Saturday, June 19, 2021

 Tired


There was once a day when my older brother got…tired.  I think that it was mostly due to the fact that I ran over his face with my bike. He is entirely to blame.  Yes, it was my idea to race down the hill, but it was his idea to take a head start.  He crashed in front of me as he looked back to measure how quickly I was gaining on him.  He went down…and I went over him.  He got tired.

Now 35 years later, I often feel like my brother, only it is my children who are running over my face with proverbial bike tires.

“Dad, I got a fishhook in my finger!”

“Dad, I dropped a knife and chipped the floor!”

“Dad, I ran into your truck with mom’s car!”

“Dad, all of the water is running out of the pool!”

“Dad, the washing machine is making a funny noise!”

“Dad, I just spilled Coke all over the floor as I was secretly trying to sneak a drink before you saw me!”

Seventeen years of parenting has certainly left “tired” tracks all over my head and face. 

I remember that first year of parenting.  My wife and I had so much energy then…now it seems like too much work just to go to bed!  When our oldest daughter was born we would religiously apply SPF 250 sunscreen on her delicate skin 20 minutes before heading outside on a cloudy day, only to reapply within 5 minutes of the sun peeking out from behind a cloud.  Now, we grunt and say…“Hey, you better put some sunscreen on.” We are usually ignored…which gives us no choice but to insert an, “I told you so,” after they burn their delicate, now incredibly tender skin.

Let’s be honest.  We get tired.  Parenting will wear people out.  That is why parenting is for the young.  The more kids that one has…the more tired that person becomes.  Then, the next thing you know, your 4th child is putting your socks on for you and telling you that you should drink water and put on sunscreen before you go outside.  Little do they know that a parent of 4 children (or more) has no intention of leaving the sofa.

Revelation 14 gave us a contrast of rest.  We read about how the followers of Satan will find NO rest, while the followers of Christ, though persecuted and even killed, will find a REST from their labors and struggles. Now in Revelation 15-16, we see God’s final wrath against sin and evil is poured out upon the earth and the enemies of God. Yet, in these chapters I am struck with God’s relentless, never ending, and tireless pursuit of people.  He is constantly drawing people to himself, desiring that they repent and turn to Him.  He never seems to get tired of calling us…He never seems to get tired of loving us and pulling us in. 

Oh, to find the rest in Jesus…whose yoke is easy…and His burden is light.  May we come to respond to God’s call…to repent and step into that rest!

Saturday, June 12, 2021

 Cut Down


The intense heat of this past week has left my lawn looking like the blotchy, scaly skin of a confused chameleon. The timing of the powerful heat and lack of rain wreaked havoc.  In addition, we were gone to Nashville during the week which left the formerly green lawn unattended and vulnerable to the deranged effects of the relentless 99 degree heat.  This has cut my pride in lawn care deeply…which was already fragile.

We don’t see these temperatures often in Minnesota.  Yet, it left me reminded of my childhood.  Not just because of the heat that I often experienced after my backside had been lit up due to my disobedient choices…but also because it seemed that the sweltering heat of summer would make the already miserable childhood house chores that much more unbearable.  As you may recall from past blogs, my dad had an affinity for planting large gardens and then employing 4 underage workers to cultivate the 2 acres of miserable vegetables. 

At one point we attempted to unionize and go on strike. With signs in hand, we began to picket and chant, “Oh no…we won’t go…we won’t weed no po-ta-to.”

The strike lasted about 2 ½ minutes when threats of having our supper withheld, led to my other 3 sibling leaving me standing alone amongst the much despised onions and peas.

Admitting defeat, I dropped my sign and went in to eat my supper…of meatballs with onions, (which I hated), boiled potatoes and peas, (which I also hated). Incidentally, I love them all now…oh how I have grown.

Each day before dad went to work, he would lay out the day’s expectations. “I need you guys to mow the lawn and weed the garden. Specifically today, you should hit the potatoes and the onions.  It would be a good idea to get it done early…it’s going to get pretty hot out there today.”

In protest, I would sit and watch Bugs Bunny cartoons until after lunch. “I’ll show him,” I thought…“Won’t he be regretful if he finds me dead of heatstroke while doing the chores.” Sadly…I lived…but barely.

As the hot days endured…my work ethic failed.  Whether from dehydration or frustration from the heat…or lack of care…or perhaps a combination of them all…I mowed over all of the newly planted pine trees, and cut down nearly all of the onions with the hoe and uprooted half of the potato plants.

