Saturday, December 8, 2018


35 lbs.


I like venison.  I like the taste of…it and I like the way it feels in my belly…not “on” my belly so much…that’s weird…and messy.  If my belly could smile it would…although, if I sit just right…I can make the crease below my belly button look…“smilish.” 
(My wife Sarah seems to think I should leave that last sentence out…she said it was gross…hmmm…I will think about it…in the mean time…you can let her know if she was right…).
I grew up eating venison…we always had venison in the freezer…unless, of course, dad’s annual hunt was unproductive.  Then we may find ourselves needing to “Wok the dog.” RELAX! WE WOULD NEVER DO THAT!!!
My meat cutter made a mistake on this year’s venison order.  I had asked for 4 big roasts and the rest ground into burger.  I got the burger…but there were no roasts cut.  This is very disappointing for someone who enjoys biting into wild meat that he killed himself and then howl at the moon.  The locker plant, which I drive over an hour to patronize, was very apologetic and offered 4 beef roasts to replace the venison roasts.  I accepted the offer, though still bummed a bit.  We ate one recently.  It was good, but it did not make me howl at the moon, growl at neighborhood dogs or chase squirrels…so that was a bit of a let down.
This was not the first mistake we had encountered with our meat cutter.  I encountered an error on last year’s order as well.  I had asked for “3 to 5 lbs of venison dried into jerky.”  Imagine my surprise when a few weeks later I walked out with 35lbs of jerky…and an empty wallet!
We tried to grind up and grill some of the jerky into burgers…but it just wasn’t the same. Do you have any idea how impossible it is to make good gravy from a Crockpot jerky roast?
So, why do we keep going back?…because we have connection.  They know my name…I know their names.   They are good people.  They make mistakes…probably less than I do.
Connection isn’t something that happens just with people who have everything in common.  It is not something that is severed when we are hurt by the imperfections of people.  It continues.  It doesn’t end. The connections grow stronger through adversity…and reconciliation.
In 1 Peter 2, the author, (Peter), gives his readers a picture of connection.  He uses the metaphor of a building.  The building he describes starts with the valuable and perfect Cornerstone…and then is built with many other stones.  It is built with stones that don’t match…that don’t have the same shape…or the same color…or the same hardness or make up.  Yet, together they form a magnificent structure…that could not happen without a connection to Christ…AND a connection to one another.  Connection is CORE!

Saturday, November 17, 2018


Alarm Clock

I am a morning person…meaning, I generally wake up early and find great pleasure in the transition of each day from darkness to light.  My wife is not a morning person by nature. Her job as a teacher, however, does force her to face mornings at un-preferred hours.  She doesn’t always seem to appreciate my exclamations of “Good morning dear!...what should we do today!... I thought we could get started with painting the ceiling!”
Her eyes slide toward me as she shuffles across the kitchen floor… “We will start with coffee.”
“Oh…Ok…I’ve already had three cups!”
Proverbs 27:14 speaks of people like me…in a rather unsavory light.  “If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor (or in this case, spouse) early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.”
My older brother is also NOT a morning person.  It was not uncommon for his teenage self to avoid the coming day until the crack of noon or after…especially Saturdays.  I often took an overwhelming sadistic pleasure in being privileged to wake him.
Some Saturdays, I would place our Boom Box dangerously close to his face with a cassette cued to the exploding intro of Europe’s “Final Countdown” or Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” with the volume cranked to the max.  I would then press play as my smile stretched from ear to ear!
Other weekends would warrant cold water in the face or an armload of pots and pans intentionally thrown to the floor near the head of his bed…it justify it as a Godly action…“Praise him with the clash of cymbals!...” Psalm 150:5.
Hmmm…I don’t really see the curse!?
There comes a time every day when we need to wake up!  Whether we cherish mornings or despise them, there comes a time when we must wake up.  We cannot stay asleep forever…we’d starve if we did...or at the very least we would wet the bed!
Likewise, there comes a moment in our lives when we can stay asleep no longer.  We must wake up.  Inevitably, the day arrives when we realize that perhaps we have been “asleep”…ignorant…unaware…blind to the realities around us or in our world.
We can close our eyes to world hunger for a long time…perhaps our entire lives.  We can ignore human trafficking. We can pretend that the sex trade does not exist. We can make believe that we are perfect and that we were always our parents’ favorite!
Assuredly the morning will come and the alarm will sound.  When it does…how will our hearts respond? Will we open our eyes to see the sunrise in our soul? Will we awaken to the desperate need that the world has for Jesus…awaken to the truth that I am not called to remain asleep…I am called to bring the Good News.  I am called to feed the hungry, help the poor and afflicted.
How many times will we hit snooze?
Sometimes it is hard to wake up.  The covers are warm, the mattress is soft and your face feels so good as your pillow is mashed against your eyes. Perhaps the question to ask is what makes us get out of bed?  What makes us wake up?  A friend of mine would constantly emphasize it this way…”Your actions ALWAYS follow your beliefs.”  Bottom line? We allow our heart go toward that which we value. We will wake up to what we value.  Jesus talks about this in Matthew 6:19-24, “…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
If we truly want to see change…it starts with our own hearts.  Does my heart treasure the needs of others? Does my heart treasure encouragement to others? Does my heart value that which Jesus values?
Or...
Do I treasure my comforts? My Xbox? My Volvo? My Bacon Cheeseburger?
If we are ready to change what we put our value in…it starts with perhaps the scariest prayer we can pray.  “Lord…Change my heart!”

