Saturday, August 4, 2018


Finished


When I was in ninth grade, I joined the high school track and field team.  I didn’t really care for running…I certainly didn’t like practicing or training…I didn’t like shin splints, sprained ankles, or muscle strains…and I didn’t like the 400m dash.  Unfortunately for me, the 400 meter dash was my best running event.  I was not a world class runner, nor was I an All-American runner…I wasn’t even an All-State runner…I may have been an All-Conference runner…once.  The 400m was the longest event that I have ever competed in, and it would be safe to say that I prefer dental procedures to the 400m dash.
The 400m dash is one of the few physical punishments that schools, teachers, and coaches are allowed to legally inflict upon a student athlete.  If given the choice of running the 400m dash or petting a bumble bee…I’d pet the bee.  Should I choose between this grueling race or giving a black bear a back scratch?…That bear would be purring beneath my fingers.  Run a 400m dash or kiss my sister?...Hmm…that’s a tough one.
Imagine having your shoes filled with tacks, your shorts three sizes too small, and you run as fast as you can…until you just cannot run anymore…and then someone duct tapes your mouth and nose and says only 100m left to go!  Then at the end of the race, you vomit…except that you still have duct tape on your mouth and nose and so the bile comes out of your ears and eyes.
Congratulations! You have just run the 400m dash!  Your coach responds, “Next time, I think you could shave a few seconds off!”
Next time!
I don’t ever want to do that again!
In truth, there are few experiences in life, where I have desired to cross the “finish line” more than in running that ridiculous race.  Honestly, it feels so good…kind of…to cross that finish line and have that race finished.  However, the coach was right…I had to do it again…and again…and again.
In John 19, we read about Jesus being hung on the cross.  After 6 agonizing hours, Jesus made a powerful statement…he said, “It is finished.” At that moment he gave up his life.  It is finished. Jesus accomplished a great work on that cross and then when it is all done he said, “It is finished.” He didn’t say, “It’s mostly done.” He didn’t say, “I am done for now…this time…next time I will do this or that differently.”
His work is done…he has no touch up paint to do…he does not need to fill any nail holes…all the pieces of trim are set where they need to be…it is all done…nothing is left incomplete.  He has fulfilled Scripture.  He has taken our place on the cross.  He has conquered death.  He has conquered sin. He has taken the sin away. He has emptied the cross of its shame. He has drawn all people unto himself. He has begun a new community…and on and on.  Complete…it is all done!
The table is set, the turkey has been cooked, the stuffing made, Jell-O sits in a bowl with Cool Whip on top, cranberry sauce, potatoes and gravy…it’s all ready.  It is finished.  Now all you have to do…is…sit down and eat.  What a blessing to enjoy and accept the work that Jesus has finished.

Saturday, July 21, 2018


Community


After 38 hours of traveling and eating pizza in airports, my oldest daughter returned home from the Dominican Republic this morning.  She had been gone for a week, working in the community of Cachon.  Three years ago my wife and I had also been to Cachon, where we worked with the same church and the same community.  As my daughter showed our family all of her pictures from the trip, my wife and I were flooded with fond memories of when we had last been with these amazing people in the Dominican.  We saw many of the same people, that we can come to know and love, now standing alongside our daughter in these pictures.
There was a phrase that my daughter used upon returning home that resonated with both my wife and I.  She said, “Cachon is such an amazing community of people…who love people.”
She is absolutely right.  My daughter discovered the same amazing experience that my wife and I had also had.  As you stepped into this community…you suddenly found yourself welcomed INTO a new community.  It indeed was something very special. This is such a wonderful picture of the Church that Christ has established.
In John 19:25-27, Jesus is hanging on the cross.  He is in intense pain and he is suffering greatly.  Yet, his heart for the people at the foot of the cross is expressed.  Jesus sees his mother…and he sees his friend John…and he looks at them both and says “behold your mother…and behold your son.”  I find that at this moment Jesus is setting up something amazing.  Jesus is setting some of the groundwork for the Church!  He is laying the foundation for a New Community of believers…that love each other…that care for each other…that care for one another’s burdens…like never before!
It is incredible!
It is new!
It is Community!
It is the Church!