One thing that I have learned when gardening…once you cut something off…it doesn’t come back, (except perhaps for grass and weeds…and warts).

We lost most of the onions that year, many potatoes were not worth harvesting and the pine trees didn’t even make a nice hedge…just flat, low evergreens about 12 inches wide.

It is harvest time in Revelation 14.  This is the chapter where everything is getting cut down…in some very gruesome ways.  This cutting is a signal for the end.  Once the cutting takes place…the time is done.  There is no recovery from the cutting.  What scares me the most of this passage, is thinking of those who continue to reject God, and the hope of Jesus Christ.  I don’t relish the day of the cutting…I have come to dread it.  When the cutting occurs, it will be too late to turn to the hope of Jesus. 

May we ALL be drawn to the hope that only comes from Jesus.  The Lord will cut down the evil…he will cut down all that is sinful and it will be burned up and consumed.  But…for those who have their hope in Jesus…they…and they alone will be saved.

May we find our hope in Christ!

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Say Cheese


There are days when I encounter the real struggles in life and feel that I just cannot endure anymore.  After a year like 2020 and all of the pandemic protocols…you would think that I would be empowered with enough stamina to handle just about anything.  In fact, I thought I could…until the Little Falls Community High School Prom Picture Taking Marathon of 2021 took place. 

My oldest daughter looked amazing for her first prom.  Her escort looked nice too…which made me all the more want to jab that boutonniere pin a little too far into his lapel.  The nice young man showed up at 1:00 p.m. to pick her up and snap some pictures.  I stood and watched…and stood “in” the taking of a large number of digital photographs for about an hour.    

“There…that wasn’t so bad,” I stated to my wife…pleased with myself for the endurance I had just exhibited. 

“Yes…that was nice,” my wife answered.

“Hannah is going to text us when we are supposed to meet them at Maple Island Park for the next round of pictures.”

“Wait…what?...More pictures?” I beckoned.

“Why yes!...but that’s ok…I can go alone…I guess.”

“I will go with you,” I droned.

“Oh…you don’t have to…but ok!”

I parked the car in the nearest spot to Maple Island Park that I could find and began walking the 1 mile trek to the “bridge,” where we would stand and wait for our turn for pictures.

“Now let’s take a shot with one hand in your pocket and one hand waving…now the other hand in your pocket and the other hand waving.”

“Now let’s get a shot of just the girls…now one of just the boys…now one of just this turtle sitting on the rock in the river.”

“Let’s get a picture looking at the water…now let’s get a picture with our backs to the water…now one with the dam in the background…now one with this flowering tree.”

“Oh…we should get one with that white flowering tree over there on the opposite side of the park.”

“We should stand here and think of some more obscure shots that we could take.”

“Dad, are you coming to Grand March to take more pictures?”

If it weren’t for digital photography, we would be out of film by this time and this marathon would be over. 

If this is all I have to endure in life, then I have it extremely easy.  Despite the hours of photographs, I cannot complain.  My daughter makes good choices, as does her very respectful escort…though he may or may not have an extra pin puncture in his upper left torso.   

Yet, there are days when we must endure hardships…some much more difficult than a day of photographs.   

When I think a day of photos is rough…all I need to do is read Revelation 13.  This is one of darkest pictures of evil that we find in all of Scripture.  We find a Dragon and two beasts enter into the picture and bring about incredible destruction and hardship…specifically for followers of Jesus.  Remarkably…in the middle of this chapter…we find a brief word of encouragement.  God tells us that believers will be arrested…and killed…and this will call for “faithful endurance.”

This will take some REAL endurance!.  When we feel that we cannot take it anymore…we are called to endure.  When we don’t have the strength to do it…Jesus does!  We can faithfully endure…because Jesus faithfully endured.   

Saturday, May 8, 2021

 Cake


My youngest daughter had been talking about it for weeks…The Fabulous Footrace!  Despite being a track and field coach for over 20 seasons…I struggle to use the words “fabulous” and “footrace,” in a unified context.  I guess it likely has to do with the way that my 45 year old joints feel when I run, which just goes to show…running is for the young…and for the crazy.

In any case, my daughter was excited for this event.  She spent some minimal time “training”…i.e. running to the mailbox…or running away from responsibility…or away from rabid squirrels.  Most of her efforts in training were spent simply counting down the days until the race.  I couldn’t quite understand her excitement…especially considering how little time she actually spends running. 

