Saturday, November 27, 2021

 The Day Will Come

 

It is inevitable…the day will come.

The day will come when I will slip on the ice and crack my head on the hard frozen ground, at which point everyone will gasp in astonishment and be concerned for my well being…except my wife…she will double in laughter. 

The day will come when my first child, who was just under 8 lbs and 21.5” inches long, will graduate from high school and head off to college…leaving me as an emotional wreck to secretly weep alone in the bathroom.

The day will come when some arrogant college boy, will lay his dirty little eyes on her beauty and ask her out on a date…at which time I will come out of my weeping stupor and threaten his very life with a spanking spoon used to making “roni and cheese.”

The day will come when he will ask for her hand in marriage…at which time I will pretend my hearing aid batteries are dead.

The day will come when I will escort this former bubble blowing princess down an aisle wearing a white dress that is more expensive than my first automobile, and yet cannot hold a candle to her beauty let alone her value.

The day will come when I will become a grandfather to a little 8lb, 21.5” newborn, at which time I will confront this former college boy and now non blood relative…“How dare you?” My heart will then soften once again when I make eye contact with this new life in my arms.

The day will come.  That is unless I am first hit by a bus.

The day will come when my son gets his driver’s license and my automobile insurance increases exponentially. Oh wait! That day took place a few weeks ago.

The day will come…when I get old….Oh wait!...Never mind.

There are days that lay in wait for us…days that are in the distant or not so distant future.  These days will be significant life changing days.  When they arrive, our lives will never be the same…our lives will be changed forever.  I have experienced many of these inevitable days in my life…days like my wedding day or the day when my first child was born…or like the day when my second…third…and fourth children were born. These are days of change.  These are days of anticipation.

There is a day…a single day…that changed everything.  It is the day that God came in the flesh…the day that Jesus was born. It was a day that had been promised thousands of years before. Then…at just the right time…Jesus was born…Jesus came…and offered us EVERYTHING!

Peter reminds us of this in 2 Peter 3:1 and Paul points to it in Galatians 4:1-7.  This event was the major event in human history.  This event was promised thousands of years before.  It had been anticipated for generations. The day came.  It really happened.  Let’s always remember…Jesus really came!

 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

 #13

“On your marks,” My dad shouted over the 2 cycle engines whining in front of him.

“Set,” he continued, holding a makeshift flag, a white handkerchief with black permanent marker creating a checkered pattern, sitting on the end of an oak dowel.

I leaned in to the handlebars of my red Honda 50cc dirt bike; the #13 donned the front placard as well as the one to my side behind my left calf.  I didn’t mind the number, in fact I requested it…I didn’t need luck on my side…I was better than my opponent.  He knew it…I knew it…and he was about to taste it.  My right hand revved the throttle ready for the flag to drop.

“Go!”

I dumped the clutch with my left hand and my rear wheel spun violently, digging a hole behind me as my back tire sank nearly to the axle…apparently too much throttle.  My older brother, riding an identical bike, brandished with the #6, eased off his clutch and puttered away.  The race had begun, and I had yet to go anywhere productive. The race was a mere three laps and I was going to be hard pressed to make up the gap that was continuing to expand as I sat there idle.  I eased off the gas…climbed out of my hole…and took off. 

The course began with a long straight, followed by a hard left and an easy right as the surface inclined.  At the top of the incline, another left took you back down a steeper slope to a hairpin curve to lead you right back up.  Once on top, the home stretch was a short straight that led to the sharpest left of the course and back into lap number two. 

Not every 7 year old is blessed with the coolest dad in the world, who not only buys dirt bikes for his sons, but also has the foresight to create a race track in the back yard using an ancient disk and a drag pulled by an old Alice Chalmers B.

I had run this track hundreds of times.  I knew it well.  I also knew that despite the lead, I would pass my older brother, and pass him I did.  Just as I was finishing lap number two I was right on his rear wheel.  I slid wide to the right as we approached the sharp left hand turn into the long straight.  I cut hard and gunned the throttle, and shot past him to the inside like a stone from my slingshot.  I was immediately filled with a genuine aura of satisfaction that filled my gullet and tingled the hairs on the back of my neck.  One lap to go and I was creating a dominant lead.  I went up the first incline and was on my way back down when I looked over my shoulder to see where my loser of an older brother was. “Eeek,” I thought…he was closer than I had expected.  I looked a second time just as I was hitting the bottom of the hill.  However, as I looked back, my front tire slammed into a rut and I flipped the bike rear over front.  The bike was ok…I broke its fall. 

