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!

Saturday, September 22, 2018


I Can't


I said to my daughter this morning, “You need to clean your room.  Your grandmother is coming next week and she will be staying in your room.”
She replied, “I think I should wait until the last minute to clean it…that way it will stay clean.”
“How about this,” I replied, “You clean it today…and then keep it clean!”
“I can’t!!!!”
We have probably all heard it said, “You can do anything if you just put your mind to it!”
Though I believe this to be true in this situation…in the broad spectrum???
Not true.
As a 42 year old father of four…I have yet to give birth…anatomically…not going to happen.
There are indeed some things that I cannot and will never be able to do.  I will never run the 400m dash in under a minute again.  I suppose it could be argued, that if I trained and worked hard for it and remembered to stretch my legs after each workout, it could be achieved.  There is a problem with that…I have no intention of training and stretching so as to run the 400m dash in less than the bench marked 60 seconds.  So, can I do it with the right training? Maybe…but perhaps the better question is…why?  Why do I care and what is the point of a 42 year old being able to run a 60 second 400m?
There are other things that I can’t do.  I can’t high jump over 5 ft. I can’t stand up without my knees popping. I can’t eat a taco without belching up peppers for the next 6 hours.  I can’t check my blind spot without turning my entire torso.
There are times however, where I use the words, “I can’t”…when I should say, “I can…because God has called me and said I can.”
“God, I can’t do it! I can’t do what you say I can do! I can’t love and care for that person…they are too needy…they are too critical…they don’t even like me…they don’t respect me…I can’t do it!”
Perhaps, the beliefs we battle most consistently are things like… “God…I am not good enough to do what you want me to do…I am too messed up…I am not worthy…I am no good at this, that, or the other thing.”
Moses dealt with this when God confronted him at the burning bush… “Moses…go talk to Pharaoh.”
“Here’s the thing...public speaking is not really my thing!”
In John 21 we find the disciples…specifically Peter…falling into this trap as well.  After having been with Jesus for more than three years…he messed up…big time.  He denied the man he said he would never turn on…and now Jesus has raised and we find Peter, though overjoyed that his friend is alive, seeing himself as nothing but a fisherman.  He could not do what Jesus called him to do…to follow him.  So, he goes back to what he has always known…what he has always done.
I think that Peter has moved into an “I can’t” mode, because he knows that he failed.  Yet, I believe that there is something greater going on.  Perhaps, Peter is right…he can’t…we can’t…but, Jesus can…and Jesus does and he does it in us and through us.  Perhaps, I am right in understanding what I “can’t” do…  but I am wrong in not believing that Jesus “can” do it through me…even after I have failed.

Saturday, September 15, 2018


Ice Fishing




It’s 88 degrees today. That’s pretty hot for mid-September in Minnesota.  Ironically, with the unpredictability of Minnesota weather…ice fishing could open as early as next week.
I like ice fishing.  I do not, however, enjoy the stress of ice fishing on early ice.  I remember friends in high school asking me to go out ice fishing with them in early December.
“Hey Ryan!? You want to head out to Round Lake on Saturday and go ice fishing?”
“Really!? Seems like the ice wouldn’t be thick enough yet.”
“What are you talking about!? There is like two feet of ice already!”
“Hmmm…I find that hard to believe.”
I have developed a formula that measures the thickness of ice on Minnesota lakes. First, you take the ice thickness (i.e. two feet) as told by 16 year old male high school student, who is currently failing math.  Then, divide it by 4 and subtract 3.  Thus, the result of about 3” is the actual ice thickness.
“No thanks…I’m good.”
I realize that most Minnesotans would not hesitate to venture out fishing on 3” of ice.  However, I am not the typical Minnesota ice fisherman.  If I can’t drive on the ice…I usually don’t walk on it.  Thus, when the ice finally hits 18+” I head out onto the lakes…and usually catch nothing…because by the time the ice is that thick, the ice fishing is as slow as my 94 year old grandmother driving her Cadillac Seville in front of the parade of following cars, whose drivers are honking, waving angry fists the air and not throwing candy.
I guess you could say I am kind of the “Doubting Thomas” of Minnesota ice anglers.  I don’t trust the ice…I don’t trust what people say about the ice.  I like to wait until I see a half dozen, full size 4x4 pickups parked on the ice together in a 20 foot radius…then still, drill a series of holes through the ice before I finally journey out.
Yet, as cautious as I am…I find that after I have drilled a few holes…and have found that I have not fallen through the ice…my confidence begins to build.  I remember being out ice fishing with a friend. He was setting us up precariously close to a creek inlet, where you could see the open water.  Closer and closer we walked…until we were what felt to be, about 10 feet from the open water.  The buildup of anxiety was about to send my kidneys blowing out my nose.  After I watched him drill a hole through at least 6 inches of ice…I began to feel a little bit better, but I still wasn’t about to go any closer.
I am reminded of Jesus’ disciple Thomas.  Thomas gets a bad rap for being a “doubter.”  But, he wasn’t the only doubter of the group.  In fact, we see all of these men locked up in a room…afraid...even after the report of Jesus’ resurrection…and at one point, even after they HAD seen him.  They believe…yet…they need to overcome their unbelief.  I think that the time that they spent with Jesus before his crucifixion, was ALL a part of a faith process for each of them.  Their faith grew each time Jesus healed someone…or turned water into wine…or spoke in jaw dropping, authoritative ways.  I believe that their faith grew when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, saw the empty tomb, and even saw the risen Christ.  Yet, their faith needed to grow some more.
This gives me hope.  There are times when I feel that the Lord has built a great fire of faith in my heart…and there are times when I feel more doubtful than Thomas. I find myself thankful…that through every answered and unanswered prayer…through the times of confidence and doubt…pain and peace…the Lord is increasing my faith...step by step.  Do you have a greater faith now than you did a year ago? What about ten years ago?  I believe that the Lord wants our faith to grow...and to be influenced by every life experience he walks us through.