“What is the deal with the Fabulous Footrace…why are you so excited?”

“Because Dad, the winner gets cake!”

“Oooh! I like cake!”

“I know right!...Me too!”

The day of the race came…and the group of girls attacked the 800m course.  However, at about the 600m mark…my daughter slowed down and began to walk.  She walked no more than two steps when one of her classmates came up beside her and barked at her, “Erica! You can’t walk! You have to keep running!”

Erica started running again, doing all she could to keep up with her friend and finish the race.

Erica DID finish the race!

However, she did not win the race.

“I am sorry that you didn’t win Erica.”

“That’s ok…I got third.”

“Yeah…but now you don’t get cake.”

“Sure I do.”

“What!?...but you didn’t win.”

“Sure I did!...Addison won…and because she won…the whole class wins…the whole class gets cake!”

I was struck with a picture of Jesus in that moment.  Victory! 

What does victory even mean? What does it really mean to “win?”

It hit me that my greatest victory in life has nothing to do with my own efforts…it has nothing to do with my talent…my work…or my initiatives.  My greatest victory in life has been given to me…because Jesus has won!...and because Jesus won! I win!!!

Jesus has defeated sin and death! Revelation 11:14-12:17, tells of the incredible story of the victory of Jesus…both past and future! 

Jesus wins!...and so do those who follow Him!

Now…when to I get cake?


Saturday, May 1, 2021

 Wontons


I have many weaknesses.  As a young father, I would get weak in the knees when my one year old, firstborn daughter begged to go to the park and play by repetitively beseeching with the two word fragmented sentence, “I play. I play. I play.”

I couldn’t help myself…“Why of course! Let’s go to the park and you can play!”

Now, as an old father, I long to have her crawl on my lap and once again beg, “Dada…I play?”  This reveals yet another weakness…I cannot contain the dehydration of my eyes.

Now instead of, “I play.” I hear the words, “What I’d really like dad is to borrow the car keys…see you later can I have them please?”  Oh…wait…that wasn’t her…that was Harry Chapin.

My heart tightens as I look at photos from the past and encounter the times that the memories were created. 

I also have a weakness for delicious food, including but not exclusive to: Peanut M&M’s, peanut butter, trail mix, donuts, venison, pork, beef, chicken...well maybe I should have just said meat.  I love spicy foods…hot wings, chips and salsa (with strong cilantro), chili and cheese dips and spicy sausage wontons. 

This past Christmas season, our family spent a lovely evening at my brother in law’s home, in which he hand crafted some of the most delicious wontons known to mankind.  I am well aware of my weaknesses…and thus, I knew that I would have to practice some restraint.  I chose ahead of time that I would, “Just have one”…which turned into…“Just one…at a time”…which turned into…“Several…at a time.”

I also have a weakness against wastefulness…and when I see only one or two wontons left on a try…they are not worth saving…and yet, they are too valuable to dispose of…thus…I do my duty and “take one for the team” and finish the tray.

These wontons were incredibly perfect.  They tasted so good…and felt soothing sliding down my throat and landing in my belly.  My mouth was left with the perfect blend of residual flavor and heat.  It was heavenly.

Until…it wasn’t.

As we drove home from the evening…there grew an unfortunate turmoil in my lower abdominal regions and began boiling upward.  I had my wife drive so I could hurry into the home and take a fistful of antacids. In this case…the Rolaids did NOT spell relief.  My heavenly moment erupted into a gruesome night of explosions as I hugged the white porcelain bowl, for 8 long hours, begging for God’s mercy.  This has not been an isolated incident as I can recall two other similar experiences in my life.

When I encounter moments like these, I cannot help but recall what I have read in Revelation 10:1-11:13.  This passage depicts a powerful image of an angel standing with one foot on the sea and one foot on the land.  He holds a scroll in his hand which he asks John (the recipient of the vision) to eat.  John eats the scroll…and though the scroll tastes sweet…it leaves his stomach sour.  Sometimes it is hard to understand the sweetness of God’s plan when we see the sourness of sin being judged.  May we come to see that the plan of God is sweet, yet the final destruction of sin…may be very painful to watch or experience.    

Saturday, April 24, 2021

 Oh!...You're Obese!!!


