Saturday, April 21, 2018


Birth


My wife loves giving birth.  I know right!? That seems entirely foreign to me.  I have been there.  I have experienced…the screaming…the tears…the fear…the panic…and that doesn’t even include what Sarah may have been feeling.
Sarah had long labors…the shortest one being around 13 hours and the longest pushing 36 hours.  I remember the long grueling walks, during the nine, post-due date days, while expecting our fourth born.  I am pretty sure I developed plantar fasciitis from those walks.  Sarah then labored all through the night, at home, before going into the hospital at 4:30 in the morning. I don’t do well with such a lack of sleep.
Our third born brought a particularly hard labor, after hours of attempts to induce labor activity, I was forced to sleep in an uncomfortable recliner for the night.  I remember having to rub Sarah’s lower back continuously the next day, while my cheeseburger got cold.
It has always struck me that after each delivery Sarah would verbally state, “I love that feeling. When it’s all over, and I hold my baby for the first time…it’s all worth it.”
That’s pretty impressive.
Jesus uses these experiences as a metaphor in John 16:16-33.  He is telling His disciples that He is leaving...but He will see them again in a “little while.” Jesus says to them, “You will feel grief”…pain…but, like the pain of a mother giving birth, it will last a short while, and then they will be overcome with a joy that will last forever.
Jesus promises…that He will return and with His return, a joy that will last, and last, and last.  He will not die again. He will not leave again. He brings a joy that will last.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Reveal


My son’s eyes nearly exploded out of his young face as he saw his grandfather pouring a blanket of sugar over his bowl of Cheerios.
Whenever our children came home from having stayed with Grandma and Grandpa for a weekend, a day or even an hour, Sarah and I had to help them relearn our own house rules.  Such as, cookies are not allowed for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Caffeinated coffee is not intended for children under 8 years old.  Donuts are not considered to be a “whole grain” food.  There is no need to blanket Cocoa Puffs with sugar,  and despite Grandma’s favorite rally cry, “Grandma’s my name and spoiling is my game.” Dad’s slogan remained, “Dad’s my name and no…you can’t have that…or that…or that.”
I remember when my son first came home and asked to put sugar over his cereal.  Though Sarah and I had both grown up pouring sugar over our cereal, we wanted to limit the amount of sugar our children took in and with it, lower their energy level, naturally.  Thus, we chose not to introduce our children to this treasured secret.  I have memories of pouring sugar over every spoonful of Wheaties while simultaneously digging in the box for the next cool cereal box toy.
Like my son, I was always the first one up in the mornings, so I was nearly always the first to get at the cereal and have the first crack at the cereal box toy.  I remember some my favorite rewards included a $1 bill from Cheerios (I was one of one million people who shared a one million dollar jackpot), a Wacky Wall Walker (what is more fun than throwing a sticky plastic octopus to the wall and watching it crawl down the wall…until it gets dirty…then it just falls to the floor and gets dirtier) and a color changing spoon from a box of Trix.
I recall on one such occasion, where I had to dig inside of a box of cereal to find a prized piece of red cellophane, that was needed to be able to read the secret message on the back of the cereal box (this was at a time where germs had not yet been invented in my pre-adolescent mind, so I was certain no one would mind my sticky little fingers handling every sugary, frosted flake inside the box).  Without that simple red filter…there was no hope of reading the important secret message…which probably said something like, “Trix are for kids.” or “They’re Grrreat!” or some other super important message.
Our lives are filled with revelations.  Our parents reveal to us our misbehaviors and their expectations of us.  They, perhaps, reveal that wooden spoon hidden in the drawer when those expectations are not met.  Our parents can also reveal many life skills to us…like, how to live…how to manage money, how to treat others, how to speak to others, how to love our own children and how to reveal these things to our children as well…and perhaps, how not to blanket our cereal with an acre of sugar.
As great as our parents are as “revealers,” there is another who reveals an even greater message.  In John 16:5-16, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will come and “reveal” to the world its guilt in sin, righteousness and judgment.  Though that may sound negative, there is a beauty in recognizing our own guilt.  When we recognize our own guilt, our own lack of righteousness and the judgment that follows, we find ourselves primed for the message of hope that is also revealed.  The message is the promise that Jesus has conquered our sin, given us His righteousness and taken our deserved judgment upon Himself.
That is a message that is worth having revealed.

