Saturday, June 16, 2018


Fair


My mother asked me to be a judge for the Wadena County Fair.  In a moment of weakness, I said yes.  Now I will be sending some kids to the Stat Fair…and some home with participation ribbons crying “Not fair!”  The “fair” comes once a year…and apparently in Wadena…it’s next week.
Life is full of “unfair” things.  It is not fair that my dad, who is 21 years older than me, has more hair on his head than I do.  It is not fair that my younger brother eats like three horses and yet, his metabolism keeps him lean, while I look at a cheeseburger and need to go run 3 miles.  It’s not fair that my children are required to eat all of their vegetables before getting a cookie, while I sneak cookies all the time.  Maybe that is part of my metabolism problem.  It’s not fair that someone working in their line of work for 20 years more than me, gets paid more than I do… It’s not fair that of the two turtles crossing the road…one gets crushed and the other one makes it…but it’s ok…life isn’t fair…maybe God will make more turtles.
Life isn’t fair…but it’s ok…because thank God, grace isn’t fair either.
When I was a senior in high school I remember watching this “low speed” chase on television.  It was a white Ford Bronco being chased by police for about 50 miles, for an hour and a half, at an average speed of around 33 mph.  When all was said and done…justice was not served. Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were killed…no one was convicted of the crime…so whether O.J. was guilty or not guilty…justice was not served.  “The glove didn’t fit…they had to acquit”…but somewhere in there…it wasn’t fair.
As much of a circus as that televised Simpson trial may have been, it was probably for more “fair” and “just” than the trials of Jesus Christ.
In John 18 and Matthew 26, we find the account of Jesus’ arrest and trials before the Jewish leaders and the Sanhedrin.  The number of laws that were broken and or disregarded in these trials, just to wrongly convict Jesus and get away with it, are jaw dropping.  These laws included; arrest without cause, no witnesses present, trial taking place at night, among others.
Here is what I think happened.  The Jews believed in their laws and their “truth” strongly…however, when confronted with a truth…THE TRUTH…that didn’t match “their truth”…they were left with one of two choices.  They could hold to what is truly…TRUE…or they could justify their own truth, by converting the “truth” to match what they wanted it to be…thus bending the truth.
I think we do the same.  I want what I think and believe to be true, yet, how often will I justify what I do…to match a truth that I WANT to believe…even if it in reality, does not match.
The truth is that life is often not fair.  Will I continue to act justly…according to the line of truth that Christ has set forth or will I bend the truth to justify my behaviors, still claiming justice and truth?
Do you drive 55?...yeah, me either…

Saturday, June 9, 2018


A walk in the woods


Each fall, for as long as I can remember, my older brother and I would head up to the north woods of Minnesota with our dad to prepare our tree stands for the upcoming season. (Now, it is my younger brother and I, because my older brother doesn’t hunt any longer.  He says, “It’s too cold…and he would rather go ice fishing with his friends, because even though it is cold…it is still nice to just be with people you enjoy hanging out with”…Ouch). It is inevitable, that after so many hours in the woods, there would have to be some incidents…(including last season…see “Tree Stand” post from October 2017).  After years of walking the same forest hills and valleys, I have come to know this area of the forest very well.
This however, was not the case 35 years ago.  I recall following my dad as he worked his way down the trail that would lead to his stand.  To me…the trail seemed non-existent…yet he seemed to know it and go with it like a river flowing through the wilderness.  He would occasionally take a hatchet and freshen a mark on a tree as we went along, my dad in the lead, me second, and my older brother taking up the rear.
As we continued, we would occasionally come upon a stand and my dad would tell us… “That’s your Uncle Arnold’s stand.”…or “This is your cousin John’s stand.”  We would ask, “How much further?”…as if we were riding in a car for a long 20 minute car ride.
He would answer, “It will be a while yet…my stand is about the furthest one into the forest.”
After we had plodded on for what seemed forever…I heard a distant cry of panic from somewhere behind me…“DAD! DAD!”
I turn around…and there is no one standing where my brother was supposed to be standing.
The call continued; “Dad! Dad! Dad!”
My dad called back, “Stay where you are…and keep talking!”
“Dad, Dad, Dad”…(I think he could have said something more interesting…where’s the variety?)
It did not take long for my dad to track down my older brother.  My brother probably got distracted by a squirrel or a mushroom or became enamored with his shoe lace.
My dad then told him…“You did the right thing by stopping…if you had kept moving, you would have gotten lost…from now on…stay closer…keep me in sight…don’t lose sight of me.”
What an incredible picture of following Christ! In John 18, we find…in the midst of the story of Jesus’ arrest and trials…the tale of Peter and his 3 denials of Christ.  If we look at this Gospel account (and include the others), we find that Peter followed Christ at a distance.  I wonder…how would this story of Peter and his temptations ended differently…if he had continued to follow Jesus closely…and not kept his distance.
I have a lot of room to grow in following Christ closely…perhaps you do to? Let us, therefore, spur one another on to come together…and follow Christ.