My older brother slowed down as he approached the bottom of the hill so as not to run me over.  Was he being nice…or was he gloating? Then he puttered away back up the hill.  Gloating…definitely gloating.  I hopped back on #13, kicked the starter, nailed the throttle and took off, throwing dirt, mud, and sod behind me.  I could still win! I could still win!

I never let off of the throttle! I was gaining on him fast! I was going to do it! And then…I didn’t.  He crossed the finish line about 6 feet before I did.

“Well, I guess you shouldn’t look back huh Ryan!” my dad laughed. 

I gritted my teeth…and cried…“So much for the coolest dad in the world,” I thought.

It is so hard to go through life and keep your focus.  The simple distractions that we face daily are innumerable. We face mountains of tasks, deadlines, family responsibilities, parenting, spousing the list is endless.  Life is hard enough as it is…but then you add in the daunting challenges of sin.  The Bible is clear in its teaching about sin.  Paul writes in Romans 3, that there is NO ONE righteous. Jesus challenges men in John 8, to be free to “cast the first stone,” if you happen to be without sin…there is no one left to cast a stone.  We all sin.  We all have sin in our lives, and we all sin more than we think we do. 

In Matthew 5-7, Jesus raises the bar to righteous living.  He makes what was already impossible…even more impossible…if that is even possible.  He shows us that we cannot do it.  We cannot live the righteous life…on our own.  We need help.  We need Him.  That is how we conclude this message.  We need Jesus to do a work in us.  We need Jesus to change our hearts. 

But what is our role? What do we do?  If he does the work of changing our hearts…what is my responsibility? It is to repent.

We need to repent and get our eyes back on Jesus.

This is a message for all human kind.  The Sermon on the Mount…is a call to repentance.  May we repent and get our eyes back on Jesus.


Saturday, October 23, 2021

 The Penny


We all face anxiety and worrisome situations on a daily basis…you know what I am talking about…we all worry.  This past week my daughter wanted to register for a college visit, but the online registration wasn’t working. To an average human being, this is not a cause for 911.  However, my soon to be 18 year old and high school graduate, found herself in a catastrophic moment of despair. 

“Hannah, it is not a big deal…just call the school.”

“I don’t want to call.”

“Why not?”

“I am scared.”

“What!? Scared of what? The fact that you might have to talk to another human being?”

“Yes! Exactly!”

“Call them…they WANT to talk to you…they WANT your money!”

“I can’t! I am afraid!”…(Hannah often tells me that I, “Just don’t understand how hard it is to be a high school student in today’s culture.”  Obviously…I don’t.)

 “That is absurd…send an email then.” I retorted.

“Ok…I can do that.”

Disaster averted.

It is not just the worries of high school and college. The other day I was worried that Sarah would find out that I forgot to drop off the gas bill.  She found out…but it wasn’t as bad as I thought…I didn’t even get punished!

When my son was in the terrifying realm of kindergarten, he came home one spring day and collapsed on the sofa…and did nothing.  This was unusual for such a rambunctious juvenile boy. My wife Sarah, immediately began to worry.

“Isaac, are you feeling ok?”

“Yeah.”

A similar question rose from her lips a few moments later. “Are you sure you are ok? You don’t seem to be yourself.”

“Yeah.”

“Ryan…I think that Isaac is sick,” she stated.

“Isaac, are you feeling ok?” I interjected.

“Yeah.”

He has always been a great conversationalist.

“He says he fine…he’s fine.” I answered.

Well…that wasn’t good enough.  My wife took his temperature.  It was normal.  Still not convinced she gave him vitamin C and sent him to bed early. All the while, I must admit that he did seem a bit out of sorts.

In the morning she continued to check his vitals…namely his temperature.

“There! You see! 99.1! I knew it! He has a fever…He is staying home!”

Moments after I took Hannah to school and left for work…he was miraculously healed!

Until…the next morning…99.1

After, 2-3 days of this same sequence, Sarah was deeply concerned with the pattern and ready to consider the ER, She asked me, “What should we do?”

“Ask him if everything is ok at school.” I offered.

She did, and he immediately broke into tears and wept…“I lost Jimmies penny at the playground! He is going to be mad at me! I tried to find it! I looked and I looked but I could not find it! I don’t know what to do…I don’t want to see Jimmy because he is going to want the penny and I don’t have it…I can’t find it!

