Friday, December 24, 2021

 The Basement 

A Christmas Story


I was in the basement of my childhood home. It was dark…very dark.  I had been sent to the basement to get a Tupperware container full of some of the most delicious Christmas cookies known to mankind.  A cacophony of lady fingers, rosettes, frosted sugar cookies, molasses crinkles and more.  I couldn’t help but salivate as my 7 year old tummy rumbled at the thought of these frozen treasures. 

My childhood home was old…perhaps a century or more.  The basement had no windows and the rough cut floor joists were exposed on the ceiling.  I opened the door at the top of the descending stairs and flipped the light switch on.  I could see the glow of the single incandescent bulb as it barely illuminated the creepy space below.  The bulb was a mere 60 watts, which did little more than offer a yellow hue and leave plenty of shadows for the evils of basement creatures to linger in hiding.  I made my way down the creaky staircase.  Solid pine planks spanned across the stringers...many of them cracked along the dried grain.  There was brown paint that lingered on the edge of each tread but had worn away to bare wood where the feet of thousands of journeys had diminished the protective coat. The front edge of the stairs had rounded over from countless shoes and the falling of boys’ shins making tearful impact to the wooden corners.

I finished my descent and set foot on the concrete floor, in the North-East corner.  I walked toward the South-West corner and entered the short narrow hallway where the freezer stood humming.  I pulled the string to a second incandescent bulb that lit up the hallway…doubling the amount of light, giving less space for the evils of darkness to linger.

As I opened the freezer and pulled out the Tupperware of cookies…the 60 watt bulb of the main space went dark.  My heart jumped in my chest…someone had turned off the light switch at the top of the stairs…there was no other switch for that light. “This was going to be a problem,” was all I could think.  Sure I still had the light of the hallway…but that wouldn’t last.  I considered leaving the hallway light on to allow me to see my way back to the staircase in the opposite corner.  But I knew that was not an option.  My father was known to be the “Burning Light Totalitarian.”

“Who left the lights on in the basement?” he would demand. “Do you know how much electricity costs?”

I took this as a rhetorical questions…and so I said nothing…wondering…”How would I know how much electricity costs?”

One night we were all waiting in the car for my dad to drive us to grandma’s house for Christmas Eve.  After what seemed to be 15 minutes and a few honks from my mother…my angry father threw himself into the driver’s seat and proclaimed, “I just turned off 14 lights that were left burning…do you know how much electricity costs?”

“I didn’t know that light bulbs were on fire.” I responded.

That was a mistake. His eyes lit like burning light bulbs and he growled, “Do you want to walk home?”

“We are home.” I blurted.  I couldn’t help it. It just slipped out. Me and my big mouth.  His eyes went from 60 watts to 100 watts like lightning.  My mother’s hand touched his knee.  He calmed down and gritted, “You are lucky it’s Christmas Eve.”

It was shortly after this moment that he sat me down and gave me a lesson as to how many watts a 60 watt bulb draws.  My guess was 60…but somehow I was wrong.  Something about how watts converts to kilowatt hours.  He then began a long monologue on how much we pay per kilowatt hour and how much 14 burning lights cost and that we should turn the lights off.

I listened carefully as I stood with the refrigerator door open the entire time…until he finished because I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt him.  “Can I have some orange juice?” I asked.

“What!?...No!...Orange Juice is for dipping, (don’t ask…long story), close the refrigerator!”

I am sure that my father would be pleased to know that I still remember having that conversation…though I still have no idea how to calculate kilowatt hours.

Despite that, I did turn off 13 burning lights in my own home just this morning…I counted them…and told my children what I had just done…and proceeded to ask if they knew how much electricity costs...then…I went and drank some orange juice.

As I remained near paralyzed in the basement, consequently, I concluded that I could not leave the light on and instead I geared up for the journey ahead.  Just before I pulled the string to turn off the light I committed to memory the path that I must take.  I estimated 12 strides…6 slightly to the left to avoid the supporting post in the middle of the room…then 6 steps back to the right to hopefully find the corner and the beginning of the staircase.

I pulled the string…turned off the light…and I ran…through the complete blackness.  As soon as the light went out, I could feel the in-numerable vile creatures dispatch from their shadowy lairs.  The demons, snakes and creatures of death rose up and began chasing me…ready to devour me in the sulfuric darkness.

I sprinted from one end of the basement to the other as fast as I could.  As I reached the stairs, my heart was slamming into my chest and the creatures drew nearer.  I couldn’t catch my breath…not from exhaustion, but rather from the building terror.  I drove my arms as I climbed the creaky staircase and burst forth out of the door leaving the deadly gloom of darkness and the evil that pursued me behind.  I slammed the door shut.  I leaned by back against it and panted…sweaty and shaky.

Having reached the light…I was safe…I was secure.

In the light I had peace.

“What are you doing?” my mother would ask.

“Just conserving electricity” I said…”And running for my life against the powers of darkness of this world.” I thought.

Christmas.  It is the day when the Light of the World…came into the world.  The Light of the World…that destroyed sin, death and darkness, came and changed everything.  The light has come…and the darkness cannot overcome it.

May you find the Light of the World this Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

The Gift


We are less than one week from Christmas.  The packages beneath our tree continue to multiply…which is odd…considering that they have no mind for basic mathematics.  Yet, in any case the growing number of packages creates a marvelous sense of wonder and excitement in our home.  It was just this morning that my ears heard the squeals of glee and the high pitched words, “I am so excited, I can’t wait ‘til Christmas!”  Imagine my surprise to find that everyone was still asleep in bed…and I so rarely squeal!

I remember one Christmas Eve as a child. I lay awake in bed, wishing without end, that I could just fall asleep so that morning could all the sooner arrive.  Despite my efforts, sleep eluded me. As I remained prone and awake staring at the exposed rough cut floor joists of the unfinished ceiling in my basement bedroom, I could hear my parents filling the stockings that were hung by the weight bench with care.  Excitement built all the more…which did not help settle me into any sort of slumber. 

There was one gift above all else that I hoped for that Christmas…a keyboard.  Not the keyboard of an Apple IIe…or the Tandy 1000 that sat cumbersomely on the oversized computer desk in the dining room…but rather a keyboard that would launch me into stardom.  Ever since “Video Killed the Radio Star”, and Duran Duran graced the screen of channel 34 on my grandmother’s television, I had envisioned myself behind a keyboard pounding out the synthetic sounds of glory with my right hand and running my left hand through my thickly gelled spiked hair.

Nearing the end of the morning…there was one gift that waited to be discovered.  It was the right size…it was the right shape…and as I tore into it and found the words Yamaha, I was ecstatic!  My career was launched.  However, due to my lack of any music knowledge…training…and talent…my career ended about 45 minutes later.  Despite my abbreviated career, that gift resonates in my memory, as do many other gifts of Christmases past…although all musical memories thereafter consisted of magnetic tape and digital discs.

I came to a realization this year, as I was preparing gifts for my children to anticipate, as I had.  For thousands of years mankind anticipated that first Christmas.  Since the creation of the world…God promised a gift…a savior and then…He GAVE IT! He really gave it!

It is a gift that could never be earned…deserved…or reciprocated! It is the gift of gifts!

