Saturday, December 7, 2019


Replace


We arrived early, while there was still plenty of daylight left.  I opened the back of the silver minivan and removed the radio flyer wagon, at which time, three of my four children removed their fold-able camping chairs…placed them in the wagon…and then climbed into the wagon.  My wife picked up the youngest child and carried her while I strapped two camping chairs to my back and shoulders and pulled the loaded radio flyer up the hill.  The next three blocks must have been torture for my poor children…because all I heard were their complaints about the bumps…the crowdedness…how slow I was going and each other’s bad breath. 

“Do you want to walk and pull this wagon up this hill?”

“No…but can you go faster?  I am tired of riding…”

Ok…that didn’t seem to quite sink in.  We arrived at the top of the grassy knoll…no not that grassy knoll…and set up our chairs.  We all sat down and waited.  As the sky grew darker and darker, my eager children kept begging for the event to start.

“It will start when it’s dark.”

“Is it dark yet?.”

“Does it look dark?”

“Yes.”

“No, it is not dark yet…at least…not dark enough.”

“How about now?”

“Soon.”

“Now?”

“Yes…it should start soon.”

BOOOOOM!!!!

The sky lit up and the sound resonated with the echoing resonating noise.  My two youngest children both began to cry…”I’m scared.”

“Scared!?  This is what we came for…this is why we are here!”

“I don’t like it…can we go home?”

“NO!!! Absolutely not!”

The fireworks continued for the next 20 minutes or more, ending in a ruckus of chaotic sparks, lights and bangs.

When the fireworks finished, we made our way back to the silver minivan…loaded up the chairs and the wagon…and started the engine.

“Hmmm…that’s curious…the dash lights aren’t working.”

“Just go! The headlights are on…we can go!...Go go go! Before we get stuck in all of this July 4th traffic!”

“Ok! Ok! We are going.”

We swiftly made our way out of the city and pointed ourselves south onto the highway.
I used the dome light to see the speedometer and then set the cruise, and on we went.
Everyone who was passing us…was honking and curiously seemed angry.  Perhaps they were the ones sitting behind our squirly crying children during the fireworks.  People flashed their lights at us on their way by. Some stuck their faces out their windows like a young beagle to shout things at us as puttered along.  After about 25 miles I decided that I had better check it out.  I pulled the vehicle to the side of the road and walked to the back and saw that there were absolutely no lights working on the rear of the vehicle.  “Oh!” I thought, “That is why the dash lights weren’t working…that makes sense.”

Apparently, somewhere along the journey a fuse had been blown and now we had no lights to reveal the backside of our vehicle or dash lights to tell us how fast we were going.  There is only one way to repair this issue…replace the fuse.  The problem was, that I was out on the highway and I did not have any extra fuses.  We did the only thing any sensible American male with a van load of kids could do…we drove on.

When a fuse breaks, whether it is in your home or in your vehicle, there is always only one solution.  The fuse must be replaced.  Every year as Christmas approaches I remember an amazing story of replacement that never gets old for me.  In fact, it continues to resonate stronger and stronger, it seems, every year.  It is more than a Christmas story, it is a Gospel story. You might think that I am referring to the story of the birth of Christ…which is only partially accurate.  The story that I remember is the story of Abraham and Isaac…where a picture is painted of a coming sacrifice…a story that promises a “replacement.” As Abraham is about to sacrifice his son Isaac…God says “stop!” and then provides a replacement.  God provides a ram instead of his son.  Then we come to the Christmas story…where God provides His Son…as a replacement for us.  Like a blown fuse that has left us in the dark…unless something is replaced…we are out of luck.  When I think of how Jesus to our place…I am out of words.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Opponent


He and I sat opposite each other…staring one another down.  I had faced larger opponents, but perhaps none as mentally strong as this one. I could tell I was wearing him down. Yet, he was resilient, he fought on.  He had already had several near breakdowns, but ultimately, my opponent held resolute.  His face was red with exertion…and I am certain that the veins in my neck were enlarged and protruding above my crew collared shirt. 

I have spent my entire life facing difficult opponents, whether on the wrestling mat from age 5, or a difficult college professor, or the 3 year boy who opposed me that day.  It had started simple enough…a question…”Do you want your pizza cut into triangles or squares.”

I realize that some questions can overwhelm indecisive people like myself…but this young boy had already developed strong opinions.  For example, he hated potatoes, uncomfortable shirts and loose athletic shoes.  He would send his potatoes flying…his uncomfortable shirts would be thrown off…and he would pull the laces of his shoes up to his knees in efforts to keep them snug around his feet. 

The eternal struggle of triangles or squares was the most difficult decision that this 3 year old had yet faced.  He had said, “Squares.”  Thus, I cut the pizza into squares.  Once the slicing was finished, the toe jam extracting scream let loose and he cried out, “No! I wanted it cut into triangles!”

“You said squares!”

“Ahhh!...Triangles!”

“Tough! You said squares…you got squares…now eat it!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

Sweat began to collect on my brow as I mentally wrestled with the child.  He was a tough one…a formidable foe.  We found ourselves now at a standoff, neither of us wanting to give in.

“Are you feeling hungry?”

“Yes.”

“Then eat your pizza.”

“No!”

“You are not getting anything else to eat.”

“I don’t want it!”

“Then you are going to be hungry.”

“I want to eat!”

“Then eat”

The battle may have lasted 20 minutes or more…before…as I pretended to be unaware…he snuck a bite…and then another…and another.  “There, finally” I sighed silently to myself.

“Now that you have eaten your pizza…would you like a cookie?”

“Yes!”

“Circle…or square?”

We face opposition all throughout our lives.  Some of these opposing moments are mere superficial issues with food or the foolish man driving slowly in the fast lane on the highway.  Yet, there are times in our lives when we will face opposition that is powerful…and how we respond to these oppositions are critical.  When it comes to spiritual matters and the church…we can be guaranteed that there WILL be opposition.  The early New Testament church encountered opposition regularly.  We find an event recorded  in  Acts chapter 4, Peter and John had just healed a crippled beggar at the Temple in the name of Jesus.  Though the deed that they had done was very kind and beneficial…they are arrested and told…”You are not allowed to preach the name any more…that name of Jesus…”

When faced with the opposition…Peter and John must make a decision.  What do they do?  Obey God or obey man? In the face of opposition…they do the only thing that they can do…they obey God…yet, they do it with such grace.