“Here…have a penny.”

Disaster averted.

He had literally…worried himself SICK!

But let’s be honest.  We all do the same! We worry about: our retirement, gas prices, politics, toilet paper, food prices, job security, children’s choices, vehicle reliability, calling the college admissions counselor, what do people think of me, maybe this pain in my neck is something serious like cancer, the list is endless…and that’s just MY list. Jesus challenges our hearts once again in Matthew 6:19-34. In this case he is forcing us to confront what we value.  He is confronting us with the condition of our hearts…what is it that is truly important to us.  Jesus wants our hearts to be “for God.” He is drawing our hearts away from meaningless worldly treasures that do nothing but rot away. He is drawing our hearts away from worrying about these rotting valueless items.

May we come to have our hearts transformed into a Heart for God.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Why?

 

Why do we do the things that we do?

One evening, during my late elementary school years, I stood in my dad’s garage along with both my dad and older brother.  We gathered together to admire the new kitchen cabinets that had just arrived and lay waiting to be installed.  As we meandered through the new cabinets, my dad and I both looked up to see my older brother standing 6 feet away…violently shaking his head from side to side.  His jaw was slackened and you could see his malleable cheeks flapping loosely, causing spit and drool to fly from his relaxed mandible. The two of us watched in confusion.  When he finally ceased flapping his head like a rain soaked Labrador retriever…my dad asked…”What are you doing?”

“I don’t know…” was all he replied.

That was weird.

Despite his insistence on “not knowing” what he was doing…there must have been some underlying reason as to why he decided to shake his head so vehemently. It is possible that he had just lost his mind…or perhaps was trying to shake his brain matter out through his ears.  In either case that could be considered…a reason.

Why?

Why do we tip at restaurants? I know that it is initially…”To Insure Promptness”…but let’s be honest…it is an obligation.  In fact, in some cases tips are automatically calculated into the bill.  Don’t get me wrong…I think that generous tipping is a pretty cool thing…especially when someone else is the generous tipper. 

As a couple of young high school students, my flapping faced brother and I sat at a cafĂ© table just finishing up a couple of burgers that we had been treated to from a local antique dealer.  The two of us had spent the day hauling antiques to his shop from a local auction.  Upon the completion of our meal…the antique dealer (who was also our grandfather) pulled out a coin purse filled with a fistful of U.S. minted change.  He dug through the jingling pile of metal…pulled out one worn nickel and placed it on the table.  I am no expert…but I am guessing that this less than generous “tip” did NOT “insure promptness,” in any of his future visits. Why did he even bother to give a tip? Generosity? Obligation? Affirmation?

Why?

Why do we tip? Why do we give? Why do we pray? Why do we fast? What is it that draws us to do the things that we do?  I think that this is exactly what Jesus is challenging us to understand in Matthew 6:1-18. Here Jesus gives some instructions on giving, praying, and fasting.  Sometimes, I think that we take these words as more demands as to how we are supposed to live.  In a way…that would be true, yet I think that what Jesus is really driving at is our hearts.  I have become more and more convinced that Jesus is working to transform our hearts. He is working to make us more in tuned with the heart of God.  Jesus wants us to live our lives, motivated by the love of God…and the love for God. May we come to ask Jesus to do that heart work in our lives.  It is a work that ONLY He can do…so let’s invite Him to do it.


Saturday, October 9, 2021

Road Rage


I was driving east on Hwy. 10 in central Minnesota.  It was dark, and I had two of my four children sitting next to me in the front of my small, Ford Ranger pickup.  I brought along the two preschoolers, who were sleeping in their car seats next to me, because my wife was working, and I had this given Friday off. I didn’t have many other options than to bring them along.  I suppose that I could have surrounded the 2 year old Carissa with bottles of milk and given Isaac instructions to not jab or prod her with anything pointy or sharp...nor step on her, wrestle her, or feed her uncut grapes.

“Isaac…now you need to take care of your 2 year old sister…this is your responsibility.  Also, I think that it would be nice if you could mow the lawn…I want it bagged this time…and if you need to use the step ladder to crawl into the trailer…please put it back when you are done!”

“Dad? When you are gone, can I play with your table saw? I want to make something nice for mom.  I am very responsible as I am almost 5 years old.”