There are a variety of reasons that people avoid going to the doctor.  Some people prefer to not be touched in awkward ways.  Others hold strong resentment to robes that cover absolutely nothing on their back 50%.  Still more, prefer to not have to answer difficult questions…of which awkward options are endless.

Personally, my hesitancy rests in my strong resentment to the public weigh in.  “Ryan, the doctor will see you now…right this way…now if you will just step on this scale…Hey everyone! Ryan is about to step on this scale!...Yes this one right here in the middle of the hallway…Hey everyone!  Look!...Wow!...You’ve put on some weight haven’t you?  Time to lay off of the cookies, huh?...Now you can just wait in this room for 45 minutes and think about how many cookies you ate yesterday, and what you will eat when you go home after this appointment…I will be back in a few minutes to ridicule your blood pressure.”

One of my greatest pet peeves is what is known as the BMI (Body Mass Index) chart.  According to this “valuable” data chart…I could weigh 140lbs and stand 6’2 and be healthy.  Really!!?? I don’t think so!

Eleven years ago, my in laws gave our family a Wii, along with it was given Wii Fit.  This was the exercise “game” that was designed to trick you into becoming healthy while playing games on your TV.  Perhaps it was a hint to what I was about to learn on my own.  The family took turns stepping onto the Wii board and allowing it to measure our BMI.  After Sarah and the kids had gone through the process of entering their data…and stepping onto the board…and getting their results…the words, “Dad! It’s your turn!,” echoed between my ears, like a steel bearing in a metal coffee can.

“No…I don’t think so…I’m good.”

“Oh…come on!...You have to!...We all did it…and we all made our own Mii characters too!”  After much coaxing, I reluctantly conceded.  I entered my height…my age…eye color…shoe size…and mother’s maiden name and stepped onto the board.

The machine began talking to me through the TV speakers…“Stand Still…Measuring….Measuring…Measuring…OH!... YOU’RE OBESE!!!”

My little Mii character doubled in size on the screen before my eyes as I rebutted, “Wait! What!!! I’ll show you obese!”  I prepared to throw the new machine through the old TV…thankfully…my frugal nature took over and I went to be alone and sulk.

As embarrassing as that moment was…it served as a wake-up call.  It shook me...it angered me…it got my attention and it was at that moment that I changed.  I changed my activity, and I changed my diet…and I am now significantly lighter than I was then.

Revelation 8 and 9, tend to be a difficult and sorrowful passage to read.  We may even find ourselves afraid as we internalize the great judgments that are to come.  In these pages of the last book of the New Testament we find incredible pain, death and torment…we find hunger, and thirst and earthquakes.  God is literally shaking the earth.  I think that He is trying to get the attention of the world…He STILL wants mankind to turn to Him.  God must act severely to sin…yet, we see the love and grace and yearning for mankind to repent…and give their lives to Jesus.  Sadly, the powerful final verses paint a sorrowful picture.  “The rest of mankind…still did not repent.”

May we be shaken today! May the Lord shake our world…get our attention…and then…MAY WE REPENT!!!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

 Who Can Stand?


My son is a freshman in high school and stands 6’1” tall.  I am 45 years old and hold a one inch height advantage…when I stand up straight…which is less often than when I was a freshman in high school myself.  Isaac has been lifting weights regularly and working hard in all areas of his athleticism…so much so, that he recently called me out.

“Dad…I think I can take you.”

“Huh?...What was that?...You say you want to take me?...Like you are going to take me out and buy me a coffee and a donut?...Why what a nice boy I have?...Yes son…I would love to have you buy me a coffee and a donut!...When do you want to go?”

“No dad…I think I can ‘take’ you…as in…I want to meet you on a wrestling mat…and take it to you!...Take you down…beat you!”

“Wait…so…there is no donut and no coffee?”

“Nope…just me…taking it to you.”

“Let me get this straight…You…who have 4 years of ‘elementary’ wrestling experience, and…I…who have 13 years of competitive wrestling experience, including college…not to mention 4 years of volunteer coaching experience and 9 years of paid high school coaching experience...and you think that you have what it takes.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because you are 45…and I am 15.”

“You’re on…the loser buys coffee and donuts.”

“No way!…I have no money.”

It took us a few weeks to find the time and space to get onto the mats.  I will spare you of the painful details of what transpired…you can ask him yourself...but, I would expect that you may hear him say things like…

 “Wow! He moves fast for a 45 year old.”

“Crazy arm drags!”

