Saturday, October 13, 2018

Exploding Star


My first car was a 1974 Chevy Nova. Perhaps a better statement may be…my first mode of transportation was a 1974 Chevy Nova.  I don’t know how much of a “car” needs to be intact to still be considered a “car,” but I would estimate that this vehicle may have been missing up to 33% of its factory metal.  I recall spending Friday and Saturday nights cruising the main drag in Wadena, Minnesota.

Cruising the main drag, consisted of going back and forth…and back and forth…and back and forth…from one end of town to the other…circling Hardees on one end and Super Value on the other.  Why?…because…what else was there to do? Movies cost money…and gas was free!...Well in 1994, at least, it was less than $1 a gallon.  I recall one night, during this weekend ritual, when one of the local law enforcement officers pulled me over.
He stepped out of his vehicle and walked to my window…which I cranked down…but not too far, because I may not be able to make it go back up.
He looked down at me through the open window and yelled, “Do you know why I stopped you tonight?”
“Is it my broken headlight?” I hollered back at him!
“No!”
“Is it the loud exhaust?” I shouted.
“Nope!”
“Is it the missing tail light?” I bellowed.
“Not that either”
He didn’t know about my non-functioning driver side door…yet…nor was he aware that I had to start the car from under the hood…and avoid the spraying antifreeze while doing so.
“I have no idea!”
“Why don’t you turn off the engine and join me in the cruiser so we can hear each other!?”
“What!?”
“Turn off the car!”
I turned off the car. As he turned his back to walk back to his squad car, I snuck out the passenger side door, so as not to raise more suspicion than necessary about the broken door by climbing out the window.  I sat next to him in his warm, quiet car and he told me that he stopped me for “over accelerating” at the last intersection.
“I should write you up for over accelerating…but, I am not going to do that. In fact, I am not going to write you up for anything.”
“Sweet!  I am off the hook,” I thought.
“I am, however, going to warn you. If I ever see this vehicle in town again, without these things fixed…I will have the car towed.”
“Yes sir.”
I was dismissed.  I walked back to my car…opened the passenger side door…with him watching…got in…crawled across to the driver seat and waited for him to leave.  Then, I slid back across to the passenger side…got back out of my car…took the pliers that I kept on the dash…popped the hood…reached in…and started the car off of the solenoid.
That car needed some serious work.  But then again, so do I…and so do you…and as we find in the Gospel of John chapter 21…so did Peter.
My dad and I have regularly enjoyed attending car shows together.  It is remarkable and beautiful to see what some of these craftsmen have done to restore these classic automobiles.  On a few occasions, I have even come across fully restored 1974 Novas.  It is not a terribly collectible car, but when I look at the restored version, verses the one I owned in high school, it is an amazing contrast.  I think that my Nova was in no way worth restoring.  It was so dilapidated…and broken…and rusty…that it just wouldn’t have been worth it.
I am thankful, however, that Jesus does NOT look at me in the same way…nor does he look at you in the same way…nor did he look at Peter in the same way.  In the John account, we find Jesus working in a very broken Simon Peter.  Jesus does not condemn him…He does not say, “Sorry Peter, you blew it…you are too broken…it’s just not worth it…you are not worth it.” Rather, Jesus calls Peter, once again, to “Follow Me!”
Jesus sees us as worth restoring…that is amazing!

