Saturday, September 26, 2020

 Ready?

Each morning is about the same.  My alarm goes off at the same time every morning.  The first thing I do is turn on the coffee maker. My breakfast includes any one of about 4 varieties. I ensure that the kids are awake at about the same time every morning.  Then, I listen to the children fight over hogging the bathrooms, the cereal, the bread, the chips, and then, while keeping my social distance, I watch as these encounters crescendo into a chorus of “Are you ready?” Usually, responses begin to echo with “Yes”, or “Almost”…which really means…“I don’t have my folder signed…I have not yet made a lunch…I can’t find my shoes…Mom, where did YOU put MY glasses…Where is my coat…Why do I need a coat…I don’t have time to walk the dog…hurry! We are going to be late!”

Once my children arrive at school,  I will, occasionally, receive a phone call or a text…“I forgot my instrument…can you bring it?…I forgot my ipad, can you bring it?...I forgot my coat, can you bring it?

I have delivered a flute, a clarinet, a trumpet and a saxophone to school using my bicycle…my youngest daughter is about to take up the tuba…A TUBA!!!

“Are you ready for school?” I asked.

“Yep…pretty much.”

“Has your folder been signed?”

“Oh wait…no…can you sign it?”

“Do you have your instrument?”

“Oh wait…it’s in my room.”

“Time to go.”

“Oh wait…I can’t find my shoes.”

“So what exactly does ready look like?”

That is a great question.  I remember my own childhood ready woes.  It was the same thing every morning.  My alarm would go off…and continue to buzz, until my mother woke me up…twice.  Then, I would get dressed, throw a piece of toast in my mouth, cram to finish my math assignment and history reading from the previous night…my crescendo would arrive in a scramble and scream when the bus would surprise me by its arrival…“EEEK! THE BUS!!!...at exactly 7:21 a.m…EVERY MORNING!

You would think that one of two things would happen.  #1. I would stop being surprised by the arrival of the bus at exactly the same time, every day….or #2. Through some strange cosmic event, the bus would arrive at an unexpected time…earlier, or later…but it didn’t. It arrived like clockwork.  I knew when it would come…and, yet, it felt like I was never ready.

What about our spiritual lives?  If you are a believer in Jesus and the Bible…are you ready? If you are not a believer…are you ready?  Are you ready for the possibility that the Bible is true and things are happening just like the Bible predicted? As I have watched the world change faster in the last 6 months than I have ever seen before, I have come to ask myself that question over and over again.  Am I ready? What does that even mean? If I really believe that Jesus is who He said He is…and I believe that the Bible is true, then I need to be ready. He says He is coming back.  Jesus gives us “signs” to look for.  I believe that I see some of them. 

I must be ready…but am I?

Are you ready?

Read Matthew 24. 

Do you see the signs?

Are you ready?


Saturday, September 19, 2020

 Wave

 


In 1980, my parents took my brothers and soon to be sister from Minnesota to Panama City, Florida to visit my aunt. Though I was only 4 years old, I find that I have a great deal of memories from that trip.  (Some can be found in blog post “Chevette” March 2, 2019). I remember the heat...to inhale a breath felt like drinking boiling water. During our time in Florida, I recall spending one day at a reptile zoo.  At one point, after watching the alligators snap at pokers by the alligator tamers, my father picked me up and placed my entire body into the hollow mouth of a giant concrete snake. Having been completely overtaken by fright, I desired to run from the serpent’s rocky jaws screaming.  However, fear had paralyzed me. I became convinced that the faded, cement critter would spring to life and eat me.  I don’t know what I feared more…the snake coming to life…or sliding deep into the hollow concrete body of the beast, never to be seen again.  After my parents snapped their precious picture…they pulled me out…leaving 2 square feet of freshly melted flesh onto the hot, stone reptile.

I remember going to the ocean…ok, technically the Gulf of Mexico…but really…what’s the difference. I was enamored by the white sand, I would pick up handfuls and let it sift through my fingers…it was so fine and smooth and felt like pillows of sugar…but less sticky…and less tasty.  

“Dad the water feels greasy!” I said.

“It’s salt water.”

“Blah…they should have made it sugar water instead…”

My older brother and I played in the shallows while my mother watched us closely, to ensure that we did not venture too far out.  Little did she know…that was not going to be a problem.  I had already developed a healthy fear of drowning, deep water, and sharks…not to mention the giant waves that were crashing on the shore were locking in my perpetual fear of death.