“Oh, the pain!”

“My nose bled.”

“I was really hoping to take him down.”

Or perhaps…“He graciously let me have a point.”

I would be willing to bet that most every human being who has ever lived has experienced both victory and defeat…both, the highs of dominance and the humility of lowliness. Each of us, at some point in our lives…need to endure a nice slice of humble pie.  I have endured plenty of bitter slices myself…including one from this same son of mine, who totally surprised me as a four year old, and full on tackled me from behind during one of our backyard football games. 

Despite the pain and bitterness of defeat, I think humility is a better place to be than in the place of pride.  At the end of Revelation 6, we find a group of powerful prideful people, suddenly aware of the power of God…and they cry out in fear and humility…the chapter ends with a phrase that is stated while under the wrath of the Lamb…”Who can stand?” The simple answer is no one.  No one can stand.  There is no one righteous enough to stand under the wrath of the Lamb.  Yet…what we find in chapter 7…is that the love of the Lamb…seals those who follow him. Picture the love of the Lamb…acting as a shield…to the wrath of the very same Lamb.  It is a paradox.  It is a mystery…yet it is true.  As a believer I have been sealed…protected from the wrath of the Lamb, by the very Spirit of the Lamb.

Who can stand?

Not me…unless I have been covered by the seal of the Lamb!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

 Better Way


They say that necessity is the mother of all inventions.  I don’t fully understand this concept…because I feel like I personally…“need”…a great deal of things…but, as of yet, I have not personally invented anything that is patent worthy.  Over the years I have spent many hours walking through the halls of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, (my beautiful wife’s…and Henry Ford’s home town). This massive brick structure filled with antiquities is one of my favorite historical places to visit, not just for the historical relics, but also for the plethora of inventions that have been placed on display.  While walking the grounds, you can find original, as well as replicas, of great created items like Edison’s light bulb, Gutenberg’s printing press, steam engines, telegraphs, firearms, automobiles and so much more. 

These inventions are great examples of how human beings strive to make things easier.  Firearms make hunting easier.  Light bulbs make seeing at night easier.  Automobiles make getting to places easier. Telegraphs…make understanding Morse Code…about as difficult as ever…but…you get the idea. 

Struggle is in some capacities a way of life.  That is why we work so hard to invent.  When we suffer…we work to end our suffering.  As we grow older and more mature, we find newer and better ways to do things. 

I remember working at the cabinet shop while I was in college.  At the end of every day we were required to clean the shop.  On my first day in the shop I took to the sweeping…creating a large pile in the center of the shop and then went looking for a dustpan or a shovel to pick up the mess.  I could not find one…anywhere.  I proceeded to use a thin scrap piece of ¼“ plywood and struggled to get all of the sawdust, wood shavings, scrap and dirt lifted off of the floor and into the garbage can.  As I suffered at my lot…the shop foreman stared at me…shook his head and said… “There is a better way.”

I argued with him…“Hey! I looked for a dust pan and a shovel and I couldn’t find either…so unless you can show me where they are…I don’t think that there is a better way.”

“There is no shovel…there is no dustpan…but there IS a better way!”

“I think, I am managing just fine.”

“No…you are struggling…and this will be you plight every day…until you let me show you the better way.”

“Fine! Oh guru of the better way…show me!”

He calmly took the broom from my hand...pushing what remained of the mess toward a wall.  He pressed a large green button on the wall and the huge dust collection system fired up…he opened a valve on a vertical ductwork chute right in front of him that ran from floor to ceiling and suddenly the entire dust pile that I had created was sucked up the chute and out of sight.

“Oh…there is a better way.”

I believe that God has a better way for us as well.  As humans, we continually attempt to navigate this life and do everything on our own, often acknowledging that there is no better way…than our own way. 

God has a better way…but sometimes…that better way includes suffering.  Revelation 6 is a very challenging passage.  We may read it and wonder…why does God do all of this?  I can’t say that I understand all of God’s intentions…yet, I do believe that I can see his goodness even in these challenging verses.  I can see His way…and it is a better way…than what I could ever invent.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

 Life Saver


As I sit here eating my annual Paczki on this Saturday before Easter, I can’t help but contemplate how this might benefit my life. The delicious, blueberry filled, pastry was baked “fresh” this morning…so I cannot claim that the preservatives will somehow lengthen my lifespan like a 45 year old Twinkie.  Though the sugar was sweet, and exploded with flavor on my tongue, the actual nutritional value will likely not last until lunch.  On an up note…I can confirm that due to the delectable reaction of my tastebuds…my “self initiated Covid Taste Test”…came back negative.  I could perhaps even argue that the fats added around my waist may help prevent me from freezing this next winter…or serve as a life preserver during the upcoming “lake season” of Minnesota. 

