Monday, December 24, 2018


Mess


I was a messy child.  My mother would often say how she could always tell where I sat at the table.  Apparently, I would leave too much evidence of my presence behind.  If I didn’t want to eat something, I would discretely slide it off of my plate and tuck it under the edge.  When the plate was lifted the evidence would remain…but not until I had already been excused from the table. I would then pretend to not hear the calling of my mother to come finish my supper.  Even in the event that it was a supper that I enjoyed…the speed of which I ate would often result with food flying around my face, much like a wood chipper devouring an oak branch. 

My messes were not just localized to the dinner table…they could also be found in my bedroom…and in fact anywhere I went I would leave a trail of evidence behind.  Socks, pants, stolen cookie crumbs, toys, candy wrappers, etc. could be found leading to my whereabouts like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs before the birds ate them up.  In this case I didn’t stumble upon the “old lady” as much as she followed me via my trail.

When I was 23 years old, I had been hired as the student ministries pastor at Alliance Church in Little Falls.  I was single and living in a basement apartment. I was engaged to be married…but not until June of the following year. 

During, my first Christmas in that apartment I set up a lowly Christmas tree.  It was a tree that I had cut myself for free from a local farmer…he had lots of trees in his field and so I am sure he didn’t mind.  The tree was decorated with one strand of lights…one strip of garland…one strip of red beads…and 12 ornaments…that was all I could afford. It was one pathetic…empty…ugly…messy looking tree…but it went with the d├ęcor.

If anyone would have walked into my apartment during that Christmas season, they would have found dirty clothes scattered all around the floors…not just the bedroom…dirty…socks…shirts…pants…unmentionables…a half eaten pizza on the coffee table…peanut shells all over the table and carpet…empty bottles of Mountain Dew.

It was every bit of the stereo typical bachelor pad…a messy bachelor at that. I grew up in a small town…12 miles out of town…in a small town in fact. Locking your doors seemed unnecessary…especially in a basement apartment…where you have your landlord living upstairs to keep a watch over things.

One evening during this Christmas season…my landlord was apparently gone…or had his eyes closed or fixated on a Minnesota Viking game. I returned home to find my apartment had been broken into…I suppose broken into is an overstatement, considering the lack of the door being locked. As soon as I stepped in, I knew something was off…someone had been in here.

Someone had stolen my pizza…someone had stolen my empty pop bottles…someone had stolen my unmentionables!!! Someone had stolen my peanut shells…(which incidentally make for a great sweeping compound…just not on carpet). Not only had these things been stolen…but they also stole the dust from my floor…the cobwebs from my corners…and actually added Christmas lights and ornaments to my incredibly lame Christmas tree.

It was then that I found the note…a handmade Christmas card…“Merry Christmas”…and then listed the names of the perpetrators…about a half a dozen of my students.

I was surprised by my reaction to this event. It would seem reasonable to think…“Wow!...How nice! They cleaned up the apartment…they beautified the tree…and the rest of the place!”

But that is not how I felt…I actually felt…mortified! Here, within the confines of my walls, were the secrets of how I actually lived…the messy life that I didn’t really want anyone to see. If anyone were to come over…I would hide my mess…the real me…before they could enter. These students however, entered into my mess…my real mess…and they changed it…from the inside…without me asking.

When Christ came…on that first Christmas night…the world was much like my apartment. It was a disaster.  There was pain…poverty…disease…persecution…oppression…corruption…and darkness. 

When the world was at its DARKEST…God gave to us…a light.

When Mary and Joseph first arrived at the innkeeper’s door, looking for a place to stay…the innkeeper had nothing to offer…but he gave him the barn…a cave really…the floor didn’t have pizza crumbs, pop bottles, peanut shells or unmentionables. It did have…dirt, animals, animal excrement, perhaps some hay and a feed trough.

Jesus Christ…came…into a messy place…a messy world…for us.

“WHILE WE WERE STILL MESSY”

Sinners.

He did not wait for us to get cleaned up for him…He stepped into our mess…at just the right time.
This Christmas, I am willing to bet that you will find a moment…when you look around…and see all of the empty boxes…the torn wrapping laying around…dirty dishes in the sink…stains on the table cloth…or floor.

May it cause you to pause…and understand that Christ desires to enter into your mess…and take care of it. My hope for you is that you will come to a place where you will invite him into your messy life. He says that he will do it, if we will just ask.

Will you ask?

We cannot clean the mess on our own.

If you are tired of trying to clean up your own messes unsuccessfully…may you choose Jesus this Christmas.

AND…may you always keep your apartment doors locked.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 22, 2018


Ditch


As a senior in High School I was still driving the 1974 Nova, held together by some pop rivets, duct tape and chicken wire.  I had recently fixed the exhaust…at least partially…replaced the headlight and jury-rigged the tail light.

On one cold January morning, I was running late for school and didn’t have time to allow my “exploding star” to warm up.  I hopped in…(passenger side of course)…slid across and began pumping the gas…fifty times ought to do it.  I popped the hood and jumped the starter with the pliers that I kept on my dash.  The car fired but did not start. 

So again, I pumped the gas…75 times… reached under the hood…jumped the starter with one hand and manually controlling the throttle on the carburetor with the other.  The engine fired…and kept running…as long as I continued to manually give it gas with the throttle armature.  I hurried back into the car to leave, but as soon as I let go of the throttle…the car died. 