Saturday, September 8, 2018


Perceptual Blindness


A 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan is an unremarkable vehicle…especially when it is silver in color.  If you simply make yourself aware, you could easily find a dozen or more similar vehicles on the road during your morning commute.  In fact, if we look across the street through our living room window, we see a nearly identical van owned by our neighbors.
On a particularly cold, January day, I left my wife and kids in the store to finalize our purchases, while I went out to start the van and pull it up so that they wouldn’t have to endure the bitter winds of winter.  I hustled out of the parking lot, just short of running…because running would be more painful than the cold air. I reached the van and quickly opened the door and slid in. I inserted the key into the ignition and attempted to start the engine.  The key wouldn’t turn.  I shimmied the steering wheel back and forth trying to release the pressure on the wheel lock.  It still wouldn’t go.  “Oh Great!”…I said to myself, “This is the last thing I need!...I have enough things to fix in my life and I don’t need to add the van ignition to that list…not to mention it’s cold!”
As I sat sulking, I smelled something. It was an unfamiliar, yet not unpleasant smell…somewhat like vanilla. “Hmmm…that’s odd!? What would smell like vanilla in here?”  It would have been more likely to expect the smells of wet rotten socks and stale Honey Nut Cheerios.
That is when I looked at the floor… “Hmmm…When did Sarah vacuum the van?” I looked in the rear view mirror…something was missing…someone had stolen our bike rack off of the back!  I felt violated…how could someone steal from someone else…not only the bike rack…but all of our stale Cheerios as well!  I looked to the right and I saw another van…very similar to ours…that one had a bike rack too.  “Why would someone take our bike rack?...Why not theirs?  Their bike rack is the same as the one we had stolen.” “Why us!”
That is when it hit me…the vanilla smell, the lack of Cheerios, the bike rack!...I quickly exited the van…looked both ways to see if I was being watched.  I got into the other van…my van…as quickly as I could…red faced…embarrassed and feeling stupid.  I started the engine and drove up to pick up Sarah and the kids.  At least I didn’t have to fix the ignition on the van.
Sadly…I had done this before!
On the morning that Jesus’ tomb is found empty and his body is missing, we find a number of people who encounter the scene…Peter, John, Mary Magdalene, and several other women.  As they engage in the scene you can see and sense their struggle…their struggle with questions…with grief…and with faith.
Perceptual blindness is defined as, “the event in which an individual fails to perceive an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight.”  Mary Magdalene is the one who Jesus first appeared to, and when she first encountered Jesus, she did not expect to find a risen Savior. Yet there He is…in plain sight.  What Mary saw as missing, was not missing at all.  I think we often fall into perceptual blindness.  I believe that Jesus is alive…that the evidence is there…that Jesus is who He says He is and that the Holy Spirit wants to change our hearts.  Yet, I think we often stay perceptually blind…blind to seeing that we need heart change…everyone of us…and that Jesus is there to lead us to change.

