Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Den of Lions

When I was growing up, there was a location of fear and doom for awkward 3rd grade boys.  Every day at the same time, my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Olson would line up the class at the door to be sent out for a drink from the water fountain and to empty our tiny weak bladders in the lavatory.  Often, as 

I stood in line I was thinking…praying even… “Hurry…hurry…hurry…let’s go!” though no words passed through my lips.  How long did we need to stand here waiting?  Timing was everything! As we prepared for our trip to the restroom, my impatience came to near explosion.  Not just because my eyeballs would be floating…but, also because, if our dismissal was delayed any longer we would be sent into the tiled walls of doom which would already house countless 5th graders. 

The goal was to get in, finish your business and get out, before the 5th graders entered. It seemed a rare occasion where I would find such success.  More often than not, our paths would cross.  Sometimes, we were sent into the toilets of terror before the 5th graders arrived…only to get halfway through our duty before a 5th grader would come up behind you and torture you, while you are still unable to flee.

However, it was even worse when you knew the 5th graders were already occupying the space that Mrs. Olson was ignorantly sending us into.  “Go on now boys,” she would say.

“That’s ok…I don’t really have to go.”

“Now, now…none of that…I know you Ryan and if you don’t go now you will be asking to go as soon as we get back into the classroom.”

“Exactly!,” I thought, but didn’t state…“then, I would know that the lion’s den would be empty!”

“Go on…get in there!”

As my heart beat against my ribs and my knees trembled like grandma’s thanksgiving Jell-O, I shuffled into the chamber of creative tortures. If I could just get into a stall as quickly as possible and lock the door…I would have a chance.  As I hustled in, I came face to face with Mike McFlushya*.  Mike was well known as the Soldier of Swirly.  I think even his mother would have feared him if she hadn’t had pythons for arms, a tattoo of a cobra on her neck, serpents for hair and answered to the name Mommy Medusa.  Mike laughed as a fellow 3rd grade classmate exited the lavatory curiously wet above his ears. “Ha!,” chortled Mike, looking me squarely in the eyes, “You’re next.”

“Who me?”

“Yes, you!...bwahaha”


Mike grabbed me by my shoulders and began escorting me toward the last stall. “Please God, help me!”

Just then…the 5th Grade teacher Mr. Nelson walked in.

“You boys get back to class now!...What are you doing anyway?”

“Just helping this poor 3rd grader find an open stall.”

I am pretty sure I saw white wings on the shoulders of Mr. Nelson that day.

There is a story in the book of Daniel that makes my experience look like a trip to the restroom…oh wait…it was.

When Daniel was an old man he was still in the service of the king, (Darius the Mede).  He had remarkably kept his integrity beyond that of any other man.  So much so, that his enemies had to create imaginary accusations to make him guilty of a crime. His punishment was to be thrown into a den of hungry lions.  Throughout Daniel’s ordeal we see him continually serving, following, and praying to God almighty.  Astonishingly, the lions didn’t touch him. Daniel’s life was spared.

What I find to be the most motivating element of this story is Daniel’s confidence in God.  Whether he lives or whether he dies is irrelevant.  He knows that there is more to come.  There is more to come if he lives and there is more to come if he dies.  God is bigger than his circumstances.  Daniel remains faithful to God…and God as always, remained faithful to Daniel.
God is bigger than our circumstances too, and just like Daniel…no matter where we are at…there IS more to come.

How do you face the lions in your life?

*names have been changed to protect the guilty

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Green Jacket

Three of my brothers-in-law and I stepped out of the Ford Freestyle, just as the sun was making its appearance over the distant pines of south, central Wisconsin.  Once a year, the four of us would gather in a central location to battle it out on the fairways.  We play to win.  We play for pride.  We play for a Goodwill green jacket.

We like to arrive early…so early, in fact, that the course has not yet opened and even the squirrels were still snug in their nests.  Why so early? avoid the possibility of being seen by onlookers who may ridicule our game or unfashionable clothing.  I stood and waited for my fellow competitors to secure their cleats to their feet.  As I lingered, I couldn’t help but sarcastically mock them at the “imperative” value that these cleats will have on their game.  “Wow! Now you are going to win for sure!  I would hate to have you slip and fall while making that crucial putt! Boy I wish I had cleats…because then maybe I would have a chance to win!”