Saturday, July 14, 2018


Silverado

I cannot begin to count the number of miles, nor the number of hours, that I have spent in the bed of a 1978 Chevy Silverado.  For years, this regular cab pickup truck, was the primary means of transportation for my family.  During the early years, all six of us could successfully pack ourselves into the cab…if we followed the strict order of time and space.  Aside from my father, who was the perpetual driver, we all had to load in the proper order from the passenger side of the vehicle.
Once my dad was placed behind the wheel, we could begin.  My little brother would enter first…shifting his backside forward, his feet down and to the left and his knees low and to the right. I would enter next…with my hips tight to the back, my left foot forward and just to the right of the accelerator and my right foot folded up behind my head.  My older brother next, would keep his feet right, knees down and to the right, hips also back and then he would kiss the dash.  Mom would hop in and pull our baby sister onto her lap.  Everyone would exhale simultaneously to compact our chests and slam the doors.  There was no need for seatbelts, nor, was there air conditioning.  The passengers nearest the driver had to always pay attention to be able to shift their knees left…right…split…to avoid the black shifter knob cratering their kneecaps…or worse.
It’s hard to believe, but the four of us children would sometimes complain about these arrangements.  Which dad would reply…“Then you can ride in the back”…so we did…at least the three of us boys did.
There was an advantage to riding in the bed of the truck…my parents could not see the abuse I caused to my brothers.  There were times in my childhood where I may have been thought of as an instigator of fights…I would “at times” mock and tease my siblings.  Perhaps it was trying to compensate for the mocking we would receive from our friends when arriving to church and climbing out of the topper covered pickup bed.
When riding in the back of a pickup truck…there are really only two seats…one on each wheel well.  The first two people into the truck bed would get the “seat.”  I was always one of the first two…because even if I arrived third I would rip my younger brother from the tailgate and throw him down to the ground, or simply shove him off the wheel well he was already sitting on and take his place.  He didn’t care much for that…and so he would scream and retaliate.  I would then…do it again.  I didn’t care.  I was concerned with one person…and that was me.  My heart was rock solid toward him.  I pretty much felt no concern for him…and when he cried…I smiled.
I am pleased to say that the Lord has softened my heart since those days.  Yet, I am reminded of my own depravity when I look at the hardened hearts of the Jewish leaders as they cry out to have Jesus crucified!  Then I am jaw droppingly humbled when I see who I am…and what Jesus does.  I am like Barabas…guilty.  Yet, Jesus takes my place…just as he took Barabas’ place.
Then suddenly, I find myself free!
Free from the condemnation of my sin! Being offered something that I have never deserved!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Blame



My youngest child broke down and cried…I mean screaming…lost it entirely…her older siblings had probably eaten all of the marshmallows out of the box of Lucky Charms…or something like that.  My wife wisely and accurately said…”You my dear need to go to bed earlier…staying up until 11:00 talking and playing in your bed is not leaving you with enough sleep!”
“It’s my sister’s fault!”
“How’s that?”
“She won’t stop reading!”
“How is that affecting your sleep?”
“…I DON’T KNOW!!!” Cry, cry…sob sob…
We like to cast blame.  We all do it…so don’t even deny it. I blame my father for my dashing good looks and for my fancy for donuts.  Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I think it is his fault that, I cannot say no to most any filled pastry…shame on him.  Somehow we find it reasonable to blame police officers for our speeding tickets, referees for our losses, children for our gray hair, and political parties for gas prices…shame on them.
My dad and I were recently working to renovate the stairs in our split level home.  It became obvious that changes were necessary, when we began to see the wood stair treads through the carpeting.  I invested in an easy to use, much overpriced product, that is designed to slide directly over each existing stair tread.  I was treating each tread like gold…considering, together they cost more than my gold wedding band.  My dad, wisely, made me make every measurement…and every cut, so that when it came time for a mistake, there was only one person to blame.  Me.
The mistake did come. I made a significantly improper cut, thus destroying one of the treads.  I looked to my left and to my right…I looked behind me…and in front of me.  I racked my brain trying to develop some scenario in which I could cast blame for this error upon someone…anyone.  There was no one there.  It was like each direction I looked I found myself facing a mirror.  It was my fault, no one else’s. I think that if there had been someone to blame…I may have verbalized my disgust at their mistake.  Instead, I tossed the piece aside and said…”bummer.”
I remember my dad saying, “You are taking that surprisingly well!”
“Not really, I just can’t find anyone else to blame…what am I supposed to do…chew myself out?”
When Jesus stands before Herod and Pilate, he is being blamed for many things that he did not do.  He is being accused, mocked and abused…and all the while he remains silent and for the most part does not defend himself.  Luke 23:6-12 and John 18:39-19:16 gives us the account.  Jesus is guiltless…yet blamed.  He will be hung on the cross for something that he was not guilty of…and ironically the Jewish and Roman leaders are consumed with guilt and would rather cast the blame on Jesus, than look in the mirror... and Jesus takes it.  He takes it…because he knows that by taking it…he is taking our guilt…he is freeing us from our own guilt and shame.  Incredible!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Group Punishment


