Saturday, June 15, 2019


Noise


Pedal-click-creak…pedal-click-creak…pedal-click-creak…

I find bicycle noise quite irritating.  In fact, there are times when I will deliberately use ear buds and music to block out annoying bicycle noises…particularly, when I cannot find the source of the noise.  The obnoxious noise continued as I continued to navigate the bi-ped. This specific noise had been my bane for weeks if not months.  Every time I pump a pedal, the click and creak would resonate through my ears and whole body.  In my efforts to eliminate the sound, I had tightened my chainring bolts, replaced the chainring, tightened the cassette, secured the steer tube, lubricated the chain, tightened my hubs, cleaned and re-secured the steer tube, replaced the brakes, greased and tightened the pedals, I even went so far as to replace the bottom bracket…nothing eliminated the racket.

Every time I saddled up and rode, I would find myself listening carefully trying to identify the source of the clamor.   At one point I was bending my head down…listening intently…looking down at my chain…cassette…hubs…etc…trying to find any indicator of the cause.  When BAM…a parked car jumped right out in front of me and I ran smack dab into the backside of the small hybrid.  Who parked this car here? At this point I did what most people would do…I made it look like I knew what I was doing and that I meant to run into the back of the vehicle…while simultaneously glancing casually around to see if anyone had witnessed my embarrassing snafu.  Then, I rode away…wondering…“Why is my bike making a new ‘womp, womp, womp,’ sound?”

Here I was…extremely focused on discovering the cause of a mechanical problem, so that it could be repaired…only to miss a much bigger picture in front of me…a large white automobile! Tunnel vision is a natural response to the circumstantial elements in our lives.  When a problem arises, it is only reasonable to focus on the issue at hand.  When your wedding anniversary is speedily approaching, it is only reasonable to focus all of your energy and attention to ensure your wife’s happiness…or at the very least scramble enough to make it “look” like all of your attention has been on her for the last week and a half.  It can sometimes be beneficial to order some gifts from Amazon the day before her birthday that will never arrive in time…only to save them for your anniversary…just remember where you hid them.

In Daniel 9:20-27, as Daniel is continuing his prayer, we find God give an answer. Yet, what is perhaps most striking to me, is that while Daniel is praying about the “end of the exile,” God’s answer actually gives Daniel a much larger picture.  While Daniel’s focus and concern is on the end of the 70 year exile…God’s focus is on the 500 years to come…which will culminate in the astounding work of grace that Jesus gives us on the cross!

Daniel’s perspective isn’t bad…it is just short. God wants Daniel to see the big picture of what he is doing…offering grace to mankind!  Noises of life can often distract us from the bigger picture…whether bicycle noise, interpersonal conflicts, unfinished jobs at home or at the office.  Perhaps the next time we run into a car with our bicycle…or smash our face into a  light post as you are looking for pennies on the sidewalk, or get down about the rain on our wedding day, we can be reminded to turn off the noise and look to the great and glorious picture of grace…and a bigger picture that there is still MORE TO COME!

I replaced the chain...and he sound was gone.

Saturday, June 8, 2019



I remember standing in the garage as a child, while my dad was replacing the front brakes on his 1978 Chevy pickup.  He had lifted the front end and secured it with jack stands.  As any good father would, he told me to keep back so as not to get hurt…or accidentally kick him in the face as he crawled beneath the vehicle to inspect the ball joints.  I recall him telling me a story, as he crept along inspecting the under carriage, of a young boy who lifted a car off of his dad when the car accidentally fell on him.  I stood there pondering his story.  “Interesting timing,” I thought...it was a little freaky to think about the car falling and crushing your dad while he worked beneath. Finally, I replied, “Don’t get your hopes up…I can hardly carry the big pieces of wood to the fireplace.”

He rebutted, “Sometimes when faced with incredibly difficult challenges…we can find ourselves going beyond what we thought we were capable of.”

“Really! Like lifting a car?”

“Yep, when under stress, your adrenaline can empower you to do amazing things.”

“Wow!...What’s adrenaline?”

“It’s a hormone”

“Oh…ok…What’s a hormone?”