It is Jesus! 

Paul even says so in Ephesians 2:1-8.  “For it is by grace that you are saved, not by works…it is the gift of God!”

May you come to receive the gift of gifts this Christmas…may you come to see the Gift of God for what…and WHO it is…JESUS!


Saturday, December 11, 2021

 Grace Grace


I tend to enjoy surprises, as do my parents especially at Christmas.  Year after year new efforts were made keep gifts and packages secret until the day of the great festivities.  As my siblings and I grew older…new creative ways to keep the secrets needed to be developed.  No longer could my parents simply write the names of their children on the packages, because we would spend so much time handling each item…shaking it…making guesses…asking questions.  The two James Bond wannabes began disguising packages by adding weight, a bag of rice in this one…a 2.5lb Olympic weight in another one.  Small items were wrapped in huge boxes…and huge gifts were crammed in small packages…don’t ask me how…it must have been magic. 

This still wasn’t enough, and the two childlike adults resorted to creating an elaborate secret code to confuse “would be recipients” of whose package was whose.  During one particular Christmas morning, the climax of gift opening was delayed until the misplaced cipher key was found.

In 1991, my 11 year old little sister couldn’t stand not knowing which gifts were hers, and what was in those packages.  She secretly began carefully peeling away the tape and peeking behind the paper looking for her gifts.  By doing so, she successfully cracked the code and was able to discover what was in each of her gifts.

However…in a family of aspiring secret agents, things like this do not go un-noticed.  My mother went to work accusing each of us boys first.  She confronted me hard, studying my face as I denied any involvement, looking for any signs of a lie or dishonesty.  This continued with my two brothers as well and then my sister…why was she always the last to be blamed?  Probably because she was a girl and was always treated favorably…yet, in this case…she was found to be the guilty party.

In effort to deliver a punishment that fit the crime, my dad sat my sister down…still 2 weeks before Christmas…handed her one of her gifts and said, “Open it.”

“Huh?”

“Open it.” He repeated.

She opened up a new telephone…a corded one…this is 1991…cordless phones were high technology at the time and cell phones were only on Star Trek.

“Give it to your mother, so she can return it.” He directed.

Her lip curled and her eyes moistened…and I smiled as I relished the suffering of my annoying little sister.

She handed the phone to our mother. My mother, who only had one daughter, began to cry and my smile quickly faded, as I saw the hurt in her eyes that reflected her bleeding heart.

My dad handed her another gift, “Open it,” he demanded.

She opened a new Paula Abdul CD.

“Give it to your mother…”

She obeyed and the tears continued…except dad…he had no tears…he was either made of stone or just “cold hearted.”

One after another, the gifts were opened and handed over to be returned.  When it was over…so was her Christmas.

Two weeks later when Christmas day arrived, we all sat down with our gifts in front of us…as distributed by our parents.  Three piles sat in the room, one in front of each of my two brothers and one stood before me.  Nothing sat in front of my sister.

She sat, looking sad and forlorn.  Everyone was sitting and waiting for my dad to come into the room so that we could begin.

“Dad! Hurry up!” my impatient little brother called.  He was so immature. 

“Dad! Get the lead out!” I insisted.

When dad finally entered the room, he had in his arms a large number of beautifully wrapped packages and set them before my sister. She looked at him questioningly. “Merry Christmas,” is all he said.

Grace.

Grace.

Grace.

Grace is all that we don’t deserve.  On that first Christmas, the world was offered grace…from a God who has always and already been…gracious.

John 1:16 says it this way. “Out of his fullness we have all received grace...in place of grace…that had already been given.”

Jesus is grace…on top of grace that had already been given.

Grace upon grace…it seems redundant.  Redundant?...or amazing?

May we come to know the amazing grace upon grace this Christmas.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

 The Day Will Come

 

It is inevitable…the day will come.

The day will come when I will slip on the ice and crack my head on the hard frozen ground, at which point everyone will gasp in astonishment and be concerned for my well being…except my wife…she will double in laughter. 

The day will come when my first child, who was just under 8 lbs and 21.5” inches long, will graduate from high school and head off to college…leaving me as an emotional wreck to secretly weep alone in the bathroom.

The day will come when some arrogant college boy, will lay his dirty little eyes on her beauty and ask her out on a date…at which time I will come out of my weeping stupor and threaten his very life with a spanking spoon used to making “roni and cheese.”

The day will come when he will ask for her hand in marriage…at which time I will pretend my hearing aid batteries are dead.

The day will come when I will escort this former bubble blowing princess down an aisle wearing a white dress that is more expensive than my first automobile, and yet cannot hold a candle to her beauty let alone her value.

The day will come when I will become a grandfather to a little 8lb, 21.5” newborn, at which time I will confront this former college boy and now non blood relative…“How dare you?” My heart will then soften once again when I make eye contact with this new life in my arms.

The day will come.  That is unless I am first hit by a bus.

The day will come when my son gets his driver’s license and my automobile insurance increases exponentially. Oh wait! That day took place a few weeks ago.

The day will come…when I get old….Oh wait!...Never mind.

There are days that lay in wait for us…days that are in the distant or not so distant future.  These days will be significant life changing days.  When they arrive, our lives will never be the same…our lives will be changed forever.  I have experienced many of these inevitable days in my life…days like my wedding day or the day when my first child was born…or like the day when my second…third…and fourth children were born. These are days of change.  These are days of anticipation.

There is a day…a single day…that changed everything.  It is the day that God came in the flesh…the day that Jesus was born. It was a day that had been promised thousands of years before. Then…at just the right time…Jesus was born…Jesus came…and offered us EVERYTHING!

Peter reminds us of this in 2 Peter 3:1 and Paul points to it in Galatians 4:1-7.  This event was the major event in human history.  This event was promised thousands of years before.  It had been anticipated for generations. The day came.  It really happened.  Let’s always remember…Jesus really came!

 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

 #13

“On your marks,” My dad shouted over the 2 cycle engines whining in front of him.

“Set,” he continued, holding a makeshift flag, a white handkerchief with black permanent marker creating a checkered pattern, sitting on the end of an oak dowel.

I leaned in to the handlebars of my red Honda 50cc dirt bike; the #13 donned the front placard as well as the one to my side behind my left calf.  I didn’t mind the number, in fact I requested it…I didn’t need luck on my side…I was better than my opponent.  He knew it…I knew it…and he was about to taste it.  My right hand revved the throttle ready for the flag to drop.

“Go!”

I dumped the clutch with my left hand and my rear wheel spun violently, digging a hole behind me as my back tire sank nearly to the axle…apparently too much throttle.  My older brother, riding an identical bike, brandished with the #6, eased off his clutch and puttered away.  The race had begun, and I had yet to go anywhere productive. The race was a mere three laps and I was going to be hard pressed to make up the gap that was continuing to expand as I sat there idle.  I eased off the gas…climbed out of my hole…and took off. 

The course began with a long straight, followed by a hard left and an easy right as the surface inclined.  At the top of the incline, another left took you back down a steeper slope to a hairpin curve to lead you right back up.  Once on top, the home stretch was a short straight that led to the sharpest left of the course and back into lap number two. 