Saturday, September 1, 2018


Predictions


I entered my first year of college in 1994.  It didn’t take long for me to realize, at 18 years old, I had become smarter than my parents…college professors…and financial investors.  I had been hired at a local fueling station and I shared an apartment with my brother.  With having a job…and sharing the rent…I was “loaded.” I may have even reached “hundredaire” status.  I had several bills in my wallet, ranging from ones, all the way up to a single twenty dollar bill.  Yet, during my first fall semester, all of my new found wealth was quickly depleted when I was gifted my first speeding ticket.
Somehow, I needed to come up with a way to recoup the costs.
While working at the gas station, I had observed countless people coming in and cashing out their lottery tickets…some for $1…some for $2 or $5 or $10 or even $20…and sometimes…people cashed in the mega jackpot of $50!  Thus, I came up with the answer that only an “all intelligent 18 year old” could come up with…play the lottery.
To prepare my heart and my odds, I sat behind the wheel of my 1973 Camaro and listened to appropriate mood setting music.  I exited my car and walked into the store with Alice Coopers’ “I’m Eighteen,” and Skid Row’s “Eighteen and Life,” echoing between my ears and I bought a lottery ticket.
Bingo!
Not that I won…rather that was the name of the lottery ticket.  For two dollars you could buy a “Bingo” scratch game.  What a wonderful lottery ticket idea! You could take your time and enjoy a nice game of bingo, while anticipating the cash flow coming in!
I lost.
I bought another one.  If I could get a $5 winner I would still be up $1.  Loser.  I bought another one.  If I could nab a $10 winner at or before 5 tickets were purchased, I’d break even and quit.  Loser…loser…loser.  I kept buying them.  All I need now is a $20 winner before I buy 4 more.  I was the only one there buying tickets…so the odds of getting a winner must be increasing.  There can’t be 10 non winning tickets in a row!?
Yes there can.
Fortunately, I stopped after I lost $20.  I have never purchased a ticket since.
In 2013, Americans lost 119 billion dollars on gambling.  In basic terms…that would be spending 119 billion dollars on false predictions.  False predictions, like picking the wrong Superbowl winner, the wrong horse at the Kentucky Derby, the wrong numbers for the Powerball.  Predictions are a funny thing.  We base a great deal on predictions.  Last weekend my family and I chose not to go camping because the forecast was for a rain all day on Friday…guess what?...it didn’t rain…again…loser.
Overall, predictions rarely come true. In 1977, Ken Olson (no relation), president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, predicted, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” Hmmm.  I think Ken may have missed the mark on this one…let’s just hope he didn’t wager the farm on it.
All of this makes the Gospel even more incredible.  When we look at the Scriptures we find 322 prophecies about Jesus Christ.
What do we find when we then look at the life of Christ? We find 322 FULFILLED prophecies! Incredible!
Even during the crucifixion sequence, Christ alone fulfilled many prophecies…such as, “He was counted with the wicked,” “clothes divided,” “silent before His accusers,” “hands and feet pierced”…and many more!
If I had to make the choice between an educated man making a prediction about computers, weather, science, astrology, etc…or a man…who did everything that He said He was going to do…and did everything that God said He was going to do…I think I am going to choose the second man.
What about you?

Saturday, August 18, 2018


Mud


Our dog peed on the carpet again today.  That is something that upsets me.  It makes my toenails curl, my eyes bulge and teeth gnash.  My reaction to the Minnesota Vikings losing to the Green Bay Packers would be much the same.  Though things have gone well, since we rescued him nearly two years ago, I can’t help but lack trust in him.  That is why we continue to keep him kenneled overnight.  Despite the fact that I probably give him more affection than anyone else in the house, I am convinced that he doesn’t like me…or at the very least…I am not his favorite.
Each morning, I am the first one awake.  I look at him in his kennel when I first get up and he will not make eye contact with me…I am convinced that he is pretending that he is still sleeping.  I will sit in the chair next to the kennel, drink my coffee, read a book and then as soon as he hears another set of feet hitting the floor, he springs up and scratches at the door excited that he can finally come out.
I have experimented with these patterns over the past year and a half or so.  One night as I was heading off to bed, I opened the kennel door…let him in…but didn’t close the door.  The next morning…he is still in his kennel…door open…pretending to sleep.  I sit down in the chair next to the kennel…and he continues to lie there. Then, someone else gets up and he bolts through the open door into the freedom of the day.
One morning I sat in my chair and reached down and unlatched the door while he pretended to sleep.  I swung the door open…and still he just lay there…refusing to come out.  Once again…as soon as the next person arises…he runs out of the kennel appreciating the open space.
There was one night, in fact, in which we forgot to place him in his kennel at all.  When I got up that morning…there he was…laying down in his kennel with the door wide open.
I am reminded of two passages of scripture.  The first is what Paul says in Romans 6, where he describes that we are slaves to our masters…and sin is our master until Jesus breaks the chain that bonds us to sin.  Yet, even after that chain has been broken we find ourselves going back to our old master…our old ways…our old sins…much like what Peter says in his 2nd Epistle chapter 2, verse 22, “A sow that is washed returns to wallow in the mud.”
Jesus has set us free…yet we often choose to stay where there is no freedom.  There is nothing left to keep us chained to the sin…nothing left to keep us under the “old master,” yet, there we stay…like a dog pretending to sleep in an opened kennel.
When Jesus sets us free, we are free indeed.  That is why we choose to be baptized.  To express the work that has already been done.  To express how Jesus led us to die to our old sinful selves…our old ways…and gives us new life…a free life.

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.