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


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.
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? 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?