Saturday, November 28, 2020

 What is Love



Experts say that you are not supposed to spank your children with your hand.  I have heard that this supposedly causes emotional scars on the child and damages the parent child relationship to the extent that the child may associate their parent’s hand with abuse and grow to mistrust their parents. I don’t know that I can fully agree with this assessment.  My dad’s hand swatted my tush more times than I care to remember, and I don’t feel that this affected my trust in him whatsoever.  However, watching Steven King’s, The Shining, at age 6, and seeing my brother accidentally hit in the face with a splitting maul may have led to some minor distrust…not to mention, having my dad throw an arrow in front of my nose as I stepped into the garage, (because apparently it was funny) and being deserted with my brother on the side of an isolated country gravel road??, (again…funny). Yeah, that didn’t exactly bolster trust, but the spanking???... no…not so much. 

I know that there can be a great deal of opinions tied to spankings, but as a pastor, I have no choice but to adhere to this controversial correctional system. As one who teaches to obey the Word of God, including Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares the rod, hates his son,” I must therefore be willing to initiate the task as necessary…because after all…I love my children more than any father ever has…save God himself.

Despite my personal growth experience as a child, I choose not to use my hand during the disciplinary action.  I have heard countless stories of wooden spoons being broken over children’s bottoms…and being an extremely frugal minded father…I really didn’t want to have to continually purchase replacements.  The implement of choice in our home was a plastic slotted spoon.  It was by nature a cooking utensil first and foremost…I couldn’t justify the purchase of a singular spoon…just for spanking…so the spoon was utilized in the cooking of spaghetti, beans, rice and the ever famous macaroni and cheese.  This came in particularly handy…when a spanking was needed during the cooking of the evening meal.  There was no need to waste time searching for the instrument of discipline.

Each night we would begin our bedtime routine; jammies, dental hygiene, potty time, drink of water, story, song, tuck in, threaten a spanking, close the door, open the door to see the child out of bed and threaten the spanking again, yell through the closed door...“If you are not in bed when I open this door, I will have to get the spoon!,” open the door just in time to see their little bare feet dash back onto the mattress, walk to the utensil drawer and rattle it…while loudly speaking to your spouse “IF SHE IS OUT OF BED WHEN I GET IN THERE I WILL HAVE TO SPANK HER.”

On one of these adventurous nights…after rattling the drawer…and continuing to see my threats disregarded…I was left with no choice but to take the spoon of doom…and march into my daughter’s bedroom.  I held the spoon aloft like a sword at the ready and boldly stated, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS FOR????....DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS FOR???...”

At the sight of the spoon…my daughter began to cry.

”No want panking!!! No want panking!!!”

“DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS FOR???”

Sob, sob, sniffle, sniffle…”iiiittts…iiiitts….iiiits…it’s for making ‘roni and cheese…”

How do you spank a child after that?

I took her gently in my arms and placed her face down over my lap…I raised the spoon…laid my other hand gently over her footie jammied bottom…and began to spank the back of my left hand as I sternly remarked…“STAY IN BED.”

She wailed…though the spoon never touched her. I hugged her. She hugged me…I tucked her in and she went to sleep.

I took that one for the team.  It was an act of love.  To let it go un-corrected…would not have been an act of love.  But that day, I took the correction for her.  I don’t know that she ever realized what I did that night.  But that is just a small taste of the love that God expresses to us in Jesus.  The Bible says that God is love…and then he “manifested” (big word for “made known”) his love…in Jesus.  When we say “yes” to a relationship with him, we then have that manifested love…living in us by His Spirit…we can then love…like he loves.  This manifestation of love first came…at Christmas.

May you come to see that the love spoken of in 1 John 4:7-20 and 1 Cor. 13 is all about God’s manifested love for us.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

 Windows 95



I bought my first real computer in college.  Prior to this monumental event, I had been resigned to engage all of my research in the nerdy depths of the technology lab…which was filled with gamers and over-achieving 100mph typists cranking out their 30 page theses weeks before they were due.  It was just my luck that every time that I entered the lab to cram my paper into existence 3 ½ hours before the midnight deadline…no computer would be available. This is just another example of how life just is not fair.

I needed my own private machine!

