Saturday, October 19, 2019


Community


As a 4th grade boy I made my way up the sidewalk toward the elementary school doors.  Overall I didn’t mind school, despite the fact that I was not the coolest kid in school.  I was the second coolest. The ranking system was rudimentary…and created by myself.  My ranking system for coolness included a mathematical equation of, bus # + height in inches divided by the number of missing teeth.  In my case that put me at a score of 131, (Bus #76 plus 55 inches…and one missing tooth). The coolest kid at the time was Mike…with a bus number of 105 and a height of 62 inches in 4th grade was unheard of! Whenever his “cool” score suffered a blow…like losing a tooth…he would simply knock out other people’s teeth…just to ensure that he would retain his high score.
I never told anyone my scoring system…so rather than them knowing I was the second coolest kid…I was seen as an “easy target.” My ears were big and easy targets for flicking…even from the most inaccurate of flickers. My legs were long…again easy targets for trippers.  They were such easy targets that I would in fact sometimes trip over my own two feet without the help of others…though I would usually blame the painted lines on the sidewalks.

On this given day…I was attacked from behind…by the coolest kid…Mike.  I didn’t even see it coming. One moment I held my books…piled high in my hands…the next moment…they had been struck and scattered across the sidewalk.  My homework papers were blowing all over the school grounds…some into the sewers…some onto the roof…I am pretty sure a dog picked up my math worksheet and carried it home to eat it.

Don’t feel sorry for me.  I know bullying is wrong…and that sympathies can grow in difficult times like this.  But at this moment one of the most special things that could ever happen to a 4th grade boy occurred. Crystal…the prettiest girl in 4th grade, stopped and helped me pick up my books and home work.  My prettiest girl rankings are not so complicated.  The prettiest girl is usually the one who looks at me.  At this moment…it was Crystal.  I am pretty sure she even chased down the dog and wrestled the papers out of its mouth.

There are times in our lives when we can feel utterly alone.  Being bullied can be one of them, and so can losing a friend.  We can feel lonely when a loved one passes.  In fact, there are many reasons that we may feel and struggle with loneliness.  It is a challenging part of life.  It is no wonder then…that God has created the church and called us into community with him and with one another.

Acts 2:42-47, gives us an amazing picture of the Church.  Every day the church celebrated together, they worshiped together, they ate together, the devoted themselves to the disciples teaching, they shared what they had with each other...they had true, transparent, authentic, community together.  The Church came together regularly to Worship, Connect and Serve.

I will tell you this…that day on the sidewalk…I celebrated the presence of the prettiest girl in school who had just helped carry my burdens…and in the midst of that…I think our hands touched.  I count that has hand holding! This may not have been true community...but I believe that true community exists...and it is driven by the Holy Spirit.

My hope is that you can find true community…I believe that it is His Church that He has chosen as the vessel to bring about His True Community.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Why?



“Hannah get your coat on, we need to go shopping.”

“Why?” asks the 3 year old version of our eldest daughter.

“Because it is cold outside.”

“Why?”

“Because, it is -20°F”

“Why?”

“Because God, has a sense of humor.”

“Why?”

“Because he created your father.”

“Why?”

“That is a good question...now get let’s go shopping.”

“Why?”

“Because we need to get food.”

“Why?”

“Because your dad wants to eat cookies…and we don’t have any cookies.”

“Why?”

“Because your dad ate all of the cookies.”

“Why?”

“Another good question…I guess because he has no off button.”

“Why?”

“Again…God has a sense of humor.”

My children…like all children, I suppose…are naturally curious. I am not always sure if it is their desire to learn that makes them ask why, or if it is just a habit that they form to express God’s sense of humor to their parents, or perhaps to test the patience of their parents.

In many ways, I continue to ask the question, “Why?”…and in doing so, I drive my wife and perhaps my parents crazy.  It wasn’t long ago I was asking my wife about music.  She is a gifted musician…and I am a gifted questioner.  I remember sitting next to her on the piano bench as she was playing, “Anne’s Theme,” I asked her…”Why do they use these notes?”

“Because that is what is written.”

“But why did they choose those notes?”

“Because that is how the song goes.”

“But why that way?”

“What?...What do you mean? What kind of question is that?”

“I mean each note…why?  Why do certain notes go ok together…and other notes don’t?”

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“Here I will show you...” I began to play the most ear blistering combination of keys any man has ever laid his fingers to…“There…like that…why did that sound so bad?”

“Because you are a terrible piano player.”…those were not her exact words…but her expression and tears running down her cheeks said it all.

I continue to wonder what it is that makes certain notes sound good with others…why specific chords fit with other chords…etc.

I am left to wonder…to me it may always be a great mystery.