The other day, my wife and I, took our four children to the grocery store as an exercise in group punishment.  We had just had a full day of, “Mom!, He hit me!.”
“Mom! She hit me!”
“Mom!, I hit myself!”
“Dad! The toilet is plugged!”
“Dad!, the freezer is all melty”
“Dad!, The vacuum isn’t sucking!”
“KidsI,  pick up your stuff!”
“Kids!, Why is the freezer door standing open!”
“Kids!, stop fighting!”
Thus, we had had it and decided it was consequence time…so we took them shopping!
“We don’t want to go shopping!”
“I know!...that’s the point…get in the van!”
“Why do we all have to go?”
“We are punishing you?”
“For what?”
“I haven’t decided yet!”
As we loaded the van, astonishingly…the fighting continued!
“He’s sitting on me!”
“She kicked me for no reason!”
“She’s looking at me!”
“She slapped me in the face!”
“Quiet down back there or I will turn this car around!”...oh wait…that defeats the punishment.
We arrive at the store…unload…and take our herd inside. 
Upon entering the store, we quickly realize that things are not going according to plan. Children are circling the cart like black flies around a dumpster. 
“Can we get Cap’n Crunch?”
“No”
“Can we get Oreos?”
“No”
“Can we race each other through the store?”
“No!”
After watching the children fingering shelf items…crushing potato chips…continually pressing the talking cow button…and having our 12 year old riding the bucking bronco…it was time to leave.
As we exited the store, I realized…this wasn’t an exercise in group punishment… it was a masochistic exercise in self torture…punishment served…but did our punishment really fit our crime?...in this case…maybe.
John 18:28-19:16, records the encounter that Jesus has with Pilate.  In this incredible series of interactions, Pilate wrestles with what to do with this Jesus.  He sees nothing to punish Jesus for…yet, he finds himself having to make the choice, give the Jews what they want?…save Jesus?…save himself?...save his career?
Pilate decides to administer a series of punishments…floggings, mockery, and finally crucifixion.  The punishment is administered…yet, the punishment does not fit the crime.  Because there was no crime…except by the hardened hearts of his accusers and executioners. I think Pilate may have wanted to choose to spare Jesus AND yet, still somehow salvage his career…but, he need to choose Jesus OR his career. I find that we often try and do the same, thinking, “I can have Jesus AND my life of sin.”  However, that is not the way it works.  It is Jesus…OR…and then when we choose Jesus…we find that he works to take care of the OR.