For a short time, I was able to land a 3 foot by 4 foot mother ship computer that covered 78.5% of my dorm room desk.  However, this green monitored machine didn’t last long…due to the fact that when I fired up the 10 minute ignition cycle, the main breakers would blow and the entire 3rd floor occupancy of the men’s main dorm would storm my room throwing rotting fruit and degrading insults.

I needed to figure something out to foster my procrastinating instincts…and the solution wasn’t black bananas.  My mother told me that her sister…my aunt…was selling a computer…for $100.  That was a high price for me to pay…especially at that time, but my pizza delivering tips from the past weekend would just about cover it.

I met her at a nearby McDonalds for the black market exchange.  However, after spending $5.75 on a double quarter pounder with cheese meal while waiting for her to arrive…I was forced to negotiate the priced down to $94.25…tax free…(let’s be honest…it was her fault…she should have been punctual).

Not long after launching my new machine in my dorm room…I came across a 1995 Windows upgrade disc!  Score! Now I was going to get even more stuff done…at the last minute…than ever before. 

However…I did not know how to install the upgrade.  “Hmmm…how hard can it be?,” I thought, “The new files…just need to go where the old files were…piece of cake.”

I dug into my “system files” folder…and began removing all of the old files…so that the new files could be inserted in their place.  Everything seemed to be going fine…until the screen went white…and stayed…white…forever.

“Hmmm…I wonder if you remove the system files…if the machine stops working?...“Apparently…the answer to that unspoken question was…yes.”

Having just destroyed my new $94.25 machine…I asked my next door neighbor if he had any thoughts as to what I should do.

“Go ask Nathan…down in the Tech Department.”

I cringed at the words…“Tech Department.”

This is the area of the college that I avoided…by all means possible…if I could.  That is the reason I delivered all those pizzas…to buy a computer…so I wouldn’t have to go there anymore.

With nothing left to do…but humble myself.  I walked into the Tech Lab…to abruptly hear…ALL of the incessant speedy typing stop…instantly…and felt every eye staring into my shallow soul.  I approached the  student supervisor…Nathan…and told him what I needed. 


“What did you do?” He asked.

“I deleted all of my system files.”

The laughter began with a rolling of the eyes and a chuckle…and crashed through the rest of the lab like a tsunami…

I felt about 3 inches tall…but the Lord has ways of keeping us humble. 

Nathan said…“Yes I can fix it…but it is going to cost you.”

“How much?”

“One package of Oreos”

“Deal.”

Nathan fixed my computer in about 18 minutes.  It felt like my machine went from life…to death…back to life.  I was ecstatic! I think I would have bought him 6 packages of Oreos for what he was able to do.

There is something truly amazing…about life.  The miracle of birth can, perhaps, only be topped…by the miracle of rebirth.  Acts 21:17-23:11, brings to life several truth themes…but, perhaps, the most poignant one…the most powerful one…the one that give true hope beyond hope…the resurrection of Jesus Christ…and the promise of hope…the promise of new life…the promise of eternal life that that brings.

The Lord has struck me once again with this amazing…awesome truth.  I am slack jawed as I consider the hope of life…with Him

May we come to see the amazing hope in the resurrection!


Saturday, October 31, 2020

Swan Lake

 


My left foot was pointed and my big toe was touching the top step of my step ladder as I twisted, pirouetted until my right leg was purchased gingerly sideways…while I reached with my drill…over my head and worked on a screw that didn’t want to start into the oriented strand board.  I was in the process of attempting to finish my window installation project…which my neighbors had affectionately referred to as “Ryan’s Rendition of Swan Lake.”  Ooohs and aaahs, filled the air around the neighborhood as I moved from position to position.

As I worked I heard the words behind me… “Do you think you could refill my bird feeder while you are up there?”

“Sure, just let me change out of my tutu belt and I will get right on that.”

I did not replace the bird’s food that day.  It was not until about a week and a half later that the suet was replaced as I was wrapping up my personal ballet.

Last winter as I was painting the kitchen cabinets, I heard the words… “What color do you think we should make the bathroom vanity?”

“Hmmm…I don’t know…maybe when I finish painting the cabinets, making the countertop, installing the flooring, installing the counter tops, painting the walls, and installing a back splash, we can talk about it. Maybe when I get the siding repaired, the outlet replaced, the window jamb painted…maybe then we can come up with a plan.