In Acts 2, we find an incredible event take place. We read of the astounding power of God manifested by a violent wind and fire that proclaimed the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  People all over were asking questions…”What just happened?” “What is going on?” “Why am I encountering these people speaking in all of these different language?.” “What does this all mean?”

This is the moment when Peter stood up and encouraged all those who were present…to trust in the forgiveness of sins that Jesus has made available.  This is the beginning of the established Church.  Why did God choose the church to be his vessel of the Gospel? I guess I don’t know why…but he did…and I get to be a part of it…and so do you...if we will choose to follow Him.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

I Do Job Mom?



“I do job Mom?”

These were the words of our 4 year old boy…second born…only boy…all boy.  It is a sweet statement. Yet, if you knew him at the time, you would probably agree with my follow up thought, “Yeah, you do job! It is about time you start fixing some of the things that you break around here!”

Of course I have jobs for him to do.  The vacuum cleaner he threw down the stairs is still broken. He could repair the dime sized hole that he cut into the basement linoleum.  He could clean the stained carpet. The kitchen drawer that he ripped apart is still in pieces. There is a dent in the drywall that fits the shape and dimensions of a 4 year old boy’s head…he could fix that. 

“Yeah…I will tell you what you can d….” I am interrupted with the sweet sound of my wife’s voice…”Why sure you can do job, you sweet little boy!...Why…you can help mommy with the laundry.”

“What!? The Laundry?...What about the leaking toilet…can’t he fix that?”

That season in our lives did not last as long as we would have liked.  Now 10 years later, “I do job Mom,” has turned into, “Ugh! I have to do everything around here!”

“Isaac…it is your turn to walk the dog.”

“Ugh!”

“Isaac…I need you to take out the garbage.”

“Why is that my job?”

“Isaac…can you take out the recycling?”

“I guess…but only if I can fill up my hands super full and drop things on the way to the door and then still make you get up and come open the door for me…that way it feels like I don’t have do to it on my own.”

I remember begging my own mother to let me “help” cut the grass.  She would tuck me in front of her and let me trip over her feet as she pushed the mower back and forth.  I did the same with my kids as well.

I still have fond memories of those early years of fatherhood, when I would carry a big heavy box out to the garage…and Isaac wanted to help.  I would allow him to take one corner…and carry a total of zero pounds…in fact, he would often make the job more difficult by either tripping over my feet or even hanging from the said box. 

That is the picture I have when it comes to ministry.  Me hanging from a box…trying to “help” God do…what only He can do.  Acts chapter 1 and 2 begin to show this truth.  God’s power…and only His power being manifested.

Why did my mom let me “help” cut the grass? Why did I let the kids “help” me cut the grass? Why did I let Isaac “help” me carry the box? Why did Sarah let a 4 year old “help” fold the laundry?  It is love.  Does God really “need” my “help”?  I don’t think so.  He doesn’t “need” me…but he “wants” me.  He loves me.  He “wants” you…because he loves you.  That is the ministry of the Gospel…that is the power of the Gospel….that is the power of the Holy Spirit.  All we can do…is follow Him…as He does.

Saturday, September 28, 2019


Bus #76



Nearly every day of my schooling years I rode the bus to school…bus #76…at least until my older brother could drive…then I rode with him…until he put the car in the ditch…and then I rode the bus again…despite the dangers of the bus…it was still safer.

Riding the bus to school is an adventure in the cultural woes of prepubescent children.  Comparative to Daniel in the Lions…I think King Darius may have given a harsher punishment by banishing Daniel to bus #76. 

As I would step onto the “Cruel Bus” I would pray…please let there be a seat away from Glen…any seat away from Glen. Yet, it seemed to always be my bane…the only seats available, were the seats in front of…behind…and next to…Glen.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one who avoided seats in close proximity to the Cruel Bus Bully. 

My ears have never recovered from the constant flicking fingers of Glen.  In fact, I believe that my ears are still misshaped because of the incessant tweaking.

I am still missing my blue stocking cap, that was snatched from my head and thrown out the bus window on Minnesota County Rd. 6.  Keep your eyes open would you?

I attribute my 43 year old back problems to the kid kicking my seat for the 45 minutes bus ride to school.

My tongue is still scarred from the trapper keeper that was slammed in my face.

I couldn’t help but wonder…if the School Bus was indeed…the “Gates of Hell” as Jesus talked about in Matthew 16?

As I have studied that passage, I have become enamored with the richness of the text.  It is an astounding passage.  Jesus stands at the most sinful place in all of Palestine…it is bus #76 of Palestine! It is at this moment that he tells his Disciples…that he is going to build his Church…and bus #76, nor the “Gates of Hell” will be able to stand against it! (*so as to not be accused of heresy…Jesus did not actually say “bus #76”…but he might have…if he had ever ridden bus #76).

In the book of Acts…we see this promise of the coming church come to fruition! This is the tool that Jesus has designed for the world…for all mankind.  It is the Church!  He has established it!...and He will empower it!

