Saturday, October 24, 2020

Cards



“Fifteen, two – Fifteen, four – Fifteen, six – Fifteen, eight, and a pair of double runs makes 24,” I heard her say.

“A pair for two,” I replied.

“That’s game! I win!” her perky voice rebutted…“you are only at 59…does that mean I skunked you?”

“Not exactly,” I said, “It means that you double skunked me.”

“Oooh, that sounds exciting…what does that mean?”

“It means that you get credit for 3 wins in the series.”

“Fun!...What do you want for supper?”

“I lost my appetite.”

“Oh, ok then…do you want to play again?”

I wanted to say, “What are you kidding me? Never!...I am never playing with you again!,” while throwing the cards and the board across the room.  But instead I sighed and just said…“ugh.”

Sadly this was not our only conflict while sitting across a cribbage board, and for that reason…Sarah and I rarely play cribbage with each other any longer.  It seems that after each game played…we once again renew our commitment to never play again…at least with each others. 

It can be difficult to withhold emotions and frustration in competitive board games.  The cards that we are dealt, the numbers rolled on the dice, or the chutes and ladder spinner can seem to be stacked against us, as if somehow cosmic events have forbidden our success…or God is somehow trying to teach us lessons in patience, anger, suffering and pride all at the same time.

It can seem that game after game our odds should change…that at some point the grass would no longer be greener on the other side of the fence…and suddenly we would be standing in the abundance of fertile soil.  But…life is hard, and it seems to keep getting harder.  Covid certainly is a card that we would rather not have received in our hand…it feels like getting stuck with the Old Maid card.

In Acts 21:1-36, we find the Apostle Paul heading back to Jerusalem.  He has been dealt with a hand of cards that any of us would shudder to receive.  Yet, he knows the cards that he has been given…and he know that the task of playing those cards has been given to him. His hand is full of pain and suffering. His cards were not dissimilar to the cards that Jesus suffered. 

We don’t get to choose our cards.  Many of us have been…or will be faced with some incredibly difficult cards to play…cards of hurt, pain, cancer, sorrow, persecution, etc. God has given us the privilege to be entrusted with these cards.  May we learn to resiliently play them…for His glory.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

 Serve



We arrived in the blistering heat of the day…but then again…July couldn’t really be any other way in northern Mexico.  Having grown up in the tundra regions of Minnesota, that kind of oppressive heat makes me want to do nothing but…sleep…hidden in an air conditioned, scorpion-less corner…and sleep.  However, that is not why I was there. I was leading a team of high school students on a missions experience in Sabinas Hidalgo, Mexico.  Our responsibilities included ministry to children, handing out supplies to poor areas of the community, and work projects around the orphanage at which we were serving.  These work projects included painting, mixing concrete, putting up fences, tearing down the same fences…and hauling five mountains of rocky soil across the five acre plot with a single wheel barrow, three spades and two square scoop shovels. 

Each morning we would awake to a breakfast of black beans and eggs, grab our water bottles and drag ourselves to the class five quarry.  The work would begin with a few shovels slamming into the rocky side of mounds of earth…followed by a few groans…which continued until a wheel barrow was loaded and hauled across the lot, then dumped it the opposite corner.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Our team spent five days doing this same thing…over and over…moving five, dump truck loads of dirt from one corner of the property to another.

After five days we were exhausted…crabby…and ready to be finished with what seemed to be an endless and pointless job.  It was at about this time that a large road grater pulled onto the property…dropped its blade, and in about fifteen minutes finished a job that had taken us five days. While the grater finished its work…we took the team over to paint the walls of the orphanage.

As we loaded the bus to depart the orphanage from our ten days of work, I considered a few thoughts on service.

  • 1.    Motivation Matters.  It was difficult to be and stay motivated on a job that felt like we were going nowhere. What motivates us?
  • 2.      Gifts matter.  Our team did not have the most efficient tools to finish the task at hand. Yet, once the correct “tool” arrived…the project came to fruition.
  • 3.      Service is costly.  We spent hours doing a job that overall could have been done in about fifteen minutes.  We wasted hour upon hour.  I will never get those hours back. In fairness, I would have likely just used them to sleep or check my social media status. 
  • 4.      Most importantly, the Holy Spirit matters.  Col. 3:23, says “Whatever you do, do it with all of your soul as unto the Lord.” I don’t think I can do that without the work of the Holy Spirit in me.  It is once again an issue of heart change. I think that each day I find more and more need for the Holy Spirit to continue the work that He has begun in me…to change my heart that I might finish the work that the Lord as appointed for me.

I think we see this truth in Acts. 20:18-21:16. Paul is encouraging the church elders from Ephesus.  In doing so, he lays out…how he has served…why he has served…how he will continue to serve…and the encouragement for these elders to do the same.

May we find the Holy Spirit empowering us to serve, burdening us to serve, and changing our hearts to serve…whole heartedly as unto the Lord.

As the bus pulled away from the building…I couldn’t help but notice the graded mounds of dirt…and the peeling paint on the front of the building.  May the Lord take our service for his glory…and not our own.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

 Alone

 


We took the entire family to Wal-Mart.  It was only four of us at the time.  We loaded up the two kids, one infant and one toddler, into the 1996 Ford Taurus station wagon and went nonstop to the land of “if they don’t have it, we don’t need it.”  This particular excursion was directed at purchasing an outdoor play set for the kids.  We had been looking for one for a while and with the current clearance sale, now was the time.  I parked the car along the curb, outside of the building, in front of the boxes of play sets and then entered the store to make the purchase.  I paid for the unit and was told that an associate would be “right out” to help me load it. In some cases “right out” could mean up to a week.

I exited the store and stood next to the vehicle as my wife rolled down her window and we chatted while we waited.  After 10 minutes, I got tire of waiting…and instead of going back into the store to search for the associate, I decided to just load the play set myself. I walked to the boxes.  There were three boxes to the set.  Each box weighed about 100lbs and was about 10 ft. long. I picked up box #1 of 3…hoisted it upon my shoulder, while my wife expressed her disapproval from the window.

“You shouldn’t be doing that…you are going to hurt yourself…you should wait for some help.”

“I can handle it…look, I already have it on my shoulder.”

“You are going to hurt your back…”

“I’m fine…who knows how long we would have to wait.”