The emotions of home ownership can only be truly appreciated…by home owners.  Renters can bicker and complain about the nuances of their apartments…but it is the home owners that live the unending obligation to continue fixing, improving, wrecking and rebuilding their homes.  It is a job that seems to have no end.  In reality…IT WILL…NEVER…END!!!

Even if we sell our apparent money pit to some other unfortunate ballerina, and leave our unending list of repairs to them…they will have the unfinished job…and we…will begin again with our next endeavor.

We all have unfinished tasks.  We always will. Throughout the book of Acts we see the Apostles and followers of Christ working on the task of establishing the Church.  It is done in the power of the Holy Spirit…yet the task is unfinished.  Today, it remains unfinished.  In fact it will remain unfinished until Christ returns.  Then!...It will be finished! But until then…we will continue to work for the sake of the Gospel of Grace…testifying to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We will work at the tasks that the Lord has laid out for us…doing what has been assigned to us…to give, to pray, to testify, to love…for the sake of the Gospel of Grace. 

May we come to follow the Spirit as he leads us to tasks to finish that which remains unfinished.


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Cards



“Fifteen, two – Fifteen, four – Fifteen, six – Fifteen, eight, and a pair of double runs makes 24,” I heard her say.

“A pair for two,” I replied.

“That’s game! I win!” her perky voice rebutted…“you are only at 59…does that mean I skunked you?”

“Not exactly,” I said, “It means that you double skunked me.”

“Oooh, that sounds exciting…what does that mean?”

“It means that you get credit for 3 wins in the series.”

“Fun!...What do you want for supper?”

“I lost my appetite.”

“Oh, ok then…do you want to play again?”

I wanted to say, “What are you kidding me? Never!...I am never playing with you again!,” while throwing the cards and the board across the room.  But instead I sighed and just said…“ugh.”

Sadly this was not our only conflict while sitting across a cribbage board, and for that reason…Sarah and I rarely play cribbage with each other any longer.  It seems that after each game played…we once again renew our commitment to never play again…at least with each others. 

It can be difficult to withhold emotions and frustration in competitive board games.  The cards that we are dealt, the numbers rolled on the dice, or the chutes and ladder spinner can seem to be stacked against us, as if somehow cosmic events have forbidden our success…or God is somehow trying to teach us lessons in patience, anger, suffering and pride all at the same time.

It can seem that game after game our odds should change…that at some point the grass would no longer be greener on the other side of the fence…and suddenly we would be standing in the abundance of fertile soil.  But…life is hard, and it seems to keep getting harder.  Covid certainly is a card that we would rather not have received in our hand…it feels like getting stuck with the Old Maid card.

In Acts 21:1-36, we find the Apostle Paul heading back to Jerusalem.  He has been dealt with a hand of cards that any of us would shudder to receive.  Yet, he knows the cards that he has been given…and he know that the task of playing those cards has been given to him. His hand is full of pain and suffering. His cards were not dissimilar to the cards that Jesus suffered. 

We don’t get to choose our cards.  Many of us have been…or will be faced with some incredibly difficult cards to play…cards of hurt, pain, cancer, sorrow, persecution, etc. God has given us the privilege to be entrusted with these cards.  May we learn to resiliently play them…for His glory.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

 Serve



We arrived in the blistering heat of the day…but then again…July couldn’t really be any other way in northern Mexico.  Having grown up in the tundra regions of Minnesota, that kind of oppressive heat makes me want to do nothing but…sleep…hidden in an air conditioned, scorpion-less corner…and sleep.  However, that is not why I was there. I was leading a team of high school students on a missions experience in Sabinas Hidalgo, Mexico.  Our responsibilities included ministry to children, handing out supplies to poor areas of the community, and work projects around the orphanage at which we were serving.  These work projects included painting, mixing concrete, putting up fences, tearing down the same fences…and hauling five mountains of rocky soil across the five acre plot with a single wheel barrow, three spades and two square scoop shovels. 

Each morning we would awake to a breakfast of black beans and eggs, grab our water bottles and drag ourselves to the class five quarry.  The work would begin with a few shovels slamming into the rocky side of mounds of earth…followed by a few groans…which continued until a wheel barrow was loaded and hauled across the lot, then dumped it the opposite corner.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Our team spent five days doing this same thing…over and over…moving five, dump truck loads of dirt from one corner of the property to another.