May we come to see that as followers of Christ we WILL face opposition…and may we choose to do that which is difficult and obey God…with grace.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Alarm


It is the second morning of the 2019 deer hunting season.  I am laying awake in bed.  I have been awake for several minutes now.  I don't really know how long.  There are no lights on.  It is still dark....it is obvious that no one else is awake in the cabin either.  I don’t want to look at the clock because 4:30 a.m. always comes too quickly and if I look at the clock and it is close to 4:30 I can kiss any further sleep goodbye.  So I lay there awake, wondering what time it is.  I had already been up once during the night to use the little boys room.  At that point it was only 3:30, giving me one more FULL hour to sleep.  I have already dozed off at least once since then.  As I lie awake, I am a little bit surprised that my alarm has not gone off yet.

Finally, I concede to the reality that I need to check the time.  I lean over and press the button on my iphone.  The display reads, “Alarm” “5:43 a.m.” “snooze?” It takes me a moment for the reality to sink in.  Alarm?  5:43?  Hmmm…I didn’t set the alarm for 5:43…I set it for 4:30…why would it say...???  “Oh great Scott!...the alarm has been going off for an hour and 13 minutes!  It is way beyond time to wake up!"

Apparently…I had muted my phone while in the woods the previous day so as not to scare away any deer while in the woods.  It appears that I have not only succeeded in avoiding the scaring away of any deer, but of any humans as well.

This isn’t the first time that we have overslept for a deer hunt.  I remember one such morning in college, my Dad and I along with one of my friends from college, got up early, (4:30 a.m.) drove to the woods to arrive well before dawn, while it was still quite dark.  My dad turned off the truck engine…then all three of us leaned our heads back and fell asleep in the truck until 9:30 a.m. Weird how we didn’t see any deer that morning.

Every day we face the reality of wake up time.  For some of us it is very early.  For others it might be quite later…like after our Western Civilizations 101 college course.  (Note: sleeping could take place in or out of class in the previously given example).

However, beyond our physical wakefulness, there lies a deeper call to awaken.  I  believe that we are all being called to awaken to spiritual realities that we may otherwise be unaware of.  I believe that we are called to awaken to the call to salvation.  I believe we are being called to awaken to what God is doing around the world.

It is time for God’s people…each one of us to wake up to the Kingdom Realities, that God is placing in front of us.  It is time to stop laying in bed, ignoring the silent alarm and to arise and embrace the Kingdom of the Lord.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Defrost



My wife says we need new appliances. I told her, “We just got new appliances.”

She replied, “The refrigerator is 17 years old.”

“See what I mean?” I said. “Do you remember how you felt at seventeen, so young and vibrant? It is so much different than being 40. Keep in mind…you still look seventeen.  In fact, you look 13…no wait…is that too young?  You don’t look a day over…whatever age you want to be considered to be.”

“Have you looked at the ‘young and vibrant’ refrigerator?” she asked. “The freezer looks like the desolate tundra of Hoth.” (See Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back for reference).

Broken things…including appliances are one of my many nemeses. It seems that repairs are a never ending reality in the Olson home.  Recently, I have had to repair two drive axles on the vehicle, trailer lights, more trailer lights, broken window, two flat tires, garage door and the furnace. 

When it came to the furnace…I had entered a region beyond my familiarity.  Just because the furnace was beyond my regions of expertise…I was not about to back down.  However, I was going to be smart about it.  I was going to wait until my wife was gone. I usually attack jobs like this when my wife is not home.  If she were home, she would insist on challenging my knowledge with questions like, “Do you know what you are doing?” Which I reply, “What’s to know…what could go wrong?”

“Are you sure you shouldn’t just call someone?” she asks.

“They would just get in the way.”

I am pleased to say that I was able to go where no man…or woman…living in my household had previously gone…and I successfully repaired the furnace!

“Honey, I repaired the furnace!”

“Oh great!...How about the freezer?”

“Ugh”

This is a time when I must recruit help.  I have come to realize that I will never be able to do all of these jobs on my own.  I must humble myself and “make the call.” 

“ISAAC, my son, it is time for you to learn to “go beyond” your current skill set and fix the freezer!”

“I don’t know how!”

“Exactly…today is the day you go beyond and learn!”

The Scriptures are filled with people going beyond their own capacities and abilities to do things that are way beyond themselves…people choosing to let God take them beyond what they can do…and people choosing to stay…and not go beyond.  The Gospel of Luke, reveals both.  First, you find a rich young ruler in chapter 18 who is challenged to “go beyond,” yet he stays.  Shortly thereafter, in chapter 19, we find another rich man, Zacchaeus, who does “go beyond,” and chooses to do that which the first rich man wouldn’t.

May we come to see that we are all called to go beyond.  We are called to go beyond our comforts.  We are called to go beyond our abilities.  We are called to go beyond what we currently know.  We are called to be transformed…and to spread the life transforming Gospel to all…even regions beyond.

“Hey Isaac…How is it going in there?  This is good for you…it helps you go beyond.  When you are done, maybe you can thaw yourself out and then fix the light switch.”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Saber Saw



Just out of High School, I got a job with a local construction company, Mark Stone Construction.  My first day on the job was the first Monday after graduation.  As a senior in High School, I had spent much of my class time in the woodshop, taking such classes as Small Building Construction, Advanced Woods, Independent Woodworking, even taking an Applied Sociology in Woodworking.  It was through this vast experience that my woodworking teacher recommended me to my soon to be new boss…Mark Stone. 

As I pulled up to the job site, I noticed the big sign posted in front of the skeletal framing of a very large unfinished home.  The four foot by eight foot sign read in big red letters on a white background Mark Stone Construction.  There were trucks parked around the site. Each truck, again, stated the name, Mark Stone Construction.  There was a very large lock box that held a variety of tools that could be locked up and left on site that read, Mark Stone Construction.  I was pretty sure, I had found the right place.

I got out of my car and looked around for my new boss.  When I found him he asked, “Where are your tools?”

