Saturday, August 26, 2017


I remember working on my dad’s 1978 Chevy Cheyenne pickup…I am certain that my 7 year old expertise was invaluable to him and that he could not have done the job without me.  I was probably most helpful by keeping his heart rate up as I raised and lowered the jack holding the truck up that he was working on.   Some call it stress…I call it cardiovascular exercise…at least I used to…now I call it a heart attack waiting to happen…(honestly…I doubt that I ever did that…I would put the odds at less than 50%).  We were repairing his front, four wheel drive hub…I remember him needing to go a very specific socket, with four, quarter inch teeth that would protrude from the end.  Without this specific tool…the job was impossible to complete.
This past week, I was driving by our local zoo. I noticed that they were doing some work on the stone walls that border the zoo and the road.  I drive by this zoo nearly every day, yet, I had never noticed it being in disrepair...but I’m not a stonemason, so what do I know.  I observed a crew of men using a very unique tool…it appeared to be a large clamp with large chains and long stakes that they drove into the ground and long levers that were used to pull/hold the wall straight while they worked on it and then left on while their work dried.  This left me curious and wondering about these clamps.  By all appearances…it looked as if these clamps were created for one singular purpose…to straighten and hold stone walls in place.  Then I thought…how often would those tools even be used? They seemed so specific to that singular task.
This got me thinking about my own tools. So much so, that I went and looked through my tool chest trying to find tools that had only one specific purpose.  I couldn’t find much.  I use my tools for all kinds of things that they were never meant to be used for.  In fact, as a child, I remember using my dad’s torque wrench as a hammer to pound a stake into the ground…when that didn’t work I tried using the torque wrench as the stake…dad was not happy.
I have used wrenches as pry bars, screwdrivers as stakes, screwdrivers as pry bars, screwdrivers as chisels, chisels as screwdrivers, pliers as hammer…etc…you get the idea.  One time, when I was working on my own truck, I used a combination of a large wrench, a bottle jack and a sledgehammer to free a rusted bolt.  There is a saying, “The right tool for the job.” …which is all good and well if you are willing to pay top dollar for some of those “right tools”…but for me…I try to get by…some call it cheap…I like to think of it as innovative…after all, look what innovation did for Henry Ford.  Sometimes it feels kind of like playing a round of golf with nothing but a 5 iron in my bag.
There is a story in John 9:1-12 where Jesus comes upon a man who was born blind.  In this culture, the blind man would have been viewed as purposeless.  He couldn’t work…he couldn’t serve…he was disdained as someone who was being punished by God.  Yet, when Jesus sees him, he informs his disciples, who are with him, that it is not sin that has made this man blind…rather, this man was “created” blind…for a very specific purpose.  Jesus tells them that this man was made this way so that Jesus could demonstrate his divinity, his love, his grace, his power, and his own choice to align with the suffering of mankind.  This blind man suffered, and he sat begging at the side of the road for years.  During this time, many people would have acknowledged his life as worthless…yet, Jesus, shows this man the purpose that God had chosen for his life.
Several years ago we took a team of students and leaders to an orphanage Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  This was no ordinary orphanage.  This was an orphanage fill with children who were not only unwanted…but also viewed as worthless…purposeless…valueless in their society.  Many of these children ranging in age from infant to teenager, couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk…couldn’t communicate period.  Some of the children couldn’t see…some couldn’t feed themselves.  Where do we find purpose for people like this?  More and more people in our world see these lives as purposeless.  The notorious Adolf Hitler certainly would not have found any value in their lives.  I have come to find that their lives did have value…and interestingly…perhaps their value has to do with their effect on others, more than themselves.  Sure they can’t feed themselves…sure they can’t care for themselves…but their lives impact others.  Their lives impact the orphanage workers who sacrificially pour themselves into their lives.  The workers lives are different…I would be willing to say better…for having encountered these children.  I know that the team of students and my leaders were also impacted by our contact with these children.  It was extremely challenging…but I cannot help but think of them…when I see how Jesus…notices…and values the lives of those we see as purposeless.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Seven years ago I was asked to officiate a wedding in Grand Marais, Minnesota.  Not knowing the next time we would have the chance to make the five hour drive to experience the grandeur, I decided to bring the entire family up to this gorgeous part of the state.  It is truly a magnificent part of the country…“God’s country.”  The wedding took place on an amazingly, beautiful day in a quaint and cozy chapel just off of the Gun Flint Trail.  Following the ceremony, my wife and I thought it would be nice to enjoy some of the North Shore scenery with the family.
We made sure to make the stop at Gooseberry Falls…Betty’s Pies…Agate Beach…and several other areas of rocky shore.  As we were walking along one particular rocky shore…our son, Isaac, was doing what any four year old boy would do…picking up rocks and chucking them into the largest fresh water lake in the world.  Rock after rock…every fourth step or so…splash, in goes another.