“You’ll find out when you’re 12.”

“Don’t get your hopes up.”

I have yet to lift a car by myself…although, 3 fellow high school wrestlers and I, did pick up my buddy Norman’s car and turn it sideways in his parking spot after school one day.  I have, however, found myself doing things that were indeed beyond what I could have expected…like singing a duet at a wedding! The father of that bride could sell ice cream to an Eskimo…because…I can’t sing…I don’t sing…my voice is like a screaming frog fighting its way out of a blender! It’s bad…really bad…yet, there I was…somehow finding myself going beyond what I thought myself capable of!

Similarly, during a recent spring day, I found myself playing basketball with Isaac and two high school freshmen.  I play basketball like a pit-bull with the jumping skills of a donut.  Yet, when I saw these two kids and the basketball, I knew that God was calling me to something beyond my own comforts.  I was convinced that I needed to submit to the leadings of the Holy Spirit and engage these students…a refugee and his buddy, into relationship. I want to love people more than I love pain free living…more than my comfortable relationships…and more than self preservation.

The Bible is filled with stories of God calling people to go beyond what they could do on their own.  Moses, leading the people out of Egypt…Gideon fighting the Midianites with only 300 men…Israel conquering Jericho…Daniel facing the den of lions…the stories go on and on.  I must wonder,  “Does God still call us to go beyond what we can do on our own?”  I proclaim the answer with an exuberant, “YES! Yes He does!”

In Ephesians chapter 2, Paul expresses to the young church in Ephesus the amazing transformation that each one of them has experienced.  A common bond existed…and still exists…each and every one of them has once been “dead in their own sin”! Now, they are alive in Christ! What is even more stunning…is that Paul is speaking to both Jews and Gentiles…racial opponents.  We too, hold to this common ground…with every man and woman who has ever lived.  We are all dead in our sins…without Jesus! 

I think that the time has come where we must see others for who they are…men and women created in the image of God…and JUST LIKE US…they are desperate for Jesus.  We need to go beyond where we are comfortable…beyond what we know…and allow Jesus to do what only He can do…save people.  Our job…is to go beyond what we can do…and let the Holy Spirit work.  We do not need to be afraid.  1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love drives out fear.”  We can’t love perfectly…it is beyond us.  Thankfully, Jesus calls us to go beyond what we can do on our own…and by His power…love perfectly.

Saturday, May 25, 2019


The Graduate


Last weekend I attended my little brother’s graduation ceremony.  He graduated from high school in 1998…I think…and I am pretty sure that he graduated from college in 2002.  I didn’t attend either ceremony…so what am I doing here…attending his graduate school graduation?...I don’t exactly know…but I will tell you this…he owes me.  As I sat in the auditorium, hanging on every word of a soon to be PhD graduate in Bio-science and specializing in something, something, etc., etc, I realized that I hadn’t been surrounded by so many degrees since 2004, when I took a group of high school students to Phoenix, Arizona in mid July.

To occupy my time during the pomp and circumstance, I attempted to order a pizza from my older brother who owns a Pizza Ranch in South Dakota.  He was not in attendance because he “had to work.” I told him, “Well then, get to work and bring me a pizza.”

“I am not going to bring you a pizza! We don’t deliver to auditoriums…especially auditoriums that are 3 hours away!”

“The way things are going here…I think that if you hurry, I’m pretty sure you can have it here before this ceremony is over!”

I didn’t get my pizza.  Thus, I resorted to pass the time by reading the commencement program where each graduate was pictured.  Alongside each image, was a list of the graduate’s accomplishments and where they were going to head off into the wild blue yonder of jobs, families and paychecks.   Each of these graduates was heading off to new horizons and exciting new occupations…except one. There was one graduate who apparently had no idea what she was going to do after graduation…nothing was listed…hey!, maybe she could deliver pizzas! Hey, I could use one right about now!

I reflected on my own college graduation day…seems like just 20 years ago.  I walked up onto the platform…received my degree…went back to my seat and thought…huh…now what?  I had no idea what I was going to do next.  In fact…as soon as I walk out of that auditorium…I was homeless.  

