Saturday, September 25, 2021

 Impossible


“You can do anything…you just have to set your mind to it…”

These words proved to be a big fat lie to the 10 year old boy who had his eye on the pretty new girl in class who had just moved to town from Montana.  Though the speaker of those words, namely my 5th grade music teacher, had good intentions, she was flat out wrong.  It was likely that she was attempting to motivate me to set my mind on learning how to sing.  However, I contrarily decided to set my mind elsewhere…namely on the new girl. 

Now here I am, now 35 years later…and I still can’t sing…and that girl never did give me the time of day.  Well, Mrs. Nelson…you did not “Teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,” unless of course I was omitted from that world, and the new girl never did “come round the mountain,” at least in my direction. 

Some things are just impossible, like eating just one Lay’s potato chip, one almond from the bag of trail mix, or just one Oreo cookie.   Perhaps that was Nabisco’s strategy in creating the “Double Stuf” Oreo cookie…to help people like me to eat just one.  If you put two cookies into one…people won’t need to eat two…right?  Wrong…now we just make “Quadruple Stuf” cookies.  Nabisco hasn’t quite kept up with my demand. 

I remember watching the old Mission Impossible TV show as a kid.  Each episode was plotted similarly.  There would be a secret…impossible…mission, revealed to Dan Briggs.  Mr. Briggs would then bring in his team…to accomplish that which was impossible…or I guess…not quite so impossible.

Matthew 5-7, is a well known passage of scripture.  It is the Sermon on the Mount.  What is striking to me in this message from Jesus is that he lays out such lofty expectations.  What Jesus calls his followers to are really quite impossible! Why does he do this? I have become convinced that Jesus wants for his followers to understand two things. 

1.      Jesus wants us to see that following him, as he calls us to…is impossible. Wait what!? Then what are we doing? What is the point?

2.      Jesus wants us to see that ONLY THROUGH HIM…and the power of His Spirit…can we follow Him!

We can’t make the impossible…possible!

Only Jesus can do that!

Only Jesus HAS done that!

Only Jesus can do that in us!

May we come to see…all that we CAN do…but only through Jesus!

Saturday, September 18, 2021

 Turtle

 


We were rolling along a winding country road in central Morrison County, heading to a nearby crappie lake, when my friend and driver braked hard and swerved to avoid the small mud turtle that was circumnavigating across the pavement.  The boat that trailed us, threatened to pass us by to the left, and the passengers sitting in the back seat, namely my daughter, my friend’s daughter and his wife, gasped and squealed in astonishment. 

“Don’t hit it!” his wife cried!

“It’s ok dear…I think I can avoid the precious reptile.”

“Just hit the thing…God will make more…” I stated cruelly.

The entire cab of the pick-up truck became as silent as a headstone. All eyes looked to me with a loathsome glare.  Fire seemed to light in my friend’s wife’s eyes as the truck came to a stop in the middle of the road.  While the turtle continued its slide southward, my friend looked at me…his face paled with sickening shame, “What did you say?” He implored.

“Well…I uh…I said…God will make more…you know…turtles.”

“God will make more? Really?...Wow! You are cruel!”

I could not argue.  I am cruel…yet, in some way…I was not wrong.

I have continued to be reminded of my impulsive and insensitive comment over the years. I can’t help but think of that turtle, every time that I see one of its kin flattened on a road as I pedal across the country side on my bicycle…or every time I see my friend…and he requests, “If you ever use this turtle story in a sermon…you let me know…I want to be there.” Well…I guess that the day has come.

Though my harshness cannot be excused, there is a reality that comes into fruition.  God WILL make more.  He will make NEW turtles. (At least, most scholars agree that there will indeed be animals in heaven…though perhaps not that specific squashed turtle.) In fact, God will make everything NEW! He will make a NEW heaven and a NEW earth, and He will allow it to be filled with those who have chosen to follow Christ…and have become NEW creations.  Revelation 22 gives us a beautiful culmination of this very reality.  Just imagine…A New Heaven…a New Earth…the fulfillment of a New and Living Way! Every NEW morning brings the eternity with the person of Jesus Christ…our Savior, our Sanctifier, our Healer…and our Coming King!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

 Dog Pile


There are two words that strike fear into the hearts of meekly built 3nd graders more than any others…“dog pile.”  Growing up, I remember watching football with my dad and older brother on Sunday afternoons, and at the end of each and every play there seemed to always be a pile of huge men, stacked upon one another, with a brown, leather ball somewhere beneath. 

“Wow! Look at that dog pile!” my brother would exclaim.

“Oh man! I wouldn’t want to be on the bottom of that mountain of purple jerseys!” my dad would insert.