Saturday, October 6, 2018


Pick Up Your Toys or They are Going in the Trash


The December night was cold and dark.  There was snow on the ground, and clutter all over the living room floor.  I cannot remember how many times I had asked my children to clean up their mess that carpeted our carpet.
The nightly sequence was predictable.  If I would use my exasperated authoritative dad voice…(which happens to be the same voice that Gandalf uses against the Balrog...“You Shall Not Pass!!!”)…my children would hop to it and clean up…one item, and then selective blindness would convince them that the room was clean and the job was finished.
“Open your eyes! Do you not see all of your toys that are still lying around!?”
“Oh, we didn’t see that!”
After more than 70 minutes of continuing to point out other things that had been missed, I decided to end this.  I pulled out the kitchen garbage can and began to throw the toys away, which primarily included a Little People Christmas nativity set.  I threw it away...and when I did, the kids began to scream and wail at the loss of their beloved toys.  I threw away the donkeys.  I threw away the lambs.  As I dropped each member of the nativity into the trash…the screams grew.  I threw away the crèche... “Scream!”  I threw away the camels and the wise men…“Wail!”  Mary and Joseph were tossed in along with the manger... “Scream!”  I threw away the angel…and Baby Jesus!  What is wrong with me!? Who throws Baby Jesus into the trash!
There is a saying…“The apple does not fall far from the tree.”  I recall I time when I watched as my dad threw all of my sisters toys into a trash bag after she had also refused to clean her room.  He threatened, “We will find someone who will take care of these toys and give them to her!.”
To which my sister replied, “Maybe you could give my Barbies to Emily. She might like them!”
Hmmm…I don’t think that was the reaction my dad was looking for.
While my children continued their screaming, I looked down into the trash that held Baby Jesus and the angel and the donkey and the rest of the set.  I didn’t want to throw them away…but in my stress and frustration I overreacted.  My children deserved to have their toys thrown away.  They probably still do! My children needed to learn a lesson.  Yet, deep in my soul I knew the lesson that they needed to learn was not a lesson of rules…rather, it was a lesson of grace.
I called my children close to me and I said to them, “You have not been listening to me…you have not been obeying what I have been asking you to do…you deserve to have me throw these toys away. But, I also don’t deserve the love and forgiveness of Jesus and yet he gives it to me.  So, though you don’t deserve this, I am giving you back your toys as a picture of grace. Every time you play with these toys I want you to remember the grace of Jesus Christ.”
Each year we still get out the Little People nativity set out of the attic and we set it up. Though my kids no longer play with them, they remember that night…when Dad threw away Baby Jesus...and I hope that they also remember…the grace of Jesus Christ!

Saturday, September 22, 2018


I Can't


I said to my daughter this morning, “You need to clean your room.  Your grandmother is coming next week and she will be staying in your room.”
She replied, “I think I should wait until the last minute to clean it…that way it will stay clean.”
“How about this,” I replied, “You clean it today…and then keep it clean!”
“I can’t!!!!”
We have probably all heard it said, “You can do anything if you just put your mind to it!”
Though I believe this to be true in this situation…in the broad spectrum???
Not true.
As a 42 year old father of four…I have yet to give birth…anatomically…not going to happen.
There are indeed some things that I cannot and will never be able to do.  I will never run the 400m dash in under a minute again.  I suppose it could be argued, that if I trained and worked hard for it and remembered to stretch my legs after each workout, it could be achieved.  There is a problem with that…I have no intention of training and stretching so as to run the 400m dash in less than the bench marked 60 seconds.  So, can I do it with the right training? Maybe…but perhaps the better question is…why?  Why do I care and what is the point of a 42 year old being able to run a 60 second 400m?
There are other things that I can’t do.  I can’t high jump over 5 ft. I can’t stand up without my knees popping. I can’t eat a taco without belching up peppers for the next 6 hours.  I can’t check my blind spot without turning my entire torso.
There are times however, where I use the words, “I can’t”…when I should say, “I can…because God has called me and said I can.”
“God, I can’t do it! I can’t do what you say I can do! I can’t love and care for that person…they are too needy…they are too critical…they don’t even like me…they don’t respect me…I can’t do it!”
Perhaps, the beliefs we battle most consistently are things like… “God…I am not good enough to do what you want me to do…I am too messed up…I am not worthy…I am no good at this, that, or the other thing.”
Moses dealt with this when God confronted him at the burning bush… “Moses…go talk to Pharaoh.”
“Here’s the thing...public speaking is not really my thing!”
In John 21 we find the disciples…specifically Peter…falling into this trap as well.  After having been with Jesus for more than three years…he messed up…big time.  He denied the man he said he would never turn on…and now Jesus has raised and we find Peter, though overjoyed that his friend is alive, seeing himself as nothing but a fisherman.  He could not do what Jesus called him to do…to follow him.  So, he goes back to what he has always known…what he has always done.
I think that Peter has moved into an “I can’t” mode, because he knows that he failed.  Yet, I believe that there is something greater going on.  Perhaps, Peter is right…he can’t…we can’t…but, Jesus can…and Jesus does and he does it in us and through us.  Perhaps, I am right in understanding what I “can’t” do…  but I am wrong in not believing that Jesus “can” do it through me…even after I have failed.