Saturday, June 2, 2018


Who is this guy?



When I was a senior at Wadena-Deer Creek High School, wrestling at 160 lbs, (that was a long time and…a lot of pounds ago), one of my teammates was a 112 lb. sophomore.  Anyone on the team would have told you that he was a very good wrestler and an even better wrestler if you asked him.  I remember one of his matches in particular.
We were entering our first competition of the new year, 1994, after the Christmas break.  This sophomore teammate was given the top seed in his weight class and was incredibly excited to find out that he was about to compete against a lowly 8th grader.
It didn’t take long to hear him talk all about how he was going to defeat this young opponent…ending in the eventual fall of this unfortunate youngster.  As the top seeded wrestler…at the lightest weight class…his match would be about the first of the tournament.
I don’t know that I can fully express the collective gasp of the building, when this 8th grader from Cambridge-Isanti, Minnesota, began to tear apart our highly qualified wrestler.  The question seemed to form on everyone’s collective lips…“Who is this guy!?”
No one knew it at the time…but “this guy,” was Luke Becker…who would soon become a three time Minnesota State Champion, while setting the career wins record at 210 matches at the time.  He would then go on to become a 4 time NCAA All American for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. He also, collected an individual NCAA title in 2002, while helped the Gophers achieve back to back team titles in 2001-2002.  Luke is now an assistant coach to the Gophers.
“Oh!...That’s who that guy was!”
In John 18:1-11…we find Jesus is arrested.  I find myself astounded by the passage as it paints a picture of Jesus…who is entirely in control of a seemingly chaotic situation.  Here he is…surrounded by 600 plus Roman soldiers…Chief Priests…Pharisees…and Judas.  Jesus asks, “Who are you looking for.”  They answer, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus then says… “I AM…He,” and as He says it…they all fall to the ground!
This mob had no idea of who they were dealing with.  They were looking for Jesus of Nazareth…a lowly peasant…and what they found was GOD…the Great I AM…the Creator of the world…who is totally in control…and yet…submits to their arrest.
Who are you looking for?
A Jesus you control?...or a Jesus that IS IN CONTROL?

Saturday, May 26, 2018


Meatballs


I love meatballs, although, this has not always been the case.  As I was growing up, there was always meat at our dinner table.  For a brief time in my childhood, our family raised hogs. (Some had been known to be “cap gun” eating hogs). Thus, pork was one of our staple forms of protein.  We also tried our hand at raising geese for a while.  (Unfortunately, the hogs not only ate cap guns…they also ate geese. Thus the geese never officially made it to our table).  We would also occasionally purchase a side of beef, and we frequently ate venison bagged from the hunting season of the previous November.
My mother would not serve the meat as simple, basic meat.  For reasons that befuddled me at the time, my mother was insistent upon adding onions to the meat.  I hated onions…she knew I hated onions…yet she would constantly attempt to sneak the little white devils into the burgers, on top of the roasts, or wrapped around pork chops and there was never an onionless meatball to be found.
Meatballs and mashed potatoes were a common meal as a child, and though I liked the idea of the meal…it became tiresomely impossible to pick out every tiny onion piece out of each and every meatball on my plate.  As everyone else was finishing up their supper…I was still removing the translucent flakes of doom from the first of my three meatballs.
She would say things like, “They are so small you will never notice them.”
Right!...and so wrong!
They were so small…yet noticeable…and extremely difficult to extract.  Why didn’t she keep them bigger…thus making my life easier?  I cannot begin to imagine how many hours I could have spent helping with the dishes had I not been so busy removing onions.
Today is different.  Whether it is because I tired of eradicating the onions from my meatballs or because I actually acquired a taste for the little white vegetable, I now enjoy onions…and I am quite fond of them in my meatballs.
I cannot help but observe a metaphor of unity in the meatball and onion.  Once my mother had put all of the ingredients of the meatball together…the burger, the onions, the eggs, the oatmeal, etc…there was no chance of truly separating the elements.  In fact, in attempting to do the impossible…damage is actually caused to the meatball.
In John 17:20-26, Jesus prays for all of the people who WILL believe in him…in the future.  He prays that these believers will have “unity.” Unity is more than just getting along…it is being bonded together…to form a greater good…like a meatball.  Jesus says that this unity will actually reflect the Glory of God.  It makes me want to be a part of that unity…how about you?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Could Use a Little Salt