I just stared in perpetual fear…overcome by the claustrophobic thought of ever encountering the abysmal moment of being trapped on the bottom of a pile of humans…who refused to get off.

This fear became a reality. 

Elementary school recess was a cesspool of aggressive, pre-adolescent boys ranging from kindergarten through the 6th grade.  The kindergarteners, 1st graders and 2nd graders were pretty safe.  At their young age, it would take a pretty cowardly 6th grader, to attack these innocent boys during their first three years of school.  The 5th and 6th graders knew better than to attack each other…it was too risky.  These two upper grades offered too many unknowns, such as which 5th graders are too strong or violent, or which 6th grader is too weak…you just never knew.  The 4th graders were old enough to know to keep their distance and avoid everyone else on the playground, while the 3rd graders were the ones who still wanted to play during recess…and too ignorant to know that they were being hunted by the older grades. 

“Hey kid! Catch!”

The brown ball was flying at my face…I threw my hands up to protect my face…bobbled the ball about 6 and a half times before finally finding it coming to rest between my hands...and knees…and belly as I hugged the ball like a 4-year-old boy carrying a giant watermelon. 

“Wow!” I thought, “I caught it…these boys must really be impress…”  

Wham! I was lit up by a dozen or more, older boys yelling, “Dog Pile!” as they swarmed me!

As I lay on the ground with the brown, oval melon crammed into my gut, my mind flashed back to the purple jerseys…wishing that I had a helmet and pads as they did.  No such luck.  Panic began rising from my toes…up my legs…through my torso…to my head and exited out of my eyes in splashes of warm salty water. 

The weight was enormous…I thought that I was going to die! After what seemed like an eternity, the pile of laughing boys began rolling off and coming to their feet…the last one ripping the ball from my feeble body as I lay…breathing…finally breathing.

I heard them say, “Who else can we get?” as they scrambled away.

The removal of that oppressive weight was amazing…I was free…I was light…it was like I was exonerated…it was like I was “forgiven.”

I think that two of the most powerful words in the English language are…love and forgiveness, and I am not sure if you can have one without the other. 

Despite the amazing power and beauty in these words, I am afraid that they are far too seldom employed. 

Love drives us to love. Forgiveness drives us to forgive.  Love drives us to forgive and forgiveness drives us to love.  In fact, and I don’t think that true forgiveness can occur without love first existing and I have come to wonder if true love can be real love without owning forgiveness.  Yet, to love an enemy…or forgive someone that has hurt you deeply…is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do? 

Withheld forgiveness, is like a weight…a burden that we carry…that we find ourselves struggling to breathe beneath. Withheld forgiveness is like a dog pile.  When we withhold it from another…it is like we are piling the weight upon another…AND ourselves.  When someone withholds their forgiveness from ourselves…we feel the weight…and usually…so does the other person. 

Forgiveness on the contrary…is like the removal of that weight.  Forgiveness allows the other person…to be free.

Jesus has given us both…His perfect and incredible love and forgiveness.  Perhaps it is time, that as a follower of Christ…we do the same?

Saturday, August 21, 2021

 Branded


When I was in high school there was a brainless trend exploding through the ranks of post pubescent boys whose prefrontal cortexes had yet to be fully developed. 

Travis, a fellow 9th grade buddy, came up to me and exclaimed, “Hey Ole! Check this out!” as he projected his left fist in front of my nose to reveal a red circle on the back of his hand.  The spot was red, swollen and even seemed to be weeping some translucent cream colored excrement.

“Wow! What did you do?”

“I got branded!”

“How? Why?”

“Dykoff and I did it together…we both got one!”

“How? Why?” I asked again.

“We used a cigarette lighter…you know…from the ash tray in your car. We pushed it in…it heated up…and then we took it and pressed it against our skin! Cool huh!?”

“Huh? Why?”

“Why not!?...You should do it too! That would be so cool!”

“I don’t think so.” 

Incredibly, as the days and weeks went on, I began to see more and more people with these round burn marks appearing on their hands and arms.  Astoundingly, even some girls began revealing their own orbital wounds.

I remember seeing Travis’ hand, 4 years later, as we graduated…burn mark still there.  The reality is that scar may still be evident today, a permanent brand…to constantly remind him of his own stupidity. 

It is believed that branding was first used thousands of years ago.  The ancient Norse used a word for a burning piece of wood…brandr…which meant “to burn,” which is where we even get our English word, “brand.”  Yet, forms of branding existed far before that.  Even ancient Israelites had forms of branding…not necessarily with fire, iron and sticks…but with blue tassels.   Numbers 15, speaks of tying blue tassels to their garments.  These tassels were symbols of royalty.  It showed that these people…were a “royal people…a royal priesthood,” and when they looked upon the tassels…they were to remember to obey the one to whom they belonged…God almighty. 