“Tools?” I thought…“I am 18 years old…I can’t afford tools.” But rather than confess my current state of financial unrest I said…“I left them at home.”

“Ha ha…showing up to your first day without tools…ha ha!...Well, you will have to borrow some from the truck…where is your tool belt?”

“Ummm….I left it in my locker at school.” This was true…don’t ask why…but it was.

“Ha ha!...no tools!…no belt!…Ha ha!...Well you better go and get it…you can take one of the trucks.  While you are out I want you to pick up a router from the shop and some donuts from the Super Value.”

“Yes sir!”

I ran and hopped into the truck and quickly sped off.  I had no idea that a saber saw was sitting on top of the side mounted tool cabinet of the truck.  I bounced along the road, heading to the high school to pick up my tool belt.  From there, I went to the shop and picked up the router, and then on to get the donuts.  As I was backing out of the parking space, I bumped into the bumper of a car behind me….this was not going well…the owner of the other vehicle saw no damage and bid me good day.  Yet, as I was pulling away I hear the man yell at me…“Hey wait you have a saber…”  I never heard the rest of his sentence as I took off again trying to make up for the embarrassment of lost time. Bedsides…I knew full well I didn’t have a sword of any kind in my possession.

I arrived back to the worksite to a crew of men, who stood in a group, awaiting my arrival. I hopped out of the vehicle ready to receive their praise for bringing the donuts…and maybe a financial reimbursement for my expenses…which I never received.  However, instead of cheers for bismarks and fritters…I hear them utter words like…“Unbelievable”…“Wow!”…”I can’t believe it is still there!”

The boss walked up to me.  I expected him to relieve me of the box of pastries…but instead he walked to the truck…pulled the saber saw from the top tool cabinet and said…“When you leave in a company truck…you will take the time to close up the truck…and remove any tools that may be sitting in precarious positions of potential destruction.  Whose name is on the side of that truck?”

“Your name, sir.”

“That is right…it is my name.  When you drive my trucks you represent me.  If a tool falls from one of my trucks it reflects on me.  If a tool falls from the truck and damages another vehicle, (I did not at this time bring up the bumper bump incident), it is my name that is affected. Whose name do you see on that sign in front of this house?”

“Yours, sir.”

“The work that we do…reflects on my name…Do you understand?”

“Yes sir…the donuts cost $7.32”

“Thank you…let’s take a break and eat.”

“But…what about the…never mind...”

In Acts chapter 3, we find a powerful story, where Peter and John are walking into the temple courts and come upon a crippled man who is begging the gate.  Peter, looks down at the man sitting there and says, “I don’t have any money,” (my 18 year old self could relate), “but what I do have, I will give you…be healed in the Name of Jesus…get up and walk.” Immediately the man is healed!

Sometimes we have taken this phase, “in the Name of Jesus,” as some kind of magic spell that empowers us to do miraculous things just by saying the phrase.  I think we miss the beauty of this phrase if our understanding stops there.  Certainly there is power in the Name of Jesus, but the power is NEVER ours…it is ALWAYS His.  When Peter heals this beggar, he is giving him a gift.  I think if there was a label on that gift it would read…To: Crippled Beggar Man.  From: Jesus. 

That is the Name.  The gift was given…in Jesus’ Name.  Peter was a mere messenger…but the gift…was a gift that Jesus gave…through his messenger.

May we come to understand that there is power in the Name of Jesus…and we are invited to represent the Name of Christ in all we do.

Saturday, October 19, 2019


Community


As a 4th grade boy I made my way up the sidewalk toward the elementary school doors.  Overall I didn’t mind school, despite the fact that I was not the coolest kid in school.  I was the second coolest. The ranking system was rudimentary…and created by myself.  My ranking system for coolness included a mathematical equation of, bus # + height in inches divided by the number of missing teeth.  In my case that put me at a score of 131, (Bus #76 plus 55 inches…and one missing tooth). The coolest kid at the time was Mike…with a bus number of 105 and a height of 62 inches in 4th grade was unheard of! Whenever his “cool” score suffered a blow…like losing a tooth…he would simply knock out other people’s teeth…just to ensure that he would retain his high score.
I never told anyone my scoring system…so rather than them knowing I was the second coolest kid…I was seen as an “easy target.” My ears were big and easy targets for flicking…even from the most inaccurate of flickers. My legs were long…again easy targets for trippers.  They were such easy targets that I would in fact sometimes trip over my own two feet without the help of others…though I would usually blame the painted lines on the sidewalks.

On this given day…I was attacked from behind…by the coolest kid…Mike.  I didn’t even see it coming. One moment I held my books…piled high in my hands…the next moment…they had been struck and scattered across the sidewalk.  My homework papers were blowing all over the school grounds…some into the sewers…some onto the roof…I am pretty sure a dog picked up my math worksheet and carried it home to eat it.

Don’t feel sorry for me.  I know bullying is wrong…and that sympathies can grow in difficult times like this.  But at this moment one of the most special things that could ever happen to a 4th grade boy occurred. Crystal…the prettiest girl in 4th grade, stopped and helped me pick up my books and home work.  My prettiest girl rankings are not so complicated.  The prettiest girl is usually the one who looks at me.  At this moment…it was Crystal.  I am pretty sure she even chased down the dog and wrestled the papers out of its mouth.

There are times in our lives when we can feel utterly alone.  Being bullied can be one of them, and so can losing a friend.  We can feel lonely when a loved one passes.  In fact, there are many reasons that we may feel and struggle with loneliness.  It is a challenging part of life.  It is no wonder then…that God has created the church and called us into community with him and with one another.

Acts 2:42-47, gives us an amazing picture of the Church.  Every day the church celebrated together, they worshiped together, they ate together, the devoted themselves to the disciples teaching, they shared what they had with each other...they had true, transparent, authentic, community together.  The Church came together regularly to Worship, Connect and Serve.

I will tell you this…that day on the sidewalk…I celebrated the presence of the prettiest girl in school who had just helped carry my burdens…and in the midst of that…I think our hands touched.  I count that has hand holding! This may not have been true community...but I believe that true community exists...and it is driven by the Holy Spirit.