I remember growing up with church pot lucks.  Some people like to refer to them as “pot bless.” However, from my experiences, not all pot bless selections are a “blessing.” It became my practice to keep my eye on the entry way door as people brought Crockpot after Crockpot of hot dishes, pans of bars, baskets of rolls and the like.  If you paid enough attention to the conversations before and after church, you could begin to glean the knowledge of who was diabetic, who had high blood pressure and or who was on some new “non-sugar, non-fat, carrots only diet.” I would watch to see who brought what tray and or what Crockpot…then I would know whether or not to avoid the “blessed” item.  It seemed that cookies without sugar were not as good as cookies with sugar.  Bars without butter were not as good as bars made with, say, a pound of butter, and hot dishes without salt tended to be a bland combination of noodle and tomato.  All this to say…there was indeed some “luck” involved when it came to the flavor of your plate.
I think it was roughly third grade when a peanut farmer came to our school. He shared with us the intricacies of the peanut.  We had been studying about George Washington Carver.  This farmer brought enough peanuts to shake a stick at.  Note: This event took place before the age of peanut allergies in schools…and if someone did happen have a peanut allergy…it may have been considered a serious “pot un-luck."
I was incredibly excited! I loved peanuts! In fact, there had been a few sightings of peanuts within our   house.  It seemed that in our home, peanuts were such a treasured possession that they would remain secreted away only to be eaten by Dad when all of the children were in bed and ice cream was being served.  Totally not fair! I have done my best to keep this tradition alive and well.
This peanut farmer brought pounds upon pounds of peanuts, still in the shell, just ready to be cracked into.  At the end of his talk…(which I remember very little…except that Mr. G.W. Carver was not the same man that crossed the Delaware, Christmas day in 1776)…he allowed us to take as many peanuts home as we wanted.  It may have been upwards to 10lbs of peanuts that I brought home in a brown paper grocery bag that day.
My parents were going to be so proud…so happy…they may have considered doubling my $0 allowance…or maybe I could even have some! When I arrived home and showed the bag to my mom she said, “Wow! That’s a lot of peanuts! What are we going to do with all those peanuts!?”
“Ummm, eat them! Hello!”
I cracked open the first one and ate it… “Huh…tastes a little different.”
My mother tried one. “These peanuts are raw!”
“Aren’t all peanuts raw?”
“No, usually they are roasted.”
I ate another one, “Could use a little salt.”
In John 17:6-19, Jesus continues His prayer to the Father, now praying for His disciples.  His prayer parallels an idea that he had shared with them at the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5.  Jesus’ prayer, in a sense, is that they could “salt” the earth…that they would bring flavor to the world…that people could taste and see that Jesus is good.  Salt in its very nature, is used to preserve and bring flavor to life.  Does your life burst with flavor or does your life leave a bitter taste? Jesus is calling us to bring the flavor of Christ to life.