Saturday, April 7, 2018


Unloaded


My wife and I sat peacefully on the sofa together, enjoying some quiet time as the kids rested.  Before we had our fourth child we were able to put all three of our children down for naps all at the same time, in separate rooms.  We would put our oldest daughter downstairs in her own room, our son would nap in our room, and our youngest daughter (at the time) would sleep in her crib.  As parents of three children four years old and younger, times like these were cherished moments for the two of us.
As we sat there basking in the silence, we began to hear the small voice of the one year old, cooing unintelligibly in her room.  She seemed cheery…pleasant…even happy.  She, unlike our son at that age, had not yet learned to extract herself from the confines of her crib, so we had no reason to be concerned. Finally, we felt that as “good parents” we should check on her.  I was elected to sneak a peek at the happy girl, to make sure she was still safely confined and happy. The idea was to sneak a peek, without being noticed, so that the happy play could continue and thus extending our time of peace.
I slowly turned the knob and cracked the door.  As a slit in the door jamb expanded, I was blasted by an odor worse than death itself and struggled to remain conscious.  Through blurry, watery eyes that were struggling to adjust to the dim light, I saw something unexpected.  This little one year old girl was not wearing her footy jammies.  This little girl was not wearing her little white onesie.  My child was not wearing a diaper! Our one year old artist had painted her white crib brown! This little bundle of stinky joy was sucking her two favorite sucking fingers!
I had two words to express my response.  Number one, “Nasty!” …There could not be a second word because I had passed out before I could come up with one…technically…I probably didn’t faint…just wished I had.
After pinching myself in an attempt to wake up from the bad dream I was hoping I was experiencing, I raised up the courage to croak out the words, “Sarah!...Carissa needs you!”
We all need change in our lives at some point.  This little girl needed a diaper change…but she decided to make the changes that she wanted to make, on her own…it didn’t turn out so well.
Change will always lead to conflict.  If we resist it, we find conflict with those implementing it.  If we embrace it, we find conflict with those resisting it.  Not all changes are worth embracing.  Likewise, not all changes are worth resisting.
When Jesus came to this earth he brought with Him some changes.  These changes were not something that most people wanted to embrace.  Jesus brought truth and love to a world stuck in untruth and hate.  In John 15:18-16:4, Jesus tells his disciples, about how much the world will hate them because the world first hated Him.  The world hated Jesus because He revealed to the world, that the world was stuck in sin.  Jesus came to not only reveal the sin…but He came to take care of the sin.
When I stepped into my daughter’s room on that fateful day and turned on the light…the revelation of her filth came into the light.  Then my wife and I dealt with the filth.  We were not ok to let her continue in her filth, so we revealed it.  Certainly, she was too young to know that we were revealing her filth and dealing with it. But we were not.  When Jesus reveals to mankind…to the Jewish leaders…to his disciples…to us…the truth about ourselves…what will we do? Will we hate him? Or, will we embrace how he is trying to change us and deal with our sin?
It’s a battle between love and hate.

Saturday, March 31, 2018


Snow Wrecker


I woke up this morning to a fresh 8-12nches of snow. Having grown up in Minnesota, I have come to expect late winter snowfalls.  For the most part, I enjoy Minnesota winters.  I like snow…Nordic skiing…ice fishing…watching the kids go sledding…(I used to go sledding with the children…but now at age 42…I don’t mind the going “down”…but the coming back “up”…is not nearly as thrilling as it used to be.  Not to mention that when my oldest daughter was 6 years old, she and I went down the hill together and she flew off and broke her collar bone…that was a bummer)…and fat biking.
In attempt to fight back at the un-preferred weather, I will often head out to indulge in the white hills of splendor upon my fat bike.  This morning was no different. When I arrived at the trail and observed how they were still untouched by bikes, skis and feet…I was excited to be the first one to traverse the smooth, snow covered landscape. I guess you could say that I am, at heart, a “snow wrecker.”  I particularly enjoy looking back across the snow and seeing the single track laid behind the back tire of my bike.
I attacked the new snow with vigor that lasted approximately 30 seconds but felt like 10 minutes……and then, with the snow reaching nearly to my hubs, and my quadriceps quivering from exertion, I had a decision to make.  Do I turn around and push my bike back out of the trail and head for home or…do I keep going into the wild white yonder of the snow covered hill before me.  I chose the latter.
Standing at the bottom of the hill, I set one goal for myself…to get to the top.  My first attempt to climb the hill went about 10 yards, before I spun out and had to try again.  I wheeled the bike back to the bottom, packing the snow beneath me as I went.  My second attempt went only slightly better…perhaps adding 10 more yards.  The third attempt…a little farther.  The fourth attempt…I struggled to get anywhere and so I didn’t go as far.  The fifth attempt…a little farther.  I continued this pattern, over and over again, mostly gaining ground…sometimes going next to nowhere.  After about 15 minutes, I had traveled about 60 yards of the estimated 500 yard length of the hill, and I was pretty sure that my lungs had begun to turn inside out and were ballooning out of my nose.
At the 25 minute mark, I had reached the halfway point and I became convinced that my lungs were now bleeding.  Finally, after nearly 45 minutes of death on a bicycle, I reached the summit of the hill.  I laid down…made a quick snow demon…(which is like a snow angel…only you just lay there and don’t move anything).
Then I picked up my dizzy self…got on my bike…and worked my way back down the hill. When I was done…there was no, “neat little tire track in the snow.”  The path that I had gone on was a wide berth of footprint…bike tracks…spit…lung mucus…and body prints.  To say I was a snow wrecker…would be like saying, “My dog’s breath stinks.” It simply goes without saying.
The Bible uses the words snow and sin in the same sentence several times. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”  This power of sin cleansing…came through the work of Jesus Christ on that very first Easter.  I might be a snow wrecker…but Jesus is a “sin wrecker.” He came to crush sin…our sin…my sin, thus making us…me…like the thick white carpet that I woke up to this morning.  I am thankful for the 8-12” reminder this morning of the sin wrecking that Jesus did.