Saturday, November 10, 2018


Proclaim!


Acne is the bane of most adolescents.  I admire the bravery of these young teens that daily traverse public society and their schools with the “I can’t seem to look away from that amazingly big red spot on the side of your face” pimples.  Yet, they press on navigating the waters of pubescent metamorphosis.
I remember my own battle with the dreaded pustules.  On one occasion, I recall a group of friends and I stepped into one of those photo booths they have at any number of metro area shopping malls.  Incidentally, these booths prove to be a huge asset to those of us socially awkward, yet intimately interested, teenage boys, who finds himself in a group of friends with the cutest girl in the 5th grade. How else could we arrange such an opportunity to have a picture taken together?  When the group of us finished our four poses…and the pictures printed, I was aghast to see the quarter sized zit in the middle of my forehead looking like a bullet hole between my eyes.  I knew it was there…I had just hoped that it wasn’t so noticeable…I was wrong.  You have to experience it to appreciate how the pain and pressure of a cyst that size is relentless.  Only then can you appreciate, how when the infected pore finally gives way to, the explosion of relief.
Similarly, I had to fix my truck again this last week.  It is pretty much inevitable that I have work that needs to be done on one vehicle or the other…or both.  This time it was the rear brakes…including the left rear caliper that needed to be replaced.  It is a relatively simple job.  However, to do it right, you cannot do it alone.  Once I finished the initial install, I invited my son to help me “bleed” the new caliper.  I coached him as to how to pump up the brake and then keep it pressed to the floor as I loosened the bleeder screw to let the air out of the line.
It was about our third attempt, that went a little unplanned.  I had him step on the brake as before…but I had trouble with the wrench and the screw.
“Keep it pressed to the floor!”
“Ok…I am”
“Keep it there…the bolt is stuck.”
“Ok”
“Oh…I see…that’s why it wouldn’t turn…the wrench was caught on the caliper…now it should tur….OH! AH! I just got shot in the eye with brake fluid!”
There is this moment in the Gospel of Luke…Where Jesus is entering Jerusalem for the last time before he is arrested.  As he enters the city…people are cheering and celebrating the arrival of their new King.  When the Pharisees see and hear this, they tell Jesus in Luke 19:39…“Jesus…rebuke your disciples!”  In which, Jesus replies to them…”if they keep quiet…the rocks will cry out!”
When we come to see Jesus for who he truly is we must respond.  We must worship.  When we come to see what God has done…we must respond.  We must cry out!  We cannot stay silent! If we remain silent the rocks will cry out.
The reasons for praise are all around us! They are in the new mercies every morning…they are in the heart aches…they are in the ease of blessings and in the challenge of trouble.  If I remain silent…the pressure builds until I must cry out…and so I cry out…Praise Him!
Thank you God for the blessing, because it shows your concern.  Thank you God for the struggle, because it keeps me dependent upon you.  Thank you God.
Even if I cannot see out of my right eye...I will praise him!

