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.

Saturday, April 4, 2020


Get to the Table


It’s hard being a boy.  Girls think that they have it so rough…but it is boys who really have the greater hurdles to overcome in life.  Girls get to stay inside and play with tea sets and dolls…while boys have to go outside and play Cowboys and Native Americans…when we shoot our cap-guns at each other and say… “Hey I got you…”

“No you didn’t”

“Yes I did…”

“Fine…but it was only in the liver…I have a few minutes to live before I kick the bucket…so I got you back…”

“That’s not fair.”

“Oh yeah!?...I will show you fair.”

Then the wrestling match ensues which relents to fists flying and me grinding my brother’s face into the dirt, until mom calls out, “Boys!...Get to the table…supper is ready!”

When we arrive to the table and sit down…our mother then sends us away to “wash up.” 

“Why?” I ask…”I am just going to get ketchup on my face anyway.”

When girls come to the table, they are already washed up and ready to dine.  This just doesn’t seem fair.

Girls have long flowing hair…boys, lose their hair.

When you finally find your place at the table…the girls get served first, which appalls young boys because they know that they are hungrier than girls, (except for the brother who just ate a pound of dirt), because after all…they either just had the tar beaten out of them…or spent all of their energy bloodying their brother’s noses. There is nothing like physical altercation to build an appetite.

“Why does she get the first hot dog? I just spent 48 minutes looking for the baseball that I hit over the barn…Oh look mom…I just found a wood tick!...Cool!”

“Go wash again.”

Here is the thing.  No matter where I had been…or where my brothers had been…or been into…or what my sister had been up to…when it came time to be called to the table…there was a place for us at the table.

In fact, even when company was invited over…there was room at the table.  There were times when chairs needed to be added…table leaves brought in…card tables set up…TV trays and piano benches…but there was room at the table. Why? Because when it is time to get to the table, all who are part of the family…whether blood or adoptive had a place at the table.

There is a time in John chapter 13, where Jesus calls people to the table.  He and his friends are in the upper room and he begins to share the meal in a unique way.  He breaks bread and uses it as a symbol for how he will give his body for them.  He shares a cup of wine in a symbol of how he will shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  Despite my endless list of imperfections and inadequacy…that is a table that I want to be called to. The beauty is…He is calling us to the table.

Perhaps it’s time…to get to the table?

May you find yourself led to RSVP to the invitation…to become a part of the family of God…and get to the Table.


Saturday, March 21, 2020


Soul Peace


About a year ago, my dad bought himself a Harley Davidson.  He has owned many motorcycles in his life, but never a Harley.  I recall him day dreaming about Harleys when I was a child. Well…he finally pulled the trigger.  There are certain possessions or experiences that can make people…well, how should I say it…weird.  The first time I saw the Harley in person was when my parents came to visit us one night last summer.  Both of my parents have lived more than 6 decades and yet…this experience seem to throw them back into the teenage years that they never quite out grew.  My parents arrived in their leather chaps, sunglasses and bandannas like the young characters out of easy rider…minus the red, white and blue helmet.

The biggest tell in their regression toward the nether regions of their youth was when they saddled up to leave…my dad fired the twin cylinder engine and my mother held two fingers out in a “v” formation, and said… “Peace.”

Sure could use some of that right now, huh? It’s fascinating to consider the time in our nation’s history when those two fingers first came into prominence…the 1960’s.  The nation was filled with tie dye shirts, bell bottoms and tiny round John Lennon glasses. Peace was all around…kind of.  The nation was at war, the civil rights movement was in full swing and the drug culture was expanding greatly, and people were calling for peace.

Truth is…I think we ALL want peace…I think we all NEED peace. The peace we need is not the kind of peace that comes from raising two fingers and letting your hair blow in the wind.  The peace we need…is deep peace…inside kind of peace…a peace in the very depths of our souls.  We need soul peace. 

In Acts 9:31-43, we find the New Testament Church is experiencing “a time of peace.” What does that mean? It is really interesting, because in this passage we actually find; sickness, death and mourning.  Yet, upon deeper reflection…what we see is that the followers of Christ were free to live in peace…because the peace giver was living within them.  They lived freely…because peace had been freely given. They still encountered death and dying…but they also encountered life, love and peace.

May the Lord grant you deep, inner soul peace as you rely on Him…lean into Him…and let His loving and peaceful arms wrap around you.