Saturday, March 24, 2018


Garden


My dad is not exactly a “great” gardener.  In fact, recent years has revealed gardening skills which reflects the strategy, “If I pave the entire lawn…I won’t ever have to mow the grass!”  True...and maybe, if he were to paint the concrete green, it would at least look like a lawn.
I remember as a child, my dad purchased an old Allis Chalmers B series tractor and a number of old farm equipment accessories.  Initially it was suspected that he was engaging in an endeavor to construct an antique farm equipment museum…but no…it actually appeared that he intended to use them.  I can’t deny that it certainly was interesting to see how an old pull behind potato planter, potato digger, corn planter, cultivator, plow, disc, and rake all worked.  It didn’t take long for a tractor…even an old small one…to plow up half of our 3 total acres. 
What can you do with a 1 ½ acre garden? You can plant 1 acre of sweet corn, nearly ½ acre of potatoes…and then fill the rest with beets and onions.  This particular year he planted 100 onions.  I hated onions.  My dad loved to plant the garden…but when it came to caring for the garden…he was pretty much hands off.  My 3 siblings and I were then hired at a rate of roughly 10 cents per hour to weed 1 ½ acres of corn, potatoes and onions.  Our pay was not usually seen in cold hard cash as much as in the form of imaginary promissory notes.
It’s hard to be motivated to take care of such a large garden with so little incentive…not to mention…hating onions.  Regretfully, one fateful weeding day, I attacked the weeds around the onions with a hoe…eliminating the weeds and an estimated 82% of the onions.  This resulted in a stern lecture and a threat to reduce my pay.  The lecture was a far greater motivation.
Gardening is much more than just planting.  My dad was a great planter…or perhaps more accurately…a great “player,” as he loved to “play” farmer on his farm equipment.  However, aside from planting and reaping, he was not terribly involved.
In John 15:1-17, Jesus gives his disciples a metaphor. He says that He (Jesus) is the True Vine…and that the Father is the Gardener.  The Father is active in pruning and taking care of the “branches”…which is those who have chosen to follow Christ.  I don’t think anyone likes being “pruned.” It’s painful…uncomfortable…not fun.  Yet, through the work of the Gardener, we produce more of the good stuff! 
If we had done better work…perhaps we would have seen a greater harvest of potatoes, corn, beets, and onions.  The next time you are pruned…recognize the benefits…that you have an active Gardener creating in you a greater harvest of fruit…such as love.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