Not every 7 year old is blessed with the coolest dad in the world, who not only buys dirt bikes for his sons, but also has the foresight to create a race track in the back yard using an ancient disk and a drag pulled by an old Alice Chalmers B.

I had run this track hundreds of times.  I knew it well.  I also knew that despite the lead, I would pass my older brother, and pass him I did.  Just as I was finishing lap number two I was right on his rear wheel.  I slid wide to the right as we approached the sharp left hand turn into the long straight.  I cut hard and gunned the throttle, and shot past him to the inside like a stone from my slingshot.  I was immediately filled with a genuine aura of satisfaction that filled my gullet and tingled the hairs on the back of my neck.  One lap to go and I was creating a dominant lead.  I went up the first incline and was on my way back down when I looked over my shoulder to see where my loser of an older brother was. “Eeek,” I thought…he was closer than I had expected.  I looked a second time just as I was hitting the bottom of the hill.  However, as I looked back, my front tire slammed into a rut and I flipped the bike rear over front.  The bike was ok…I broke its fall. 

My older brother slowed down as he approached the bottom of the hill so as not to run me over.  Was he being nice…or was he gloating? Then he puttered away back up the hill.  Gloating…definitely gloating.  I hopped back on #13, kicked the starter, nailed the throttle and took off, throwing dirt, mud, and sod behind me.  I could still win! I could still win!

I never let off of the throttle! I was gaining on him fast! I was going to do it! And then…I didn’t.  He crossed the finish line about 6 feet before I did.

“Well, I guess you shouldn’t look back huh Ryan!” my dad laughed. 

I gritted my teeth…and cried…“So much for the coolest dad in the world,” I thought.

It is so hard to go through life and keep your focus.  The simple distractions that we face daily are innumerable. We face mountains of tasks, deadlines, family responsibilities, parenting, spousing the list is endless.  Life is hard enough as it is…but then you add in the daunting challenges of sin.  The Bible is clear in its teaching about sin.  Paul writes in Romans 3, that there is NO ONE righteous. Jesus challenges men in John 8, to be free to “cast the first stone,” if you happen to be without sin…there is no one left to cast a stone.  We all sin.  We all have sin in our lives, and we all sin more than we think we do. 

In Matthew 5-7, Jesus raises the bar to righteous living.  He makes what was already impossible…even more impossible…if that is even possible.  He shows us that we cannot do it.  We cannot live the righteous life…on our own.  We need help.  We need Him.  That is how we conclude this message.  We need Jesus to do a work in us.  We need Jesus to change our hearts. 

But what is our role? What do we do?  If he does the work of changing our hearts…what is my responsibility? It is to repent.

We need to repent and get our eyes back on Jesus.

This is a message for all human kind.  The Sermon on the Mount…is a call to repentance.  May we repent and get our eyes back on Jesus.


Saturday, October 23, 2021

 The Penny


We all face anxiety and worrisome situations on a daily basis…you know what I am talking about…we all worry.  This past week my daughter wanted to register for a college visit, but the online registration wasn’t working. To an average human being, this is not a cause for 911.  However, my soon to be 18 year old and high school graduate, found herself in a catastrophic moment of despair. 

“Hannah, it is not a big deal…just call the school.”

“I don’t want to call.”

“Why not?”

“I am scared.”

“What!? Scared of what? The fact that you might have to talk to another human being?”

“Yes! Exactly!”

“Call them…they WANT to talk to you…they WANT your money!”

“I can’t! I am afraid!”…(Hannah often tells me that I, “Just don’t understand how hard it is to be a high school student in today’s culture.”  Obviously…I don’t.)

 “That is absurd…send an email then.” I retorted.

“Ok…I can do that.”

Disaster averted.

It is not just the worries of high school and college. The other day I was worried that Sarah would find out that I forgot to drop off the gas bill.  She found out…but it wasn’t as bad as I thought…I didn’t even get punished!

When my son was in the terrifying realm of kindergarten, he came home one spring day and collapsed on the sofa…and did nothing.  This was unusual for such a rambunctious juvenile boy. My wife Sarah, immediately began to worry.

“Isaac, are you feeling ok?”

“Yeah.”

A similar question rose from her lips a few moments later. “Are you sure you are ok? You don’t seem to be yourself.”

“Yeah.”

“Ryan…I think that Isaac is sick,” she stated.

“Isaac, are you feeling ok?” I interjected.

“Yeah.”

He has always been a great conversationalist.

“He says he fine…he’s fine.” I answered.

Well…that wasn’t good enough.  My wife took his temperature.  It was normal.  Still not convinced she gave him vitamin C and sent him to bed early. All the while, I must admit that he did seem a bit out of sorts.

In the morning she continued to check his vitals…namely his temperature.

“There! You see! 99.1! I knew it! He has a fever…He is staying home!”

Moments after I took Hannah to school and left for work…he was miraculously healed!

Until…the next morning…99.1

After, 2-3 days of this same sequence, Sarah was deeply concerned with the pattern and ready to consider the ER, She asked me, “What should we do?”

“Ask him if everything is ok at school.” I offered.

She did, and he immediately broke into tears and wept…“I lost Jimmies penny at the playground! He is going to be mad at me! I tried to find it! I looked and I looked but I could not find it! I don’t know what to do…I don’t want to see Jimmy because he is going to want the penny and I don’t have it…I can’t find it!

“Here…have a penny.”

Disaster averted.

He had literally…worried himself SICK!

But let’s be honest.  We all do the same! We worry about: our retirement, gas prices, politics, toilet paper, food prices, job security, children’s choices, vehicle reliability, calling the college admissions counselor, what do people think of me, maybe this pain in my neck is something serious like cancer, the list is endless…and that’s just MY list. Jesus challenges our hearts once again in Matthew 6:19-34. In this case he is forcing us to confront what we value.  He is confronting us with the condition of our hearts…what is it that is truly important to us.  Jesus wants our hearts to be “for God.” He is drawing our hearts away from meaningless worldly treasures that do nothing but rot away. He is drawing our hearts away from worrying about these rotting valueless items.

May we come to have our hearts transformed into a Heart for God.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Why?

 

Why do we do the things that we do?

One evening, during my late elementary school years, I stood in my dad’s garage along with both my dad and older brother.  We gathered together to admire the new kitchen cabinets that had just arrived and lay waiting to be installed.  As we meandered through the new cabinets, my dad and I both looked up to see my older brother standing 6 feet away…violently shaking his head from side to side.  His jaw was slackened and you could see his malleable cheeks flapping loosely, causing spit and drool to fly from his relaxed mandible. The two of us watched in confusion.  When he finally ceased flapping his head like a rain soaked Labrador retriever…my dad asked…”What are you doing?”

“I don’t know…” was all he replied.

That was weird.

Despite his insistence on “not knowing” what he was doing…there must have been some underlying reason as to why he decided to shake his head so vehemently. It is possible that he had just lost his mind…or perhaps was trying to shake his brain matter out through his ears.  In either case that could be considered…a reason.

Why?

Why do we tip at restaurants? I know that it is initially…”To Insure Promptness”…but let’s be honest…it is an obligation.  In fact, in some cases tips are automatically calculated into the bill.  Don’t get me wrong…I think that generous tipping is a pretty cool thing…especially when someone else is the generous tipper. 