This truth seemed to frustrate my dad…which is weird…it’s not like he was homeless…I was.

“Hey Dad, if you are so concerned with me being homeless…how about giving me a couple thousand dollars…that would help for a couple of months!”

I received nothing but a rolling of the eyes and long lecture.

“What are you going to do?”

“What do you mean?” I replied

“We are packing up your car…where are you going to take your stuff?  You have no place to stay.”

“I will figure something out.”

“Like what?”

“Hmmm…I don’t know…I think maybe I will head over to my friend Jim’s apartment…he has let me sleep on his couch before…I can probably just stay there.  Look…here he comes now…I can ask him.”

“Hey Jim, can I stay at your apartment tonight?”

“Sorry man…my lease is up and I am heading to Virginia”

(Cue Chirping Crickets)

Well…didn’t see that coming.

“Now what are you going to do?” My Dad asked in a very, “I love you, but you are a fool” tone.

“Well…first I have to go pick up the boat that I just bought and then I have to work tonight at 4:00”…I delivered pizzas…and just for the record…I may have considered driving 3 hours to deliver a pizza to my brother…and maybe stayed for a few months.

“You bought a boat!?”

“Yeah…coolest thing…I bought this boat, but it had no trailer…and then the DNR just gave me this abandoned trailer to haul it…sweet deal huh?”

“How can you afford that?”

“I found $350 in my glove box! I must have forgotten that I had put it in there…and then when I needed it…boom! There it was!  Awesome huh?”

“How did you NOT know that you had been missing $350?”

“I fail to see your point on this.”

While my dad and I were continuing our consultation…one of the Crown College administrators walked up to me and asked…”Hey Ryan, do you need a place to stay? I just had a place open up here at the college…I can get you an apartment for about ¼ of what you would find anywhere else.  Craziest thing…I had been booked up for months…but this just opened up.”

“Hey Dad…would you mind helping me unload the car? Looks like I’m staying.”
I have probably frustrated some people by the way I live…perhaps my wife included…but I tend not to ask, because I really don’t think I want to hear the answer.  Yet, is there not a beauty in watching how God has provided and handled so many unknowns along the way. 

In the Old Testament Book of Daniel Chapter 9, we find Daniel, anticipating the end of the 70 year exile to Babylon.  There are only a few years left and as he waits, we find him engaging in time with the Lord.  He is reading the Scriptures and he is praying.  Time and time again Daniel has experienced how God has taken care of every little detail in his life.  One key note in this prayer of Daniel…is that Daniel ALWAYS prays prayers that coincide with the will of God.  God has given us promises.  God had given Daniel and the Israelites the promise we find in Jeremiah 29:11…"I know the plans that I have for you…plans for you to prosper and to give you a hope and a future." God is going to restore Israel back to the Promised Land and take them out of exile. 

Daniel was able to see clearly how God honored his covenant of love with his people.  Daniel knew that God was going to continue to take care of them.  Even if they, in fact, found themselves homeless…God had more for them that was yet to come.

How do we respond when we don’t know what’s next? Where is the first place we go? It appears for Daniel…that place was the Scriptures and to prayer.

May you find yourself connecting with God in the Scriptures and in prayer…waiting for Him to do all that he said he WILL do…knowing…that He desperately cares and loves you.

Friday, May 17, 2019


Loaded Diaper


There is one task that strikes fear into the hearts of new fathers more than any other…the changing of a baby’s diaper. There are some men, more innovative than myself, that have somehow managed to avoid this bone chilling chore,  perhaps, going their entire fatherhood careers without having to engage in the act of dispensing of the diapers of doom.

As men, we spend countless hours conjuring up excuses to alleviate the obligated operation.  I have found that it works best to have a list of alternative “emergency tasks” to divert from the parental duty.  For example, if you could keep a hammer stashed near the water main and you hear the paralyzing words…“Ryan, the baby needs a diaper change,”…you could quickly use the hammer to strike the water main.  “Sorry dear!...I am dealing with a water leak…I wish I could help but I can’t…this is a serious emergency!”