Saturday, October 27, 2018


Honor




20 years ago, my boss asked me into his office.  “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“I have pizzas that need to be delivered!” I replied.
“Someone else can take them.”
Drat! There is nothing worse than watching “good tipping houses” go to another driver.
As I walk toward his back office, I wonder what the topic of this conversation may be.  “Maybe he knows that I did not scrub under the freezers last night when closing?...Hmmm…uh oh…maybe someone saw me rear end that SUV last week…the lady said, ‘no damage, don’t worry about it…but still.’”
I am scared, so I mentally work to convince myself that I have been doing a good job.  Why just last week I had one customer give me an extra $1 tip!
I remember pulling into his long pot holed dirt driveway.  Deep puddles of standing water pock marked his drive like Swiss cheese.  Bikes, toy trucks, headless dolls and other unidentifiable relics lined the worn path that led up to the concrete steps…four steps in total.  There was a large German shepherd pretending to sleep near the base of the steps.  I could see a collar and a thin piece of twine which I hoped was attached…and strong enough to hold him back.
I pulled into the drive and parked my 1981 Plymouth Grand Fury and slipped out of the driver’s side window…(because just like my 1974 Nova of the past…the driver’s side door did not work…well technically it did work…but in order to close it, you would have to lay down on the pavement and kick the door upward as you slammed it closed with your feet…this technique is not conducive to efficient delivery service).  With the pizza bag in one hand and the receipt in the other I ran through the gauntlet, jumping over puddles left and right, dodging bikes, trucks and little Suzy’s psycho spooky headless doll.  Judging the length of the “leash,” I swung wide to the left, just as Fido ended his sleepless façade and attacked.  I leapt to the top of the entire flight of steps as the shepherd bared his pork chop stained teeth and got his neck jerked back. I simultaneously knocked on the door and rang the doorbell. (To do both ensures a higher likelihood of being noticed the first time).
A bearded gentleman opened the door…we make the exchange…he says, “Thanks,” I say “Thanks,” then he says…”here is an extra dollar for your performance.”
My boss, Jerry, sits me down and says, “Ryan, what is going on with your car door?”
“Huh?...What do you mean?”
“Why do you keep climbing in and out of the window?”
“It’s faster?”
“I must say…that you get in and out of your car window than my other drivers do through their door…however, I can’t have one of my pizza drivers…wearing a Pizza Hut uniform…and having the Pizza Hut logo on top of the car…using the window as a porthole.  This is not Hazard County…you need to get the car door fixed or you can’t deliver anymore.”
I parked the car at my Dad’s place and began driving a Toyota Celica that burned more oil than it did gasoline…but at least the doors worked.
Shakkah is taking a position of submission.  It is translated to worship in English. It is acknowledging someone or something greater than oneself.  My boss Jerry was in a position to be honored and so…despite the challenge that it would make in my life…I honored him…all be it…I did it reluctantly.  The Old Testament is filled with stories of Shakkah.  Stories like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel chapter 3.  These three men treat their king with honor…all though when they are asked to treat their king higher than God almighty, that is where they draw the line.  Shakkah is honoring that which is honorable.  Is there anyone more deserving of our honor…than God almighty?  Shakkah should be given to almighty God when life is both easy…and difficult.