As a couple of young high school students, my flapping faced brother and I sat at a cafĂ© table just finishing up a couple of burgers that we had been treated to from a local antique dealer.  The two of us had spent the day hauling antiques to his shop from a local auction.  Upon the completion of our meal…the antique dealer (who was also our grandfather) pulled out a coin purse filled with a fistful of U.S. minted change.  He dug through the jingling pile of metal…pulled out one worn nickel and placed it on the table.  I am no expert…but I am guessing that this less than generous “tip” did NOT “insure promptness,” in any of his future visits. Why did he even bother to give a tip? Generosity? Obligation? Affirmation?

Why?

Why do we tip? Why do we give? Why do we pray? Why do we fast? What is it that draws us to do the things that we do?  I think that this is exactly what Jesus is challenging us to understand in Matthew 6:1-18. Here Jesus gives some instructions on giving, praying, and fasting.  Sometimes, I think that we take these words as more demands as to how we are supposed to live.  In a way…that would be true, yet I think that what Jesus is really driving at is our hearts.  I have become more and more convinced that Jesus is working to transform our hearts. He is working to make us more in tuned with the heart of God.  Jesus wants us to live our lives, motivated by the love of God…and the love for God. May we come to ask Jesus to do that heart work in our lives.  It is a work that ONLY He can do…so let’s invite Him to do it.


Saturday, October 9, 2021

Road Rage


I was driving east on Hwy. 10 in central Minnesota.  It was dark, and I had two of my four children sitting next to me in the front of my small, Ford Ranger pickup.  I brought along the two preschoolers, who were sleeping in their car seats next to me, because my wife was working, and I had this given Friday off. I didn’t have many other options than to bring them along.  I suppose that I could have surrounded the 2 year old Carissa with bottles of milk and given Isaac instructions to not jab or prod her with anything pointy or sharp...nor step on her, wrestle her, or feed her uncut grapes.

“Isaac…now you need to take care of your 2 year old sister…this is your responsibility.  Also, I think that it would be nice if you could mow the lawn…I want it bagged this time…and if you need to use the step ladder to crawl into the trailer…please put it back when you are done!”

“Dad? When you are gone, can I play with your table saw? I want to make something nice for mom.  I am very responsible as I am almost 5 years old.”

…I opted to take the children with me. 

I was heading up north to install a countertop that I had made for my parents’ lake cabin.  The job took most of the day, and as I was driving back home, I was tired and so were my children.  I would soon be thankful that both children slept.

As I approached one of the nearing small central Minnesota town, the car in front of me began demonstrating some peculiar behavior.

First, it began to slow way down, I signaled and slid into the open lane to the left. The car in front of me did the same.  This was strange, as there was no reason for that car to get over.  Perhaps he was planning to make a left turn.  I went back to the right…and the car did the same…staying in front of me and continuing to slow down.

I began to think that the driver was perhaps impaired by one or more legal or illegal substances, and I thought it was better to just get clear of the vehicle.  I attempted to go around to the left…and he continued to block my path.  I proceeded to slow down…and then finally, accelerated quickly…passing him to the left.  He turned his bright lights on as he pulled up behind me. He stayed there…continuing to illuminate my vehicle with his bright lights.   

I returned to the cruising speed to find that he was staying as close as he could to my back bumper.  Had I not had two of my children with me…I may have made some additional poor choices.  I really did not want to get into it with this guy. 

After a series of passing…and being passed, I didn’t know what else to do…I pulled over to the shoulder and stopped…fully expecting him to just continue on and leave us alone.  I really only wanted to get away from the situation. To my astonishment, he pulled over and exited the vehicle and began to approach my truck.  Not wanting him to get close to the truck with my children inside, I too stepped out. 

“Stop!...what is it you want? What are you trying to do? I have two young kids in this truck and you are driving like an idiot!” (oops…I used the word idiot…probably not the worst thing I did or thought during this time, but in light of Matthew 5:22…oops).

“Turn your lights off of bright!!!” He commanded.

“Sir…I have not even had my lights on bright!”

“Curse, curse, curse,  I know what bright lights are…you had your lights on bright…turn them off!!!”

“I am sorry…but I have not had my lights on bright!!!”

“Curse, curse, curse…turn your lights off of bright or I am going to k….”

Thankfully, the police officer pulled up.

He came to me first and asked, “What is going on?”

I explained what I had just encountered.  He then went and talked to the other guy.

He told us both…”I don’t really care who did what at this point…I just want the two of you apart from each other…”

I couldn’t agree more…except…I really wanted the officer to believe me…to take my side.

He commanded me to go.

I went…but I was still angry…I was frustrated...even shaking in rage…I still felt insulted…I felt dishonored…I wanted vindication!!!

I didn’t believe that I deserved this kind of treatment from the other driver…and I wanted an apology.  I believed that I deserved an apology.

I got nothing.

How? How can I live in the way that Jesus calls me to live.  Jesus specifically calls us to respond with grace to our enemies…no…more than grace…he calls us to “love” our enemies and pray for those who persecute us…who attack us.  

Huh?

How is that possible?

Who can do that?

Sure Jesus did it…we see that through the Gospels…but me?  I can’t do that.

Jesus has raised the bar to an impossible height! What do I do? Jesus…please help me…to do the impossible.  The words of Paul resonate within me…perhaps the truth that they really are…are finally sinking in!

“I can do all things through Christ…who gives me strength.”

I can love my enemy…only by the strength of Jesus.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Heart


The fight broke out over a football game.  It was the Vikings vs. the Lions…a perennial match up positioned to evoke passionate emotions from either side.  It took place in the Barry Sanders era…which is the only time in semi-recent history where the Lions were ever a threat to any other team in the NFL, let alone a fellow team from the Black and Blue division of the NFC North. Football passions ran high in my childhood home.  Though I seldom observed any blood coming from my dad’s body…I am pretty sure it would have run purple.  All the man really wanted, (wants, since he still lives) was to have one Super Bowl win…is that too much to ask?

In recent years, I think that perhaps he has compromised to accepting a Super Bowl appearance…or perhaps even just a “made” field goal.

On this particular Monday night battle between these two divisional rivals…something happened…it was a strategy of unethical proportions…my mom…started the vacuum.  Perhaps my dad’s tension was already riding high from watching the slippery, Lion’s running back continue to elude all of the would be purple tacklers, or from Wade Wilson’s 3 interceptions or Darrin Nelson’s fumble, but when the Hoover whirred to life, I noticed my dad’s jaw clench. Had the air in the house been just a touch cooler…steam would have been pouring out of my dad’s nose like Ferdinand the Bull as he sharpened his horns to take out the wiley Bugs Bunny.

“What are you doing?” His shouts arose.

My mother either didn’t hear him over the vacuum or pretended not to hear as there was no answer.

“Now!?  You are vacuuming now?”

Still no answer.

In frustration…my dad authoritatively left the home and drove away. 

After he had gone, my mother turned off the vacuum…I could still see some of the spots that she missed…but I graciously, and perhaps fearfully, refrained from pointing them out to her.  She sat down in the recliner and put her head in her hands.