Other copious options could include: shattering a mirror, starting a grease fire in the oven, burning eggs on the stove, plugging and overflowing the toilet, ripping a door off of its hinges, or simply running out of the house yelling…“What’s that? I can’t hear you! I have to go save this squirrel in the street…he is about to get hit by a car!”

There is a final option…you could just pull yourself together and walk into the baby’s room and dial 911.

Some men are just smarter than I am and have managed to create a larger distance between themselves and the dirty diapers.  I somehow had to face my fears and learn to change diapers.  Before I engaged in the toxic practice, I went to the local hardware store and purchased the necessities…a respirator, goggles and large rubber gloves. 

The things you encounter during a diaper change are some of the worst encounters known to mankind.  Babies are amazingly cute until they fill their pants and need you to expose the filth.  The first clue is the odor…but even that is nothing compared to the revelation of the filth.  There is a reason that seat-belts have been added to changing tables…because when you buckle your baby in…they will stay safe until you regain consciousness from the vapor induced coma. 

There is no one, I don’t care how experienced they might be, that is not affected by the filth that babies create.  Some deal with it better than others…but to all people it is the same thing…filth…and the filth MUST be dealt with.

The Prophet Daniel had a dream that he recorded in the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 8.  In this dream, he sees a series of troubling images…but perhaps the most disturbing image he sees is sin in its true nature…filth.  It is easy for us to keep our sins concealed…hidden…unexposed.  After a while we may even get used to the stench. 

Remarkably, my diaper changing experiences helped harden me to the stench and filth created by my fourth child.  By this time I was no longer wearing a mask…at least not all of the time…sometimes I even went without gloves!

When Daniel sees sin in its true nature…it says that he is “sick for days.”  Are we ever sickened by sin?  Are we sickened only by other peoples’ sin? Do we ever become sickened by our own sin?  Sin is a big deal…and we should be sickened by it…yet we should see that we have Jesus, who willingly cleans up our filth. 

I wonder if he ever wears a mask and goggles?

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Assured


While the lightsaber hung from my hand, above the 30 gallon garbage can, my son cried and screamed, “Dad! No!”

I was ready to drop it into the trash and he knew that I was willing and intended to do it. After multiple less than stellar events as a father, I had earned the reputation of “Dad the Toy Trasher.  My parenting has been heavily influence by my father who threw many of our toys away. “Clean up your room or I will give your toys away to someone who will take care of them!,” he would bellow.

In which my sister ignorantly replied, “Oh! You could give this to Emily…she would really like this!”

“Let’s try this again…pick up your toys or I will throw them away!”

“No! Dad! Don’t!”

But there were times…many times…when he did.

In this particular case however…it was my mistake that led to this ordeal.  My mistake was taking my wife out on a date and leaving my children home with a sitter…I should have known it would end in disaster.

This poor sitter’s only mistake was overcooking the recently frozen pizza. When she took the darkened pie out of the oven my only son flipped out screamed, “I’m not eating that!”
Unfortunately for him…he was really hungry…hungry for pizza…but did not want to eat the black crusted slice that was offered him. So instead he began his tantrum…slamming cupboard doors and drawers until one of the drawers broke…falling to pieces before his eyes.  He stood there in shock…realizing what he had done…and that he would now be in even bigger trouble… he leaked out the word, “There…you see…that’s how mad I was.”

You can imagine how mad his dad was upon returning home.

When we received the report upon our arrival, I instructed him as to how he would be paying for the repair of the drawer and that he would need to write an apology. 

He refused to write the apology.  Thus, I stood with the dangling Star Wars weapon.  I had already thrown away a toy shotgun…and a Nerf dart gun.  It was now the lightsaber’s turn.
“You will write an apology or the lightsaber gets it!”

He knew what was going to happen next…because of what had already happened in the recent past.

Finally he relented and agreed to write the apology.

In Daniel chapter 7 we find our main character, Daniel, have a very disturbing and prophetic dream.  He sees strange and scary beasts coming up out of a churning and chaotic sea.  Each creature representing a different nation that rises to power…yet, in the midst and timing of it all, God almighty arrives on the scene as well as the Son of Man who will kill the final beast and set up an eternal kingdom.  We can easily become overwhelmed with the prophecies and symbolism we find in such readings.  But, I think that there is a beauty in these prophecies that we should be careful to not overlook.