Today we are infiltrated with “brands,”…golden arches, multi colored “G”, a bitten apple, a gold bowtie on the front of our vehicles; the list goes on seemingly forever.  Brands mark belonging.  My phone belongs to a company who likes to taste fruit and then cast away the remnants.  My coffee comes from some mythical siren calling me with the sweet aroma of dark roast.  Major brands are unmistakable…recognizable in a single glance.

What is it then…that reveals my faith? Is it my love for others? Maybe…I hope so.  Is it my kindness? Maybe…I hope so.  But there is one image that reveals my deep convictions…one act that demonstrates who I belong to….Baptism.  Baptism is the branding of the new life that I have received in Christ.  Baptism tells the world…I belong to Jesus…I belong to the Savior…I belong to the Life Giver.  I have been branded…I belong to Jesus. My baptism is a reminder of the new life Christ has given me…much like a small circular burn is a reminder of high school stupidity. 

May we come to be branded…belonging to Christ.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

 I Can’t Wait!

 


“I can’t wait!”

These are words that I frequently hear, like a skipping vinyl record, from the mouth of my 15 year old son. 

 “I can’t wait for Saturday!”

“I can’t wait for deer hunting!”

“I can’t wait to go camping!”

I can’t wait until my new white shoes arrive!”

“I can’t wait until my new black shoes arrive!”

“I can’t wait until my new blue shoes arrive!”

“I can’t wait until I get my driver’s license.” It is strange how I do not share his enthusiasm.

 “I can’t wait until football starts!”

“I can’t wait until football is over!”

“I can’t wait until supper!”

They are not bad words…yet I find myself resistant to their implications, especially in the midst of our, instant gratification oriented, society and our Burger King minded, “My way, right away,” generation.

My answer to my son is usually… “Well…you are going to have to wait…”

I too have found myself in the midst of great anticipation.  I remember, vividly, the night before my wedding.  I didn’t sleep a bit as the day grew closer with each passing minute.  I lay awake in bed anticipating the next day when this girl that I had come to know so well and I would be married!

My life has never been the same since.

I remember anticipating the birth of our first child.  As each day would pass, the waiting grew more difficult, especially by the 7th day past the due date.

My life has never been the same since.

Now, I mostly anticipate each and every morning of my life…because…with each morning comes a fresh cup of coffee…and a delicious breakfast.

Anticipation is actually very healthy.  Anticipation gives us something to hope for…something to strive toward…something to really LIVE for.

The irony is that in this world, so many things that we strive for and hope for…so many of the things that we anticipate actually leaves us unsatisfied and wanting more.

I think Revelation 21 reveals to us THE PRIZE beyond prizes! This passage gives us something to “really” anticipate!!! This passage reminds me of that great night of sleeplessness as I awaited the union with my bride! This chapter shows to us the beautiful Bride of Christ, His Church, coming into the perfect relationship with the Lamb.  It reveals the great and perfect New Heaven and New Earth, the New Jerusalem.  There is no greater anticipation than to BE WITH GOD!!!

WE WILL BE WITH JESUS!

I can’t wait!

Saturday, August 7, 2021

 The Prize

 


“Step right up! See if you can be the next winner! Swing the hammer, and hit the bell!  Three attempts for $1.”

“Hmmm…I think I could do that.” I thought to myself. I lift weights regularly and I am one of the strongest kids in the entire 7th grade. 

“Hey Matt, I think I want to try this.” I said to the buddy who had brought me to Valley Fair for the day.

“What!? No, way!”

“Sure…I think I can do it!”

“Fine…it’s your dollar.”

I paid the man my dollar…picked up the heavy hammer and heaved it onto the driving pin.  The heavy weight, shot into the air…making it nearly half way up the tower before it came crashing back down.  Two more attempts…two more failures.

“Sorry pal…do you want to try again?”

I walked away with my buddy, Matt…feeling dejected and weak.

It was near this moment that my life trajectory changed.  Not necessary because I didn’t hit the bell…but because of my progression toward manhood. It appeared that as I got older my father had more rigorous work for me to be doing around the house. Thus, in addition to lifting weights, I took to splitting wood.  Over the next 6 years, I split countless cords of wood.  I split oak, ash, poplar, some small elms and even some giant white pines.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but all of this work was preparing me for something amazing!

Midway through my college career, I was walking those same streets of Valley Fair with someone far more attractive than my buddy Matt…I was with the prettiest girl ever to set foot on a roller coaster.  As we walked past the sledge hammer, bell tower, “ringy thingy”…I had to stop. I felt compelled to prove myself.  I felt drawn to win a prize for this girl (the girl that I would one day marry…though at the time she did not yet know it).