“Mom,” I asked, “Are you and Dad going to get a divorce?”

“No Ryan, why would you ask that?”

“Because the Vikings lost…it might be your fault…from vacuuming you know?…and because my friend Donny said that his parents always fight and they just got divorced and then Donny couldn’t live with both of them any more…he could only be with one.”

In the mean time, my dad had returned and stood in the doorway of the living room.

“Who would you pick?” My dad asked from the doorway.

“What?”

“If you had to choose…who would you pick?”

I took a long moment before answering; I remember hearing the wall clock clicking in the silence.  Then sorrowfully, I looked at my dad and said, “Dad, I think that I would have to live with Mom…you don’t cook so well.”

I was reaffirmed by my parents that divorce was not in their future.  “Just because we fight doesn’t mean we don’t love each other…we just have a few more things to work through,” my dad encouraged, “We may have arguments, but we work them out.”

He was right! My parents have been married for more than 46 years now.  I remember many fights and many more occasions where apologies were shared…where hearts were softened, humbled and revealed.

Jesus talks about divorce, and anger, and many other things during His Sermon on the Mount.  I am convinced that as we look at this passage…specifically Matthew 5:17-37, we see that Jesus is pointing to something much deeper than our actions.  He is pointing to our hearts.  My dad is not the perfect husband…nor is my mom the perfect wife…but the Lord has worked in their hearts…He had done the transformation.

Jesus raises the bar of expectations.  He has made it clear that we cannot do it on our own…yet, he calls us do to it.  How, then, can we do it? How, then, can we be saved? What hope do we even have?  Jesus! He is our WAY…He is our HOPE! He is our LIFE!

May we come to see that we need a new heart…and that Jesus alone has the power to change our hearts.

Jesus take from me my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh.


Saturday, September 25, 2021

 Impossible


“You can do anything…you just have to set your mind to it…”

These words proved to be a big fat lie to the 10 year old boy who had his eye on the pretty new girl in class who had just moved to town from Montana.  Though the speaker of those words, namely my 5th grade music teacher, had good intentions, she was flat out wrong.  It was likely that she was attempting to motivate me to set my mind on learning how to sing.  However, I contrarily decided to set my mind elsewhere…namely on the new girl. 

Now here I am, now 35 years later…and I still can’t sing…and that girl never did give me the time of day.  Well, Mrs. Nelson…you did not “Teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,” unless of course I was omitted from that world, and the new girl never did “come round the mountain,” at least in my direction. 

Some things are just impossible, like eating just one Lay’s potato chip, one almond from the bag of trail mix, or just one Oreo cookie.   Perhaps that was Nabisco’s strategy in creating the “Double Stuf” Oreo cookie…to help people like me to eat just one.  If you put two cookies into one…people won’t need to eat two…right?  Wrong…now we just make “Quadruple Stuf” cookies.  Nabisco hasn’t quite kept up with my demand. 

I remember watching the old Mission Impossible TV show as a kid.  Each episode was plotted similarly.  There would be a secret…impossible…mission, revealed to Dan Briggs.  Mr. Briggs would then bring in his team…to accomplish that which was impossible…or I guess…not quite so impossible.

Matthew 5-7, is a well known passage of scripture.  It is the Sermon on the Mount.  What is striking to me in this message from Jesus is that he lays out such lofty expectations.  What Jesus calls his followers to are really quite impossible! Why does he do this? I have become convinced that Jesus wants for his followers to understand two things. 

1.      Jesus wants us to see that following him, as he calls us to…is impossible. Wait what!? Then what are we doing? What is the point?

2.      Jesus wants us to see that ONLY THROUGH HIM…and the power of His Spirit…can we follow Him!

We can’t make the impossible…possible!

Only Jesus can do that!

Only Jesus HAS done that!

Only Jesus can do that in us!

May we come to see…all that we CAN do…but only through Jesus!

Saturday, September 18, 2021

 Turtle

 


We were rolling along a winding country road in central Morrison County, heading to a nearby crappie lake, when my friend and driver braked hard and swerved to avoid the small mud turtle that was circumnavigating across the pavement.  The boat that trailed us, threatened to pass us by to the left, and the passengers sitting in the back seat, namely my daughter, my friend’s daughter and his wife, gasped and squealed in astonishment. 

“Don’t hit it!” his wife cried!

“It’s ok dear…I think I can avoid the precious reptile.”

“Just hit the thing…God will make more…” I stated cruelly.

The entire cab of the pick-up truck became as silent as a headstone. All eyes looked to me with a loathsome glare.  Fire seemed to light in my friend’s wife’s eyes as the truck came to a stop in the middle of the road.  While the turtle continued its slide southward, my friend looked at me…his face paled with sickening shame, “What did you say?” He implored.

“Well…I uh…I said…God will make more…you know…turtles.”

“God will make more? Really?...Wow! You are cruel!”

I could not argue.  I am cruel…yet, in some way…I was not wrong.

I have continued to be reminded of my impulsive and insensitive comment over the years. I can’t help but think of that turtle, every time that I see one of its kin flattened on a road as I pedal across the country side on my bicycle…or every time I see my friend…and he requests, “If you ever use this turtle story in a sermon…you let me know…I want to be there.” Well…I guess that the day has come.

Though my harshness cannot be excused, there is a reality that comes into fruition.  God WILL make more.  He will make NEW turtles. (At least, most scholars agree that there will indeed be animals in heaven…though perhaps not that specific squashed turtle.) In fact, God will make everything NEW! He will make a NEW heaven and a NEW earth, and He will allow it to be filled with those who have chosen to follow Christ…and have become NEW creations.  Revelation 22 gives us a beautiful culmination of this very reality.  Just imagine…A New Heaven…a New Earth…the fulfillment of a New and Living Way! Every NEW morning brings the eternity with the person of Jesus Christ…our Savior, our Sanctifier, our Healer…and our Coming King!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

 Dog Pile


There are two words that strike fear into the hearts of meekly built 3nd graders more than any others…“dog pile.”  Growing up, I remember watching football with my dad and older brother on Sunday afternoons, and at the end of each and every play there seemed to always be a pile of huge men, stacked upon one another, with a brown, leather ball somewhere beneath. 

“Wow! Look at that dog pile!” my brother would exclaim.

“Oh man! I wouldn’t want to be on the bottom of that mountain of purple jerseys!” my dad would insert.

I just stared in perpetual fear…overcome by the claustrophobic thought of ever encountering the abysmal moment of being trapped on the bottom of a pile of humans…who refused to get off.

This fear became a reality. 

Elementary school recess was a cesspool of aggressive, pre-adolescent boys ranging from kindergarten through the 6th grade.  The kindergarteners, 1st graders and 2nd graders were pretty safe.  At their young age, it would take a pretty cowardly 6th grader, to attack these innocent boys during their first three years of school.  The 5th and 6th graders knew better than to attack each other…it was too risky.  These two upper grades offered too many unknowns, such as which 5th graders are too strong or violent, or which 6th grader is too weak…you just never knew.  The 4th graders were old enough to know to keep their distance and avoid everyone else on the playground, while the 3rd graders were the ones who still wanted to play during recess…and too ignorant to know that they were being hunted by the older grades. 