I walked to the vehicle…turned it lengthwise…to parallel the long station wagon.  I elevated the box to place it onto the luggage rack on top of the car. As I approached the vehicle, my right foot stepped off of the curb.  I went down…to my back…flat…with the entire box lying across my chest.  As I lay there I saw the associate who had finally decided to come out to help…just in time to see me fall.  My eyes and ears were directed to the passenger window of the car that is just a few inches above the box that lays across my chest, as my wife poked her head out the window to say…”I told you not to try and do it yourself…”

“Thanks dear…I got that.”

The young teenage associate came up and asked if I was ok.  I said that I was…not telling him that my pride had been permanently marred.

Together, we lifted the three boxes onto the Taurus without incident.  I strapped tied them down…and we went home without further incident, but an unforgettable lesson.

I think I often get it wrong.  Far too often I default to individualism? I am not sure where the drive for individualism comes from, but I have come to believe that the Church was never meant to be done alone.  We need each other.  The Church is called to love one another.  We cannot love one another…unless we are together. Certainly togetherness has been challenged with the recent cultural challenges of the pandemic. Yet, I believe that we are called to remain connected.  Acts 19:23-20:38, shows us a series of encouraging words that Paul shares with a number of the New Testament churches. If we take a broad view of these passages we see the deep love that the church shares with each other.  That is the picture that the Holy Spirit is working to build in our churches.  May we come to see that church is not meant to be done alone.  Rather, it is created for community.  It is created to love one another…and to encourage one another.  May we live…what we see Paul live.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

 Crystal



College can be expensive, that is, unless you happen to have the crazy athletic skills of Michael Johnson, or the mental capacity of Nickola Tesla, in which you earn a scholarship that pays the entirety of your education. However, this was not my case.  I worked my way through college…by delivering pizzas…and being hired around campus as the “go-to auto repair technician.”  I did not have a degree…or any official training in automotive repair…although, I did take a graphics design class where I learned the skills to put together an uncertified document that suggested otherwise.

The reason that I knew so much about auto repair was due to the fact that I had daily opportunity to practice on my own vehicles.  In the parking lot of Crown College, in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota, I took to tackling such jobs as replacing brakes, radiator hoses, alternators, starters, batteries, intake manifolds, mufflers, coil changes, and even rebuilding a set of struts on a 1985 Toyota Celica.

“Hey buddy! I need you to move that car…I need to plow the snow!”

“Ummm…yeah…that is going to be a problem…you see…the front end has been removed.”

He proceeded to plow me in…which in truth gave me plenty of time to finish the job, since the snow wouldn’t melt until April.

I received an emergency call early one Saturday morning. 

“Ryan!...This is Clear Quartz”…(this is an entirely made up name…to protect both the innocent and the guilty…but a moderately trained geologist…may figure it out). “I need your help.  My Chevy Blazer is stalled on Hwy. 5 in Eden Prairie.  I called my dad and he is renting a trailer and driving 3 hours from Marshfield, Wisconsin to trailer it home and take a look at it.  I need you to find some friends and then push the Blazer onto the trailer.”

“That’s it?  Do you want me to take a look at it first?”

“No…He is already on his way.”

“Ok…we will be there.”

I wrangled a crew of football loving, non-studying college students, and we arrived at the vehicle…just as her dad was pulling in front of the Blazer and backing the trailer into place.  After, some heartfelt greetings and firm handshakes…Mr. Young Fruit (also an entirely made up name that perhaps only a botanist could decipher) popped the hood of the vehicle…asked for his daughters keys…placed the keys into the ignition and sat there briefly before walking to the rear of the vehicle.  He placed one foot on the rear bumper and began bouncing the vehicle up and down while placing his ear near the fuel cap. 

“When is the last time you got gas?” He asked his daughter.

It was at this point that Clear Quartz went pale as crystal.  Her only response…was to burst into tears and cry…“Oh Dad! I am so sorry!”

Mr. Young Fruit handed me a $20 bill and said, “Take your boys out for some burgers.” I tried to refuse the cash, only to have him threaten to tie me to the trailer…drag me back to Marshfield…and then force me to walk home.

“Yes, sir,” I replied…and then walked away.

We left Clear Quartz and Mr. Young Fruit to work things out while we ate double, quarter pounders with cheese.

I am reminded once again of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us that when we give our lives to Christ and receive His grace…the Holy Spirit comes upon us and we are filled with the Spirit. Despite the power of the Spirit dwelling inside me…I often feel that I try and live my life on my own strength.  Being a follower of Christ…and living in my own strength…is like a Chevy Blazer stuck on the side of the road.  A car without gas does not make sense.  An apple tree, without apples, just does not make sense.  A blueberry bush that does not produce “new berries”…does not make sense. A Christian without the Holy Spirit…just doesn’t make sense. 

Believers have the Holy Spirit within us.  Galatians 5:22-23 demonstrates what the Holy Spirit will do inside of us.

We find an interesting contrast in Acts 18:18-19:22.  Here we find 3 accounts of people living without the power of the Holy Spirit.  Some even believe in Jesus.  They know about Him…but they don’t know Him.  They don’t know His grace, they don’t know His salvation…they don’t truly know the Gospel.  May we find the crystal clear truth…the Gospel of Grace and worship the Giver of that Gospel.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

 Ready?

Each morning is about the same.  My alarm goes off at the same time every morning.  The first thing I do is turn on the coffee maker. My breakfast includes any one of about 4 varieties. I ensure that the kids are awake at about the same time every morning.  Then, I listen to the children fight over hogging the bathrooms, the cereal, the bread, the chips, and then, while keeping my social distance, I watch as these encounters crescendo into a chorus of “Are you ready?” Usually, responses begin to echo with “Yes”, or “Almost”…which really means…“I don’t have my folder signed…I have not yet made a lunch…I can’t find my shoes…Mom, where did YOU put MY glasses…Where is my coat…Why do I need a coat…I don’t have time to walk the dog…hurry! We are going to be late!”

Once my children arrive at school,  I will, occasionally, receive a phone call or a text…“I forgot my instrument…can you bring it?…I forgot my ipad, can you bring it?...I forgot my coat, can you bring it?

I have delivered a flute, a clarinet, a trumpet and a saxophone to school using my bicycle…my youngest daughter is about to take up the tuba…A TUBA!!!