Saturday, May 12, 2018


My Time is Coming


Sarah is gone for the weekend.  Her family sent for her to head home to Michigan, so that they could honor her by celebrating her up and coming 40th birthday.  I have been trying to keep the house tidy while she is gone…but I’m not…or perhaps more accurately…the kids AND I, are not.  I have been trying…seriously, I have been trying, but apparently…I am really bad at it…because despite the fact that I am trying to make the place a little cleaner…it is actually getting worse!
The truth of it is…that it will continue to get worse…yet it will be clean before she gets home…well…it will at least “look” clean.  I could do it now, but then it will just get messed up again…so why try?  It’s not time.
Tomorrow will not be the time either.
There is a very specific time…the perfect time…and it is the time shortly before she arrives home.  The cleaning must begin early enough to complete it…but not too soon as to leave time for another mess to be created. So some time on Monday morning…the time will come…and then…I will panic…and clean and clean and clean…or should I say…hide stuff…hide stuff…hide stuff…
My time is coming…
In the Gospel of John chapter 17, Jesus begins to pray.  This moment is just before he is going to be crucified…and he begins his prayer with the phrase, “The time has come.”  If you read through the Gospel of John, you will see Jesus refer on several occasions…that his “time has not yet come.”  Later in the same Gospel we find that…His time has come.  The time for the full revelation of his saving work is about to be revealed.  When Jesus reveals his saving work…the Glory of God is shown.  Whenever Jesus saves a soul from sin…heals a body…creates new life within us…Jesus is glorified…and when Jesus is glorified…God is glorified.
This truth has changed the way that I look at salvation…it is so much more that “fire” insurance.  The salvation that Jesus has offered to me…is something that reveals his very character…the character of a loving, gracious, merciful God.
May the Glory of God be revealed!

Saturday, May 5, 2018


I Can Drive!...Kind of...


In the late 80’s and early 90’s it was customary to enter into the realm of advanced technology while pursuing your driver’s license.
In the summer before our sophomore year in high school, my classmates and I stepped into the hot non-air conditioned confines of our public high school building and underwent hours of drivers training classes.  These interesting classes of stop signs and passing lanes, helped us refresh our sleep deprived, overworked, I just weeded 3 acres of potatoes, selves.  Attendance was required…open eyes were not.
The classroom was only a part of the educational requirements.  There was also the Simulator.  Advances in modern technology had developed a large, semi-tractor trailer filled with steering wheel consoles and a large retractable screen secured to the front.  Each student would enter the trailer (also no air conditioning), sit at a console, and pretend to drive a car that was projected onto the screen in front of the entire class. Everyone drove the same car…at the same time…it mattered not which direction you turned your steering wheel…the car magically followed the road laid out in front of us.  For dramatic effect, the instructor would occasionally flip the reel to reel projector off as a ball rolled into the street, followed by a young boy chasing said ball and yell… “You killed him!...You are going to prison for the rest of your lives!”
The experience was much like playing Turbo on the Atari…without the dying children and prison…or like sitting in one of those grocery store carts with the attached car.  You turn the wheel, yet, you really have no control over where the cart is going…nor what is being put into the cart. You desperately want to steer away from the broccoli and back over to the cookies, but your mom strapped you into the “car” too tightly and continues to repeat “No” after every request for Little Debbie snacks or Cocoa Puffs.
Once completing the required classroom hours and simulator hours, you sat down to take a written exam.  If you were lucky enough to correctly guess enough answers, they gave you a “permit” to drive.
The day I passed my exam and received my permit, my mother handed me the keys and gave me full access to the car and said, “You drive home.”  After we had traveled nearly one of the thirteen required miles home…she said to me, “You have never really driven a car have you?”
“Nope…but I did have 8 hours in a simulator…does that count?”
“No…no it does not.”
To her credit, she allowed me to finish the drive home and did not allow me to drive again until I had completed the next requirement…actual behind the wheel training.
I remember very distinctly the feeling of suddenly having full “access” to a whole new world of options.  I had just stepped into something that had always been out there...as a promise for the future…but had never yet experienced.
In John 16:23-33, Jesus reveals a truth that throws the disciples into a whole new world of thought.  He tells them, that from the moment of his crucifixion…the disciples will be able to have direct access to the Father, which was unheard of in their culture.  They had always needed a mediator…a priest…someone to go before the Lord for them.  However, when Christ was crucified…the veil in the temple was torn…and suddenly a whole new world was revealed to the disciples…and all who chose to follow Him.
We can have full access…to the Father...because of what Jesus did!  Incredible!