“Hey kid! Catch!”

The brown ball was flying at my face…I threw my hands up to protect my face…bobbled the ball about 6 and a half times before finally finding it coming to rest between my hands...and knees…and belly as I hugged the ball like a 4-year-old boy carrying a giant watermelon. 

“Wow!” I thought, “I caught it…these boys must really be impress…”  

Wham! I was lit up by a dozen or more, older boys yelling, “Dog Pile!” as they swarmed me!

As I lay on the ground with the brown, oval melon crammed into my gut, my mind flashed back to the purple jerseys…wishing that I had a helmet and pads as they did.  No such luck.  Panic began rising from my toes…up my legs…through my torso…to my head and exited out of my eyes in splashes of warm salty water. 

The weight was enormous…I thought that I was going to die! After what seemed like an eternity, the pile of laughing boys began rolling off and coming to their feet…the last one ripping the ball from my feeble body as I lay…breathing…finally breathing.

I heard them say, “Who else can we get?” as they scrambled away.

The removal of that oppressive weight was amazing…I was free…I was light…it was like I was exonerated…it was like I was “forgiven.”

I think that two of the most powerful words in the English language are…love and forgiveness, and I am not sure if you can have one without the other. 

Despite the amazing power and beauty in these words, I am afraid that they are far too seldom employed. 

Love drives us to love. Forgiveness drives us to forgive.  Love drives us to forgive and forgiveness drives us to love.  In fact, and I don’t think that true forgiveness can occur without love first existing and I have come to wonder if true love can be real love without owning forgiveness.  Yet, to love an enemy…or forgive someone that has hurt you deeply…is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do? 

Withheld forgiveness, is like a weight…a burden that we carry…that we find ourselves struggling to breathe beneath. Withheld forgiveness is like a dog pile.  When we withhold it from another…it is like we are piling the weight upon another…AND ourselves.  When someone withholds their forgiveness from ourselves…we feel the weight…and usually…so does the other person. 

Forgiveness on the contrary…is like the removal of that weight.  Forgiveness allows the other person…to be free.

Jesus has given us both…His perfect and incredible love and forgiveness.  Perhaps it is time, that as a follower of Christ…we do the same?

Saturday, August 21, 2021

 Branded


When I was in high school there was a brainless trend exploding through the ranks of post pubescent boys whose prefrontal cortexes had yet to be fully developed. 

Travis, a fellow 9th grade buddy, came up to me and exclaimed, “Hey Ole! Check this out!” as he projected his left fist in front of my nose to reveal a red circle on the back of his hand.  The spot was red, swollen and even seemed to be weeping some translucent cream colored excrement.

“Wow! What did you do?”

“I got branded!”

“How? Why?”

“Dykoff and I did it together…we both got one!”

“How? Why?” I asked again.

“We used a cigarette lighter…you know…from the ash tray in your car. We pushed it in…it heated up…and then we took it and pressed it against our skin! Cool huh!?”

“Huh? Why?”

“Why not!?...You should do it too! That would be so cool!”

“I don’t think so.” 

Incredibly, as the days and weeks went on, I began to see more and more people with these round burn marks appearing on their hands and arms.  Astoundingly, even some girls began revealing their own orbital wounds.

I remember seeing Travis’ hand, 4 years later, as we graduated…burn mark still there.  The reality is that scar may still be evident today, a permanent brand…to constantly remind him of his own stupidity. 

It is believed that branding was first used thousands of years ago.  The ancient Norse used a word for a burning piece of wood…brandr…which meant “to burn,” which is where we even get our English word, “brand.”  Yet, forms of branding existed far before that.  Even ancient Israelites had forms of branding…not necessarily with fire, iron and sticks…but with blue tassels.   Numbers 15, speaks of tying blue tassels to their garments.  These tassels were symbols of royalty.  It showed that these people…were a “royal people…a royal priesthood,” and when they looked upon the tassels…they were to remember to obey the one to whom they belonged…God almighty. 

Today we are infiltrated with “brands,”…golden arches, multi colored “G”, a bitten apple, a gold bowtie on the front of our vehicles; the list goes on seemingly forever.  Brands mark belonging.  My phone belongs to a company who likes to taste fruit and then cast away the remnants.  My coffee comes from some mythical siren calling me with the sweet aroma of dark roast.  Major brands are unmistakable…recognizable in a single glance.

What is it then…that reveals my faith? Is it my love for others? Maybe…I hope so.  Is it my kindness? Maybe…I hope so.  But there is one image that reveals my deep convictions…one act that demonstrates who I belong to….Baptism.  Baptism is the branding of the new life that I have received in Christ.  Baptism tells the world…I belong to Jesus…I belong to the Savior…I belong to the Life Giver.  I have been branded…I belong to Jesus. My baptism is a reminder of the new life Christ has given me…much like a small circular burn is a reminder of high school stupidity. 

May we come to be branded…belonging to Christ.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

 I Can’t Wait!

 


“I can’t wait!”

These are words that I frequently hear, like a skipping vinyl record, from the mouth of my 15 year old son. 

 “I can’t wait for Saturday!”

“I can’t wait for deer hunting!”

“I can’t wait to go camping!”

I can’t wait until my new white shoes arrive!”

“I can’t wait until my new black shoes arrive!”

“I can’t wait until my new blue shoes arrive!”

“I can’t wait until I get my driver’s license.” It is strange how I do not share his enthusiasm.

 “I can’t wait until football starts!”

“I can’t wait until football is over!”

“I can’t wait until supper!”

They are not bad words…yet I find myself resistant to their implications, especially in the midst of our, instant gratification oriented, society and our Burger King minded, “My way, right away,” generation.

My answer to my son is usually… “Well…you are going to have to wait…”

I too have found myself in the midst of great anticipation.  I remember, vividly, the night before my wedding.  I didn’t sleep a bit as the day grew closer with each passing minute.  I lay awake in bed anticipating the next day when this girl that I had come to know so well and I would be married!

My life has never been the same since.

I remember anticipating the birth of our first child.  As each day would pass, the waiting grew more difficult, especially by the 7th day past the due date.

My life has never been the same since.

Now, I mostly anticipate each and every morning of my life…because…with each morning comes a fresh cup of coffee…and a delicious breakfast.

Anticipation is actually very healthy.  Anticipation gives us something to hope for…something to strive toward…something to really LIVE for.

The irony is that in this world, so many things that we strive for and hope for…so many of the things that we anticipate actually leaves us unsatisfied and wanting more.

I think Revelation 21 reveals to us THE PRIZE beyond prizes! This passage gives us something to “really” anticipate!!! This passage reminds me of that great night of sleeplessness as I awaited the union with my bride! This chapter shows to us the beautiful Bride of Christ, His Church, coming into the perfect relationship with the Lamb.  It reveals the great and perfect New Heaven and New Earth, the New Jerusalem.  There is no greater anticipation than to BE WITH GOD!!!

WE WILL BE WITH JESUS!

I can’t wait!

Saturday, August 7, 2021

 The Prize

 


“Step right up! See if you can be the next winner! Swing the hammer, and hit the bell!  Three attempts for $1.”