Saturday, March 14, 2020


Toilet Paper


It’s band concert season again.  It kicked off last Monday with the 42nd Annual Massed Band Concert at the Little Falls Community High School.  This is the concert where all of the bands from 5th grade up through high school, gather to play 4 songs together.  When you have 400+ students playing their instruments…you also have the parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, neighbors, and teachers of these students, gathering to hear the music.  1,200 people sitting on each others’ laps raising the room temperature to 98.6 degrees and sharing air and breath mints.

The concert began with the 5th grade band playing something like “hot cross buns”…and carried through the grades and ended with all of the band members for each grade moving their chairs into a huge 400+ piece band playing something like “hot cross buns.”

To entertain myself in the down time, I like to wave at my children and other children I know in the band.  To do this, I raise my arm as high and as straight as I can, and then flutter my wrist so that my hand flaps wildly at my children whom I love…to torture.  I have vowed to continue this motion until my children wave back at me.  Then, I move on to the next child…one by one, until they return the wave.  I may, then, turn my attention to other students that I know…I wave until they wave back.

After this years’ concert, my 8th grade son told me a story.  As he sat in the regrouped massed band, next to a senior, baritone saxophonist, he heard the upper classmen say… “Hey did you see that crazy dad waving at his kids in the band?...That guy is weird…funny…but weird.”

My son replied… “…____...” with silence.  He said nothing.

Sadistically, I took this upperclassmen’s comments as quite a compliment.  It meant that I was peculiar…different…odd…weird even.  It is not necessarily my life’s goal to be as strange as possible…but I will admit that it is not necessarily my life’s goal to blend in and conform to the world’s standards of accepted behavior.

For example…I don’t want to live my life in fear as I am convinced the media wants me to live.  I don’t want to conform to the values that the world says that I should value...just because the world says that I should value it.  I want to be a person who loves in a peculiar fashion…be a peculiar giver…I want to care in peculiar ways. 

Our world is currently entrenched in fear of Covid-19…and honestly…I get it…I find myself fighting the urge to conform to the fear.  But I refuse…I fight, to refuse.  It is not easy.  This does not mean that I have not and will not continue to wash my hands vigorously and perhaps avoid touching things or even shaking hands.  But, I refuse to allow fear to affect the peculiar way I may love and care for people.  I may not shake your hand…but perhaps greet you in another way…like giving you a roll of toilet paper in the name of Jesus.

Acts 9:19-31, gives us a picture of what Paul’s life began to look like after he became a follower of Christ. It is an evidence of love, care and boldness…not of fear, bitterness or resentment.  It is an evidence of a peculiar wisdom.

As followers of Christ we need to be both wise…and loving…both sensible and caring…both discerning and faithful.  We are to share the love of Christ…with or without toilet paper.

Saturday, March 7, 2020


Chevy vs. Ford



We all have a plethora of opinions that we hold to…there may be differences, however, in the way that some people choose to share…or not share these opinions.  Often our opinions and beliefs are rock solid…unchanging…etched in stone, like the Est. 1890 cornerstone on the historic courthouse in Little Falls, MN, that may or may not exist.  Let’s be honest…how many of us are actually swayed by political debates?  Most of us have already chosen our favorites…then we just sit on our sofas, eating nachos, while rooting for our debater to score a touchdown.  Are we swayed by the arguments of others?...Doubtful. 

As I was growing up through Jr. High and High School, I was adamant that there was only one automobile manufacturer worth their salt.  General Motors. The rationale was simple…two reasons. 1. Chevrolet’s wide ability of interchangeable parts.  You could take an engine from a 1968 Camaro and drop it into a 1978 Silverado.  Everything fit…without the temptation of excessive creative language. (Truth be told…Ford was probably the same…but I insisted that they were not). 2. General Motors is what my dad drove and swore by…thus by default…I was also adamantly loyal to General Motors.

In college, I would often spend my time helping people out with car problems that they were experiencing in the campus parking lot.  I replaced alternators, starters, radiator hoses, thermostats, changed oil, shocks, head gaskets, mufflers, oxygen sensors…and many more I do not even recall.  On one such occasion my bald headed friend Geno called and gave me an offer that I could not refuse.  “My Ford Ranger won’t start…I want you to fix it or I will remove your eyeballs.” Geno was on the football team.

“Geno…I already know the problem!”

“Really!? What’s that?”

“It’s a Ford…”… “No! No! Geno…put down the spoon…I was only kidding…I will fix it…I don’t mind…it’s only -30°F…it’s not like it -40°.”