Saturday, June 16, 2018


Fair


My mother asked me to be a judge for the Wadena County Fair.  In a moment of weakness, I said yes.  Now I will be sending some kids to the Stat Fair…and some home with participation ribbons crying “Not fair!”  The “fair” comes once a year…and apparently in Wadena…it’s next week.
Life is full of “unfair” things.  It is not fair that my dad, who is 21 years older than me, has more hair on his head than I do.  It is not fair that my younger brother eats like three horses and yet, his metabolism keeps him lean, while I look at a cheeseburger and need to go run 3 miles.  It’s not fair that my children are required to eat all of their vegetables before getting a cookie, while I sneak cookies all the time.  Maybe that is part of my metabolism problem.  It’s not fair that someone working in their line of work for 20 years more than me, gets paid more than I do… It’s not fair that of the two turtles crossing the road…one gets crushed and the other one makes it…but it’s ok…life isn’t fair…maybe God will make more turtles.
Life isn’t fair…but it’s ok…because thank God, grace isn’t fair either.
When I was a senior in high school I remember watching this “low speed” chase on television.  It was a white Ford Bronco being chased by police for about 50 miles, for an hour and a half, at an average speed of around 33 mph.  When all was said and done…justice was not served. Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were killed…no one was convicted of the crime…so whether O.J. was guilty or not guilty…justice was not served.  “The glove didn’t fit…they had to acquit”…but somewhere in there…it wasn’t fair.
As much of a circus as that televised Simpson trial may have been, it was probably for more “fair” and “just” than the trials of Jesus Christ.
In John 18 and Matthew 26, we find the account of Jesus’ arrest and trials before the Jewish leaders and the Sanhedrin.  The number of laws that were broken and or disregarded in these trials, just to wrongly convict Jesus and get away with it, are jaw dropping.  These laws included; arrest without cause, no witnesses present, trial taking place at night, among others.
Here is what I think happened.  The Jews believed in their laws and their “truth” strongly…however, when confronted with a truth…THE TRUTH…that didn’t match “their truth”…they were left with one of two choices.  They could hold to what is truly…TRUE…or they could justify their own truth, by converting the “truth” to match what they wanted it to be…thus bending the truth.
I think we do the same.  I want what I think and believe to be true, yet, how often will I justify what I do…to match a truth that I WANT to believe…even if it in reality, does not match.
The truth is that life is often not fair.  Will I continue to act justly…according to the line of truth that Christ has set forth or will I bend the truth to justify my behaviors, still claiming justice and truth?
Do you drive 55?...yeah, me either…

Saturday, June 9, 2018


A walk in the woods


Each fall, for as long as I can remember, my older brother and I would head up to the north woods of Minnesota with our dad to prepare our tree stands for the upcoming season. (Now, it is my younger brother and I, because my older brother doesn’t hunt any longer.  He says, “It’s too cold…and he would rather go ice fishing with his friends, because even though it is cold…it is still nice to just be with people you enjoy hanging out with”…Ouch). It is inevitable, that after so many hours in the woods, there would have to be some incidents…(including last season…see “Tree Stand” post from October 2017).  After years of walking the same forest hills and valleys, I have come to know this area of the forest very well.
This however, was not the case 35 years ago.  I recall following my dad as he worked his way down the trail that would lead to his stand.  To me…the trail seemed non-existent…yet he seemed to know it and go with it like a river flowing through the wilderness.  He would occasionally take a hatchet and freshen a mark on a tree as we went along, my dad in the lead, me second, and my older brother taking up the rear.
As we continued, we would occasionally come upon a stand and my dad would tell us… “That’s your Uncle Arnold’s stand.”…or “This is your cousin John’s stand.”  We would ask, “How much further?”…as if we were riding in a car for a long 20 minute car ride.
He would answer, “It will be a while yet…my stand is about the furthest one into the forest.”
After we had plodded on for what seemed forever…I heard a distant cry of panic from somewhere behind me…“DAD! DAD!”
I turn around…and there is no one standing where my brother was supposed to be standing.
The call continued; “Dad! Dad! Dad!”
My dad called back, “Stay where you are…and keep talking!”
“Dad, Dad, Dad”…(I think he could have said something more interesting…where’s the variety?)
It did not take long for my dad to track down my older brother.  My brother probably got distracted by a squirrel or a mushroom or became enamored with his shoe lace.
My dad then told him…“You did the right thing by stopping…if you had kept moving, you would have gotten lost…from now on…stay closer…keep me in sight…don’t lose sight of me.”
What an incredible picture of following Christ! In John 18, we find…in the midst of the story of Jesus’ arrest and trials…the tale of Peter and his 3 denials of Christ.  If we look at this Gospel account (and include the others), we find that Peter followed Christ at a distance.  I wonder…how would this story of Peter and his temptations ended differently…if he had continued to follow Jesus closely…and not kept his distance.
I have a lot of room to grow in following Christ closely…perhaps you do to? Let us, therefore, spur one another on to come together…and follow Christ.