“Hmmm…I think I could do that.” I thought to myself. I lift weights regularly and I am one of the strongest kids in the entire 7th grade. 

“Hey Matt, I think I want to try this.” I said to the buddy who had brought me to Valley Fair for the day.

“What!? No, way!”

“Sure…I think I can do it!”

“Fine…it’s your dollar.”

I paid the man my dollar…picked up the heavy hammer and heaved it onto the driving pin.  The heavy weight, shot into the air…making it nearly half way up the tower before it came crashing back down.  Two more attempts…two more failures.

“Sorry pal…do you want to try again?”

I walked away with my buddy, Matt…feeling dejected and weak.

It was near this moment that my life trajectory changed.  Not necessary because I didn’t hit the bell…but because of my progression toward manhood. It appeared that as I got older my father had more rigorous work for me to be doing around the house. Thus, in addition to lifting weights, I took to splitting wood.  Over the next 6 years, I split countless cords of wood.  I split oak, ash, poplar, some small elms and even some giant white pines.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but all of this work was preparing me for something amazing!

Midway through my college career, I was walking those same streets of Valley Fair with someone far more attractive than my buddy Matt…I was with the prettiest girl ever to set foot on a roller coaster.  As we walked past the sledge hammer, bell tower, “ringy thingy”…I had to stop. I felt compelled to prove myself.  I felt drawn to win a prize for this girl (the girl that I would one day marry…though at the time she did not yet know it).

“Step right up! See if you can be the next winner! Swing the hammer and hit the bell! Three attempts for $5.”

“FIVE DOLLARS!” I thought. “That is some inflation! What happened to the $1?”

“I would like to give a shot.” I said…believing that, not only would Sarah be impressed with my great feat of strength, but also my great wealth of plopping down $5 to win her something real nice.

“Ok, buddy…here’s the hammer…good luck!”

I took the hammer…and I imagined the impact platform transform into a giant block of the knottiest white pine known to mankind…I heaved the hammer over my head and exploded with my full force.  I gritted my teeth and I even growled like an Olympic shot putter. The hammer met the platform, and the lights on the tower climbed. The lights climbed over half way.  The lights climbed over 75% of the way. The lights climbed to the top, and the bell rang!  Winner!

I won!

All of that work!  All of that training, and it paid off!

The pimple-faced, Valley Fair worker congratulated me and handed me an inflatable pool toy in the shape of a hammer.

Lame.

Well, that was a rip off.  I inflated the pool toy and handed it to Sarah, “Here I won this for you.”

“Thanks…What am I supposed to do with this?”

“I don’t know…don’t drown, I guess.”

The prizes are flying around like crazy right now with the culmination of the Tokyo Olympics in full swing.  All of these amazing athletes who have trained for years are winning their prize. I can’t help but wonder when they get home…do they ask, “Now, what am I supposed to do with this?”

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the prize of winning an Olympic Gold Medal is no small feat.  Yet, I am convinced that there is a prize beyond prizes awaiting those who have put their faith in Jesus.  Yet, we train for these earthy prizes, often forgetting the immeasurable prize that awaits those who follow Christ.  Paul contrasts this very reality in Philippians 3. He even says that he runs in such a way as to get “The Prize.” His prize is not a crown of olive branches or a gold medal.  His prize is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  His prize is to be with Christ forever.

May we see the prize of Christ and press on toward THAT goal!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

 Candy Wrappers

 


“Hey!? Who ate my Hershey’s chocolate with almonds?”

“I don’t know!...but someone ate my Almond Joy too!”

“Seriously? Someone has been into my Kit Kats as well!”

“You have got to be kidding me...like half of my Sour Patch Kids are gone!”

“Someone has been snitching!”

Naturally, I was the first to be blamed…and…rightly so.  I have a weakness for delicious sweets…particularly sweets that contain both chocolate and nuts.  I have a nose for unclaimed chocolate…and I am willing to consume all that I can find…usually in secret…because things eaten in secret don’t count as calories.

During one Christmas season, I secretly consumed 95% of my mother’s Christmas cookies, single handedly…and then allowed my father to take the blame. I was guilty…and years later…I had to face the music when my mother discovered the truth.

Now…it is my son’s turn to face the music.  As my wife was helping this messy teenager clean his room, she came across a plethora of candy wrappers…Hershey’s, Almond Joy, Reese’s, Kit Kats, Sour Patch Kids…you name it…it was there!

“What is all this!?” she asked.

“Ummm….candy wrappers?”

“Where did it come from?”

“Ummm…I don’t know…”

“What!? Did it just appear in your room? On your bed? In your back pack? In your pocket? Huh!?”

“Ummm…I don’t know…”

“You snitched it…didn’t you!?”

“Ummm…I don’t know…maybe…I guess…”

GUILTY!!!

Recently, I had a can of Coke in the refrigerator that mysteriously disappeared.  “Hey! Where’s my Coke? Isaac? Did you drink my Coke?”

“Ummm…I don’t know…maybe…I guess…”

GUILTY!

 “Hey! Who ate my cake pop!?” Sarah asked.

“Ummm…I don’t know…I guess maybe I did…by accident…” I sheepishly replied with a guilty smile plastered on my face.

“By accident? How did you accidentally eat it!?”

“Ummm…I don’t know…”

GUILTY!

I am the Chief of Guilt!

I have single handedly performed more acts of sin and selfishness than anyone else on this earth…and…so have you!

We…are…guilty.

What truly frightens me…is what we find in Revelation 20.  It says that we will one day be judged on what we have done! GUILTY!!! I AM GUILTY!!!

I am convinced that on the Day of Judgment…EVERYONE stands before the Lord…the Judge…and is asked…”How do you plea?”

Every single one of us…without hesitation…will proclaim… “GUILTY!!!!”

Yet, for those who have accepted the free gift of grace from Jesus Christ…will have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  After I have pled guilty…there will come another voice that will resonate with glory, “NOT GUILTY!” 

Jesus exonerates those who know Him…though we are guilty…We are saved!...We are set free!...We are pronounced, “NOT GUILTY!”

Though we are guilty…Jesus offers freedom…He offers an escape…if we will simply receive it.

Will you receive it?

Saturday, July 17, 2021

 It's Over!


On a cold January day in Minnesota, my friend, Leonard, asked me, “Hey, what should we do today?”

We were between semesters at Crown College, in Minnesota, and had a few days to kill before the 2nd half of our sophomore year began.  After spending a day up north with my parents, we ran out of entertaining things to do…like shoveling snow for dad…changing the oil in his vehicle…and listening to a rousing conversation about grout.  We figured that we needed to find something else to pass the time.

“I don’t know…we could really do anything.  We could drive around and waste gas because we are in college and super rich and don’t have enough brains to realize that we have no money and can’t afford anything but ramen noodles.” (Only part of that run-on sentence may have actually been stated…the rest should have been).

“What would you think about driving up to see Jessica?” He asked.

“Sure!” I replied.  I had never met Jessica…but he talked about her frequently and if I didn’t know better…it sure seemed that they were going to be married within a week or two.  He seemed to have big plans for the two of them. “Where does she live?”

“She’s in Duluth.”

“Alright…let’s go.”