I braved the snow and cold and began to work on Geno’s Ford Ranger.  It was the starter.  I already had a predisposed disgust of Fords and my frozen fingers were not aiding in building any affinity. I banged my head 3 or more times on the frame of the Ranger and Geno’s truck likely still has some of my frozen knuckle flesh left stuck to the bell housing. I finished the job and went back to my dorm room to thaw. The next morning, when I woke, I could not move my neck…like at all. I went to the doctor so that he could tell me that I was dying of Menegitis…instead he said it might be cancer.  “Go home and take this Vicodin…and if you are alive in 24 hours you will be ok.” 

It was neither of those illnesses.  I am convinced that it was the curse of the Ford.

Fast forward 4 years.  I married a beautiful girl from the Detroit area whose dad was a Ford Engineer for 30+ years.  This was an interesting twist in my life.  One of the first things I did after we were married was went out and bought a Ford Ranger.  What can I say…I had a change of heart…I was converted.

In Acts 9:1-19, we find perhaps the most incredible conversion recorded in the history of mankind.  Here we find a man, Saul, who was actively involved in the destruction of the church and the Christians that were following Christ that were establishing it.  Saul was involved in the plans to destroy the followers of Christ…to the point of murdering them. This is perhaps the greatest enemy of God, who is fully converted into the fold.  Saul…the arrestor of Christians…becomes himself…arrested…by the incredible grace from the very one he is persecuting…Jesus Christ.

I, in no way, deserve the grace of Jesus…yet, I have been arrested by it.  I have been captured by it.  I need his grace more than any of you…more than all of you…combined…AND yet, you also, need his grace more than anyone else. I hope you see…that we ALL need his grace…we all need to be arrested…we all need to be converted by His grace.  Ford or Chevy no longer makes any difference to me…but Jesus Christ does.

Saturday, February 29, 2020


Following


I remember when my dad would go off every fall for the annual deer hunting season. On those Saturday’s, while he was up north sitting in a tree waiting for Bambi to walk by, I would gather up my toy rifle and head outside into the cold morning. I would take my winter parka and turn it inside out to reveal the orange interior, pull an orange hat over my head and climb my favorite tree and wait. It took about 3 minutes and 35 seconds until I was bored…at which time I would go in for hot cocoa. I wanted to do what my dad was doing.

I used to take my “He-Man” action figures…all of which had muscles on their earlobes…and make a “weight bench” for them out of my erector set.  I would take the big, black, thick wheels of the erector set and make it look like these muscle bound plastic men were bench pressing 405lbs.  Why…because I watched my dad lift weights regularly.  I made triceps pulley machines, pull up bars, squat racks and as many other gym paraphernalia that I could conjure up.

When my dad was working on the house, I would take all the scrap boards I could find and cut them up and drive all kinds of nails though them. Why…because I wanted to do what he was doing.
Why did I yell at my siblings for destroying my stuff? Because my dad yelled at me for cutting up and driving nails into all of the lumber that he was using to build the trusses for the house.

I have video of my own son pushing his bubble making lawn mower behind me as I cut the grass on a sunny summer afternoon. Why…because he wanted to do what I did.
When I would sit on the sofa and play my guitar…he would go and grab his own guitar and sit next to me to do what I was doing.

My young son would follow me wherever I would go.  He would follow me through the aisles of the grocery store. One time he followed me into the Napa Auto Parts store and the parts dealer gave him and I, each a free Napa hat.  After that, when I would wear that hat, I would find him heading for his closet to put his own Napa hat on.  Oddly, he seems to now want to avoid following my fashion trends…huh?…what’s wrong with wearing shorts, winter boots and a parka?

During one Sunday morning, he was following me all over the church building.  However, what he didn’t realize is that he had lost sight of me and as he came up and grabbed hold of “my leg”…it wasn’t “my leg.” It was the leg of a handsome, young former student of mine…it is easy to see how he could make that mistake. 

We are all following someone.  Who we follow matters.  In Acts 8:26-40, we find Philip.  He is being led away from where he had been in Samaria…to a desert place…for a divine appointment.  Despite the fact that Philip is an early church leader…he is at heart a follower.  He is a follower of Jesus.  He goes and does what Jesus leads him to do.  It is in Philip’s willingness to follow Jesus into this incredible divine appointment that the Gospel goes out to the “ends of the earth.”

Who are you following?