Saturday, September 14, 2019


Witness


I went to the zoo this morning with my wife and youngest daughter.  We were served a free breakfast, and then we spent the rest of the morning watching each of the animals receive their breakfast.  The final stop on our tour of dining mammals were the bison…where my daughter was slated to hand feed the giant animals.  These creatures are indeed massive.  Some will grow to weigh more than 2000 lbs. 

I have a degree of familiarity with these great beasts.  Not only because I hunted them while traveling the Oregon Trail on the school’s Apple IIe…but also because, I grew up living next to a bison farm.  My brothers and I would ride our bikes continually up and down the dirt road adjacent to the fence that held the herd.  We had no fear of them whatsoever…as long as they were on the opposite side of the field grazing…no where nears us.  However, there were times when we would come across one of these enormous animals stationed right next to the fence.  We would skid our bikes to a quick stop and try to “read” the animal…will he walk away…or will he break through the fence and chase us down to kill us like an angry mother chasing a housefly with the swatter.  Often times, however, these bison would stand there and stare at us…and we would stare back…with our hearts fearfully pounding in our chests.  We wanted to continue on…but more times than not the bison would win…(much like the NDSU football team)…and we would turn and ride with a vengeance back to the safety of our home. 

I have many fearful memories of these massive creatures.  One morning, we woke up to one lone bison grazing in our front yard.  My dad was already gone to work and my mother wouldn’t let us leave the house…not that we needed much convincing…until after the neighboring farmer responded to her panicky phone call and collected his animal off of our front porch.

Perhaps the most memorable bison moment of my childhood was while riding to school with my mother.  We had just crested a hill and were nearing the valley below, when around a wooded corner came a massive…HERD…of bison!  All of them! Running!  As they came around the corner, they turned and ran directly toward us.  They filled the entire road way.  There was nowhere to go.  My mother hit the brakes and came to a complete stop…screaming! “AAAAHHHH” Thinking very quickly, my mother did the only thing that she could think to do…she locked the doors.  That should keep the bison from opening the car doors…

The herd split in front of us and ran around the vehicle.  It was as if we were suddenly sent back in time 100 years into the prairies of North Dakota in a covered wagon…minus the wagon…and the prairie.

After the herd had passed, my mother was still screaming, “Aaaaaahhhh!!”  Her pale white face matched the knuckles gripping the steering wheel. 

“Wow! I didn’t see that coming!”

It is perhaps one of the more incredible and unexpected events that I have ever personally witnessed.  As I arrived at school, this event was all I could talk about.  I still enjoy sharing the story. 
When we encounter something incredible…we can’t help but share the story.  I believe that Jesus wants us to encounter him in such a way…that we can’t help but be his witnesses.  In fact, Luke tells us in the 24th chapter of his Gospel account, about how Jesus told his disciples directly…they are to be his “witnesses.”  We find it again in Acts 1:8…”we are to be his witnesses.” 

Simply put…we are to share about our experiences with Christ.  That is what the church is all about…sharing our stories about Jesus with others.

May you find yourself in the story that Jesus has placed you in…and then be his witnesses…tell the amazing stories of his grace…and maybe a bison or two.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

I Had No Idea


My family and I enjoy watching American Ninja Warrior on television.  We sit and watch these remarkable athletes take to an obstacle course where they, fly through the air, run across balance obstacles and hang by their finger nails above pools of water.  Years ago, when we first began encountering the competition, I remember thinking… “You know…back in the day…maybe I could have done that.” 

Sometimes I envision myself on the course...running across the tiny steps leading to a bar hanging high above the water…I jump and grip the bar…only to have both of my arms leave my body and continue to hang from the bar while the rest of my armless torso falls into the water turning the crystal blue pool into a Kool-Aid stained whirlpool.

There is no way that I can do what I watch these athletes do.  It is not just my age.  One season we watched an old man run the course, only to lose his dentures during an untimely dismount. It is also my physical capacities…or perhaps the diminishing dexterity.

Time after time we watch new…rookie…athlete take to the course, only to report… “That is tougher than it looks…I had no idea.”

It reminds me of parenting.  I have been a father for nearly 16 years now.  You would think that after 16 years of experience, I would be an expert.  However…full disclosure…I have no idea what I am doing. 

When a couple is expecting their first child it is highly recommended that the couple attends a “birthing class”  These classes aren’t designed so much as to teach you how to “have a baby,” but rather for instructors to laugh at the soon to be parents’ ignorance and naivety. 

“Now is there a father who would like to demonstrate how to change this baby doll’s diaper? You sir…why don’t you come up and show us.” The instructor snickers.

“Who me?”

“Sure…come on up…nothing to be shy about.”