Saturday, October 20, 2018


Shakkah


My son has begun the art of skateboarding.  It pains me to watch him.  He is continually smashing his body on the concrete drive way and bruising his shins with the flying board.  I think it is time for him to invest in a helmet, gloves, elbow pads, shin guards, knee pads and steel toed boots.  Safety first…agility second.
The nearest I have come to skate boarding in recent years was accidentally stepping on a mass of acorns with my platform size 12 feet and nearly landing on my derriere in the church parking lot.  Prior to my near death by acorns, I recall minimal skateboard experience, as a child, visiting my grandmother’s house.  She owned a skateboard…though I don’t think she ever spent her time “grinding the rails.”  I never saw her “pop shuvit” or “tweak” a “wheelbite,” and though she was “sick” at times…I don’t think it was in a “good” way. (Truth: I had to look up the skateboard lingo).
While visiting my grandmother, my older brother and I would spend hours on that skateboard.  We would take turns going up and down the side walk from one end of the block to the other.  He was 5 and I was 4 years old.  We both had the same technique…we would drop our right knee down on the board…grip both sides of the board and start kicking with the left foot.  This worked fine…for a while…until we realized that we could go faster if one of us put both knees on the board while the other one ran and pushed from behind.
Clickety clack, clickety clack, over the sidewalk seems.  The speed was exhilarating.  I’ll bet there were times when we hit 5 miles an hour or more! Clickety clack, clickety clack, clickety clop, smack…flap…whack!…the front wheels of the board caught on the uneven seem of the sidewalk and my brother flew forward off the board landing face first in a position of “shakkah” on the now bloody sidewalk.  He turned his crying eyes towards me and I saw his bloody face…and his missing tooth. He lived…though it took a couple of years for his adult tooth to fill in the gap.
Shakkah is a Hebrew word and it is used often in the Old Testament.  Shakkah always refers to bowing down before someone or something.  It is this word that is translated into “worship” in the English language versions of the Bible.
When we think of worship, I believe that we too often base it on things like, feelings…an experience…or music…and often perhaps something that we must “like” or “enjoy” or it isn’t “good.”  There is a problem with this concept.  Worship in the Bible is a choice.  We choose to worship.  We choose to bow down.  We choose to attribute worth to the One who is worthy.
When we see worship take place in the Bible…the person worshiping is taking a “position.” That person is choosing to acknowledge the greatness of a certain someone or something…that is deemed greater than him or herself.  It is an act…a choice of honoring.
What do we worship? Sometimes I think we worship God.  Sometimes I think we worship sports.  Sometimes I think we worship our cars…or our families.  Sometimes we worship the created…rather than the creator.
What do we bow to?  We worship whatever we bow to. I think it is time that we acknowledge that to “worship,” is our choice to make, and what we worship is our choice.  I pray that we can begin to make the right choice.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Exploding Star


My first car was a 1974 Chevy Nova. Perhaps a better statement may be…my first mode of transportation was a 1974 Chevy Nova.  I don’t know how much of a “car” needs to be intact to still be considered a “car,” but I would estimate that this vehicle may have been missing up to 33% of its factory metal.  I recall spending Friday and Saturday nights cruising the main drag in Wadena, Minnesota.

Cruising the main drag, consisted of going back and forth…and back and forth…and back and forth…from one end of town to the other…circling Hardees on one end and Super Value on the other.  Why?…because…what else was there to do? Movies cost money…and gas was free!...Well in 1994, at least, it was less than $1 a gallon.  I recall one night, during this weekend ritual, when one of the local law enforcement officers pulled me over.
He stepped out of his vehicle and walked to my window…which I cranked down…but not too far, because I may not be able to make it go back up.
He looked down at me through the open window and yelled, “Do you know why I stopped you tonight?”
“Is it my broken headlight?” I hollered back at him!
“No!”
“Is it the loud exhaust?” I shouted.
“Nope!”
“Is it the missing tail light?” I bellowed.
“Not that either”
He didn’t know about my non-functioning driver side door…yet…nor was he aware that I had to start the car from under the hood…and avoid the spraying antifreeze while doing so.
“I have no idea!”
“Why don’t you turn off the engine and join me in the cruiser so we can hear each other!?”
“What!?”
“Turn off the car!”
I turned off the car. As he turned his back to walk back to his squad car, I snuck out the passenger side door, so as not to raise more suspicion than necessary about the broken door by climbing out the window.  I sat next to him in his warm, quiet car and he told me that he stopped me for “over accelerating” at the last intersection.
“I should write you up for over accelerating…but, I am not going to do that. In fact, I am not going to write you up for anything.”
“Sweet!  I am off the hook,” I thought.
“I am, however, going to warn you. If I ever see this vehicle in town again, without these things fixed…I will have the car towed.”
“Yes sir.”
I was dismissed.  I walked back to my car…opened the passenger side door…with him watching…got in…crawled across to the driver seat and waited for him to leave.  Then, I slid back across to the passenger side…got back out of my car…took the pliers that I kept on the dash…popped the hood…reached in…and started the car off of the solenoid.
That car needed some serious work.  But then again, so do I…and so do you…and as we find in the Gospel of John chapter 21…so did Peter.
My dad and I have regularly enjoyed attending car shows together.  It is remarkable and beautiful to see what some of these craftsmen have done to restore these classic automobiles.  On a few occasions, I have even come across fully restored 1974 Novas.  It is not a terribly collectible car, but when I look at the restored version, verses the one I owned in high school, it is an amazing contrast.  I think that my Nova was in no way worth restoring.  It was so dilapidated…and broken…and rusty…that it just wouldn’t have been worth it.
I am thankful, however, that Jesus does NOT look at me in the same way…nor does he look at you in the same way…nor did he look at Peter in the same way.  In the John account, we find Jesus working in a very broken Simon Peter.  Jesus does not condemn him…He does not say, “Sorry Peter, you blew it…you are too broken…it’s just not worth it…you are not worth it.” Rather, Jesus calls Peter, once again, to “Follow Me!”
Jesus sees us as worth restoring…that is amazing!