Saturday, February 22, 2020


The Lecture


He sat next to me on the bus seat.  My brown paper lunch bag sat between the two of us.  I loved this little guy. He was wildly popular with most of the 2nd grade boys.  Despite the fact that he wore a purple helmet, had a hook for an arm and skull and crossbones as a belt buckle, he was still my favorite. Perhaps what made him so cool was the little eyelet on his helmet and the bear trap jaw attached to his face.  In the He-Man Universe his name was Trap Jaw and he was a bionic man…half man and half machine.  His hooked right arm could be swapped out with weapons, like hooks, claws and laser canons.  I remember taking some of my mother’s thread and running it across my bedroom…threading one end through the eyelet on his helmet and letting him zip line safely onto my bed pillow. 

I had brought him to school with me that day for show and tell.  His popularity quickly elevated my own popularity into the “acceptable for today” status.  Before the luxury of updating our own status on Facebook, we used to have to rely on the status assigned to us by others.  However, by bringing cool things in for show and tell, one could elevate their status quickly.  One time I brought in a yo-yo with some sharp edges cut into the edge to be used as a weapon…(just be sure to wear gloves)…I quickly reached “super cool” status until Mrs. Tucker took it away and it disappeared forever in the cesspool of her bottom left desk drawer. 

As the bus approached the bus stop, I put Trap Jaw into my empty lunch bag so that I would not forget him or lose any of his “attaching implements.” The bus stopped and I hopped off…I did not realize that I had left my lunch bag sitting on the seat.

That was the last day I saw be treasured and beloved Trap Jaw.  I told my parents about my devastating loss, while I fought back the tears.  My dad was super helpful in my time of distress as he said to me, “I think it is about time that I give you a lecture.”

This was great! As he began to go on and on, endlessly sharing his thoughts, I spent my time wondering, “What is a lecture…and how does this help me get my treasure back.”
But as the tireless speaking continued, I came to realize that a lecture must be a “distraction from our problems!”

“Wow! Thanks Dad! That was super distracting…I wasn’t even thinking about Trap Jaw during that long winded speech...We should keep this lecture thing in mind the next time I haven't done my homework...and i am worried about what the teacher will say...you could give me a lecture...and I could forget all about my worrying!"

I never did receive a replacement for Trap Jaw, but that doesn’t really matter. I have found many other things in life to “treasure,” cars, bikes, guitars, baseball card, etc.  I think that “treasures” might be one of the big challenges in our human nature and one of the greatest distractions to the Gospel.

The Gospel is the single greatest treasure the world has ever seen…and yet we tend to hold other things as having a greater value.  Perhaps, we “do” hold the Gospel to the great value that it is…yet, we often tend to believe that we have to somehow earn the Gospel treasure.  We can’t.  The Gospel cannot be purchased.  You cannot afford it.  There is nothing you have that is worth more.  There is nothing that you have that could earn it for you.  It has already been purchase…by the only one who could actually afford it.  Jesus.

Acts 8:4-25, presents a wonderful narrative.  We find that this treasured Gospel has spread outside of Jerusalem and is now being spread in Jerusalem.  There is a man there…a magician…who tries to quite literally…buy the power of the Gospel. Peter confronts him with the truth…which is where I think we need to find ourselves.  Here is it…the Gospel…standing before us…what will we do? Repent? Believe? Accept? Or, will we default to un-acceptance…or needing to “earn” it? What will it take for us to understand and believe?

Saturday, February 15, 2020


Hypothetical conversation #592



“Good morning, Sally.”

“Well, good morning Ruby!…Boy!?…Did you not sleep well last night? You look awful.”

Awkward silence.

“I slept really well actually…thanks for asking.”

“Oh…are you feeling sick?”

“No…I feel fine.”

“You look sick.”

“Thank you…I actually feel fine…in fact, I feel really good!”

16 minutes later.

“Are you sure you are feeling ok? You really don’t look good.”

“YES!...I feel just fine.”

Quiet Tension

“Did you put on any make up this morning?”

“Yes…why?”

“You just don’t look good.”

“Thanks…”

“Your eyes look dark…do you feel tired?”

“NO!...I don’t feel tired.”

“Hungry?”

“NO!...I do NOT feel hungry.”

“Did you and your husband have a fight?”

Not so quiet tension

“No!...I don’t see how that is any of your business anyhow!”

“Did you take your temperature before you came in to work?”

“No…I didn’t need to…I feel fine.”

“Do your feet hurt? It looks like your feet hurt.”

“No.”

“Is your back bothering you? You look like you are in pain.”

“No.”

“Do you have a headache?”

“No.”

“You don’t look good…would you like me to make you some chicken soup?”

“No…I think I am just going to go home early…I am not feeling very good…”

“I KNEW IT!!!”