My hope is that you can find true community…I believe that it is His Church that He has chosen as the vessel to bring about His True Community.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Why?



“Hannah get your coat on, we need to go shopping.”

“Why?” asks the 3 year old version of our eldest daughter.

“Because it is cold outside.”

“Why?”

“Because, it is -20°F”

“Why?”

“Because God, has a sense of humor.”

“Why?”

“Because he created your father.”

“Why?”

“That is a good question...now get let’s go shopping.”

“Why?”

“Because we need to get food.”

“Why?”

“Because your dad wants to eat cookies…and we don’t have any cookies.”

“Why?”

“Because your dad ate all of the cookies.”

“Why?”

“Another good question…I guess because he has no off button.”

“Why?”

“Again…God has a sense of humor.”

My children…like all children, I suppose…are naturally curious. I am not always sure if it is their desire to learn that makes them ask why, or if it is just a habit that they form to express God’s sense of humor to their parents, or perhaps to test the patience of their parents.

In many ways, I continue to ask the question, “Why?”…and in doing so, I drive my wife and perhaps my parents crazy.  It wasn’t long ago I was asking my wife about music.  She is a gifted musician…and I am a gifted questioner.  I remember sitting next to her on the piano bench as she was playing, “Anne’s Theme,” I asked her…”Why do they use these notes?”

“Because that is what is written.”

“But why did they choose those notes?”

“Because that is how the song goes.”

“But why that way?”

“What?...What do you mean? What kind of question is that?”

“I mean each note…why?  Why do certain notes go ok together…and other notes don’t?”

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“Here I will show you...” I began to play the most ear blistering combination of keys any man has ever laid his fingers to…“There…like that…why did that sound so bad?”

“Because you are a terrible piano player.”…those were not her exact words…but her expression and tears running down her cheeks said it all.

I continue to wonder what it is that makes certain notes sound good with others…why specific chords fit with other chords…etc.

I am left to wonder…to me it may always be a great mystery.

In Acts 2, we find an incredible event take place. We read of the astounding power of God manifested by a violent wind and fire that proclaimed the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  People all over were asking questions…”What just happened?” “What is going on?” “Why am I encountering these people speaking in all of these different language?.” “What does this all mean?”

This is the moment when Peter stood up and encouraged all those who were present…to trust in the forgiveness of sins that Jesus has made available.  This is the beginning of the established Church.  Why did God choose the church to be his vessel of the Gospel? I guess I don’t know why…but he did…and I get to be a part of it…and so do you...if we will choose to follow Him.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

I Do Job Mom?



“I do job Mom?”

These were the words of our 4 year old boy…second born…only boy…all boy.  It is a sweet statement. Yet, if you knew him at the time, you would probably agree with my follow up thought, “Yeah, you do job! It is about time you start fixing some of the things that you break around here!”

Of course I have jobs for him to do.  The vacuum cleaner he threw down the stairs is still broken. He could repair the dime sized hole that he cut into the basement linoleum.  He could clean the stained carpet. The kitchen drawer that he ripped apart is still in pieces. There is a dent in the drywall that fits the shape and dimensions of a 4 year old boy’s head…he could fix that. 

“Yeah…I will tell you what you can d….” I am interrupted with the sweet sound of my wife’s voice…”Why sure you can do job, you sweet little boy!...Why…you can help mommy with the laundry.”

“What!? The Laundry?...What about the leaking toilet…can’t he fix that?”

That season in our lives did not last as long as we would have liked.  Now 10 years later, “I do job Mom,” has turned into, “Ugh! I have to do everything around here!”

“Isaac…it is your turn to walk the dog.”

“Ugh!”

“Isaac…I need you to take out the garbage.”

“Why is that my job?”

“Isaac…can you take out the recycling?”

“I guess…but only if I can fill up my hands super full and drop things on the way to the door and then still make you get up and come open the door for me…that way it feels like I don’t have do to it on my own.”

I remember begging my own mother to let me “help” cut the grass.  She would tuck me in front of her and let me trip over her feet as she pushed the mower back and forth.  I did the same with my kids as well.

I still have fond memories of those early years of fatherhood, when I would carry a big heavy box out to the garage…and Isaac wanted to help.  I would allow him to take one corner…and carry a total of zero pounds…in fact, he would often make the job more difficult by either tripping over my feet or even hanging from the said box. 

That is the picture I have when it comes to ministry.  Me hanging from a box…trying to “help” God do…what only He can do.  Acts chapter 1 and 2 begin to show this truth.  God’s power…and only His power being manifested.

Why did my mom let me “help” cut the grass? Why did I let the kids “help” me cut the grass? Why did I let Isaac “help” me carry the box? Why did Sarah let a 4 year old “help” fold the laundry?  It is love.  Does God really “need” my “help”?  I don’t think so.  He doesn’t “need” me…but he “wants” me.  He loves me.  He “wants” you…because he loves you.  That is the ministry of the Gospel…that is the power of the Gospel….that is the power of the Holy Spirit.  All we can do…is follow Him…as He does.

Saturday, September 28, 2019


Bus #76



Nearly every day of my schooling years I rode the bus to school…bus #76…at least until my older brother could drive…then I rode with him…until he put the car in the ditch…and then I rode the bus again…despite the dangers of the bus…it was still safer.

Riding the bus to school is an adventure in the cultural woes of prepubescent children.  Comparative to Daniel in the Lions…I think King Darius may have given a harsher punishment by banishing Daniel to bus #76. 

As I would step onto the “Cruel Bus” I would pray…please let there be a seat away from Glen…any seat away from Glen. Yet, it seemed to always be my bane…the only seats available, were the seats in front of…behind…and next to…Glen.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one who avoided seats in close proximity to the Cruel Bus Bully. 

My ears have never recovered from the constant flicking fingers of Glen.  In fact, I believe that my ears are still misshaped because of the incessant tweaking.

I am still missing my blue stocking cap, that was snatched from my head and thrown out the bus window on Minnesota County Rd. 6.  Keep your eyes open would you?

I attribute my 43 year old back problems to the kid kicking my seat for the 45 minutes bus ride to school.

My tongue is still scarred from the trapper keeper that was slammed in my face.