One more time…I pumped the gas…this time…100 TIMES! Once again, I jumped the starter with one hand and controlled the throttle with the other. I revved the engine a few times…and then accelerated the engine as high as I dared…dove back through the passenger side door and pressed the accelerator with my hand before it died.  It worked.  But now I was really running late.

I quickly inverted myself so that my foot could control the pedal and my hands could be on the steering wheel…Safety First!  I put the Nova in drive and took off down the driveway with the windshield entirely covered in frost.  I reached the end of our long driveway…cracked my driver’s side window down and looked for oncoming traffic…seeing none I took a right. I had driven these roads hundreds of times and I knew every bump…every turn…every curve like the back of my head.  I knew I needed to make another right in about 800ft.  I could just make out the shape of the sign…”County Rd. 6”…as I passed by…I turned on my signal light and timed my turn…and drove right into the ditch.  But at least I signaled my turn…Safety First!

I sat there and waited.  I knew that my dad had to take the same way to work shortly and would certainly see me when he came by, (age before cell phones).  As I waited, a large snowplow came by and asked if I needed him to pull me out.  “No, my dad has a four wheel drive pick-up…he should be along anytime here.”  The driver shrugged his shoulders…gave a slightly shake of his head and an odd look in my direction and drove off.  Hind sight:  That snowplow could have pulled me out of that ditch, like cracking a nut with a sledgehammer. 

My dad did in fact come by…and pulled me out…more like “cracking a nut against your forehead.”  Now that I think about it…it might have made more sense to leave that car in the ditch. 

I was riding my bike last summer and I came across an old fat television set that someone had “ditched.”  I have seen tires ditched in the Mississippi, washing machines ditched in the woods, and bags of garbage ditched on the roadside.  Sadly I have even encountered children in the Dominican Republic, ditched on the curbside, unwanted by their parents. I have met both husbands and wives who have been ditched by their partners.  I have met mothers whose own children have ditched them.  In our world, if we don’t like what a person says…or agree with what they do or have done…we ditch them. 

That’s the way the culture is.  It makes sense in our world.  On the contrary what doesn’t make sense…what is jaw dropping…what is awe striking…is what Paul says in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another.”  That does not make sense to a world bent on personal justice and revenge.  Paul’s literal translation for “bear with each other,” is “put up with each other.”  Don’t just ditch someone because they are different.  Don’t just ditch someone because you don’t agree with each other.  Rather, stay together, and find a way to forgive on another.  This is what we need in our churches.  This is what we need in our marriages.  This is what we need in our country and our culture.

The ditching needs to be finished, for our external environment…and our internal one.

Saturday, December 15, 2018


The Lie


I remember one Christmas Eve as a child…when I was nigh unto 6 or so.  We, my family and I, had spent the evening at my Grandmother’s house.  I had eaten cookies and goodies…likely too many…yet, I asked for more, only to be told, “No.”  However, I snuck them anyway.  Even by the age of 5 I had learned to palm cookies pretty well.  I could slink past the cookie tray… “accidentally” kick the cat…the cat would shriek and bolt across the floor…drawing everyone’s attention, while I took my chocolaty prize to my grandmother’s basement and eat my plunder alone in the dark…sounds like my High School dating years.  It became a problem when I returned from the dark basement, only to be asked, “What is that brown stuff on your face?”
“I don’t know…must be spider guts.”
When my family returned home that night…my father told me a lie.  He asked me if my room was clean, which I of course replied, “Yes!”
“Should I go check?” He asked.
I once again gave the obvious answer, “No!...Maybe I should go make sure my little brother didn’t mess it up after I cleaned it!”
Then the lie came…“If you don’t clean your room, Santa won’t come!”
Really!?...Santa!?...Really!?
I am already five years old at the time…as if I don’t know by now…
I didn’t…
Great Scott!
I bolted upstairs and cleaned my room as fast and as thoroughly as you could ever imagine.  I don’t know at what age exactly that I came to know the truth and I realized that my dad was a liar.  But now at the age of 42 I am certain…the truth is…spoiler alert…Santa would have come whether my room was clean or not!
Santa did come…he ate the cookies…he drank the milk…he filled the stockings…and then he left...
Why are we so hospitable to someone who is so elusive? Hospitality is in its very nature designed for connection…for relationship.  How does Santa build relationship with anyone?  True relationship can’t be build with; “eating and running”…“dinning and dashing”…“chowing and chimneying”…“slurping and sleighing”?...you get the idea.
In 1 Peter 4:9, the apostle Peter encourages us to take the, “love for one another”, that we read last week…and to use it to show “hospitality to one another.”  The very word for hospitality in the Greek is rooted in love and could potentially be translated into “love strangers with a loving generosity.”  What I find most interesting about this idea of hospitality…is that its focus always seems to be on someone else…and not ourselves.  I take what the Lord has given to me…and I bless others with it.  I don’t draw attention to myself…it is not about “showing off” what I have…or making myself “look” a certain way to other people.  It is about connecting…loving…being sacrificially generous.
Jesus reflected this with his earthly life better than anyone I know. Jesus chose to love and practice hospitality with those who were despised and hated…without a concern as to how it looked to others.
It raises some interesting questions.  Would Jesus offer me hospitality? How should I offer him hospitality? Who is worthy to receive hospitality?

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!