…I opted to take the children with me. 

I was heading up north to install a countertop that I had made for my parents’ lake cabin.  The job took most of the day, and as I was driving back home, I was tired and so were my children.  I would soon be thankful that both children slept.

As I approached one of the nearing small central Minnesota town, the car in front of me began demonstrating some peculiar behavior.

First, it began to slow way down, I signaled and slid into the open lane to the left. The car in front of me did the same.  This was strange, as there was no reason for that car to get over.  Perhaps he was planning to make a left turn.  I went back to the right…and the car did the same…staying in front of me and continuing to slow down.

I began to think that the driver was perhaps impaired by one or more legal or illegal substances, and I thought it was better to just get clear of the vehicle.  I attempted to go around to the left…and he continued to block my path.  I proceeded to slow down…and then finally, accelerated quickly…passing him to the left.  He turned his bright lights on as he pulled up behind me. He stayed there…continuing to illuminate my vehicle with his bright lights.   

I returned to the cruising speed to find that he was staying as close as he could to my back bumper.  Had I not had two of my children with me…I may have made some additional poor choices.  I really did not want to get into it with this guy. 

After a series of passing…and being passed, I didn’t know what else to do…I pulled over to the shoulder and stopped…fully expecting him to just continue on and leave us alone.  I really only wanted to get away from the situation. To my astonishment, he pulled over and exited the vehicle and began to approach my truck.  Not wanting him to get close to the truck with my children inside, I too stepped out. 

“Stop!...what is it you want? What are you trying to do? I have two young kids in this truck and you are driving like an idiot!” (oops…I used the word idiot…probably not the worst thing I did or thought during this time, but in light of Matthew 5:22…oops).

“Turn your lights off of bright!!!” He commanded.

“Sir…I have not even had my lights on bright!”

“Curse, curse, curse,  I know what bright lights are…you had your lights on bright…turn them off!!!”

“I am sorry…but I have not had my lights on bright!!!”

“Curse, curse, curse…turn your lights off of bright or I am going to k….”

Thankfully, the police officer pulled up.

He came to me first and asked, “What is going on?”

I explained what I had just encountered.  He then went and talked to the other guy.

He told us both…”I don’t really care who did what at this point…I just want the two of you apart from each other…”

I couldn’t agree more…except…I really wanted the officer to believe me…to take my side.

He commanded me to go.

I went…but I was still angry…I was frustrated...even shaking in rage…I still felt insulted…I felt dishonored…I wanted vindication!!!

I didn’t believe that I deserved this kind of treatment from the other driver…and I wanted an apology.  I believed that I deserved an apology.

I got nothing.

How? How can I live in the way that Jesus calls me to live.  Jesus specifically calls us to respond with grace to our enemies…no…more than grace…he calls us to “love” our enemies and pray for those who persecute us…who attack us.  

Huh?

How is that possible?

Who can do that?

Sure Jesus did it…we see that through the Gospels…but me?  I can’t do that.

Jesus has raised the bar to an impossible height! What do I do? Jesus…please help me…to do the impossible.  The words of Paul resonate within me…perhaps the truth that they really are…are finally sinking in!

“I can do all things through Christ…who gives me strength.”

I can love my enemy…only by the strength of Jesus.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Heart


The fight broke out over a football game.  It was the Vikings vs. the Lions…a perennial match up positioned to evoke passionate emotions from either side.  It took place in the Barry Sanders era…which is the only time in semi-recent history where the Lions were ever a threat to any other team in the NFL, let alone a fellow team from the Black and Blue division of the NFC North. Football passions ran high in my childhood home.  Though I seldom observed any blood coming from my dad’s body…I am pretty sure it would have run purple.  All the man really wanted, (wants, since he still lives) was to have one Super Bowl win…is that too much to ask?

In recent years, I think that perhaps he has compromised to accepting a Super Bowl appearance…or perhaps even just a “made” field goal.

On this particular Monday night battle between these two divisional rivals…something happened…it was a strategy of unethical proportions…my mom…started the vacuum.  Perhaps my dad’s tension was already riding high from watching the slippery, Lion’s running back continue to elude all of the would be purple tacklers, or from Wade Wilson’s 3 interceptions or Darrin Nelson’s fumble, but when the Hoover whirred to life, I noticed my dad’s jaw clench. Had the air in the house been just a touch cooler…steam would have been pouring out of my dad’s nose like Ferdinand the Bull as he sharpened his horns to take out the wiley Bugs Bunny.