“Are you ready for school?” I asked.

“Yep…pretty much.”

“Has your folder been signed?”

“Oh wait…no…can you sign it?”

“Do you have your instrument?”

“Oh wait…it’s in my room.”

“Time to go.”

“Oh wait…I can’t find my shoes.”

“So what exactly does ready look like?”

That is a great question.  I remember my own childhood ready woes.  It was the same thing every morning.  My alarm would go off…and continue to buzz, until my mother woke me up…twice.  Then, I would get dressed, throw a piece of toast in my mouth, cram to finish my math assignment and history reading from the previous night…my crescendo would arrive in a scramble and scream when the bus would surprise me by its arrival…“EEEK! THE BUS!!!...at exactly 7:21 a.m…EVERY MORNING!

You would think that one of two things would happen.  #1. I would stop being surprised by the arrival of the bus at exactly the same time, every day….or #2. Through some strange cosmic event, the bus would arrive at an unexpected time…earlier, or later…but it didn’t. It arrived like clockwork.  I knew when it would come…and, yet, it felt like I was never ready.

What about our spiritual lives?  If you are a believer in Jesus and the Bible…are you ready? If you are not a believer…are you ready?  Are you ready for the possibility that the Bible is true and things are happening just like the Bible predicted? As I have watched the world change faster in the last 6 months than I have ever seen before, I have come to ask myself that question over and over again.  Am I ready? What does that even mean? If I really believe that Jesus is who He said He is…and I believe that the Bible is true, then I need to be ready. He says He is coming back.  Jesus gives us “signs” to look for.  I believe that I see some of them. 

I must be ready…but am I?

Are you ready?

Read Matthew 24. 

Do you see the signs?

Are you ready?


Saturday, September 19, 2020

 Wave

 


In 1980, my parents took my brothers and soon to be sister from Minnesota to Panama City, Florida to visit my aunt. Though I was only 4 years old, I find that I have a great deal of memories from that trip.  (Some can be found in blog post “Chevette” March 2, 2019). I remember the heat...to inhale a breath felt like drinking boiling water. During our time in Florida, I recall spending one day at a reptile zoo.  At one point, after watching the alligators snap at pokers by the alligator tamers, my father picked me up and placed my entire body into the hollow mouth of a giant concrete snake. Having been completely overtaken by fright, I desired to run from the serpent’s rocky jaws screaming.  However, fear had paralyzed me. I became convinced that the faded, cement critter would spring to life and eat me.  I don’t know what I feared more…the snake coming to life…or sliding deep into the hollow concrete body of the beast, never to be seen again.  After my parents snapped their precious picture…they pulled me out…leaving 2 square feet of freshly melted flesh onto the hot, stone reptile.

I remember going to the ocean…ok, technically the Gulf of Mexico…but really…what’s the difference. I was enamored by the white sand, I would pick up handfuls and let it sift through my fingers…it was so fine and smooth and felt like pillows of sugar…but less sticky…and less tasty.  

“Dad the water feels greasy!” I said.

“It’s salt water.”

“Blah…they should have made it sugar water instead…”

My older brother and I played in the shallows while my mother watched us closely, to ensure that we did not venture too far out.  Little did she know…that was not going to be a problem.  I had already developed a healthy fear of drowning, deep water, and sharks…not to mention the giant waves that were crashing on the shore were locking in my perpetual fear of death.

The greatest moment of fear came when my dad took my older brother and me in his arms and began trudging through the foamy shoals. The water got deeper and deeper.  I watched the water creep up to his knees…his waist…and then nearly up to his chest.  This was the depth of danger…the point where the massive waves were breaking.  This is it…my dad was finally going to do what I knew he had in mind, (since I had watched Jack Nicholson flip out in the film adaptation of Steven King’s, “The Shining”)…my brother and I were goners.  Apparently, a conspiracy had developed between my parents…my dad would take my brother and I to our deaths…while my mother stood on the shore…taking pictures. 

My dad stood looking out to sea…holding us…apparently waiting for a really big wave.  When he spotted it…he turned around…tucked my brother and I next to him and crouched lower into the greasy water…waiting for the wave to break right over our backs. 

Just as the wave was about to hit, I looked back…panicked…and sprung from my dad’s grasp and attempted to sprint back to shore.  My mother’s perfectly timed photo, shows my dad and brother smiling as the wave of death broke over them.  I was not in the picture…I was under water…dying.

What I didn’t realize is that there was protection being offered.  It was in my father’s strong arms…and not in the violent sea…alone.  Somehow…perhaps, it was Jack Nicholson’s fault…I had come to believe that I was safer on my own.  I was wrong. 

In Acts 18, we find Paul has moved on to Corinth.  Paul is once again being persecuted and “abused.” It is at this point that God does something really powerful.  God tells Paul…that He will protect him…He promises that Paul will not be harmed.  Despite the verbal and physical attacks around him…God provided Paul with a divine protection.  Interestingly, Paul still experienced many struggles and challenging persecutions.  In fact, he eventually died in Rome at the hands of the Romans. Yet, God protected Paul.  God guarded him and watched over him.  Though Paul suffered at many times, God guarded Paul’s heart, his ministry and his path…and while in Corinth, Paul received divine protection…in the arms of his Savior.

May we find ourselves in the protecting arms of Jesus…and release our belief that our protection comes from our own efforts…especially, in our current cultural climate.  May Jehovah Shamar—God our Protector, guard your heart and life as you find protection in Him.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

 Known

 


After purchasing my items at the local Walmart, I began walking to the exit.  As I passed by the Walmart Optical, I heard a lady’s voice, “Oh hello! How are you doing?”

Startled…I turned and looked.  Seeing a, roughly, 60 year old lady in a white lab coat, I replied, “I am well...”  Though I had no idea who this lady really was I reciprocated the question, “How are you?”

“I am good…is it nice outside?”

“Yes…a little chilly…but nice.”

“How are the wife and kids?”

“Ummm…We are all doing well…thanks for asking.”

I could not duplicate this question because…well…I knew absolutely nothing about her!

“Tell Sarah hi for me,” she said.

“Ok, I will.”

Upon returning home, I mentioned the encounter to Sarah and asked, if or how she knew the lady.

“I have no idea who you are talking about.” She answered.