After five days we were exhausted…crabby…and ready to be finished with what seemed to be an endless and pointless job.  It was at about this time that a large road grater pulled onto the property…dropped its blade, and in about fifteen minutes finished a job that had taken us five days. While the grater finished its work…we took the team over to paint the walls of the orphanage.

As we loaded the bus to depart the orphanage from our ten days of work, I considered a few thoughts on service.

  • 1.    Motivation Matters.  It was difficult to be and stay motivated on a job that felt like we were going nowhere. What motivates us?
  • 2.      Gifts matter.  Our team did not have the most efficient tools to finish the task at hand. Yet, once the correct “tool” arrived…the project came to fruition.
  • 3.      Service is costly.  We spent hours doing a job that overall could have been done in about fifteen minutes.  We wasted hour upon hour.  I will never get those hours back. In fairness, I would have likely just used them to sleep or check my social media status. 
  • 4.      Most importantly, the Holy Spirit matters.  Col. 3:23, says “Whatever you do, do it with all of your soul as unto the Lord.” I don’t think I can do that without the work of the Holy Spirit in me.  It is once again an issue of heart change. I think that each day I find more and more need for the Holy Spirit to continue the work that He has begun in me…to change my heart that I might finish the work that the Lord as appointed for me.

I think we see this truth in Acts. 20:18-21:16. Paul is encouraging the church elders from Ephesus.  In doing so, he lays out…how he has served…why he has served…how he will continue to serve…and the encouragement for these elders to do the same.

May we find the Holy Spirit empowering us to serve, burdening us to serve, and changing our hearts to serve…whole heartedly as unto the Lord.

As the bus pulled away from the building…I couldn’t help but notice the graded mounds of dirt…and the peeling paint on the front of the building.  May the Lord take our service for his glory…and not our own.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

 Alone

 


We took the entire family to Wal-Mart.  It was only four of us at the time.  We loaded up the two kids, one infant and one toddler, into the 1996 Ford Taurus station wagon and went nonstop to the land of “if they don’t have it, we don’t need it.”  This particular excursion was directed at purchasing an outdoor play set for the kids.  We had been looking for one for a while and with the current clearance sale, now was the time.  I parked the car along the curb, outside of the building, in front of the boxes of play sets and then entered the store to make the purchase.  I paid for the unit and was told that an associate would be “right out” to help me load it. In some cases “right out” could mean up to a week.

I exited the store and stood next to the vehicle as my wife rolled down her window and we chatted while we waited.  After 10 minutes, I got tire of waiting…and instead of going back into the store to search for the associate, I decided to just load the play set myself. I walked to the boxes.  There were three boxes to the set.  Each box weighed about 100lbs and was about 10 ft. long. I picked up box #1 of 3…hoisted it upon my shoulder, while my wife expressed her disapproval from the window.

“You shouldn’t be doing that…you are going to hurt yourself…you should wait for some help.”

“I can handle it…look, I already have it on my shoulder.”

“You are going to hurt your back…”

“I’m fine…who knows how long we would have to wait.”

I walked to the vehicle…turned it lengthwise…to parallel the long station wagon.  I elevated the box to place it onto the luggage rack on top of the car. As I approached the vehicle, my right foot stepped off of the curb.  I went down…to my back…flat…with the entire box lying across my chest.  As I lay there I saw the associate who had finally decided to come out to help…just in time to see me fall.  My eyes and ears were directed to the passenger window of the car that is just a few inches above the box that lays across my chest, as my wife poked her head out the window to say…”I told you not to try and do it yourself…”

“Thanks dear…I got that.”

The young teenage associate came up and asked if I was ok.  I said that I was…not telling him that my pride had been permanently marred.

Together, we lifted the three boxes onto the Taurus without incident.  I strapped tied them down…and we went home without further incident, but an unforgettable lesson.

