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.