I endured similar encounters every time I walked by the Walmart Optical.  After several encounters I was able to learn her name…from her name tag…but, it was one of those names that I couldn’t be sure of the pronunciation…so I continued to refrain from calling her by name.

On one of these meetings, Sarah and I were walking by the eye center and the lady stepped out and saw my very pregnant wife and practically screamed. “Oh!!! You did not tell me this!!!”

I stood there thinking one thing…“I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU!”

But instead I said, “Oh…I didn’t?”

The conversation continued with questions about due dates and names and children and grandchildren…until we finally broke it off and walked to the car. 

Sarah asked me, “Who was that?”

“I have no idea!”

“Well, she certainly seems to know you.”

She was right…she did seem to know me…at least some of the basics.  Yet, did she truly know me? Did she know what I like and don’t like? Did she know the deeper parts of me…probably not.

In Acts 17, Paul has an encounter with a number of Greek philosophers and leaders. These are people who know religion.  In the city of Athens at the time, there would likely have been more than 70,000 idols and statues of a variety of Greek gods…Zeus, Prometheus, Athena, Poseidon, etc… It is in this interaction that Paul points to one idol in particular.  It is an idol that pays homage to the “Unknown God.”

 What is striking to me is that the Greeks are worshiping a god that they do not know, but in the Bible we find a God that is “known.” In fact, He wants to be known…He has made Himself known. If that is not mind blowing enough…He then tells us…that He “knows” us.  The God of the universe…can be known…has made Himself known…and knows us…intimately and personally.

We can “know” Him…and He has a name…Jesus

That is incredible! I am at a loss for words…

Saturday, September 5, 2020

 The Group

 


While I was in college, Sarah (my wife now…girlfriend then…better half all the time) and I would go to church in the Chaska area.  It was relatively new church plant, parented from Westwood Church in Eden Prairie, MN, yet it was already a large church.  Each week multiple church services were hosted in the Chaska High School auditorium.  There came one Sunday in which the church was launching a number of new small groups.  It was announced that there would be tables with sign-ups available following the service.  Sarah asked me if I was interested.  I really didn’t think that I was interested…but I took a few moments to consider before I answered.  It was in this moment that imagined her attending one of these small groups by herself...and wouldn’t you know it…but in my imagination, there was another young single guy in the small group.  He imaginarily wooed her, with his suave hair…dashing good looks…a physic like Arnold Schwarzenegger, a mind like Albert Einstein, a sense of humor like Steve Martin…and he drove a Corvette...I didn’t stand a chance! “It’s ok…if you don’t want to…I can just go by myse….”

“NO!...I’m in!!!  That sounds great!”

I couldn’t let Arnold Albert Martin have a chance.

After signing up and leaving our phone numbers, we were instructed that we would receive a phone call from our small group host. When I received the call, Laurence introduced himself and then asked a little bit about me. I told him about Sarah and I…our ages…what we were studying in college...and some of what we liked to do.  He gave me the timing and the address of our first gathering, but before hanging up…he paused and ask…”Are you sure you want to be a part of our group?...we are actually a bunch of older married couples…I don’t know…I am not sure this is what you are looking for.” 

“Yes!” I said, “If Arnold Albert Martin is there…I will be there for sure.”

“Who?” He asked.

“Never mind…we will be there.”

When we arrived that first night…Arnold Albert Martine never showed up, which is just as well because I don’t know what I would have done to him if he had made a move on Sarah…or what his massive biceps would have done to my jawbone.

Laurence was right.  It was a group of older married couples.  But what was really fun…was that we all really hit it off.  It was really cool.  The group was composed of a couple of college students, a retired pilot and his wife, some teachers, an engineer, some business professionals and a number of others.  On paper…there was really no reason for any of the members of the group to associate with one another.  Our paths were not really destined to cross in a random culture, but I have come to find that God is not random.

By the end of our time together…this incredible group of people threw a banquet to celebrate my soon to be college graduation…complete with cake and singing!

I feel that in a way, Sarah and I lived through the story found in Acts 16:11-40.  In this story Paul is continuing to preach the Gospel…but what we find is that 3 characters in particular respond to the Gospel. What strikes me is that these 3 people have virtually nothing in common. One is a jailor, one is a rich woman, and one is a young (formerly demon possessed) girl, and together, these are three of the first followers of Christ in the city of Philippi.  It is through people like these three…that the church in Philippi is established.  Even when we have nothing in common…we can have Christ in common and when we have Christ in common...we can then love in very uncommon ways.

May you find the uncommon love of Christ, compelling you to find Christ in common with the people he has placed around you.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Ahoy!

 


Each summer as a child, my parents would send my older brother and me off to camp.  It was not uncommon, at the same time, our aunt would send our cousin to Big Sandy Camp as well.  I have come to wonder, if it was, perhaps, a parental conspiracy between my dad and his sister to send us all off to camp at the same time to create “free” time in their homes.  I can’t imagine who would need “free” time from me??? Upon returning from camp, it was inevitable to learn that while we were gone to camp for the week, my parents and younger siblings…and potentially my aunt…would go out to eat at some fancy gourmet restaurant…like Hardees.  We always missed out on so much while at camp.  The consolation was…that we actually liked camp…in fact, we loved it.  This was back in the day when firearms were encouraged at camp and you could get marksmanship awards for how well you did on your targets.  I held to the secret belief, that if I could shoot the eye out of a chipmunk running across the range, I would be guaranteed to receive the highest honor.  Instead, I received a stiff reprimand from camp officials, and enough high fives and pats on the back from fellow campers that no marksmanship medal was necessary.

It was during one of these weeks at camp that I was first taught to juggle.  My teacher was Steve Guthormsen, he was my counselor for the week and juggler extraordinaire.  By the end of the week, I could take one ball…throw it up into the air…and catch it with my other hand.  The word “prodigy” never came out of Steve’s mouth…but I am pretty sure he was thinking it.  To this day…I can juggle just as well as I could that summer.

It was with this same counselor that I first learned to sail.  Each morning, every cabin would be assigned to a rotating activities center, one day it could be archery, one day the nature center, one day the rifle range…(though this seemed to usually go to girls’ cabins…I guess they felt that the girls needed more work on their shooting skills).