I couldn’t help but wonder…if the School Bus was indeed…the “Gates of Hell” as Jesus talked about in Matthew 16?

As I have studied that passage, I have become enamored with the richness of the text.  It is an astounding passage.  Jesus stands at the most sinful place in all of Palestine…it is bus #76 of Palestine! It is at this moment that he tells his Disciples…that he is going to build his Church…and bus #76, nor the “Gates of Hell” will be able to stand against it! (*so as to not be accused of heresy…Jesus did not actually say “bus #76”…but he might have…if he had ever ridden bus #76).

In the book of Acts…we see this promise of the coming church come to fruition! This is the tool that Jesus has designed for the world…for all mankind.  It is the Church!  He has established it!...and He will empower it!

Saturday, September 14, 2019


Witness


I went to the zoo this morning with my wife and youngest daughter.  We were served a free breakfast, and then we spent the rest of the morning watching each of the animals receive their breakfast.  The final stop on our tour of dining mammals were the bison…where my daughter was slated to hand feed the giant animals.  These creatures are indeed massive.  Some will grow to weigh more than 2000 lbs. 

I have a degree of familiarity with these great beasts.  Not only because I hunted them while traveling the Oregon Trail on the school’s Apple IIe…but also because, I grew up living next to a bison farm.  My brothers and I would ride our bikes continually up and down the dirt road adjacent to the fence that held the herd.  We had no fear of them whatsoever…as long as they were on the opposite side of the field grazing…no where nears us.  However, there were times when we would come across one of these enormous animals stationed right next to the fence.  We would skid our bikes to a quick stop and try to “read” the animal…will he walk away…or will he break through the fence and chase us down to kill us like an angry mother chasing a housefly with the swatter.  Often times, however, these bison would stand there and stare at us…and we would stare back…with our hearts fearfully pounding in our chests.  We wanted to continue on…but more times than not the bison would win…(much like the NDSU football team)…and we would turn and ride with a vengeance back to the safety of our home. 

I have many fearful memories of these massive creatures.  One morning, we woke up to one lone bison grazing in our front yard.  My dad was already gone to work and my mother wouldn’t let us leave the house…not that we needed much convincing…until after the neighboring farmer responded to her panicky phone call and collected his animal off of our front porch.

Perhaps the most memorable bison moment of my childhood was while riding to school with my mother.  We had just crested a hill and were nearing the valley below, when around a wooded corner came a massive…HERD…of bison!  All of them! Running!  As they came around the corner, they turned and ran directly toward us.  They filled the entire road way.  There was nowhere to go.  My mother hit the brakes and came to a complete stop…screaming! “AAAAHHHH” Thinking very quickly, my mother did the only thing that she could think to do…she locked the doors.  That should keep the bison from opening the car doors…

The herd split in front of us and ran around the vehicle.  It was as if we were suddenly sent back in time 100 years into the prairies of North Dakota in a covered wagon…minus the wagon…and the prairie.

After the herd had passed, my mother was still screaming, “Aaaaaahhhh!!”  Her pale white face matched the knuckles gripping the steering wheel. 

“Wow! I didn’t see that coming!”

It is perhaps one of the more incredible and unexpected events that I have ever personally witnessed.  As I arrived at school, this event was all I could talk about.  I still enjoy sharing the story. 
When we encounter something incredible…we can’t help but share the story.  I believe that Jesus wants us to encounter him in such a way…that we can’t help but be his witnesses.  In fact, Luke tells us in the 24th chapter of his Gospel account, about how Jesus told his disciples directly…they are to be his “witnesses.”  We find it again in Acts 1:8…”we are to be his witnesses.” 

Simply put…we are to share about our experiences with Christ.  That is what the church is all about…sharing our stories about Jesus with others.

May you find yourself in the story that Jesus has placed you in…and then be his witnesses…tell the amazing stories of his grace…and maybe a bison or two.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

I Had No Idea


My family and I enjoy watching American Ninja Warrior on television.  We sit and watch these remarkable athletes take to an obstacle course where they, fly through the air, run across balance obstacles and hang by their finger nails above pools of water.  Years ago, when we first began encountering the competition, I remember thinking… “You know…back in the day…maybe I could have done that.” 

Sometimes I envision myself on the course...running across the tiny steps leading to a bar hanging high above the water…I jump and grip the bar…only to have both of my arms leave my body and continue to hang from the bar while the rest of my armless torso falls into the water turning the crystal blue pool into a Kool-Aid stained whirlpool.

There is no way that I can do what I watch these athletes do.  It is not just my age.  One season we watched an old man run the course, only to lose his dentures during an untimely dismount. It is also my physical capacities…or perhaps the diminishing dexterity.

Time after time we watch new…rookie…athlete take to the course, only to report… “That is tougher than it looks…I had no idea.”

It reminds me of parenting.  I have been a father for nearly 16 years now.  You would think that after 16 years of experience, I would be an expert.  However…full disclosure…I have no idea what I am doing. 

When a couple is expecting their first child it is highly recommended that the couple attends a “birthing class”  These classes aren’t designed so much as to teach you how to “have a baby,” but rather for instructors to laugh at the soon to be parents’ ignorance and naivety. 

“Now is there a father who would like to demonstrate how to change this baby doll’s diaper? You sir…why don’t you come up and show us.” The instructor snickers.

“Who me?”

“Sure…come on up…nothing to be shy about.”

“Ok”

“Ummm…sir…you do know which end of the baby that the diaper goes on right???”

“Yeah…why?”

“Because I am pretty sure that doll can no longer breathe…This might be the time to transition into what NOT to do to your new baby.”

The instructor then begins to teach on the dangers of shaking a child and sleep deprivation and the crying and the stress of parenting as she hands out stress balls.

I remember thinking, “How can anyone get so frustrated and sleep deprived that they could actually endanger their child.” 

I had no idea!  During the first week of my firstborn’s life, I learned that I have no coping skills for a screaming baby at 3:00 a.m.

However, I learned to pretend to sleep through the crying until my remarkable wife tended to the early morning needs of our daughter. I am sorry dear…I will never do that again…as long as we don’t have any more kids.

I remember the very day that my wife and I brought our first baby girl home.  I think I even said out loud, “I have no idea what I am doing…what do we do now?”