Saturday, September 15, 2018


Ice Fishing




It’s 88 degrees today. That’s pretty hot for mid-September in Minnesota.  Ironically, with the unpredictability of Minnesota weather…ice fishing could open as early as next week.
I like ice fishing.  I do not, however, enjoy the stress of ice fishing on early ice.  I remember friends in high school asking me to go out ice fishing with them in early December.
“Hey Ryan!? You want to head out to Round Lake on Saturday and go ice fishing?”
“Really!? Seems like the ice wouldn’t be thick enough yet.”
“What are you talking about!? There is like two feet of ice already!”
“Hmmm…I find that hard to believe.”
I have developed a formula that measures the thickness of ice on Minnesota lakes. First, you take the ice thickness (i.e. two feet) as told by 16 year old male high school student, who is currently failing math.  Then, divide it by 4 and subtract 3.  Thus, the result of about 3” is the actual ice thickness.
“No thanks…I’m good.”
I realize that most Minnesotans would not hesitate to venture out fishing on 3” of ice.  However, I am not the typical Minnesota ice fisherman.  If I can’t drive on the ice…I usually don’t walk on it.  Thus, when the ice finally hits 18+” I head out onto the lakes…and usually catch nothing…because by the time the ice is that thick, the ice fishing is as slow as my 94 year old grandmother driving her Cadillac Seville in front of the parade of following cars, whose drivers are honking, waving angry fists the air and not throwing candy.
I guess you could say I am kind of the “Doubting Thomas” of Minnesota ice anglers.  I don’t trust the ice…I don’t trust what people say about the ice.  I like to wait until I see a half dozen, full size 4x4 pickups parked on the ice together in a 20 foot radius…then still, drill a series of holes through the ice before I finally journey out.
Yet, as cautious as I am…I find that after I have drilled a few holes…and have found that I have not fallen through the ice…my confidence begins to build.  I remember being out ice fishing with a friend. He was setting us up precariously close to a creek inlet, where you could see the open water.  Closer and closer we walked…until we were what felt to be, about 10 feet from the open water.  The buildup of anxiety was about to send my kidneys blowing out my nose.  After I watched him drill a hole through at least 6 inches of ice…I began to feel a little bit better, but I still wasn’t about to go any closer.
I am reminded of Jesus’ disciple Thomas.  Thomas gets a bad rap for being a “doubter.”  But, he wasn’t the only doubter of the group.  In fact, we see all of these men locked up in a room…afraid...even after the report of Jesus’ resurrection…and at one point, even after they HAD seen him.  They believe…yet…they need to overcome their unbelief.  I think that the time that they spent with Jesus before his crucifixion, was ALL a part of a faith process for each of them.  Their faith grew each time Jesus healed someone…or turned water into wine…or spoke in jaw dropping, authoritative ways.  I believe that their faith grew when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, saw the empty tomb, and even saw the risen Christ.  Yet, their faith needed to grow some more.
This gives me hope.  There are times when I feel that the Lord has built a great fire of faith in my heart…and there are times when I feel more doubtful than Thomas. I find myself thankful…that through every answered and unanswered prayer…through the times of confidence and doubt…pain and peace…the Lord is increasing my faith...step by step.  Do you have a greater faith now than you did a year ago? What about ten years ago?  I believe that the Lord wants our faith to grow...and to be influenced by every life experience he walks us through.