Hoover


Quite a number of years ago, my wife and I purchased a Japanese fighting fish, better known as a Beta fish, from one of the students in our youth ministry at the church.  We were guaranteed that it was a male fish…the male fish are the ones that grow these long flowing fins, and you have to keep them alone in their own fish bowl or they will kill whatever other fish that enters their water.  She was wrong…we got a female fish…they don’t grow the long flowing fins…nor do they look fancy or pretty.  The female Betas pretty much look like an angry Crappie minnow.
So we asked her… “Since it is a female fish…and not a male fish, can we put other fish in with her?”
“Yes…that should be fine…it’s only the male Beta fish that you have to keep separated.”
This was good news! Now we had the green light to buy a Plecostomus…(an ugly algae eating fish), so that we wouldn’t have to clean the 10 gallon fish tank which contained the equivalent of a single one inch fish.
Two days later…I couldn’t find the Plecostomus, affectionately named Hoover.  I scoured the tank until I finally spotted something “fishy”…well…formerly “fishy.”  I observed that there was a cleanly picked Plecostomus skeleton settled gently against the pea gravel waving its tail in the current of the circulation pump…that’s creepy.
“Hey! I thought you said you could put other fish in with a female Beta!?”
“You can.”
“Well…how do you explain this?” showing her the skeletal remains.
“Maybe she just needs time to get used to a new fish.”
“It’s dead…how much more time does it need?”
“Try another one.”
So we did.  Since Hoover met an untimely demise…and thus the name was retired…we opted for “Hickie.”
It seemed to be working…Hickie lasted over a week and we thought we were good to go. Until…we turned our back for one night…and in the morning we had our second Plecostomus doing a back float.
“That female Beta killed another fish!”
“What kind of fish?”
“A Plecostomus”
“Try a Goldfish.”
“I don’t WANT TO TRY A GOLD FISH…I WANT A PLECOSTOMUS!”
We tried the goldfish.  He was picked finless before he finally cashed it in.
When we lose something…like a pet…or something of value to us…or even a close friend or a family member, it’s irreplaceable.
In John chapter 14:13-31…Jesus says something remarkable.  Leading up to this passage he has just told his disciples that he is leaving…but then he says…don’t be troubled by that…because I am going to send “another” counselor.  If I were the disciples I would be like…“I don’t want “another”…I want YOU JESUS!.” However, what is interesting to note is…that this word “another” in the original Greek language it was written in means… “Another JUST LIKE Jesus.”
Jesus comforts his disciples and us…by sending “another” that is JUST LIKE HIM. He sends us the Holy Spirit.  I think it is time for us to take a closer look at this Spirit…who is just like Jesus.

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Casa de Luz


I knew where we were going and I didn’t want to arrive.  It had been a long week…I was mentally exhausted and physically spent.  I had brought a team of students and volunteer leaders into a foreign culture to build relationships near the southern coast of the Dominican Republic.  We had engaged in ministry to young children and played basketball with people living in the community.  I don’t play basketball.  It’s not that I just don’t play basketball well…it’s really more that I don’t play it. 
I remember in college and even in my early days of youth ministry, it wasn’t uncommon for a group of guys to pull together a “pick up” basketball game.  I was frequently asked to play…and on a mere handful of occasions I conceded. 
“Can you shoot?” they would ask.
“Nope”
“Can you dribble?”
“Not on purpose”
“Can you pass?”
“Only when I am in a fast car”
“Ok…You stand here and rebound the ball”
I was usually given a rule clarification at some point during those games. “You can’t wrestle the ball from him…nor can you tackle the ball carrier…”  Apparently…when they say basketball is a non contact sport…they are serious.
I was talked into playing one of these basketball games while in the Dominican.  It appeared that the strategy of our team, was to have me continually run from one end of the court to the other end of the court and never touch the ball.  I did make contact with the ball once as I jumped for a pass that I thought was directed to me and tipped it out of the reach of my teammate…the one who the pass was intended for.
So it was needless to say…I was tired…and ready to go home.  Yet, I knew that this last stop was necessary.  Anxiety was building within me, because I knew what I had been told about this place and I didn’t know if I had the capacity to handle it at this time.
The building was extraordinarily ordinary…but the inside was about to be something that I had never experienced.  The first thing you notice as you cross the threshold of the entryway door is the silence.  Not the kind of silence you find when your 5th grade teacher has made the entire class put their heads on their desk because the class has been insanely crazy and they need a respite.  Rather, the kind of silence you find as you walk into a formal restaurant …probably by accident…hushed tones and whispers.  There is a long hallway…and in each room to the left and right you find children…but, these are not the sounds you would normally hear from children.  Every one of these children has something in common…they have been abandoned.  Not just abandoned…they have been rejected because they were seen as useless.  These children are physically and mentally broken.  Many of these children will never walk…many will never talk…most will never leave this orphanage.  This is the only life they have or will know…and honestly, in their mental state…do they even know life? Do they experience it?...Life?
That is the question isn’t it?  Is there value to these lives?  Many people would look at these children and argue…why let them live? What kind of life can they even live?
Here is my conclusion…each of these children do have something in common…they were created in the “Image of God,” just the same as you and I.  They bear the same stamp of divinity in every fiber of their being.  So what is their value? There value exists within me…because here I am…three years later, still reflecting on how the Lord has used their lives to affect and change my life.  He is using their lives…their “Image of God” to work on my own “Image of God”…that I may express Him even more.  And this is not even to state the “Image of God” that the caregivers emitted as they loved and cared for these children.  The love of God was evident in that orphanage…the Casa de Luz (House of Light).  The life of God was known there.  Perhaps an even more fitting name for that place would be the Casa de Vida…the House of Life.
John 14:1-12, we find a very well known passage in Scripture.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Sometimes we get stuck on the way…Jesus is the way…but he is also the life…I have seen it…and now I want to live it.