The greatest moment of fear came when my dad took my older brother and me in his arms and began trudging through the foamy shoals. The water got deeper and deeper.  I watched the water creep up to his knees…his waist…and then nearly up to his chest.  This was the depth of danger…the point where the massive waves were breaking.  This is it…my dad was finally going to do what I knew he had in mind, (since I had watched Jack Nicholson flip out in the film adaptation of Steven King’s, “The Shining”)…my brother and I were goners.  Apparently, a conspiracy had developed between my parents…my dad would take my brother and I to our deaths…while my mother stood on the shore…taking pictures. 

My dad stood looking out to sea…holding us…apparently waiting for a really big wave.  When he spotted it…he turned around…tucked my brother and I next to him and crouched lower into the greasy water…waiting for the wave to break right over our backs. 

Just as the wave was about to hit, I looked back…panicked…and sprung from my dad’s grasp and attempted to sprint back to shore.  My mother’s perfectly timed photo, shows my dad and brother smiling as the wave of death broke over them.  I was not in the picture…I was under water…dying.

What I didn’t realize is that there was protection being offered.  It was in my father’s strong arms…and not in the violent sea…alone.  Somehow…perhaps, it was Jack Nicholson’s fault…I had come to believe that I was safer on my own.  I was wrong. 

In Acts 18, we find Paul has moved on to Corinth.  Paul is once again being persecuted and “abused.” It is at this point that God does something really powerful.  God tells Paul…that He will protect him…He promises that Paul will not be harmed.  Despite the verbal and physical attacks around him…God provided Paul with a divine protection.  Interestingly, Paul still experienced many struggles and challenging persecutions.  In fact, he eventually died in Rome at the hands of the Romans. Yet, God protected Paul.  God guarded him and watched over him.  Though Paul suffered at many times, God guarded Paul’s heart, his ministry and his path…and while in Corinth, Paul received divine protection…in the arms of his Savior.

May we find ourselves in the protecting arms of Jesus…and release our belief that our protection comes from our own efforts…especially, in our current cultural climate.  May Jehovah Shamar—God our Protector, guard your heart and life as you find protection in Him.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

 Known

 


After purchasing my items at the local Walmart, I began walking to the exit.  As I passed by the Walmart Optical, I heard a lady’s voice, “Oh hello! How are you doing?”

Startled…I turned and looked.  Seeing a, roughly, 60 year old lady in a white lab coat, I replied, “I am well...”  Though I had no idea who this lady really was I reciprocated the question, “How are you?”

“I am good…is it nice outside?”

“Yes…a little chilly…but nice.”

“How are the wife and kids?”

“Ummm…We are all doing well…thanks for asking.”

I could not duplicate this question because…well…I knew absolutely nothing about her!

“Tell Sarah hi for me,” she said.

“Ok, I will.”

Upon returning home, I mentioned the encounter to Sarah and asked, if or how she knew the lady.

“I have no idea who you are talking about.” She answered.

I endured similar encounters every time I walked by the Walmart Optical.  After several encounters I was able to learn her name…from her name tag…but, it was one of those names that I couldn’t be sure of the pronunciation…so I continued to refrain from calling her by name.

On one of these meetings, Sarah and I were walking by the eye center and the lady stepped out and saw my very pregnant wife and practically screamed. “Oh!!! You did not tell me this!!!”

I stood there thinking one thing…“I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU!”

But instead I said, “Oh…I didn’t?”

The conversation continued with questions about due dates and names and children and grandchildren…until we finally broke it off and walked to the car. 

Sarah asked me, “Who was that?”

“I have no idea!”

“Well, she certainly seems to know you.”

She was right…she did seem to know me…at least some of the basics.  Yet, did she truly know me? Did she know what I like and don’t like? Did she know the deeper parts of me…probably not.

In Acts 17, Paul has an encounter with a number of Greek philosophers and leaders. These are people who know religion.  In the city of Athens at the time, there would likely have been more than 70,000 idols and statues of a variety of Greek gods…Zeus, Prometheus, Athena, Poseidon, etc… It is in this interaction that Paul points to one idol in particular.  It is an idol that pays homage to the “Unknown God.”

 What is striking to me is that the Greeks are worshiping a god that they do not know, but in the Bible we find a God that is “known.” In fact, He wants to be known…He has made Himself known. If that is not mind blowing enough…He then tells us…that He “knows” us.  The God of the universe…can be known…has made Himself known…and knows us…intimately and personally.