Saturday, September 8, 2018


Perceptual Blindness


A 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan is an unremarkable vehicle…especially when it is silver in color.  If you simply make yourself aware, you could easily find a dozen or more similar vehicles on the road during your morning commute.  In fact, if we look across the street through our living room window, we see a nearly identical van owned by our neighbors.
On a particularly cold, January day, I left my wife and kids in the store to finalize our purchases, while I went out to start the van and pull it up so that they wouldn’t have to endure the bitter winds of winter.  I hustled out of the parking lot, just short of running…because running would be more painful than the cold air. I reached the van and quickly opened the door and slid in. I inserted the key into the ignition and attempted to start the engine.  The key wouldn’t turn.  I shimmied the steering wheel back and forth trying to release the pressure on the wheel lock.  It still wouldn’t go.  “Oh Great!”…I said to myself, “This is the last thing I need!...I have enough things to fix in my life and I don’t need to add the van ignition to that list…not to mention it’s cold!”
As I sat sulking, I smelled something. It was an unfamiliar, yet not unpleasant smell…somewhat like vanilla. “Hmmm…that’s odd!? What would smell like vanilla in here?”  It would have been more likely to expect the smells of wet rotten socks and stale Honey Nut Cheerios.
That is when I looked at the floor… “Hmmm…When did Sarah vacuum the van?” I looked in the rear view mirror…something was missing…someone had stolen our bike rack off of the back!  I felt violated…how could someone steal from someone else…not only the bike rack…but all of our stale Cheerios as well!  I looked to the right and I saw another van…very similar to ours…that one had a bike rack too.  “Why would someone take our bike rack?...Why not theirs?  Their bike rack is the same as the one we had stolen.” “Why us!”
That is when it hit me…the vanilla smell, the lack of Cheerios, the bike rack!...I quickly exited the van…looked both ways to see if I was being watched.  I got into the other van…my van…as quickly as I could…red faced…embarrassed and feeling stupid.  I started the engine and drove up to pick up Sarah and the kids.  At least I didn’t have to fix the ignition on the van.
Sadly…I had done this before!
On the morning that Jesus’ tomb is found empty and his body is missing, we find a number of people who encounter the scene…Peter, John, Mary Magdalene, and several other women.  As they engage in the scene you can see and sense their struggle…their struggle with questions…with grief…and with faith.
Perceptual blindness is defined as, “the event in which an individual fails to perceive an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight.”  Mary Magdalene is the one who Jesus first appeared to, and when she first encountered Jesus, she did not expect to find a risen Savior. Yet there He is…in plain sight.  What Mary saw as missing, was not missing at all.  I think we often fall into perceptual blindness.  I believe that Jesus is alive…that the evidence is there…that Jesus is who He says He is and that the Holy Spirit wants to change our hearts.  Yet, I think we often stay perceptually blind…blind to seeing that we need heart change…everyone of us…and that Jesus is there to lead us to change.