Do you ever wonder why God even used prophecy?  I have become convinced, that God gives us these prophecies to help us to see who he really is.  He is the Almighty God.  He tells us what he is going to do ahead of time so that we recognize him…we see his work…we see what he is doing and know that once again he is trustworthy and true to his promises.  We can know that he will do what he says he will do…because he has done what he said he would do.  We know that Jesus is coming back, because he said that he is coming back.  We know it because he came the first time…and God said he would come the first time. 

That is what the prophecy in Daniel 7 points to.  Daniel sees the Son of God almost 500 years before he came the first time!  God gives us this prophecy so that we can see and know who Jesus is!...the Son of God…was…and is…and is to come!

Jesus will come back…even more assuredly as the lightsaber would have hit the trash.  So maybe we should just relent…and say yes to following him?

Saturday, April 27, 2019


A Den of Lions



When I was growing up, there was a location of fear and doom for awkward 3rd grade boys.  Every day at the same time, my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Olson would line up the class at the door to be sent out for a drink from the water fountain and to empty our tiny weak bladders in the lavatory.  Often, as 

I stood in line I was thinking…praying even… “Hurry…hurry…hurry…let’s go!” though no words passed through my lips.  How long did we need to stand here waiting?  Timing was everything! As we prepared for our trip to the restroom, my impatience came to near explosion.  Not just because my eyeballs would be floating…but, also because, if our dismissal was delayed any longer we would be sent into the tiled walls of doom which would already house countless 5th graders. 

The goal was to get in, finish your business and get out, before the 5th graders entered. It seemed a rare occasion where I would find such success.  More often than not, our paths would cross.  Sometimes, we were sent into the toilets of terror before the 5th graders arrived…only to get halfway through our duty before a 5th grader would come up behind you and torture you, while you are still unable to flee.

However, it was even worse when you knew the 5th graders were already occupying the space that Mrs. Olson was ignorantly sending us into.  “Go on now boys,” she would say.

“That’s ok…I don’t really have to go.”

“Now, now…none of that…I know you Ryan and if you don’t go now you will be asking to go as soon as we get back into the classroom.”

“Exactly!,” I thought, but didn’t state…“then, I would know that the lion’s den would be empty!”

“Go on…get in there!”

As my heart beat against my ribs and my knees trembled like grandma’s thanksgiving Jell-O, I shuffled into the chamber of creative tortures. If I could just get into a stall as quickly as possible and lock the door…I would have a chance.  As I hustled in, I came face to face with Mike McFlushya*.  Mike was well known as the Soldier of Swirly.  I think even his mother would have feared him if she hadn’t had pythons for arms, a tattoo of a cobra on her neck, serpents for hair and answered to the name Mommy Medusa.  Mike laughed as a fellow 3rd grade classmate exited the lavatory curiously wet above his ears. “Ha!,” chortled Mike, looking me squarely in the eyes, “You’re next.”

“Who me?”

“Yes, you!...bwahaha”

Gulp!

Mike grabbed me by my shoulders and began escorting me toward the last stall. “Please God, help me!”

Just then…the 5th Grade teacher Mr. Nelson walked in.

“You boys get back to class now!...What are you doing anyway?”

“Just helping this poor 3rd grader find an open stall.”

I am pretty sure I saw white wings on the shoulders of Mr. Nelson that day.

There is a story in the book of Daniel that makes my experience look like a trip to the restroom…oh wait…it was.

When Daniel was an old man he was still in the service of the king, (Darius the Mede).  He had remarkably kept his integrity beyond that of any other man.  So much so, that his enemies had to create imaginary accusations to make him guilty of a crime. His punishment was to be thrown into a den of hungry lions.  Throughout Daniel’s ordeal we see him continually serving, following, and praying to God almighty.  Astonishingly, the lions didn’t touch him. Daniel’s life was spared.