We can “know” Him…and He has a name…Jesus

That is incredible! I am at a loss for words…

Saturday, September 5, 2020

 The Group

 


While I was in college, Sarah (my wife now…girlfriend then…better half all the time) and I would go to church in the Chaska area.  It was relatively new church plant, parented from Westwood Church in Eden Prairie, MN, yet it was already a large church.  Each week multiple church services were hosted in the Chaska High School auditorium.  There came one Sunday in which the church was launching a number of new small groups.  It was announced that there would be tables with sign-ups available following the service.  Sarah asked me if I was interested.  I really didn’t think that I was interested…but I took a few moments to consider before I answered.  It was in this moment that imagined her attending one of these small groups by herself...and wouldn’t you know it…but in my imagination, there was another young single guy in the small group.  He imaginarily wooed her, with his suave hair…dashing good looks…a physic like Arnold Schwarzenegger, a mind like Albert Einstein, a sense of humor like Steve Martin…and he drove a Corvette...I didn’t stand a chance! “It’s ok…if you don’t want to…I can just go by myse….”

“NO!...I’m in!!!  That sounds great!”

I couldn’t let Arnold Albert Martin have a chance.

After signing up and leaving our phone numbers, we were instructed that we would receive a phone call from our small group host. When I received the call, Laurence introduced himself and then asked a little bit about me. I told him about Sarah and I…our ages…what we were studying in college...and some of what we liked to do.  He gave me the timing and the address of our first gathering, but before hanging up…he paused and ask…”Are you sure you want to be a part of our group?...we are actually a bunch of older married couples…I don’t know…I am not sure this is what you are looking for.” 

“Yes!” I said, “If Arnold Albert Martin is there…I will be there for sure.”

“Who?” He asked.

“Never mind…we will be there.”

When we arrived that first night…Arnold Albert Martine never showed up, which is just as well because I don’t know what I would have done to him if he had made a move on Sarah…or what his massive biceps would have done to my jawbone.

Laurence was right.  It was a group of older married couples.  But what was really fun…was that we all really hit it off.  It was really cool.  The group was composed of a couple of college students, a retired pilot and his wife, some teachers, an engineer, some business professionals and a number of others.  On paper…there was really no reason for any of the members of the group to associate with one another.  Our paths were not really destined to cross in a random culture, but I have come to find that God is not random.

By the end of our time together…this incredible group of people threw a banquet to celebrate my soon to be college graduation…complete with cake and singing!

I feel that in a way, Sarah and I lived through the story found in Acts 16:11-40.  In this story Paul is continuing to preach the Gospel…but what we find is that 3 characters in particular respond to the Gospel. What strikes me is that these 3 people have virtually nothing in common. One is a jailor, one is a rich woman, and one is a young (formerly demon possessed) girl, and together, these are three of the first followers of Christ in the city of Philippi.  It is through people like these three…that the church in Philippi is established.  Even when we have nothing in common…we can have Christ in common and when we have Christ in common...we can then love in very uncommon ways.

May you find the uncommon love of Christ, compelling you to find Christ in common with the people he has placed around you.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Ahoy!

 


Each summer as a child, my parents would send my older brother and me off to camp.  It was not uncommon, at the same time, our aunt would send our cousin to Big Sandy Camp as well.  I have come to wonder, if it was, perhaps, a parental conspiracy between my dad and his sister to send us all off to camp at the same time to create “free” time in their homes.  I can’t imagine who would need “free” time from me??? Upon returning from camp, it was inevitable to learn that while we were gone to camp for the week, my parents and younger siblings…and potentially my aunt…would go out to eat at some fancy gourmet restaurant…like Hardees.  We always missed out on so much while at camp.  The consolation was…that we actually liked camp…in fact, we loved it.  This was back in the day when firearms were encouraged at camp and you could get marksmanship awards for how well you did on your targets.  I held to the secret belief, that if I could shoot the eye out of a chipmunk running across the range, I would be guaranteed to receive the highest honor.  Instead, I received a stiff reprimand from camp officials, and enough high fives and pats on the back from fellow campers that no marksmanship medal was necessary.

It was during one of these weeks at camp that I was first taught to juggle.  My teacher was Steve Guthormsen, he was my counselor for the week and juggler extraordinaire.  By the end of the week, I could take one ball…throw it up into the air…and catch it with my other hand.  The word “prodigy” never came out of Steve’s mouth…but I am pretty sure he was thinking it.  To this day…I can juggle just as well as I could that summer.

It was with this same counselor that I first learned to sail.  Each morning, every cabin would be assigned to a rotating activities center, one day it could be archery, one day the nature center, one day the rifle range…(though this seemed to usually go to girls’ cabins…I guess they felt that the girls needed more work on their shooting skills).