Those who know me well, know that any extra buoyancy available to me while in the waters of Minnesota is of great personal value.  I am not a strong swimmer…thus keeping floatation devices near is of great importance to me.  In fact, I am often quick to ensure that there are lifejackets available on my watercraft, pool noodles on the dock, and I don’t stray too far away from the swim platform.

I am not the only one.  The next time you head to a public pool and even some beaches, take a look around…you are likely to see flotation devices at the ready, in case any water emergencies may arise.  I like to be safe…yet, I have begun to notice that our American culture seems to be obsessed with safety.  We look to create and keep everything safe.  We find safety checkpoints at airports, train stations, and courthouses.  We have street signs telling us to use caution, slow down, watch for bumps…we not only have stop signs…but also stop ahead signs.  Perhaps, we will soon have stop ahead, ahead signs.  Need I talk about masks and social distancing?...I didn’t think so.  It is like our world is being filled with life preservers. 

Do I have an issue with it? I don’t know…that is my real issue.  My real issue is…I think that most of the world is drowning in sin…and we have a Life Saver within reach…yet we continue to struggle in the water…until we die.  I find it ironic that with all of our efforts to preserve life…we often miss the most significant Life Preserver.  Mankind works hard to make our earthly lives last as long as possible…sometimes over 100 years, yet, reject the offering to preserve our lives for eternity.

May we come to take an honest look at Easter this year.  May we come to take an honest look at Jesus Christ and make a decision to the question, is Jesus who He says He is? Is He God? Is He the Savior? Is He the way to eternal life? In John 8:12-59 Jesus gives an incredible testimony about who He is…and why He came.  He claims to be God! Is He? That is the question that every person MUST answer! It doesn’t matter what I “think,” or what you “think.” What matters is the answer…Is He?  He says He is…and I have come to believe it to be true. 

I think John 8:24 wraps this proverbial picture well.  Jesus said, “ I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” We are drowning in our sins…and the Life Saver is right there…inviting us to take it…to take Him!

I think this is the year…where we stop swimming…and hold on to the Life Saver!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Spotlight


We arrived at the small, elementary school gymnasium at 2:00 in the afternoon.  The lights were set low and the seats were filled with parents and grandparents, siblings and friends. The risers remained empty, as did the staging.  We made our way to the few open chairs remaining and waited for the show to begin.  Our oldest daughter, Hannah, had been cast for the lead role as Mother Goose in the Lincoln Elementary production of “Lemonade”…soon to be a Broadway hit…if by Broadway, one would mean the main street in Little Falls, Minnesota. 

The entire 2nd grade cast took the stage and filled the risers. The play began, and we quickly learned that the cast was having a very bad day! Little Bo Peep had lost her sheep, the Three Little Pigs had just endured the destruction of their homes by the Big Bad Wolf, and Humpty Dumpty had just gotten all cracked up!

Just as the calamity reached the crescendo, the lights went out…and a single spotlight shone on one individual on the stage.  It was Mother Goose! My daughter!  My heart swelled with fatherly pride as she began to sing with the shaky voice of a nervous 2nd grader.  The spotlight was fixed on her.  My eyes and ears, along with everyone else’s in the building were all directed to her.  There she was…lit up in the light…the center of attention, and I was proud of her!  She was amazing…she nailed her solo!

It was a wonderful experience for her…as well as for myself.

 I have often pondered the purpose of spotlights.  They are designed to draw our attention to the focal point of the light. I used to use a mega-bright spotlight while delivering pizzas in college. The light would light up the neighborhoods as I searched houses and mailboxes for the house numbers. The light drew my eyes to each point it touched.  In fact, many home owners would come to the window expecting to find an officer of the law searching for some vagrant.  Little did they know, it was a vagrant…searching for a place to deliver a pizza.

In John 12, we find a proverbial spotlight.  As Jesus enters Jerusalem, all attention is on him.  A crowd of up to 2 million people gather…wave palm branches, spread their cloaks in front of him and cry out “Hosanna! Praise him! Praise The King of Israel!”