It is likely, in our hyper sensitive culture, that we have offended someone…or have been offended. Perhaps it is even likely that we have offended…or been offended, this past week…or even today.  It seems like someone is always offended. It is possible that we, ourselves, feel that the world is against us…and that everyone is looking to kick us in the nose and throw us to the curbside in hopes of having us be washed down the gutter.

What do we do with these offenses? I see about three options.

1. Lash out and return the offense.
2. Do nothing…right now…let the offenses build…and then lash out and return the offense.
3. Forgive.

I find shortest answer, number 3, to be the toughest answer.  We often will only choose to forgive, when we know that the other person is:

A. Truly repentant
B. Has suffered enough penance
OR
C. By forgiving it somehow makes us look better

I think true forgiveness, however, is bigger…true forgiveness is deeper.  I think true forgiveness is a supernatural act.  In Acts 6:8-8:3, we find an incredible story of one of the very first martyrs of the early church…Stephen.  When he is preaching the truth of the Gospel, he is attacked and killed with flying paving stones…his final words are astounding…“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Who does that!? Who prays for his attackers…asking for their forgiveness? That is supernatural. That is powerful. That is forgiveness.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

I don’t care




I, along with about 100 million other people sat down to watch the Kansas City Chief defeat the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday.  As football games go, it was a decent game.  Yet, despite the quality of the game, I had trouble getting very excited about any aspects of the event. There was really only one outcome that I was desperately hoping for…a tie score at the end of regulation…because if the game were to go into overtime…everyone in America would get free wings from Buffalo Wild Wings.  Unfortunately, it became apparent that as the game neared its finality, chicken wings were not going to be a part of my future. 

What was my deal? Why the apathy? I guess the bottom line is…I just didn’t care.  I didn’t really care if the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes win or if the 49ers come out on top.  I didn’t really care if Andy Reid finally wins a Super Bowl. I didn’t care about Katie Sowers’ time in the spotlight.  Nothing against any of them…sorry world…I just didn’t care.  I didn’t care if or how many touchdown’s Jimmy Garapolo would throw.  In fact, Jimmy could crack corn and I wouldn’t care. It’s just a football game, and so I think I have license to not care…granted…if the Minnesota Viking had played??? I likely would have cared too much.

What do we care about? What makes us passionate about things in life?  Is it just a purple uniform? I care about my wife and children, as I would hope most people would. I care about my siblings…but that hasn’t always been the case.  I can’t adequately express the inner pleasure that I would feel as a child, causing my little brother pain.  When he would irritate me and approach me with that little smug, “You can’t touch me or I will tell Mom, expression,” I would lie wait ready to attack him with the jawbone of a dead cat. 

“Ouch! I am bleeding! I’m  telling Mom!”

“I don’t care! You deserve it…you wouldn’t stop ‘looking’ at me…and then you crossed the imaginary line in the back seat of the car!”

It was the same with my sister.  “Mom! Ryan cut the hair of my Barbie!”

“Bwa haha…Mom’s not hear! Now I will lock you in the basement.”

She sobbed and cried…but I didn’t care.

But I do now.  I remember my younger brother having a tough stretch in college.  He was enduring car trouble, people trouble, financial trouble and likely more.  I cared.  I wanted to do something, so my wife and I put together a simple package of delicious goodies, useful supplies and a check to help him out and we mailed it to him.

My sister and her husband have trying to adopt 3 beautiful foster children that have been in their care for over a year now.  I care that she is frustrated with the legal challenges. I care that her heart is sometimes heavy and sometimes hurts. 

My older brother?...He can care for himself.

I care when my kids are emotionally hurt. When they are physically hurt…not as much…they can take a deep breath, rub some dirt on it and get over it. But, emotionally?…I seem to care a little bit more about that. I care when my wife carries the heavy burdens that only I know that she carries.
I care about how people are treated in our community.  That is not always the case.  Sometimes I distance myself from caring.  Sometimes it is easier to choose to not see.  In Acts 6:1-7, we find the early church in a moment of not fully caring.

The church in Jerusalem was growing and it was still primarily made up of all Jews.  However, some of these Jews grew up in a Greek culture (Hellenistic), and many were true Hebraic Jews…holding to all of the ancient traditions of the Hebrew people. It comes to the Apostles attention that the Grecian Jewish widows are not being cared for. There is prejudice against them because they are not “true” Hebrew Jewish Christians.  They are ALL followers of Christ! The Apostles see this issue…and they care…with everyone’s input, they select 7 men…to care.  These are the people who will help ensure that people in the church will be cared for…while the Apostles continue to care for the spiritual needs…these 7 will help care for the physical needs.  BOTH…are to be evident in the church.