“Ok”

“Ummm…sir…you do know which end of the baby that the diaper goes on right???”

“Yeah…why?”

“Because I am pretty sure that doll can no longer breathe…This might be the time to transition into what NOT to do to your new baby.”

The instructor then begins to teach on the dangers of shaking a child and sleep deprivation and the crying and the stress of parenting as she hands out stress balls.

I remember thinking, “How can anyone get so frustrated and sleep deprived that they could actually endanger their child.” 

I had no idea!  During the first week of my firstborn’s life, I learned that I have no coping skills for a screaming baby at 3:00 a.m.

However, I learned to pretend to sleep through the crying until my remarkable wife tended to the early morning needs of our daughter. I am sorry dear…I will never do that again…as long as we don’t have any more kids.

I remember the very day that my wife and I brought our first baby girl home.  I think I even said out loud, “I have no idea what I am doing…what do we do now?”

Parenting is much more difficult than I could have ever expressed before heading into it.  I had no idea.

Likewise, I believe that there is an absolute truth about God…that we also have “no idea about.”
God is Holy.  It sounds simple enough, but I think that if we were to ever encounter God’s perfect Holiness, we would be absolutely destroyed.  Perhaps our faces would peel clean off of our skulls…or we would collapse into a puddle of plasma.  I think we have become accustomed to talking about God’s holiness…but I don’t think we truly understand his holiness. 

Take a moment and think of God.  Picture Him.  Envision Him on his massive throne.  Now…envision Him bigger...once you have that, consider…your picture of God is NOT big enough.  In fact, it can never be big enough.  As big as you think God is…he is bigger.  As perfect as you think God is…he is more perfect.  As loving as you think God is…he is more loving.  It goes on and on and on.
The prophet Isaiah briefly experienced a mere glance at God’s holiness (Isaiah 6:1-8) and couldn’t stand.  What about you?

Have you encountered the Holy God? Have you found yourself “ruined”? Have you, like Isaiah, experienced purification by His grace?

May you come to the end of yourself…and find a Holy God…giving unending grace.

Saturday, August 31, 2019


Imago Dei

Today I asked my wife, “What does it mean to be created in the image of God?”

She looked at me sweetly and said. “God is a God of order…thus when I am organized…I reflect his image…how would you feel about reflecting his image by putting away your laundry?” 

I wish I hadn’t asked.  

As I hung up my shirts I pondered the realities of how my wife and I are so different.  There are the obvious things between male and female…but there are less obvious things too like…she has hair with no beard and I have a beard with no hair.  My wife is a very orderly person and I tend to be more of a hurricane.  We can see the creative hand of God in our children too…how He has sown the seeds of our personalities into our offspring. 

Let’s consider my oldest daughter for example: 

My wife loves to study.  She worked hard in high school to maintain a very high GPA, and in college I could always find her sitting at a clean library table with her papers, folders and books spread out neatly in front of her.  “Let’s go for a walk so I can hold your hand and ask to kiss you…only to have you say yes to the hand holding and no to the kiss.” Sarah kept her honorable GPA, all throughout her college career…despite my attempts at distraction.   

When I studied…my work space and floor surrounding my text books would be strewn with papers and littered with empty Coca Cola cans.  Loose leaf paper would make excellent bed sheets and covers.

My oldest daughter is a combination of both.  She studies like her mom…but her space looks like mine.  When she was a little girl we called her “Hurricane Hannah”…because of the path of mess and destruction that she would leave behind her wherever she went.  When she played…she would play with EVERYTHING she could get her hands on!

My wife also mentioned that the “Image of God” means that He is a creator…and she mentioned that I like to create…so that is being the “Image of God,” too. 

I think what she said is true…but I have come to believe that it is secondary.  God is a God of order.  God is a creator.  God is a relational god.  He is a loving God.  All of these are true…and all have been placed in us as image bearers of God.  But…I have a problem.  What happens…when someone is unable to be organized…unable to create…unable to relate…unable to love?  Are we then, no longer, image bearers of God?

There must be something more!

I have come to believe…that when God says that we have been made in the image of God…we have been stamped with something special.  When we have been created as an image bearer of God…simply put…our very existence…the fact that we breathe…the fact that our hearts beat…that we ARE objects of His love…we carry His image. 

It is not about “what” we do.  It is not even so much “who we are.” It is about “what we have been created to BE.” An Image Bearer of God.

If you never left the sofa…If you binge watch Little House on the Prairie for the rest of your life…over and over again.  You are STILL a bearer of His image. 

The next time you struggle with your self-worth, consider…you are an image bearer of God.  The next time you are angry with the sales gal at McDonald's who cannot seem to understand what you are trying to order…consider…she is an image bearer. 

May you come to see that you bear the image of God.  What would the world be like…if we all understood and lived with the understanding that we are image bearers of God Almighty?