Saturday, September 1, 2018


Predictions


I entered my first year of college in 1994.  It didn’t take long for me to realize, at 18 years old, I had become smarter than my parents…college professors…and financial investors.  I had been hired at a local fueling station and I shared an apartment with my brother.  With having a job…and sharing the rent…I was “loaded.” I may have even reached “hundredaire” status.  I had several bills in my wallet, ranging from ones, all the way up to a single twenty dollar bill.  Yet, during my first fall semester, all of my new found wealth was quickly depleted when I was gifted my first speeding ticket.
Somehow, I needed to come up with a way to recoup the costs.
While working at the gas station, I had observed countless people coming in and cashing out their lottery tickets…some for $1…some for $2 or $5 or $10 or even $20…and sometimes…people cashed in the mega jackpot of $50!  Thus, I came up with the answer that only an “all intelligent 18 year old” could come up with…play the lottery.
To prepare my heart and my odds, I sat behind the wheel of my 1973 Camaro and listened to appropriate mood setting music.  I exited my car and walked into the store with Alice Coopers’ “I’m Eighteen,” and Skid Row’s “Eighteen and Life,” echoing between my ears and I bought a lottery ticket.
Bingo!
Not that I won…rather that was the name of the lottery ticket.  For two dollars you could buy a “Bingo” scratch game.  What a wonderful lottery ticket idea! You could take your time and enjoy a nice game of bingo, while anticipating the cash flow coming in!
I lost.
I bought another one.  If I could get a $5 winner I would still be up $1.  Loser.  I bought another one.  If I could nab a $10 winner at or before 5 tickets were purchased, I’d break even and quit.  Loser…loser…loser.  I kept buying them.  All I need now is a $20 winner before I buy 4 more.  I was the only one there buying tickets…so the odds of getting a winner must be increasing.  There can’t be 10 non winning tickets in a row!?
Yes there can.
Fortunately, I stopped after I lost $20.  I have never purchased a ticket since.
In 2013, Americans lost 119 billion dollars on gambling.  In basic terms…that would be spending 119 billion dollars on false predictions.  False predictions, like picking the wrong Superbowl winner, the wrong horse at the Kentucky Derby, the wrong numbers for the Powerball.  Predictions are a funny thing.  We base a great deal on predictions.  Last weekend my family and I chose not to go camping because the forecast was for a rain all day on Friday…guess what?...it didn’t rain…again…loser.
Overall, predictions rarely come true. In 1977, Ken Olson (no relation), president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, predicted, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” Hmmm.  I think Ken may have missed the mark on this one…let’s just hope he didn’t wager the farm on it.
All of this makes the Gospel even more incredible.  When we look at the Scriptures we find 322 prophecies about Jesus Christ.
What do we find when we then look at the life of Christ? We find 322 FULFILLED prophecies! Incredible!
Even during the crucifixion sequence, Christ alone fulfilled many prophecies…such as, “He was counted with the wicked,” “clothes divided,” “silent before His accusers,” “hands and feet pierced”…and many more!
If I had to make the choice between an educated man making a prediction about computers, weather, science, astrology, etc…or a man…who did everything that He said He was going to do…and did everything that God said He was going to do…I think I am going to choose the second man.
What about you?

Saturday, August 18, 2018


Mud


Our dog peed on the carpet again today.  That is something that upsets me.  It makes my toenails curl, my eyes bulge and teeth gnash.  My reaction to the Minnesota Vikings losing to the Green Bay Packers would be much the same.  Though things have gone well, since we rescued him nearly two years ago, I can’t help but lack trust in him.  That is why we continue to keep him kenneled overnight.  Despite the fact that I probably give him more affection than anyone else in the house, I am convinced that he doesn’t like me…or at the very least…I am not his favorite.
Each morning, I am the first one awake.  I look at him in his kennel when I first get up and he will not make eye contact with me…I am convinced that he is pretending that he is still sleeping.  I will sit in the chair next to the kennel, drink my coffee, read a book and then as soon as he hears another set of feet hitting the floor, he springs up and scratches at the door excited that he can finally come out.
I have experimented with these patterns over the past year and a half or so.  One night as I was heading off to bed, I opened the kennel door…let him in…but didn’t close the door.  The next morning…he is still in his kennel…door open…pretending to sleep.  I sit down in the chair next to the kennel…and he continues to lie there. Then, someone else gets up and he bolts through the open door into the freedom of the day.
One morning I sat in my chair and reached down and unlatched the door while he pretended to sleep.  I swung the door open…and still he just lay there…refusing to come out.  Once again…as soon as the next person arises…he runs out of the kennel appreciating the open space.
There was one night, in fact, in which we forgot to place him in his kennel at all.  When I got up that morning…there he was…laying down in his kennel with the door wide open.
I am reminded of two passages of scripture.  The first is what Paul says in Romans 6, where he describes that we are slaves to our masters…and sin is our master until Jesus breaks the chain that bonds us to sin.  Yet, even after that chain has been broken we find ourselves going back to our old master…our old ways…our old sins…much like what Peter says in his 2nd Epistle chapter 2, verse 22, “A sow that is washed returns to wallow in the mud.”
Jesus has set us free…yet we often choose to stay where there is no freedom.  There is nothing left to keep us chained to the sin…nothing left to keep us under the “old master,” yet, there we stay…like a dog pretending to sleep in an opened kennel.
When Jesus sets us free, we are free indeed.  That is why we choose to be baptized.  To express the work that has already been done.  To express how Jesus led us to die to our old sinful selves…our old ways…and gives us new life…a free life.