On this particular morning, our cabin was assigned to the waterfront.  This included anything and everything…but swimming.  You could play volleyball if you wanted…which nobody ever did. Most guys would take to the boats. I watched my cousin and older brother quickly run to a paddle boat and take to the lake. I watched others take out canoes, paddle boats and a variety of other floatable craft.  I stood there alone…well…almost alone.  Steve looked down at my fifth grade rejected self and asked…”Do you want to go sailing?”

I replied, “I guess…” in a flat, monotone voice.

He walked me over to a pink vessel hidden in the tall weeds and cattails. “Will this thing float?” I asked.

“Maybe.” He said.

He pushed the formerly red sailboat into the water and said, “Here, you take the skeg.”

“Ok, sure…what’s a skeg?”

“The flat thing…doesn’t matter…get into the boat.”

“Do you really know how to sail?”

“I think so…I have sailed before…but it’s been a while.“ He said.

We climbed into the vessel…Steve raised the mast and unfurled the sails.  He did some things with a number of ropes and strings and began to work the rudder.

“Shove the skeg through that slot in the floor now,” He said.

I pushed the flat fin into the floor. “It won’t go all the way in,” I said.

“Not a big deal…it’s enough”

“But water is coming into the boat…are we going to sink?”

“Probably not…”

I have to admit…for a juggling expert…he didn’t set my mind at ease.

However, before I knew it…we were moving.  The wind had filled the sails and the boat took off.  It was really quite the experience. It was as if the wind had suddenly grew hands and was carrying our small craft wherever it wanted to take us. As we approached the middle of the bay, Steve let down the sails and said…”Hmmm…now…how do we get back?”

Today I read, Acts 16:1-10, as I did so, I was reminded of my one and only time sailing.  I felt as if I had no choice in the direction that I was headed…and yet somehow, I knew that we were going in the direction that we needed to go.  The Scriptures use a word to describe the Holy Spirit.  In fact, it is the same word that is used for wind…and breath…and Spirit.  Pneuma. In this passage of Acts, we see how the Holy Spirit gives direction to Paul and his companions…like God’s breath against a sail.

As I look back on that experience with Steve, I don’t think he ever knew that God would use him to give me a lesson in the Holy Spirit that day. We don’t get to choose where the wind blows…but we do get to choose to allow it to take us.

May we all come to find the Spirit’s guidance in our everyday lives.  I believe that the winds are still blowing…perhaps we need to learn to let loose the sails.

But be aware…we may find ourselves in the middle of the bay thinking, “Now what?”

But sometimes…I think that is right where God wants us to be.


Saturday, August 15, 2020

 Apologize


When growing up with 3 siblings…conflict was inevitable.  I know this because I have 4 children of my own.  I think that the difference between the family of 6 that I grew up in vs. the family of 6 that I now preside in…is that in the family of 6 that I grew up in…the second born child was the one who was always right and now, the family of 6 that I now preside in…the father is always right.  It’s weird…I wonder what makes the difference.

The conflicts between siblings have remained much the same through the generations.  “I call the front seat!”

“You always get the front seat!”

“So…that’s because I am older…”

“So…I am bigger…”

“What about me?” says the youngest.

“What about you?” says everyone but the youngest.

My parents did their best to intercede in our sibling rivalries…but, now, as a parent, I realize there is no perfect solution…nor is there any solution.  If you are a parent and your children don’t fight…you may want to check their pulse…or see if they happen to be some futuristic android sent back in time from 2525….It could happen…if man is still alive.

My dad would wisely address the conflicts by using controversial, psycho analytical reverse forward psychology.

“Dad! Ryan bit me!”

“Well…bite him back.”

“Dad…I tried to bite Ryan back…but then he punched me…”

“Do we have to talk about this during the Vikings game?”

My mother would frequently take a different approach.

“Ryan…did you kick you brother in the throat?”

“Yes.”

“Well…you need to apologize.”

“Oh…ok…I am sorry that your neck is so weak.”

“Ryan…did you hold your sister’s head underwater?”

“Yes.”

“Well…you need to apologize.”

“Ugh…fine…I am sorry you can’t breathe under water.”

Strangely…our parents must have done something right…or at the very least…so wrong, that the reverse psychology actually worked.

My brother and I had an incident recently.  That is not surprising.  We are both cut from the same stock and both tend to do things without thinking…however, what impacted me powerfully was his apology.  This is what he said, “I wanted to tell you that I would never purposely put you and your family at risk, but my poor decision did just that. I feel that I need to adequately apologize to you.  I am embarrassed and shameful of my poor action and for that I am sorry to you and your family.”