On this particular morning, our cabin was assigned to the waterfront.  This included anything and everything…but swimming.  You could play volleyball if you wanted…which nobody ever did. Most guys would take to the boats. I watched my cousin and older brother quickly run to a paddle boat and take to the lake. I watched others take out canoes, paddle boats and a variety of other floatable craft.  I stood there alone…well…almost alone.  Steve looked down at my fifth grade rejected self and asked…”Do you want to go sailing?”

I replied, “I guess…” in a flat, monotone voice.

He walked me over to a pink vessel hidden in the tall weeds and cattails. “Will this thing float?” I asked.

“Maybe.” He said.

He pushed the formerly red sailboat into the water and said, “Here, you take the skeg.”

“Ok, sure…what’s a skeg?”

“The flat thing…doesn’t matter…get into the boat.”

“Do you really know how to sail?”

“I think so…I have sailed before…but it’s been a while.“ He said.

We climbed into the vessel…Steve raised the mast and unfurled the sails.  He did some things with a number of ropes and strings and began to work the rudder.

“Shove the skeg through that slot in the floor now,” He said.

I pushed the flat fin into the floor. “It won’t go all the way in,” I said.

“Not a big deal…it’s enough”

“But water is coming into the boat…are we going to sink?”

“Probably not…”

I have to admit…for a juggling expert…he didn’t set my mind at ease.

However, before I knew it…we were moving.  The wind had filled the sails and the boat took off.  It was really quite the experience. It was as if the wind had suddenly grew hands and was carrying our small craft wherever it wanted to take us. As we approached the middle of the bay, Steve let down the sails and said…”Hmmm…now…how do we get back?”

Today I read, Acts 16:1-10, as I did so, I was reminded of my one and only time sailing.  I felt as if I had no choice in the direction that I was headed…and yet somehow, I knew that we were going in the direction that we needed to go.  The Scriptures use a word to describe the Holy Spirit.  In fact, it is the same word that is used for wind…and breath…and Spirit.  Pneuma. In this passage of Acts, we see how the Holy Spirit gives direction to Paul and his companions…like God’s breath against a sail.

As I look back on that experience with Steve, I don’t think he ever knew that God would use him to give me a lesson in the Holy Spirit that day. We don’t get to choose where the wind blows…but we do get to choose to allow it to take us.

May we all come to find the Spirit’s guidance in our everyday lives.  I believe that the winds are still blowing…perhaps we need to learn to let loose the sails.

But be aware…we may find ourselves in the middle of the bay thinking, “Now what?”

But sometimes…I think that is right where God wants us to be.


Saturday, August 15, 2020

 Apologize


When growing up with 3 siblings…conflict was inevitable.  I know this because I have 4 children of my own.  I think that the difference between the family of 6 that I grew up in vs. the family of 6 that I now preside in…is that in the family of 6 that I grew up in…the second born child was the one who was always right and now, the family of 6 that I now preside in…the father is always right.  It’s weird…I wonder what makes the difference.

The conflicts between siblings have remained much the same through the generations.  “I call the front seat!”

“You always get the front seat!”

“So…that’s because I am older…”

“So…I am bigger…”

“What about me?” says the youngest.

“What about you?” says everyone but the youngest.

My parents did their best to intercede in our sibling rivalries…but, now, as a parent, I realize there is no perfect solution…nor is there any solution.  If you are a parent and your children don’t fight…you may want to check their pulse…or see if they happen to be some futuristic android sent back in time from 2525….It could happen…if man is still alive.

My dad would wisely address the conflicts by using controversial, psycho analytical reverse forward psychology.

“Dad! Ryan bit me!”

“Well…bite him back.”

“Dad…I tried to bite Ryan back…but then he punched me…”

“Do we have to talk about this during the Vikings game?”

My mother would frequently take a different approach.

“Ryan…did you kick you brother in the throat?”

“Yes.”

“Well…you need to apologize.”

“Oh…ok…I am sorry that your neck is so weak.”

“Ryan…did you hold your sister’s head underwater?”

“Yes.”

“Well…you need to apologize.”

“Ugh…fine…I am sorry you can’t breathe under water.”

Strangely…our parents must have done something right…or at the very least…so wrong, that the reverse psychology actually worked.

My brother and I had an incident recently.  That is not surprising.  We are both cut from the same stock and both tend to do things without thinking…however, what impacted me powerfully was his apology.  This is what he said, “I wanted to tell you that I would never purposely put you and your family at risk, but my poor decision did just that. I feel that I need to adequately apologize to you.  I am embarrassed and shameful of my poor action and for that I am sorry to you and your family.”

I don’t know if I have ever heard such a meaningful apology in my life…nor have I given one.  I read the apology to my family…in which I and my family fully accepted.  My brother’s humble course of action, blew me away.  If only I, and all of us, for that matter, could take such ownership as he did…then I would have to believe that the conflicts that we encounter would actually build our relationships rather than sever them.

In Acts 15:36-41, we come across a well know, but little talked about conflict between Paul and Barnabas.  These two Godly men have a sharp dispute, in which they actually go their separate ways for awhile.  Yet, if we read the entirety of the New Testament, we find that reconciliation takes place between these two men.  We are not given the details of how…but that is not as important as the fact that it happens. 

May we find the ownership, responsibility and humility to reconcile our conflicts.  Jesus reconciled us to himself…it seems the least we can do…is be willing to reconcile with each other.

Saturday, July 18, 2020


Water-Skiing



Reflecting back on the recent July 4th weekend I have come to realize that there are many dangers that can arise during these holiday weekends.

·        Explosive fireworks
·        Explosive family interactions
·        Congested highways
·        Congested waterways
·        Potato Salad left too long in the sun
·        Unattended campfires
·        Waterskiing

Just to name a few.

Back in high school and college, my brothers and I used to do a fair bit of waterskiing.  Incidentally…it is a lot easier to stay above water on Minnesota lakes…in the winter…though the boat goes much slower. We were not great water-skiers…but we weren’t bad.