We were not the only ones enjoying these rocky shoals, several other couples and families were out enjoying the lake and the beautiful afternoon.  One family in particular…was a…not super young lady…walking,  what I assumed was her…much less young father.  She helped him along the shores as he clumsily navigated through the thick, rock sand with his walker.  Overall it was impressive, watching him make do in a situation with a walker, that was not created to traverse over such rocky terrain.  Now, had it had big twenty inch, fat tires and, perhaps, basketballs instead of tennis balls…then maybe he’d have something.
We were walking in their direction as they were walking in ours…one step, two steps, three steps, four steps…splash!  One, two, three, four…splash…One, two, three, four…“Eeek” “Ugh” “Ahh” “Smash”…turning back…there  is an old lady and an old man both sprawled out on the shore.  Apparently, one of Isaacs’s stones was heading to the man…in which, his presumed, more able bodied daughter, dove in front of her “walker father” taking the blow and causing both of them to hit the rocks.
As a parent, this is about as mortifying as having one of your children walking up to someone and asking them…”Why are you so fat?” or “Why does skin hang down from your arms like that grandma?”  We did about all we could think of to do as parents of a four year old perpetrator…we apologized profusely…and insisted that Isaac apologize…in which he replied, “NO! WAHHHH” and then… “NO! WAHHH” which then he finally followed with…“NO! WAHHH!”
Do you want to know what is worse than your son chucking rocks at old people?...Your son chucking rocks at old people and then refusing to apologize.
There is a moment in the Scriptures (John 8:1-11), where some Jewish leaders bring a woman before Jesus.  She had been caught committing adultery…that’s when she was with another man who was not her husband…and he was with her instead of his wife…and they are not just holding hands.  The Jews ask Jesus, “Our Law says that we are to stone her…but, what do you say we should do?”  It is at this point that Jesus gives one of my favorite responses of all time…He says something to the effect, “If you don’t have any sin in your life…by all means…start throwing stones at her.”  After Jesus had said this,…everyone…EVERYONE…except Jesus and the woman leave. Then Jesus asks her, “Where are the ones who accused you?”  She replies, “They have all gone.”  Jesus…who happens to be the only one who is without sin…and could technically begin to throw stones…says, “Neither do I condemn you.”
How often do we condemn those who wrong us? Someone makes us upset and we immediately see ourselves in justified to “tear them down.”  We long to take justice into our own hands and hand out the punishments that we feel that people deserve…and maybe they do…but, I think we so easily ignore, our own guilt…our own sin…and certainly…our own need for grace.
May you come to remember your need for grace…and then offer the grace freely…that you have freely received.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fargo Open

Several decades ago, back when M.C. Hammer was “2 Legit 2 Quit,” North Dakota State University would hold an annual freestyle wrestling tournament…The Fargo Open…(imagine that being announced in a very low dramatic echoing voice…sounds cool doesn’t it?).  Growing up around the sport of wrestling, and having had wrestled since first grade, I thought that expanding into the realm of freestyle wrestling would enhance my technique.  This led me to enter the elite competition of the Fargo Open.  The brackets were put together by weight class and limited to somewhere between sixteen to thirty-two wrestlers…honestly I don’t remember…it was over twenty-five years ago, cut me some slack.  My weight class was packed.  In fact, my weight class was so full, the tournament officials had to create two brackets for my weight class.  I was placed into a secondary bracket after the first bracket had been filled.  For years, I have proudly stated how I placed third in this elite tournament, and received the largest trophy in my collection of trophies that I keep proudly displayed in an office box in the attic of my parents’ country home.  What I usually neglect to share, is that this secondary bracket only contained three wrestlers.  After two straight losses, I received the equivalent of a “millennial” participation trophy.
It’s remarkable to me how we pose ourselves in such a way that we attempt to make ourselves look better than we really are.  I read recently online…so it has to be true…how 70% of people, who share personal information and events on social media, intentionally lie, exaggerate or alter their posts in such a way as to make themselves and their families more attractive or appear better than they believe that they really are.  In other words…the 70% are attempting to deceive their readers…and I believe in many cases, they have come to deceive themselves, in such a way, that they believe that their posts are entirely true, or at the very least…justified adjustment.
Why is our culture so afraid of the truth? Everyone lies…why? When you break it down, it really just doesn’t make sense…yet we do it.  In the Gospel of John, chapter 8:31-59, we find a moment when Jesus is talking to a large number of Jewish people.    Jesus accuses them of being “slaves to their sin and darkness.”  This upset these Jewish people…after all…no one really enjoys being called a sinner.  These wacky Jews, tell Jesus…“You’re crazy…we are slaves to no one…” Jesus lays it out before them…that they are deceiving themselves in believing that they are sinless…he tells them to believe in the “truth”…and that the “truth will set them free.”
Lies leave us in bondage.  We are bound to the effects of the deception.  We all lie…we all lie to other people…but often I don’t think we see how we lie to ourselves.  We think we have it all together…we try to convince ourselves of this deception…when Jesus really wants us to say…“You know Jesus…You’re right…I am a sinner…and I need your forgiveness…please forgive me.”  There is the Truth…and that Truth is the Truth that will set you free.