Parenting is much more difficult than I could have ever expressed before heading into it.  I had no idea.

Likewise, I believe that there is an absolute truth about God…that we also have “no idea about.”
God is Holy.  It sounds simple enough, but I think that if we were to ever encounter God’s perfect Holiness, we would be absolutely destroyed.  Perhaps our faces would peel clean off of our skulls…or we would collapse into a puddle of plasma.  I think we have become accustomed to talking about God’s holiness…but I don’t think we truly understand his holiness. 

Take a moment and think of God.  Picture Him.  Envision Him on his massive throne.  Now…envision Him bigger...once you have that, consider…your picture of God is NOT big enough.  In fact, it can never be big enough.  As big as you think God is…he is bigger.  As perfect as you think God is…he is more perfect.  As loving as you think God is…he is more loving.  It goes on and on and on.
The prophet Isaiah briefly experienced a mere glance at God’s holiness (Isaiah 6:1-8) and couldn’t stand.  What about you?

Have you encountered the Holy God? Have you found yourself “ruined”? Have you, like Isaiah, experienced purification by His grace?

May you come to the end of yourself…and find a Holy God…giving unending grace.

Saturday, August 31, 2019


Imago Dei

Today I asked my wife, “What does it mean to be created in the image of God?”

She looked at me sweetly and said. “God is a God of order…thus when I am organized…I reflect his image…how would you feel about reflecting his image by putting away your laundry?” 

I wish I hadn’t asked.  

As I hung up my shirts I pondered the realities of how my wife and I are so different.  There are the obvious things between male and female…but there are less obvious things too like…she has hair with no beard and I have a beard with no hair.  My wife is a very orderly person and I tend to be more of a hurricane.  We can see the creative hand of God in our children too…how He has sown the seeds of our personalities into our offspring. 

Let’s consider my oldest daughter for example: 

My wife loves to study.  She worked hard in high school to maintain a very high GPA, and in college I could always find her sitting at a clean library table with her papers, folders and books spread out neatly in front of her.  “Let’s go for a walk so I can hold your hand and ask to kiss you…only to have you say yes to the hand holding and no to the kiss.” Sarah kept her honorable GPA, all throughout her college career…despite my attempts at distraction.   

When I studied…my work space and floor surrounding my text books would be strewn with papers and littered with empty Coca Cola cans.  Loose leaf paper would make excellent bed sheets and covers.

My oldest daughter is a combination of both.  She studies like her mom…but her space looks like mine.  When she was a little girl we called her “Hurricane Hannah”…because of the path of mess and destruction that she would leave behind her wherever she went.  When she played…she would play with EVERYTHING she could get her hands on!

My wife also mentioned that the “Image of God” means that He is a creator…and she mentioned that I like to create…so that is being the “Image of God,” too. 

I think what she said is true…but I have come to believe that it is secondary.  God is a God of order.  God is a creator.  God is a relational god.  He is a loving God.  All of these are true…and all have been placed in us as image bearers of God.  But…I have a problem.  What happens…when someone is unable to be organized…unable to create…unable to relate…unable to love?  Are we then, no longer, image bearers of God?

There must be something more!

I have come to believe…that when God says that we have been made in the image of God…we have been stamped with something special.  When we have been created as an image bearer of God…simply put…our very existence…the fact that we breathe…the fact that our hearts beat…that we ARE objects of His love…we carry His image. 

It is not about “what” we do.  It is not even so much “who we are.” It is about “what we have been created to BE.” An Image Bearer of God.

If you never left the sofa…If you binge watch Little House on the Prairie for the rest of your life…over and over again.  You are STILL a bearer of His image. 

The next time you struggle with your self-worth, consider…you are an image bearer of God.  The next time you are angry with the sales gal at McDonald's who cannot seem to understand what you are trying to order…consider…she is an image bearer. 

May you come to see that you bear the image of God.  What would the world be like…if we all understood and lived with the understanding that we are image bearers of God Almighty?

Saturday, August 24, 2019


The Box


My wife and I have been married for over 19 years.  After buying our first home in 2002, we invited my parents down for a meal.  We were looking forward to seeing them…and to have them see how we had settled into our new dwelling.  As my mother walked through the door she carried with her…a box..a large box…a large plastic bin really.  “Oh! Happy house warming!” my mother cried as she handed me the box.  “I brought you a little something from your childhood!...Now that you have a home of your own, I thought you would like some things to make it more like the home you grew up in!” she said with a sadistic smile.

This bin has been moved from place to place in our home for nearly 20 years.  Rarely do I ever open it, and even more rarely do I read the contents there in.  The bin is filled with some very specific and invaluable childhood treasures.  The box measures approximately 18 inches wide and 24 inches long and perhaps 16 inches deep and it is pretty much completely full of stacked pieces of thin cardboard.  Each piece of cardboard portrays the face of a well known celebrity…at least based upon the time that the photo was taken.  There are columns of numbers on the flip side of each card and in some cases, detailed paragraphs informing the reader of the great accomplishments of the pictured athlete.  They are of course…baseball and football cards. 

I remember my first sports card that ignited my passion for it all.  All of the third grade boys in Mrs. Olson’s class were gathered tightly into a huddle…flipping through football cards of all colors and vintages.  Trades were made…and oohs and ahhs were expressed.  I wanted desperately to be involved in the group…but the problem was…I didn’t have any football cards to trade.  “Hey!, I’ll trade you this chewed up pencil with no eraser for a card!”

“Ummm…No”

“How about my collection of earwax?”

“No”

“Bellybutton lint?”

“No way!”

“The cookie from my lunch…it’s chocolate chip and my mother made it especially for me, because she thinks I am sweet…like a cookie…and I have lots of speckles of dirt on my face like chocolate chips?”

“Sure!”

SWEET! My buddy Jeremy pulled, and old crumpled and creased copy of a 1980 John Riggins from the Washington Redskins card out of his backpack and handed it over.  It was awesome! His jersey number 44.  What were the odds…that number 44 just happened to be one of my top 50 favorite numbers between 1 and 50.

I still have that card…somewhere in that box.