Thus, every year, if I can, I like to try and go once a summer. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity for the past two summers, but during this recent holiday weekend my opportunity arose when my brother brought his boat up to my parents’ lake cabin for the weekend. I have come to learn that I pretty much have ONE chance to get out of the water.  If I fail…you can just about stick a fork in me because I am DONE! I intentionally waited until evening when the water was calm and there was less activity on the water…then I went out.  I put the ski on my left foot as I have always done and dropped into the water.  I took hold of the rope in my hands with my usual cross grip and gave my brother the green light to hit the throttle.  Piece of cake…I drug a short distance and was just pulling out of the water when the tow-rope handle snapped in two.  I would like to think that the handle must have been in a weakened state…as opposed to any increase in size since my last skiing endeavor…but only God really knows that. 

As I sank back into the water…I pretty much knew it was over as I felt my left hamstring lock up and say things to me like…”I hate you! I hate you! Why are you doing this to me?”

“Quiet!” I said back…“This isn’t over!”

As my brother circled around with the broken rope, I took the two broken handles…one in each hand and said, “Let’s try this again.”

“Really?” he said.

“Yes!” I said.

“No.” My hamstring said.

Attempt number two brought in the same result, the handle broke again, only this time a part of which remained in my hand. Failed.

I should have stopped there.  But I didn’t.  My pride would not let me. We went and borrowed a neighbor’s tow rope and went back out. If my hamstring would have had arms…I am quite certain that it would have been punching me in the face saying, “Stop! Stop! Listen to me! You are going to regret this!”

“Quiet you!...What do you know? You are just a hamstring!”

I managed to get out of the water 3 different times…but because of the incredible weakened state of my left hamstring…all I could do was skim across the water on my one ski and backside, screaming, “Stand up! Stand up! You wimpy foolish hamstring!”

“No way! I am not going to do it.” The selfish muscle replied.

No matter what I tried…I had no strength left in the left leg…to simply stand up on the ski. Finally…with my pride crushed and my tail between my legs…I quit.

“I told you so.” said my hamstring.

I came to realize…that in some ways…my time has passed. However, an interesting contrast to the weekend, I that I was able to help my son learn to water-ski for the first time.

I am reminded of how the old passes on to the new.  The old does not become invalid or worthless…but rather has its purpose fulfilled in the new.  Much like how God’s Old Covenant with Moses…pointed to…the New Covenant of Christ.  The Old Covenant…did not become invalid…or no longer valuable…on the contrary…it was fulfilled with the coming of the New Covenant.  Certainly, we are no longer “ruled” by the Old Covenant…now we are driven by the New Covenant…a covenant of grace! In Acts 15, we find this very topic coming to the forefront of the New Testament Church…and the Jewish Council.  They must find the truth for themselves…did Jesus come to abolish the Law…or to fulfill it? What does fulfilling the Law even mean?

How does the Old point to the New…and how does the New gain strength from the Old? Great questions to wrestle with.

Now…if my old hamstring will ever forgive me and help me to learn to walk new again…

Saturday, July 11, 2020


I Don't Know



On a recent hot day our family sat on our deck enjoying our ice cream sandwiches.  The beauty of ice cream sandwiches as opposed to ice cream cones…is that ice cream sandwiches contain added emulsifiers to keep the ice cream and chocolate from melting and making a huge mess!  I have become convinced that the more preservatives I eat the more money I will save my family in funeral costs. “Wow he looks great!” “Yeah, the funeral home hardly had to do anything…they think that he ate enough ice cream sandwiches and Twinkies to keep him looking this good for the next 20 years.

I am left to personally conclude that if Kenny Rogers had eaten more ice cream sandwiches he may not have needed so much cosmetic surgery.

I watched my children as they finished their cold treats, and then witnessed half of them take the wrappers from their hands and just drop them onto the surface of the deck.

“Hey what’s the deal with that?”

“I was going to take care of it when I went inside.” said one.

“What did I do wrong?” said the other.

“Seriously?” I questioned. “You just dropped your wrapper on the deck.”

“Yeah…so?”

“Why would you do that?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?...What do you know?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you care that you just threw the garbage on the floor?”

“It’s not the floor…it’s the deck”

“You know what I mean!”

“I don’t know.”

“Is that where it belongs?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let me help you…it doesn’t belong on the deck…it belongs in the garbage…why would you just drop it there.”

“I don’t know…that’s what I do in my bedroom.”

“What!? Why would you do that??...no wait…don’t tell me…let me guess…You don’t know.”

“I guess.”

Here’s the thing. We all have areas in our lives that we care about. Likewise, we also all have areas in our lives where we just don’t care. I don’t like littering.  It bothers me.  Yet, if you looked at the floor in my garage, you would think that I had an odd affinity for garbage laying around the floor.  I am a bit of a paradox at times.  But then again…aren’t we all?

I was riding my bike along a country road a number of months ago and I saw that someone had thrown an old TV and a dresser into the ditch.  That really bothered me. I felt frustrated that whoever dumped their trash in the ditch didn’t care enough to treat the land differently.

I find that many of the arguments that I have with my children at home have to do with my efforts to make them care about certain things that they do not seem to care about…like littering on the deck, or respecting other peoples’ things, or listening to their mother…or listening to me.

These are things that I think that they “should” care about. Yet, I cannot make them care. To care can only come from one place…our hearts.  I cannot change the heart of my children.  I want to…but I cannot. They surprise at time when seemingly out of nowhere they do something incredibly thoughtful for someone else. It gives me hope that their hearts are changing. There is only one way that anyone’s  heart can be changed.  They must ask God to do that work within them.

That is true for my children…for me…and for every one of us.

Do we care?

Do we want to care?

In Acts 14:19-28, we find Paul and Barnabas do an amazing thing in my eyes.  They go back to the newly planted churches that they have just help get started.  Their commissioning work is done…they have been a witness…they have shared the Gospel…they have planted a number of churches on their way. I can’t help but question…why do they go back?  The simple answer I see here is…because they care.  They care for the people in those communities and in those churches. It is not just a job to them…it is not just about numbers…it is about people…and caring for those people.

Holy Spirit…help me to care…like Paul and Barnabas…help each of us to care, like these men.