We walked to the first t-box.  I set my overpriced coffee down on the dew covered grass.  It was a short par 3…only 115 yards or so to the pin.  I pulled out my pitching wedge and teed the ball nice and high to limit my distance.  I can modify my swing to three stages…hard, harder, hardest.  I stepped up to the ball and gave it a nice hard stroke.  The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back looking at the tree tops…while all three of my brothers-in-law were rolling with laughter…I should have worn cleats.

I was so inspired this past week, as I watched Tiger Woods achieve legendary greatness by winning his 5th green jacket…at the antiqued age of 43. I am astounded that he can even walk, let alone play golf.  You would think he would need a walker by this time…perhaps even a wheel chair…or at the very least a cane…although he could probably get by using his putter to keep him upright.  I know how he must feel because as I rolled out of bed this morning to popping knees, twisted neck, and a back that kept me folded in half until 30 minutes after my shower…I realized…I am also 43 years fact, I am a month and a half younger.  Thus…by the definition of the transitive property…I should also be able to win the next Masters tournament…although my odds may increase just a bit if I played golf more than once a year.

During one of our annual tournaments I was leading heading into the last hole.  My brother-in-law was easily within striking distance.  I was on the t-box and all I needed to do was a nice easy swing and keep the ball in the fairway.  So I wondered, “What swing should I use? Hard, harder or hardest?”  I opted for hardest…that should be a nice easy swing to keep it onto the fairway.  I swung the club nice and hard…crushing the ball!...hooking it hard to the left…on a “dogleg right!” Yikes!  There goes the game…the match…the tournament…the green jacket!  Until…my ball hits high and hard on a giant white pine…and kicks hard right…into the middle of the fairway…set up for a lovely look to the green.  My brother-in-law rolled his eyes and said, “What was that!”

“Clean living Dave…clean living.”

There is a story that Jesus shares in the Gospel of Luke.  It is a story about a father who had two sons.  The younger of the two sons, insults his dad by asking for his inheritance early…a request that pretty much says…“Dad, I wish you were dead so I can have my share of your money.”  This disrespectful son then goes off and spends all of his inheritance and finds himself broken and poor. When he comes to his senses and goes back home…his father lavishes love and riches on him once again…while the older brother looks on with disdain.  He says “Dad…I never received a party in my honor…what about me?”  The irony…is that both sons were not in love with their father…they were in love with themselves.  They only saw their father as a means to “get what they wanted.” Both sons were lost…only one comes to realize it…but the other does not.  Have you been lost? Are you lost now? Are you lost but you don’t realize it?  There is direction.

Sometimes we go through life thinking that if I do all of the “right things”…if I live a “clean” life, then God will bless us.  In a case like that…what are we concerned about?...God or ourselves? Do we want God or do we want stuff from God? Do I care about God or do I simply care about keeping my ball on the fairway.

Are you lost? There is direction…it is Jesus.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Winter Storm Wesley

Sometimes it is difficult to look out the window and watch the snow fall in torrents…especially as we have all waited so patiently for spring to arrive.  Yet, I think if we try really hard, we can come up with some benefits…advantages…nicenesses (made up word) about our recent encounter with Winter Storm Wesley.

Top 10 advantages to the recent snow storm:

10.  We can be thankful that our name is not Wesley.  Unless of course your names is Wesley…in which then I am desperately sorry for all of the ridicule, hate mail and blame that you may have received with the recent mid April snow fall that you brought us.  How could you? What were you thinking? This is all your fault!

9.  Many of us were able to spend an extra day at home with our children since their school got cancelled.  Is there a better way to spend a snow day than to be locked inside with aggressive, stir crazy children that cannot find anything better to do than to fight and make messes?  What a blessing to have them around!

8.  We were able to double check the effectiveness of our 4x4 transmissions…and be reminded of the poor traction of our minivans.

7.  This storm allowed us to divert our frustration from our children to the plow driver who just plowed our driveways in with 2 feet of heavy wet snow.

6.  We get to wear our favorite sweater and boots again!...and here we didn’t think we would be blessed with that opportunity again for 4 months! Hooray!

5.  Our brown lawns are no longer brown!

4. The robins in the tree are easier to see and watch…although they appear to be angry and confused, perhaps thinking that they have all gone suddenly colorblind.  I am pretty sure I just heard a baby robin say, “Mommy…what is happening! Everything is white! Am I dying? Should I go into the white?”  Or did it just say…“ Tweet! Tweet!” Hard to tell…it could have been either.