I began begging my parents for football and baseball cards every time we went to the store.  Occasionally they would concede…other times, I would spend my well saved and sometimes earned money on a package or two of cards.  I chewed every piece of disgusting chewing gum, which was as hard as rocks, tough as Chuck Norris, dense as a mule and strong enough to pull every filling from each bicuspid.

I spent hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours pouring over these cards.  In the end, I probably ended up with 3 noteworthy cards…a Sammy Sosa rookie card, a Jerry Rice rookie card, and a Derrick Jeter rookie card. Yet, I still have a bin full of relatively worthless pieces of cardboard taking up space in our home. 

What is craziest…is that I still can’t seem to get rid of them…and I don’t really know why.  I hold on to them.  Perhaps it is because I know of how much time and money I had invested.  Perhaps, some small part of me hopes to be able to do something unique with them…but let’s be honest…I have 100 other priorities and will likely never get around to it.

I have been reflecting this week about how we tend to hold onto things that perhaps keep us away from being transformed to be more like Jesus.  This bin serves no real purpose in my life…it takes up valuable space that we really don’t have to spare.  The box sits closed…unopened for years at a time. 

I think I have things in my life that perhaps keep me from being centered in Christ as well. 
Honestly, pride keeps me off centered.  Fear keeps me off centered.  Insecurity keeps me off centered.  Maybe the time has come for me to empty out the bin and live freely.  Perhaps it is time to empty my pride, my selfishness, my fear, my insecurity and my anxiety and allow Jesus to do the uncomfortable work of centering me on the wheel as a potter does the clay.

Maybe.

Maybe it is time for each of us…to be transformed.

Saturday, August 17, 2019


Old Bicycle


The first Mother’s Day occurred in 1908, founded by Anna Jarvis, who later recanted the holiday because it had become too commercial and lost its focus.  It looks like Hallmark won that battle.  It wasn’t until nearly 60 years later that Lyndon B. Johnson decided to create the official Father’s Day holiday. 

Thanks, President Johnson…but honestly…60 years later feels a little like an afterthought.
Let’s be honest…it is.  How many last minute Father’s Day cards or Father’s Day ties does one man really need? 

I think that my father has perhaps been the most overlooked man in the history of Father’s Day.  Well, at least by me.  Sorry Dad.  Technology has not helped fathers to receive meaningful gifts on Father’s Day.  Now, dads of all ages can receive a quick text, “Happy Fathers Day…can I borrow the car?” There…check that off the “to do” list.

Perhaps it boils down to a lack of resources.  As a child I didn’t have the resources to either compile or purchase a gift for Dad.  However, now that I am older and have children of my own, I find that I still have neither money, nor resources to express my appreciation to my father…so I text him, “Happy Father’s Day…I don’t have the $50 I owe you.” Maybe I could afford it…but I am afraid that the lessons of frugality that my dad has passed down to me has come back to bite him.

During those early Father’s Days, when I had nothing to offer, I would make him breakfast in bed.  I would toast up some bread and let it cool while I poured cereal and milk into a bowl.  While the milk was soaking into the cereal, I would make him a nice cup of cold instant coffee using regular ground coffee beans.  While the coffee was warming to room temperature, I would attempt to spread hard butter over cold toast.  As a final touch, I would hide the toast under a layer of cinnamon and sugar thick enough to vertically support a homemade Father’s Day card.  It was a breakfast that could take down a rhino.  Oddly, he barely touched his breakfast.

I would then go into our old barn and drag out an old bicycle, covered in pigeon poop.  I would wash it up…add air to the tires…oil the chain…adjust the brakes…and “quickly” present it to dad as a heartfelt Father’s Day gift…before the tires lost air pressure again.

Overall, I had nothing to offer.

But that didn’t…nor has it…changed our relationship.  He is still my loving father and I am still his loving son.  There is a short…but amazing passage of Scripture, found in each of the Synoptic Gospels, (Matthew, Mark & Luke).  Mark 10:13-16, gives us the picture of children coming to Jesus.  As they come, the disciples rebuke them and tell them to go away and leave Jesus alone. We read how Jesus gets upset with his disciples and says the “Kingdom of God is for such as these…let them come.”

I believe that in our efforts to be accepted by Jesus we often default to works…deeds…things that I must do in order for Jesus to like me.  I think we often believe that we somehow have to earn our way into the presence of Jesus.  When we approach him, I think we often try to mentally bring something that we may have to offer.  We perhaps try to bolster some form of our own righteousness to make ourselves feel worthy to be accepted by him. 

What is really striking is that Jesus did not accept these children because they were innocent.  I believe that Jesus accepted these children, because they had nothing.  They came to him empty handed…with nothing to offer.  Even if these children had had something to offer…it would have been, as in the paraphrased words of the Apostle Paul, “nothing but rubbish compared to the overwhelming riches of the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.” 

So may you find yourself approaching Jesus with empty hands today.  It is much easier to accept a free gift with empty hands…than hands full of self righteousness.

Saturday, August 10, 2019


The Pothole



Earlier this summer, our family traveled to Orlando.  I had a week long conference and my family had a need for some time poolside.  There is nothing like Orlando in the Summer.  Actually…perhaps there is…Orlando in the summer is like going for a walk on the sun, while having boiling water dumped over your head.  It’s so hot!…but at least it’s a wet heat.

After my conference meetings were finished, we decided to spend a day searching for Mickey Mouse…we didn’t find him…we even spent an hour in line at Space Mountain and saw no sign of him.  The next day, we decided to give up on Mickey and drive to the Atlantic coast.  I had been to Cocoa beach twice before, once with a group of 16 teenagers and once with just my wife and I.  It was a place that we wanted to share with our children. 

We arrived at the beach and found a FREE place to park (thanks to my especially frugal spouse).  We walked down to the magnificent expanse of the Atlantic horizon.  The hot salty air was already causing the sand to stick to our feet, ankles, knees, neck, shoulders, earlobes, eye lashes, nostrils, fingernails, and teeth.  The kids helped us throw everything on the beach in wad so as to help ensure our enjoyment of sandy infiltrations would continue for the next week or more.  It was all quite wonderful. 