“What are you doing?” His shouts arose.

My mother either didn’t hear him over the vacuum or pretended not to hear as there was no answer.

“Now!?  You are vacuuming now?”

Still no answer.

In frustration…my dad authoritatively left the home and drove away. 

After he had gone, my mother turned off the vacuum…I could still see some of the spots that she missed…but I graciously, and perhaps fearfully, refrained from pointing them out to her.  She sat down in the recliner and put her head in her hands.

“Mom,” I asked, “Are you and Dad going to get a divorce?”

“No Ryan, why would you ask that?”

“Because the Vikings lost…it might be your fault…from vacuuming you know?…and because my friend Donny said that his parents always fight and they just got divorced and then Donny couldn’t live with both of them any more…he could only be with one.”

In the mean time, my dad had returned and stood in the doorway of the living room.

“Who would you pick?” My dad asked from the doorway.

“What?”

“If you had to choose…who would you pick?”

I took a long moment before answering; I remember hearing the wall clock clicking in the silence.  Then sorrowfully, I looked at my dad and said, “Dad, I think that I would have to live with Mom…you don’t cook so well.”

I was reaffirmed by my parents that divorce was not in their future.  “Just because we fight doesn’t mean we don’t love each other…we just have a few more things to work through,” my dad encouraged, “We may have arguments, but we work them out.”

He was right! My parents have been married for more than 46 years now.  I remember many fights and many more occasions where apologies were shared…where hearts were softened, humbled and revealed.

Jesus talks about divorce, and anger, and many other things during His Sermon on the Mount.  I am convinced that as we look at this passage…specifically Matthew 5:17-37, we see that Jesus is pointing to something much deeper than our actions.  He is pointing to our hearts.  My dad is not the perfect husband…nor is my mom the perfect wife…but the Lord has worked in their hearts…He had done the transformation.

Jesus raises the bar of expectations.  He has made it clear that we cannot do it on our own…yet, he calls us do to it.  How, then, can we do it? How, then, can we be saved? What hope do we even have?  Jesus! He is our WAY…He is our HOPE! He is our LIFE!

May we come to see that we need a new heart…and that Jesus alone has the power to change our hearts.

Jesus take from me my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh.


Saturday, September 25, 2021

 Impossible


“You can do anything…you just have to set your mind to it…”

These words proved to be a big fat lie to the 10 year old boy who had his eye on the pretty new girl in class who had just moved to town from Montana.  Though the speaker of those words, namely my 5th grade music teacher, had good intentions, she was flat out wrong.  It was likely that she was attempting to motivate me to set my mind on learning how to sing.  However, I contrarily decided to set my mind elsewhere…namely on the new girl. 

Now here I am, now 35 years later…and I still can’t sing…and that girl never did give me the time of day.  Well, Mrs. Nelson…you did not “Teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,” unless of course I was omitted from that world, and the new girl never did “come round the mountain,” at least in my direction. 

Some things are just impossible, like eating just one Lay’s potato chip, one almond from the bag of trail mix, or just one Oreo cookie.   Perhaps that was Nabisco’s strategy in creating the “Double Stuf” Oreo cookie…to help people like me to eat just one.  If you put two cookies into one…people won’t need to eat two…right?  Wrong…now we just make “Quadruple Stuf” cookies.  Nabisco hasn’t quite kept up with my demand. 

I remember watching the old Mission Impossible TV show as a kid.  Each episode was plotted similarly.  There would be a secret…impossible…mission, revealed to Dan Briggs.  Mr. Briggs would then bring in his team…to accomplish that which was impossible…or I guess…not quite so impossible.

Matthew 5-7, is a well known passage of scripture.  It is the Sermon on the Mount.  What is striking to me in this message from Jesus is that he lays out such lofty expectations.  What Jesus calls his followers to are really quite impossible! Why does he do this? I have become convinced that Jesus wants for his followers to understand two things. 

1.      Jesus wants us to see that following him, as he calls us to…is impossible. Wait what!? Then what are we doing? What is the point?

2.      Jesus wants us to see that ONLY THROUGH HIM…and the power of His Spirit…can we follow Him!

We can’t make the impossible…possible!

Only Jesus can do that!

Only Jesus HAS done that!

Only Jesus can do that in us!

May we come to see…all that we CAN do…but only through Jesus!