What I find to be the most motivating element of this story is Daniel’s confidence in God.  Whether he lives or whether he dies is irrelevant.  He knows that there is more to come.  There is more to come if he lives and there is more to come if he dies.  God is bigger than his circumstances.  Daniel remains faithful to God…and God as always, remained faithful to Daniel.
God is bigger than our circumstances too, and just like Daniel…no matter where we are at…there IS more to come.

How do you face the lions in your life?

*names have been changed to protect the guilty

Saturday, April 20, 2019


Green Jacket


Three of my brothers-in-law and I stepped out of the Ford Freestyle, just as the sun was making its appearance over the distant pines of south, central Wisconsin.  Once a year, the four of us would gather in a central location to battle it out on the fairways.  We play to win.  We play for pride.  We play for a Goodwill green jacket.

We like to arrive early…so early, in fact, that the course has not yet opened and even the squirrels were still snug in their nests.  Why so early?...to avoid the possibility of being seen by onlookers who may ridicule our game or unfashionable clothing.  I stood and waited for my fellow competitors to secure their cleats to their feet.  As I lingered, I couldn’t help but sarcastically mock them at the “imperative” value that these cleats will have on their game.  “Wow! Now you are going to win for sure!  I would hate to have you slip and fall while making that crucial putt! Boy I wish I had cleats…because then maybe I would have a chance to win!”

We walked to the first t-box.  I set my overpriced coffee down on the dew covered grass.  It was a short par 3…only 115 yards or so to the pin.  I pulled out my pitching wedge and teed the ball nice and high to limit my distance.  I can modify my swing to three stages…hard, harder, hardest.  I stepped up to the ball and gave it a nice hard stroke.  The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back looking at the tree tops…while all three of my brothers-in-law were rolling with laughter…I should have worn cleats.

I was so inspired this past week, as I watched Tiger Woods achieve legendary greatness by winning his 5th green jacket…at the antiqued age of 43. I am astounded that he can even walk, let alone play golf.  You would think he would need a walker by this time…perhaps even a wheel chair…or at the very least a cane…although he could probably get by using his putter to keep him upright.  I know how he must feel because as I rolled out of bed this morning to popping knees, twisted neck, and a back that kept me folded in half until 30 minutes after my shower…I realized…I am also 43 years old...in fact, I am a month and a half younger.  Thus…by the definition of the transitive property…I should also be able to win the next Masters tournament…although my odds may increase just a bit if I played golf more than once a year.

During one of our annual tournaments I was leading heading into the last hole.  My brother-in-law was easily within striking distance.  I was on the t-box and all I needed to do was a nice easy swing and keep the ball in the fairway.  So I wondered, “What swing should I use? Hard, harder or hardest?”  I opted for hardest…that should be a nice easy swing to keep it onto the fairway.  I swung the club nice and hard…crushing the ball!...hooking it hard to the left…on a “dogleg right!” Yikes!  There goes the game…the match…the tournament…the green jacket!  Until…my ball hits high and hard on a giant white pine…and kicks hard right…into the middle of the fairway…set up for a lovely look to the green.  My brother-in-law rolled his eyes and said, “What was that!”

“Clean living Dave…clean living.”

There is a story that Jesus shares in the Gospel of Luke.  It is a story about a father who had two sons.  The younger of the two sons, insults his dad by asking for his inheritance early…a request that pretty much says…“Dad, I wish you were dead so I can have my share of your money.”  This disrespectful son then goes off and spends all of his inheritance and finds himself broken and poor. When he comes to his senses and goes back home…his father lavishes love and riches on him once again…while the older brother looks on with disdain.  He says “Dad…I never received a party in my honor…what about me?”  The irony…is that both sons were not in love with their father…they were in love with themselves.  They only saw their father as a means to “get what they wanted.” Both sons were lost…only one comes to realize it…but the other does not.  Have you been lost? Are you lost now? Are you lost but you don’t realize it?  There is direction.

Sometimes we go through life thinking that if I do all of the “right things”…if I live a “clean” life, then God will bless us.  In a case like that…what are we concerned about?...God or ourselves? Do we want God or do we want stuff from God? Do I care about God or do I simply care about keeping my ball on the fairway.

Are you lost? There is direction…it is Jesus.