Saturday, July 4, 2020


Independence


In 1992 I got my first “real” job.  Certainly, I had found employment before this time, but all of my previous opportunities were odd and end jobs like mowing a lawn for a local Veterinarian, who paid me with buckets of “fertilizer”… “Hey…that there bucket comes from a sheep…that is worth a pretty penny…don’t go ‘wasting’ it all in one place.” Additionally, my brother and I worked for a number of area farmers, usually “throwing bales” of hay…seemingly, on the hottest day of the summer. 
Despite literally running from bale to bale and working as fast as possible…each farmer would encourage us with the same lecture at lunch time.  “Well…that wasn’t too bad…but after you finish your dry bologna sandwich, we can go out in the really hot weather and hit the other field…you should know what you are doing now…so we can really work fast!” 
“Boy thanks Mr. Farmer for the bologna sandwich and the pickled pig’s feet…by the end of summer, this .50 cents per hour will allow me to put new tires on my bicycle that I rode to your farm…and now get to ride home…in the sweltering heat…with my brother riding behind me on the banana seat!
This new job…was a real job! I was hired as Gas Jockey at a full service fueling station!  Now I was paid minimum wage to run out to the gas pumps in 90 plus degree heat…and or…-30 degrees below zero to fill people's cars up with gas…check their oil and air filters and wash their windshields.  The customers didn’t always appreciate their windshields being washed with a block of blue ice frozen to the end of the washing wand.  My bigger concern was inadvertently leaving my frozen fingers stuck beneath a wiper.
As I filled out the paper work (W-4 form), on that first day I called my dad to help me understand the language of the tax code.  He is an expert at translation…likely due to his expansive experiences while growing up in the 60’s.  He knows and understands the meaning of some pretty keen phrases like, “far out” and “it’s a gas.”
“Hey Dad…it’s your favorite son!”
“Oh…Hi Rory…how are you doing?”
“Uh…No Dad…it’s Ryan…”
“Oh…I thought you said you were…”
“Never mind that…I have a question for you…about filling out my tax forms on my new job!”
“Oh, that’s a drag,” He said, “Uncle Sam is going to Bogart all of your lettuce.”
“What?”
“Keep a cool head…when you hit retirement it will all be Marvy.”
“What?”
“You really don’t have much choice…you gotta let them have their bread or the Fuzz will be knocking down your door.”
“Huh?”…”Dad…I just need to know how many ‘dependents’ to claim on my W-4.
“Oh…well that is easy…you claim zero…I already have you claimed as a dependent…so you can’t…”
“What?? This doesn’t seem fair…I have a new job now…I am independent!”
“Really? Are you planning on buying your own food, cooking your own meals,  and getting your own apartment?”
“No…I am only 16.  I want to be "16 year old independent"…you know where I get to do what I want…when I want…and you can’t tell me what to do…but, when I need something like gas in my vehicle, I want to depend on you!”
“Put in zero…or you will find your independent mattress in the front yard.”
I claimed zero.
Today is Independence Day…and I cannot help but find the irony in that as we celebrate our independence…we are still so dependent. 
Let’s be honest…we (as a nation) are dependent upon things like foreign oil…free trade…and military security.  These are not necessarily bad things to be dependent on. Additionally, we are in many ways dependent upon our government…local, state and federal.  We are dependent on our cell phones and our internet and the power grid.  Again, none of these are necessarily evil things.
However, I would challenge us to consider…that perhaps we should place ourselves in the dependence of an even greater authority.  I believe that God actually desires for us to be dependent upon him…not as some craze ego trip…but because of the intimate relationship that dependence creates.  When we are truly dependent upon someone…intimacy is created.
In Acts 13:44-14:18, we find that Paul and Barnabas continue on with their first missionary journey.  Along their way they encounter great revival, strong persecution, acceptance, rejection…but most of all an incredible and healthy dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, June 27, 2020


20 Years


My wife and I celebrated our 20th Wedding Anniversary this past Wednesday. There are a vast number of great ideas on the internet as to how a couple could spend such a monumental event.  I considered several. One popular option is to go on a second honey moon…you know…back to those first days of the first year…for us that would have meant a trip to New Hampshire…on Lake Winnipesauke…looking for Dr. Leo Marvin.  But…Covid ended that.

I considered taking her on a cruise, after all, that is really what she wanted to do for our honey moon, but I was too cheap to take her.  But…Covid again put a stop to that.

Perhaps, a nice bed and breakfast up the coast of the North Shore of Lake Superior might be nice? Nope…Covid.

I even debated for a while about heading up to Lutsen, Minnesota to enjoy the many lodging amenities while I entered the Lutsen 99er bike race…yep…you guessed it…Covid.

So…we ended up going camping for a few days.  Nice you say??? Well…we brought the four children.  Who does that? Who brings their 4 children with them on their 20th anniversary getaway? Short answer…we do.

We arrived to the site on Tuesday.  The weather forecast was perfect…bright and sunny everyday and each day becoming warmer.  I lit a fire to cook our supper and just as the fire hit peak cooking potential our beautiful forecasted weather turned sour with an unexpected torrential down pour.  There is an equation that the Olson family has come to live by and trust. Olson + Camping = Rain.  Try it sometime…it appears to be a certainty. 

On Wednesday, our official anniversary day, Sarah and I exchanged gifts.  We had agreed ahead of time to not exchange any gifts and both broke the rules. She gave me a nice package of Lindt Dark Chocolate Truffles.  I gave to her…an inflatable rubber duck pool floatie…hey after 20 years, a guy runs out of ideas. Next year, I think I will get her an electric air pump…my lungs and lips can’t take another inflating episode.

The children spent much of the three days fighting, attacking and criticizing each other.  Do you have any idea how exhausting it is to endure the never ending bickering? I think I would have been less exhausted with a 99 mile bike race.

Just when I think that I can’t take another minute of it…our children pulled out a small envelope.  The outside said “To: Mom and Dad, Happy Anniversary.” Upon opening the envelope, I pulled out the blue card that simply said “Just a little note,” with a single musical note near the writing; I opened the card and found a $20 bill and sweet words of encouragement from our children.

It nearly brought my wife and I to tears. I barely managed to squeak out the words, “But the campsite costs $28 per night,” before my wife of 20 years swiftly backhanded the wind out of me and prevented me from asking them for more money…after 20 years, she really knows me well.

Despite continually falling into my own lack of encouragement, I have become convinced, that a single word of encouragement can melt away countless burdens. Having children is great…but it is not easy…it is, astoundingly exhausting. Yet, in that one encouraging act…where my 4 children each contribute $5 for their mother and I to go out to eat…was one of the most uplifting and encouraging moments in my recent years.  We all need encouragement. Sometimes we are really good at giving it…sometimes not.  Sometimes we are really good at receiving it…sometimes not. God created us to need encouragement. Indeed, I believe that he created us to thrive on it. I would go so far as to say, that when we encourage one another…it points back to Him…because encouragement is in His nature.

