazing hope in the resurrection!