“Step right up! See if you can be the next winner! Swing the hammer and hit the bell! Three attempts for $5.”

“FIVE DOLLARS!” I thought. “That is some inflation! What happened to the $1?”

“I would like to give a shot.” I said…believing that, not only would Sarah be impressed with my great feat of strength, but also my great wealth of plopping down $5 to win her something real nice.

“Ok, buddy…here’s the hammer…good luck!”

I took the hammer…and I imagined the impact platform transform into a giant block of the knottiest white pine known to mankind…I heaved the hammer over my head and exploded with my full force.  I gritted my teeth and I even growled like an Olympic shot putter. The hammer met the platform, and the lights on the tower climbed. The lights climbed over half way.  The lights climbed over 75% of the way. The lights climbed to the top, and the bell rang!  Winner!

I won!

All of that work!  All of that training, and it paid off!

The pimple-faced, Valley Fair worker congratulated me and handed me an inflatable pool toy in the shape of a hammer.

Lame.

Well, that was a rip off.  I inflated the pool toy and handed it to Sarah, “Here I won this for you.”

“Thanks…What am I supposed to do with this?”

“I don’t know…don’t drown, I guess.”

The prizes are flying around like crazy right now with the culmination of the Tokyo Olympics in full swing.  All of these amazing athletes who have trained for years are winning their prize. I can’t help but wonder when they get home…do they ask, “Now, what am I supposed to do with this?”

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the prize of winning an Olympic Gold Medal is no small feat.  Yet, I am convinced that there is a prize beyond prizes awaiting those who have put their faith in Jesus.  Yet, we train for these earthy prizes, often forgetting the immeasurable prize that awaits those who follow Christ.  Paul contrasts this very reality in Philippians 3. He even says that he runs in such a way as to get “The Prize.” His prize is not a crown of olive branches or a gold medal.  His prize is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  His prize is to be with Christ forever.

May we see the prize of Christ and press on toward THAT goal!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

 Candy Wrappers

 


“Hey!? Who ate my Hershey’s chocolate with almonds?”

“I don’t know!...but someone ate my Almond Joy too!”

“Seriously? Someone has been into my Kit Kats as well!”

“You have got to be kidding me...like half of my Sour Patch Kids are gone!”

“Someone has been snitching!”

Naturally, I was the first to be blamed…and…rightly so.  I have a weakness for delicious sweets…particularly sweets that contain both chocolate and nuts.  I have a nose for unclaimed chocolate…and I am willing to consume all that I can find…usually in secret…because things eaten in secret don’t count as calories.

During one Christmas season, I secretly consumed 95% of my mother’s Christmas cookies, single handedly…and then allowed my father to take the blame. I was guilty…and years later…I had to face the music when my mother discovered the truth.

Now…it is my son’s turn to face the music.  As my wife was helping this messy teenager clean his room, she came across a plethora of candy wrappers…Hershey’s, Almond Joy, Reese’s, Kit Kats, Sour Patch Kids…you name it…it was there!

“What is all this!?” she asked.

“Ummm….candy wrappers?”

“Where did it come from?”

“Ummm…I don’t know…”

“What!? Did it just appear in your room? On your bed? In your back pack? In your pocket? Huh!?”

“Ummm…I don’t know…”

“You snitched it…didn’t you!?”

“Ummm…I don’t know…maybe…I guess…”

GUILTY!!!

Recently, I had a can of Coke in the refrigerator that mysteriously disappeared.  “Hey! Where’s my Coke? Isaac? Did you drink my Coke?”

“Ummm…I don’t know…maybe…I guess…”

GUILTY!

 “Hey! Who ate my cake pop!?” Sarah asked.

“Ummm…I don’t know…I guess maybe I did…by accident…” I sheepishly replied with a guilty smile plastered on my face.

“By accident? How did you accidentally eat it!?”

“Ummm…I don’t know…”

GUILTY!

I am the Chief of Guilt!

I have single handedly performed more acts of sin and selfishness than anyone else on this earth…and…so have you!

We…are…guilty.

What truly frightens me…is what we find in Revelation 20.  It says that we will one day be judged on what we have done! GUILTY!!! I AM GUILTY!!!

I am convinced that on the Day of Judgment…EVERYONE stands before the Lord…the Judge…and is asked…”How do you plea?”

Every single one of us…without hesitation…will proclaim… “GUILTY!!!!”

Yet, for those who have accepted the free gift of grace from Jesus Christ…will have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  After I have pled guilty…there will come another voice that will resonate with glory, “NOT GUILTY!” 

Jesus exonerates those who know Him…though we are guilty…We are saved!...We are set free!...We are pronounced, “NOT GUILTY!”

Though we are guilty…Jesus offers freedom…He offers an escape…if we will simply receive it.

Will you receive it?