I don’t know if I have ever heard such a meaningful apology in my life…nor have I given one.  I read the apology to my family…in which I and my family fully accepted.  My brother’s humble course of action, blew me away.  If only I, and all of us, for that matter, could take such ownership as he did…then I would have to believe that the conflicts that we encounter would actually build our relationships rather than sever them.

In Acts 15:36-41, we come across a well know, but little talked about conflict between Paul and Barnabas.  These two Godly men have a sharp dispute, in which they actually go their separate ways for awhile.  Yet, if we read the entirety of the New Testament, we find that reconciliation takes place between these two men.  We are not given the details of how…but that is not as important as the fact that it happens. 

May we find the ownership, responsibility and humility to reconcile our conflicts.  Jesus reconciled us to himself…it seems the least we can do…is be willing to reconcile with each other.

Saturday, July 18, 2020


Water-Skiing



Reflecting back on the recent July 4th weekend I have come to realize that there are many dangers that can arise during these holiday weekends.

·        Explosive fireworks
·        Explosive family interactions
·        Congested highways
·        Congested waterways
·        Potato Salad left too long in the sun
·        Unattended campfires
·        Waterskiing

Just to name a few.

Back in high school and college, my brothers and I used to do a fair bit of waterskiing.  Incidentally…it is a lot easier to stay above water on Minnesota lakes…in the winter…though the boat goes much slower. We were not great water-skiers…but we weren’t bad.

Thus, every year, if I can, I like to try and go once a summer. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity for the past two summers, but during this recent holiday weekend my opportunity arose when my brother brought his boat up to my parents’ lake cabin for the weekend. I have come to learn that I pretty much have ONE chance to get out of the water.  If I fail…you can just about stick a fork in me because I am DONE! I intentionally waited until evening when the water was calm and there was less activity on the water…then I went out.  I put the ski on my left foot as I have always done and dropped into the water.  I took hold of the rope in my hands with my usual cross grip and gave my brother the green light to hit the throttle.  Piece of cake…I drug a short distance and was just pulling out of the water when the tow-rope handle snapped in two.  I would like to think that the handle must have been in a weakened state…as opposed to any increase in size since my last skiing endeavor…but only God really knows that. 

As I sank back into the water…I pretty much knew it was over as I felt my left hamstring lock up and say things to me like…”I hate you! I hate you! Why are you doing this to me?”

“Quiet!” I said back…“This isn’t over!”

As my brother circled around with the broken rope, I took the two broken handles…one in each hand and said, “Let’s try this again.”

“Really?” he said.

“Yes!” I said.

“No.” My hamstring said.

Attempt number two brought in the same result, the handle broke again, only this time a part of which remained in my hand. Failed.

I should have stopped there.  But I didn’t.  My pride would not let me. We went and borrowed a neighbor’s tow rope and went back out. If my hamstring would have had arms…I am quite certain that it would have been punching me in the face saying, “Stop! Stop! Listen to me! You are going to regret this!”

“Quiet you!...What do you know? You are just a hamstring!”

I managed to get out of the water 3 different times…but because of the incredible weakened state of my left hamstring…all I could do was skim across the water on my one ski and backside, screaming, “Stand up! Stand up! You wimpy foolish hamstring!”

“No way! I am not going to do it.” The selfish muscle replied.

No matter what I tried…I had no strength left in the left leg…to simply stand up on the ski. Finally…with my pride crushed and my tail between my legs…I quit.

“I told you so.” said my hamstring.

I came to realize…that in some ways…my time has passed. However, an interesting contrast to the weekend, I that I was able to help my son learn to water-ski for the first time.

I am reminded of how the old passes on to the new.  The old does not become invalid or worthless…but rather has its purpose fulfilled in the new.  Much like how God’s Old Covenant with Moses…pointed to…the New Covenant of Christ.  The Old Covenant…did not become invalid…or no longer valuable…on the contrary…it was fulfilled with the coming of the New Covenant.  Certainly, we are no longer “ruled” by the Old Covenant…now we are driven by the New Covenant…a covenant of grace! In Acts 15, we find this very topic coming to the forefront of the New Testament Church…and the Jewish Council.  They must find the truth for themselves…did Jesus come to abolish the Law…or to fulfill it? What does fulfilling the Law even mean?

How does the Old point to the New…and how does the New gain strength from the Old? Great questions to wrestle with.

Now…if my old hamstring will ever forgive me and help me to learn to walk new again…