My son was blessed with an epiphany of an idea.  He began to dig a hole in the sand…about 20 feet into the ocean, where his feet were covered by 6 inches of water.  He dug…and he dug…and he dug…until he had generated a hole as deep as his mid thighs.  It was a deep hole…entirely covered by the surface of the ocean.  Totally invisible…totally deep…and totally dangerous.  Once his hole was complete…he invited his sisters to come and check it out.  “Hannah! Come here quick!”
Then he watched as his unsuspecting sister walked along the shallow water until she fell into his newly created pothole.  “Ughhh…gurgle gurgle gurgle…Isaac, that wasn’t very nice…you didn’t tell me you dug a pothole.”

“Because, then you wouldn’t have ‘fallen’ for it!”

Pothole

It is a funny word.

It kind of makes you wonder where it originated from.  I think that the natural conclusion would be that some 1960’s hippie cut a hole in his bedroom wall to hide his drug paraphernalia from his mom...as if the smoke didn’t give him away.

It is more likely that the word comes from ancient roads that were often packed with clay.  It is said that nearby pottery workers would go and remove big wads of clay from the roads, thus leaving a hole…caused by a potter...a “pothole.” True?...Maybe?

In either case there is a fabulous story in the book of Jeremiah.  In Chapter 18, God says to Jeremiah, "Go down to the Potter’s house I want to show you something.”  When Jeremiah goes and sees what the potter is doing…how he is working the clay…shaping it…molding it…creating it, God says something like, "Jeremiah…Can I not do to you…and to Israel…what this potter is doing to the clay?  The Potter decides what to make.  The Potter decides what each pot is going to be…NOT THE POT...Likewise…I get to decide what you will be Jeremiah…I get to decide how I have created you…and I get to decide what purpose that you are to serve.” 

We often find ourselves uncomfortable with this line of thinking.  After all, no one has the right to tell me who I am but me…right?

Wrong.

There is actually only one person who ever has had the right to decide what it is that has been created…and that is the Creator.

Know this however.  You have been created…by a creator…for a purpose.  That purpose is His choosing, and not our own.  But…It is a GOOD purpose. 

Let the Creator shape you…not as you WANT…but rather…submit to Him and allow Him to transform you into what HE wants.

I am still being shaped.  I can tell, because I feel his hands pushing and pulling and trimming.  Sometimes I don’t like it.  But I am learning to trust Him to do that which only he can do…to transform my heart of stone…into a heart of flesh.

Lord…may I be clay in Your hands…and if You would…help me to not step into any potholes.



Saturday, July 20, 2019


Spilled Milk


My son loves cereal.  He always has.  He comes by it honestly…because in this capacity, he is just like his mother.  I like cereal fine…however, cereal in my eyes, always seems to lead to messes and spills...I can tolerate messes to a degree…but I do not tolerate spills well, and messy spills are the worst!

When my wife was pregnant with our 4th child, she was appeasing one of her prenatal cravings by making herself some late night oatmeal.  This was a nice change to some of her other cravings, as it was not uncommon that I would find myself making a midnight run to Perkins to pick up some mozzarella sticks and a chocolate shake to satiate her appetite.  On one particularly snowy December night, I drove through town in a blizzard to get her a Subway sandwich…only to find the restaurant had closed due to the inclement weather.

Oatmeal…even late at night…meant that I did not have to slip on my winter boots and head out! As she picked up her hot bowl of oatmeal and began walking into the family room…ready to settle in and enjoy her hot cereal and watch a late night episode of Martha Bakes on PBS…the bowl burned her hand and she threw the bowl onto the floor, splattering the oatmeal everywhere!  I would have preferred to go get some mozzarella sticks in -20° temperatures, yet I bit my tongue.  I have not always been so silent at the moment of the messy messes, but this was one of my better moments.
They say there is no use crying over spilt milk.  Really? I cry over spilt milk all the time…I mean like ALL THE TIME!!!  My poor children are well aware of my aversion to spills and when spills take place I can see their whole bodies tense up… “Oh No!...I spilled!...What is Dad going to say?...he is going to be so mad!” 

Sadly…they are correct.  I take no pride as to how I react to spilled milk.  I am sorry family…but I am trying to grow in this way.  My son probably spills more milk than anyone in the house.  It is likely because he is always eating cereal…and is about as reckless as a squirrel on a jet ski and has about as much laser focus as a teenager driving while texting.

I remember on one occasion, as he was pouring a brand new gallon of milk over his cereal, the heavy jug slipped out of his hand landing sideways and began pouring all over the table and the floor.  His shoulders slumped and his chin sagged as he knew that I would not be happy.  But what was worse for me…was watching him…just sit there…watching all of the milk continue to pour out of the jug!

“Pick it up! Pick it up!” I cried.  See…there is a use to crying over spilled milk.

In actuality…what can you do?  You grab a towel and you begin to sop it up.  There is no way to salvage any part of it.  It’s not like dropping an Oreo cookie that you can quickly snatch back up…claiming the 5 second rule and pop it back into your mouth.  Licking the floor looks weird and has been known to be unsanitary.

What can you do?  Nothing.  You can clean it up and move on.  You can continue to live your life…and learn to not get so riled up about spilled milk.

In Daniel 12:5-13 we find God giving Daniel some final words of counsel.  Daniel is late in life and has had visions of a future that has left his armpits sweaty and his heart deeply troubled.  He wants to know some answers to questions like,“When is all this going to happen?”… “Who will this man of lawlessness be?”  God doesn’t necessarily give him the answers that he is looking for.  Rather the answer is more along the lines of…“It is not for you to know.”

So what IS for Daniel to know? Simply put, God tells Daniel to “Go your way.” God calls Daniel to live his life for Him…to continue to serve Him…even if he does not know all of the answers.

Sometimes God calls us to move forward…to follow Him…to trust Him…even without knowing all of the answers. There are some things that we just won’t fully know.  There are some things that we cannot do anything about.  It’s kind of like spilled milk…I can sit and cry over it…or I can understand that it is done and I can move on.  Daniel knew the future…he worried about it…he wanted to understand it…yet, it was not for him to know or do anything about…he needed to move on. 

Maybe it’s time for me to stop crying over the spilled milk and just, “Go my way”…perhaps after I have sopped it up…off of the floor with a towel…and tried wringing as much as I can back into the container.