We hopped into my 1981 Plymouth Grand Fury and hit the icy roads of northern Minnesota to embark on the 2 hour drive to a place that I had never been and on roads I had never driven.  Leonard held the map as we were without the benefit of cell phones and GPS.  All we really had on our behalf was a barely working radio and 18 gallons of fuel in the tank.

We took the winding roads around the frozen lakes, the wind stirring whiteout like blizzard conditions across the windshield.  We rolled through most of the stop signs to save us from sucking down the exhaust vapors seeping into the automobile while stopped and idling.

We finally arrived at his “girlfriend’s” house at around 11:00 a.m.

“I hope they have something good for lunch…I’m starved.”

“I hope that she is home!” He answered.

“What!?  You mean you don’t even know if she’s home?”

“Nope”

“What do we do if she’s not here?”

“We wait.”

“How long have the two of you been seeing each other?”

“We haven’t…not yet anyway…we just met at camp last summer.”

“Have you even been on a date?”

“Nope.”

We walked across the snow packed driveway to the door…walked up the three porch steps and knocked.

“Good news!...I hear someone inside,” he whispered.

“Hot soup…Hot soup would be good…maybe some chili.” I chattered.

The door opened, and before us stood a very proper, but kind woman…looking at the two of us with questioning eyes. “Hello?” she asked hesitantly.

“Hello Mrs. Lang, I’m Leonard…and the guy with the dead rabbit on his head is Ryan.”

“It’s not a dead rabbit…it’s a rabbit hat…which…I guess is a dead rabbit.”

“We are friends of Jessica!...Well, I am Jessica’s friend…He doesn’t even know her.”

“I’m sorry…Jessica is not home right now...She’s working.”

“That’s ok. We can wait.”

“Oh…ummm…ok…why don’t you come in…I guess.”

We stepped into the house and sat down…and waited.

We waited....and…we waited.

After 2 hours had passed, I finally broke the silence, “So, what time is Jessica going to be home?”

“She gets off at 6:00.”Her mother replied.

At this point there was a scream…it was generated from my starving stomach and was powerful enough to shake the walls.

“What was that noise?” asked Mrs. Lang.

“That was Ryan’s stomach.” Leonard answered.

“Haven’t you boys eaten?”

“Sure, I did…I had a nice supper, yesterday!”

“Yesterday? Would you like something to eat?”

“YES ,PLEASE!”

Mrs. Lang kindly fed us and then we played Yahtzee until 6:00 when Jessica finally arrived home.

As she stepped into the house, you could read the surprise…confusion…wonder…and then disgust on her face as she processed the two young college boys who had invaded her home uninvited.

“Hi Jessica!...It’s me Leonard!”

“Yes…I remember you.”

“Well…I just thought we’d stop in and see you.”

“Who’s he?”

“That’s Ryan…He’s my driver.”

“You know Leonard…you are kind to come all this way…but it’s a bit creepy that you are here…I don’t think things are going to work out between us…good bye.”

“Wait…what about supper?” I begged.

“Grab your rabbit hat and start the car…we are going home.” Leonard said flatly.

Sadly for my buddy…that relationship ended before it ever began. There is a remarkable scene in Revelation 19. We see great praise and rejoicing…and then there is a build up to an incredible ending conflict between good and evil.  The enemies of God are gathering to battle against the Lamb of God…Jesus Christ…the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  Then…just as the battle is about ready to be assaulted…the battle is over…by the Word from the mouth of Jesus…It is over!

I see the incredible sovereignty and power of Jesus reflected in this image.  With all the powers of the enemies of God…ready to battle against God almighty…we find that there IS NO BATTLE! Jesus wins. Period. What power! What authority! What a King!

*(Names have been changed to protect the innocent and condemn the guilty)

Saturday, July 10, 2021

 Loss

 

I have spent countless hours of my life using a variety of baits and lures attempting to convince finicky fish to strike the tempting counterfeit dinner…and get hooked. I love fishing. I have loved it since I was a young boy.  Now, I am frequently joined by my own son who relishes in the sport as much, if not more, than I do.  Others in the family also enjoy the peace and relaxation of back-lashed fishing reels, lures stuck in trees or snagged on underwater logs, broken rods, non-responsive boat motors, rainy and windy days, hooks in the carpet, seats, hands, legs or heads…not to mention the fish that are lost at the side of the boat…but…not as much as the two of us.

We have lost more than our share of fish.  Sometimes the hooks never even get into the mouth of the cold blooded aquatic swimmers.  Other times, it seems that even when we have done everything right, the fish is still able to jump and throw the lure or somehow magically get off the line just before our net reaches to snatch the bass from the dark waters.  It is hard to watch the fish swim away into the deep water while your heart sinks even deeper.  This is usually the largest fish of the day…even if it wasn’t…it quickly becomes so as you relive what could have been.

We spend most of our time fishing for bass.  The river is abundant with them. They offer exciting, adrenaline pumping, action as you fight them back to the boat…and once in a while, land a really nice big one.  We then let them go…unless, of course, we are so fortunate as to catch the elusive Minnesota Walleye. 

We don’t target walleye very often.  Probably because we are not very good at it…and by not catching them, we feel like failures. So instead, we fish for bass…and every once in a while, we are surprised with the treasured state fish of Minnesota.  We keep all of our walleye…no matter the size...well…we would probably throw an 8” walleye back into the water…but anything larger, is going home to be placed on a fish sandwich.

A couple of years ago, Isaac and I were on the water. After hooking himself deep with a treble hook…we went to the local ER to have the hook removed. As soon as the hook was out…we went right back out onto the water…and just our luck…we nabbed one of these rare treasures.  Isaac hooked him up while cranking for smallies with a 6’ diving Rapala. 

“Wow sweet!...Here’s the stringer…hook him up and we can eat him for supper!”

“All right! Ok!” he replied.

He took the stringer and ran it through the gills and out the mouth of the marbled eyed fish and tied the end to the boat.

It felt good.  With the rough day that we had had…it was nice to have something to show for it…and eat!! After all the time spent…and wasted…we suddenly felt rich!  We had a walleye!

Sadly, as we were packing things up for the day…Isaac reached down to pull the stringer out of the water and into the boat…only to find the stringer…EMPTY.

Our prized possession was gone.

Apparently, he had not looped the stringer back through the ring before he tied it up…so basically, he passed the stringer through the fish…and let it go.

Loss.  We all have loss.  We lose fish at the side of the boat.  We lose fish by not tying up the stringer.  We lose lures caught in trees…or on the bottom of the river.  We lose money.  We lose things. We lose our childhood. We lose our flexibility.  We lose our jobs. We lose our loved ones.  Revelation 18, gives us a powerful picture of loss.  Jesus had just finished doing what He had promised that He would do.  He had said that He would cut down evil and destroy it.  In this chapter, we see the great wealth of the world come crashing down.  We see people who have become very rich…lose everything in an instant…people are weeping and wailing…crying for all that they have lost.

I can’t help but remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6.  He told us that the things of this earth will all rot away…so instead, store up for yourselves, treasures in heaven. 

What have you lost?  What are you ready to gain?

May we come to see the things of this world as temporary…and the promised riches of the Kingdom to come…as eternal!  Thank you Jesus! Thank you, our Coming King.