What do you care about?

Saturday, February 1, 2020


Authority


Statistics show that children under the age of 10 ask questions every four minutes.  “Why is the sky blue?” “What are you doing?” “Where are my Legos?” “What are you doing?” “Can I eat lunch?” “What are you doing?” “What are we having for lunch?” “I don’t like that, can I have something else?” “Are we there yet?” “How much further?” “Can we have pizza?” “What are you doing?” These questions go on and on, until parents finally come to the end of their rope and scream “Calgon! Take me away!” But no magic music is suddenly played and the bathroom remains as un-elegant and messy as it was before the magical phrase.  The best that can be done is for parents to lock themselves into the bathroom and sob from exhaustion, while listening to a little fist bang on the door asking, “Mom, when are you going to come out of there?” “Can I have a cookie?” “Is it bad if I just swallowed a marble?”…

Up until the age of 10, children will ask their questions to their parents, after that, Google becomes a primary source of authority for relevant answers.  In either case, we look to authorities for direction during life’s most challenging moments.  We often don’t like to admit it, but we all have authorities in our lives.  Teachers, parents, doctors, government leaders, law enforcement officers, military professionals, all take on roles of authority in our lives. 

These authorities demand and mandate certain actions from us.  Bosses will control our work and our productivity.  Parents will mandate our bedtimes and household chores. Police officers and lawmakers will mandate our civil responsibilities, like speed limits and whether or not we are allowed to walk across the White House lawn.  TSA agents mandate that we cannot bring the melted king size candy bar that has melted in our pocket and is now considered a liquid or a gel onto the plane.  Teachers mandate that we do our school work…turn it in on time…and stop distracting others.

There are times in our lives, where authorities may demand that we work towards something that we know is not right.  We find an example of this in Acts 5:12-42.  The followers of Christ are doing what they know is right…what they know to be the will of Jesus…because Jesus told them so in Acts 1:8.  The name of Jesus is being proclaimed…continually.  But…there is a problem…the spiritual leaders…the Jewish authorities are against them…so much so that they are threatening the very lives of these believers.  What will these Gospel speakers do? They submit to authority.  At first they submit to the Jewish authorities, but when they are commanded to go against Jesus’ words, something changes.  Now they submit to a greater authority.  They submit to THE AUTHORITY. God himself…Jesus Christ…the Holy Spirit…and they are punished for it.

What authorities do we submit to? Do we submit to the authorities of our peers’ expectations?...or, our boss’, parents’, teachers’? We should submit to the authorities in our lives…until we have the choice to choose them over THE AUTHORITY.

“Sarah, what’s for supper?” “Where is my hammer?” “Is supper ready?” “I don’t like that…can we have pizza?” “What are you doing with that broom raise above head like a baseball bat?” “Why did you lock yourself in the bathroom?...”



Saturday, January 25, 2020


The Enemy



In 2009 the unthinkable happened…no, not the H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic…nor am I referring to the death of the King of Pop.  Rather, something that hit really close to home for most Minnesota Viking fans.  This was the year that the arch-nemesis and continued object of Viking fandom ridicule, left the ‘dark side’ and came to Minnesota to join the forces of good and fight the dark forces of the Green Bay Packers…defeating the green enemy twice that year.

I cannot imagine that I was the only one struggling with accepting Brett Favre as our new quarterback after having rooted for his demise for 16 seasons. Yet, I was astounded that as he donned the royal purple and gold and began throwing touchdowns for the good guys.  I came to the realization…“this guy is on our side…he is for us…he is one of us.”

I hardly even remember that interception in overtime of the NFC championship game against the Saints. Out of his career leading interceptions…why did he have to throw that one? After that game…he nearly retired…again, which interestingly, would have left him having his very first and his very last NFL passes…both going down as interception.

Instead, he came back in 2010…he did not have the magical year that he had in 2009…but he was still one of the good guys.

This strikes me as a picture of unity.  When people have a common goal…we find a deep unity arising.  That is the beauty of the Church.  In Acts chapter 4 we see a great unity begin in this new community of believers.  They are people from every tribe, nation, culture and language…(it is like every team in football has sent in their representative)…and with the common goal of Christ and making him known…they unite. 

The depth of the unity is so great.  They are willing to give of their time, their money, their property and their love for each other, because of their shared love for Christ. 

May we come to have Christ in common…and unite to make His Name Great!