Our world needs encouragement. We see the need all around us. People need to be encouraged. You need encouragement…I need encouragement. Acts 13:13-52, Paul and Barnabas enter a new city on their missionary journey.  When they arrive in the Synagogue the religious leaders ask them to “Share any words of encouragement” that they have for them. Paul shares the message of the Gospel.  The Gospel is THE and should be THE most singularly encouraging truth that this world has ever known or encountered.

Let me encourage you with this. Jesus is love and He loves you deeply and He has all of this stress that lies before us…already figured out.  That…is encouraging!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Yo-Yo


I watched it transpire from the living room window.  My wife was heading outside in the morning to water her potted plants. Despite our superlative abilities at killing any and all plant life, we continue to make efforts to better ourselves and the flowers that have been placed in our care sitting at our front door during this years’ growing season. Truth be told…we purchased them already potted…and have had to do nothing but water them.
As my wife stepped out into the humid Minnesota morning my son calls from the window…”Mom, would you grab my yo-yo from the van before you come in?”

It is shortly after this request that my son and I hear a squeal coming from the front yard.  “Aaah!...No!...Ahh!...Stop!...”  As we investigate out the window we see an incredibly large, mangy dog chasing my wife around the front yard.  The dog is stupidly smiling and panting with his tongue practically dragging on the dry brown grass, as he pursues my wife from one side of the vehicle to the other. 

This dog looks BAD!...not angry, mean or vicious…just REALLY BAD!.  His hair appears to be shaggy and falling out in clumps…he looks desperately thirsty and longing for affection.

“Aaah!” my wife cries…"Son, help me!”
He steps up to the window and calls out…”Mom!...my yo-yo!”
“Ahh!”
“Mom…get my yo-yo!”
“Son!, help!”
“Mom…grab my yo-yo!”

After seeing my son’s apparent disregard for his mother, I went down to the front door to engage the situation. I open the door and yell at the mangy beast, “No! Go Home!”  It is at this moment the 6 foot dog turns and bolts straight at me with his long tongue licking the sidewalk on the journey to the front door. “No!” I yell and quickly close the door nearly severing his large wet nose, just before he enters our home.

He turns back again to pursue my wife. “Isaac! Help!”

“Mom!...don’t forget my yo-yo!”

I open the door to attempt to re-engage…and again the dog turns.

We repeat this process until finally my wife makes a lap around the van…and sprints back to the house…yo-yo in hand. I open the door and let her streak inside and slam the door in the dog’s face. The unintelligent canine then turns and trots away.

“Mom…Did you get my yo-yo?”

Wow! Talk about centrally focused! In Acts 12 we find the establishment of the Church continuing to flourish, despite the persecution and challenges from Herod Agrippa and others. Yet, we find that the enemy of God will relentlessly continue his efforts to derail the growth of the Church.  Acts 13:1-12 clearly reveals this. The Church is moving with the central mission of Jesus Christ in mind and heart…to be His witnesses…to the entire world. The enemy…or mangy dogs…will try and distract us from the mission at hand. To be witnesses.

That IS the mission!

We do not need to over-complicate it.  We just need to stay true to it…to be centrally focused on it, just as Isaac was focused on his central mission of regaining control of his Yo-Yo. 
Let us not be distracted by the mangy dogs of the enemy…and let us stay true to the mission of the Gospel…to make Christ known.

May we become centrally focused on Christ and his mission…while I try to help my son see that perhaps saving his mother may have been a loftier mission to attain…

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Pinned



It was the winter of 1998.  My younger brother was a senior in High School and I was a second year junior in college.  I decided to take the five-year plan…after all…I was 22 years old…knew all that there was to know and had no ability to see that I would one day have to pay back these government subsidized loans.  Who knew that the government didn’t actually give out free money…they actually wanted it back???
My younger brother was wrestling in the Section 6A tournament, in which the top two finishers would advance to the State Tournament the following weekend.  The final round was about to begin.  Two mats were laid out side by side.  One mat would feature the championship matches and the other would host the 3rd place matches.  The seats were all filled as we awaited the beginning of the round.  It was incredibly exciting.
I couldn’t help but reflect on how just a few short years prior I had been wrestling in these rounds as well.  Oh, how I longed to get out there and show the people that I still had what it took to excel at the elite varsity level of High School.  I could feel my muscles tense…I became fidgety in my seat…finally I couldn’t stand it anymore.  With about 5 minutes before the start of the round I jumped up…grabbed my mother next to me…lifted her over my shoulder and strode to the center of one of the mats amid the sea of surrounding wrestling fans.  I gently laid her down in the center of the mat…put her on her back…and slapped the mat! I pinned her!  I jumped up in jubilation…raising my arms in celebration…I had done it!!!  I was the victor…I won! I am somebody!!!
“Ryan, what is wrong with you?” asked my red-faced mother.
It is difficult to tell if the redness was embarrassment or anger…or perhaps that the blood rushed to her head as I carried her nearly upside down out to the mat.
“What!?...I couldn’t help it!” I walked back to my seat and left her to humbly walk back to her seat alone.
Now that I think about it…my mother asked a pretty good question. “What “IS” wrong with me?”
Somewhere in life I have come to realize that I long to win…to be the victor…to be of value…to be important…to not be forgotten.  I have come to see that each of those desires revolves entirely around me.
I find that I am not that much different than Herod Agrippa…who had arrested and killed the Apostle James in Acts 12.  The people were thrilled with him. So, he arrested Peter to do the same. We find him in Acts 12:18-25, at the pinnacle of his popularity…he appears before the people glistening in the sun…almost godlike…basking in the people’s pleasure. When suddenly he dies and is eaten by worms.
Why?...because it is not about him. It is about the CREATOR of him.
Thank God…that it is not about me…because if it were…it would be all about some insecure, self-focused, has been, whose past keeps getting better as his age increases.
I am glad to serve a God who is Glorious.  So, I will strive to always give Him the Glory.  May you find yourself…seeing the Glory of God and making it all about HIM.