I think I often get it wrong.  Far too often I default to individualism? I am not sure where the drive for individualism comes from, but I have come to believe that the Church was never meant to be done alone.  We need each other.  The Church is called to love one another.  We cannot love one another…unless we are together. Certainly togetherness has been challenged with the recent cultural challenges of the pandemic. Yet, I believe that we are called to remain connected.  Acts 19:23-20:38, shows us a series of encouraging words that Paul shares with a number of the New Testament churches. If we take a broad view of these passages we see the deep love that the church shares with each other.  That is the picture that the Holy Spirit is working to build in our churches.  May we come to see that church is not meant to be done alone.  Rather, it is created for community.  It is created to love one another…and to encourage one another.  May we live…what we see Paul live.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

 Crystal



College can be expensive, that is, unless you happen to have the crazy athletic skills of Michael Johnson, or the mental capacity of Nickola Tesla, in which you earn a scholarship that pays the entirety of your education. However, this was not my case.  I worked my way through college…by delivering pizzas…and being hired around campus as the “go-to auto repair technician.”  I did not have a degree…or any official training in automotive repair…although, I did take a graphics design class where I learned the skills to put together an uncertified document that suggested otherwise.

The reason that I knew so much about auto repair was due to the fact that I had daily opportunity to practice on my own vehicles.  In the parking lot of Crown College, in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota, I took to tackling such jobs as replacing brakes, radiator hoses, alternators, starters, batteries, intake manifolds, mufflers, coil changes, and even rebuilding a set of struts on a 1985 Toyota Celica.

“Hey buddy! I need you to move that car…I need to plow the snow!”

“Ummm…yeah…that is going to be a problem…you see…the front end has been removed.”

He proceeded to plow me in…which in truth gave me plenty of time to finish the job, since the snow wouldn’t melt until April.

I received an emergency call early one Saturday morning. 

“Ryan!...This is Clear Quartz”…(this is an entirely made up name…to protect both the innocent and the guilty…but a moderately trained geologist…may figure it out). “I need your help.  My Chevy Blazer is stalled on Hwy. 5 in Eden Prairie.  I called my dad and he is renting a trailer and driving 3 hours from Marshfield, Wisconsin to trailer it home and take a look at it.  I need you to find some friends and then push the Blazer onto the trailer.”

“That’s it?  Do you want me to take a look at it first?”

“No…He is already on his way.”

“Ok…we will be there.”

I wrangled a crew of football loving, non-studying college students, and we arrived at the vehicle…just as her dad was pulling in front of the Blazer and backing the trailer into place.  After, some heartfelt greetings and firm handshakes…Mr. Young Fruit (also an entirely made up name that perhaps only a botanist could decipher) popped the hood of the vehicle…asked for his daughters keys…placed the keys into the ignition and sat there briefly before walking to the rear of the vehicle.  He placed one foot on the rear bumper and began bouncing the vehicle up and down while placing his ear near the fuel cap. 

“When is the last time you got gas?” He asked his daughter.

It was at this point that Clear Quartz went pale as crystal.  Her only response…was to burst into tears and cry…“Oh Dad! I am so sorry!”

Mr. Young Fruit handed me a $20 bill and said, “Take your boys out for some burgers.” I tried to refuse the cash, only to have him threaten to tie me to the trailer…drag me back to Marshfield…and then force me to walk home.

“Yes, sir,” I replied…and then walked away.

We left Clear Quartz and Mr. Young Fruit to work things out while we ate double, quarter pounders with cheese.

I am reminded once again of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us that when we give our lives to Christ and receive His grace…the Holy Spirit comes upon us and we are filled with the Spirit. Despite the power of the Spirit dwelling inside me…I often feel that I try and live my life on my own strength.  Being a follower of Christ…and living in my own strength…is like a Chevy Blazer stuck on the side of the road.  A car without gas does not make sense.  An apple tree, without apples, just does not make sense.  A blueberry bush that does not produce “new berries”…does not make sense. A Christian without the Holy Spirit…just doesn’t make sense. 

Believers have the Holy Spirit within us.  Galatians 5:22-23 demonstrates what the Holy Spirit will do inside of us.

We find an interesting contrast in Acts 18:18-19:22.  Here we find 3 accounts of people living without the power of the Holy Spirit.  Some even believe in Jesus.  They know about Him…but they don’t know Him.  They don’t know His grace, they don’t know His salvation…they don’t truly know the Gospel.  May we find the crystal clear truth…the Gospel of Grace and worship the Giver of that Gospel.