3.  This made us procrastinators look brilliant! “No dear…this is exactly why I didn’t put the snow blower away yet…No, it did not have anything to do with laziness…or watching the NCAA Basketball tournament…It was all a plan to be able to continually provide you a nice clean place to park...outside the garage…because inside the garage is where the snow blower has to be kept.”

2.  It gave us all something to talk about. “Well how about that snow huh?”  “Yep, it’s something” “Yep, sure is.” “Supposed to get quite a bit” “Yep, sure are”  “Well it’s been nice talking to you.” “Yep, you too.”

1. Well, now at least you don’t have to go to your Great Great Aunt Mertle’s 15th birthday party for her pet cat Fluffy.  “Oh, Aunt Mertle, I would love to come…but I am sorry, this snow storm has got me totally blocked in…no, no, you don’t need to use your tractor to come and plow me out…no it isn’t safe for you to come…no really…please this is not necessary...Aunt Mertle?...hello?...Aunt Mertle?...”

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Wall

I was talking with my dad after my last blog entry about pulling stumps…He said to me, “You make me sound like a slave driver.” In which my mother replied…“You were!”   
However, people change. It was just a month and a half ago, that I asked my dad if he wanted to head out ice fishing, with me and my son.  The snow was too deep to be able to drive out onto the ice…and dragging a sled would probably leave my son way too exhausted to fish…especially after the multiple trips he would have to take to pull the sled out, ice augers, bait bucket, tip ups, heater, rods, and the rest of the gear.  All the while, I may have frozen to death waiting for him to get all of the equipment out and set up.  Needless to say…we needed grandpa to join us…he had the snowmobile.  My dad replied...“It’s too cold!” 
“What!?” I replied… “What happened to the man who used to make us head out to cut those three cords of wood in -30 below weather?”
“He got older…and wiser.”
Hindsight is always 20/20…but as I have grown older, I have come to know the wisdom of my slave driving patriarch.  If he hadn’t pushed me and my brothers to help with the wood cutting, we would have likely frozen to death in that country farmhouse…only to wake up to the news reports…“Family of 6 parishes in bitter Minnesota winter due to lazy children.”  But on the flip side…if dad hadn’t taught me this work ethic, I might still be living in his basement eating Cheetos and allowing my mother the privilege of washing my dirty socks…although...I would probably just walk around barefoot…unless, of course, dad didn’t have enough wood to keep the house warm…then I might wear his slippers.
This “wiser man” has now switched to propane…and now makes the three of us boys install 15 year shingles on his roof, instead of 30 year shingles...he doesn’t plan on living long enough to make us re-shingle again.
This man is so inspiring, that I cannot help but live up to his example.  “Hey Isaac…go grab a spade and start digging a hole in the back yard!”
“Because we don’t have any stumps and I don’t want you living here till you are 43!...Now Dig!”
Daniel Chapter 5 contains a semi-well known, but obscure, story about a spoiled brat.  At the time of this story…a man by the name of Nabonidus is the King of Babylon, but he has left the city of Babylon to build himself a palace in Tayma…(south and east of Babylon).  He has been gone for 10 years and has left his son Belshazzar in charge.  The problem is that Belshazzar is nothing but a partier…reveler…and a drunkard.  While Belshazzar is busy partying…the King of Persia has surrounded his city and is ready to attack.  However, Belshazzar has plenty of food, wine, water, pizza, Xbox and a city that is so well fortified he could about live out his life in the city without worrying about anyone…let alone Persia.  In his arrogance, he takes the sacred vessels that had been taken from God’s Temple in Jerusalem and uses them in his mockingly arrogant fiesta.
There is only so much that God will take…and at this moment, he has had enough.  God’s very hand writes on the wall and says…“Numbers, Numbers, Counted, Divided.”  Translated: Belshazzar…God has numbered your transgressions…they are counted against you…and you will be cut down!”...the writing is on the wall.
Then it happened…that very night, his city was conquered and he lost his life!
What’s the point?  We serve a very loving and gracious God…but there will come a point where as if we are not coming to know Him…and or leading others to know Him…he will cut us off.  I can’t help but to contrast the response between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar.  Both are given an opportunity to know God…however, only one finally chooses to follow Him, while the other chooses to mock Him.  It is difficult to reconcile God’s response…but He desires to transform us.