Saturday, October 6, 2018


Pick Up Your Toys or They are Going in the Trash


The December night was cold and dark.  There was snow on the ground, and clutter all over the living room floor.  I cannot remember how many times I had asked my children to clean up their mess that carpeted our carpet.
The nightly sequence was predictable.  If I would use my exasperated authoritative dad voice…(which happens to be the same voice that Gandalf uses against the Balrog...“You Shall Not Pass!!!”)…my children would hop to it and clean up…one item, and then selective blindness would convince them that the room was clean and the job was finished.
“Open your eyes! Do you not see all of your toys that are still lying around!?”
“Oh, we didn’t see that!”
After more than 70 minutes of continuing to point out other things that had been missed, I decided to end this.  I pulled out the kitchen garbage can and began to throw the toys away, which primarily included a Little People Christmas nativity set.  I threw it away...and when I did, the kids began to scream and wail at the loss of their beloved toys.  I threw away the donkeys.  I threw away the lambs.  As I dropped each member of the nativity into the trash…the screams grew.  I threw away the crèche... “Scream!”  I threw away the camels and the wise men…“Wail!”  Mary and Joseph were tossed in along with the manger... “Scream!”  I threw away the angel…and Baby Jesus!  What is wrong with me!? Who throws Baby Jesus into the trash!
There is a saying…“The apple does not fall far from the tree.”  I recall I time when I watched as my dad threw all of my sisters toys into a trash bag after she had also refused to clean her room.  He threatened, “We will find someone who will take care of these toys and give them to her!.”
To which my sister replied, “Maybe you could give my Barbies to Emily. She might like them!”
Hmmm…I don’t think that was the reaction my dad was looking for.
While my children continued their screaming, I looked down into the trash that held Baby Jesus and the angel and the donkey and the rest of the set.  I didn’t want to throw them away…but in my stress and frustration I overreacted.  My children deserved to have their toys thrown away.  They probably still do! My children needed to learn a lesson.  Yet, deep in my soul I knew the lesson that they needed to learn was not a lesson of rules…rather, it was a lesson of grace.
I called my children close to me and I said to them, “You have not been listening to me…you have not been obeying what I have been asking you to do…you deserve to have me throw these toys away. But, I also don’t deserve the love and forgiveness of Jesus and yet he gives it to me.  So, though you don’t deserve this, I am giving you back your toys as a picture of grace. Every time you play with these toys I want you to remember the grace of Jesus Christ.”
Each year we still get out the Little People nativity set out of the attic and we set it up. Though my kids no longer play with them, they remember that night…when Dad threw away Baby Jesus...and I hope that they also remember…the grace of Jesus Christ!