All attention is on Jesus.  Shortly after this moment…in the same chapter…we find Jesus and God the Father in a verbal exchange…all about Glory!  It is an amazing scene…Jesus pointing to God the Father…and God the Father pointing to Christ!  The Triune God of the universe is pointing the spotlight of glory towards each other!

Glory is about revealing what is really at center stage…it is like a spotlight to draw our attention. 

May our focus be on Christ our Coming King this Palm Sunday…as we remember that triumphal entry…and the triumphal entry…yet to come!


Saturday, March 20, 2021

Ice


I first started winter biking in December of 2013 on a mountain bike with 2” tires. On just my second ride, I was heading home on the recently plowed streets when my tiny tires slipped out from beneath the dark blue frame and threw me to the hard pavement.  My helmet bounced twice on the icy avenue, and I lay sprawled on the road not knowing what had just happened.  I heard some honking and a voice yelling, “Hey get off the road, you bum!” as a yellow school bus full of children passed and laughed at me.  I peeled myself off of the street like a slice of peanut butter toast from the kitchen floor and attempted to remount my bicycle.  I hadn’t realized that my seat had snapped off during the fall, leaving a sharp post protruding upward, until I attempted to settle into the saddle.  I quickly bounced back up with a “yeieiaah,” slipping from my breath.  I rode the rest of the way home…standing…without incident. 

This is not the only time that I have fallen on the ice.  I am sure you can relate…as I can’t imagine anyone growing up in the long, frozen winters of Minnesota without enduring a similar experience of falling on the ice. 

I recall falling on the ice while delivering a pizza in college…sacrificing my much younger body to save the pizza.  Nowadays…I’d forget the pizza and save myself. 

Some of the worst moments of ice catastrophe occur when I fall in front of my mother or my wife.  For inexplicable reasons, they find my near death experiences worthy of uncontrollable laughter. 

I spoke with an orthopedic surgeon at one time and asked him what created most of his patients.  He replied, “Ice…always ice.”…”Ice.”

When we fall on the ice, it happens so FAST! It is incredible! One moment I am standing...or riding my bike…or running…and the next…I am flat on the ground, sometimes on my back, sometimes on my face, and sometimes upside down.

I think that on the day that we come face to face with God Almighty and see Him in all of His glory…a similar experience will happen.  I think that when we see God…we will fall flat on our faces immediately…faster than a fall on the ice.  When we see His Holiness…we will not be able to stand…we will drop.  In fact, we see it evidenced in the Scriptures, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1:28 and Revelation 5, (as well as others). In Revelation 5, we see angels and Godly people falling on their faces before, “He who sits on the throne and the Lamb!”

I don’t like falling on the ice…but honestly…I think that I am looking forward to falling on my face before God Almighty.  I know this…I am not even worthy to fall on my face before him…but He IS WORTHY…thus…on my face I will go.

May we come to see…and worship…the Holy God!

 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

 I Held Her Down

 


My daughter was gasping for each breath that she took.  Her tiny, one year old body shook as her microscopic lungs pressed against the inside of her chest trying to draw in each fill of air. Her tears soaked the bed sheet as the nurses tended to her. My job was to hold her down and keep her hand still as the nurse took a 3 foot needle and poked her repeatedly trying to find a vein to service the intravenous tubing.  Hannah’s small raspy voice moaned to me, “Dada...” sob, sob, sob, “Dada…” Thus, I held her down, fighting my own watery eyes.

The children’s ICU unit is an intimidating space.  You watch as your, barely, toddler crawls around on a bed with high Plexiglas sides to keep her from falling…or crawling out.  There are wires on electrodes all over her to monitor her heart rate, temperature, blood pressure…hair color…vocal volume, among other options that I am surely unaware of.    

I stayed with my daughter for 3 straight days in the ICU.  Why me?...because my wife, Sarah, had just given birth to our son a few weeks prior…thus giving  her a free pass from doing anything but caring for the newborn.  I don’t think that she really understood how difficult it was to sleep in a chair for three nights…with your 1 year old constantly pulling off the colored wires from her chest saying, “Uh Oh…Brown.” It wasn’t long before I could have rewired her color coded electrodes in my sleep. My nights were pretty sleepless…hearing Hannah’s difficulty breathing and her incessant color identification.  I was kept awake by the heart monitor’s constant beeps and occasional alarms blaring when her beats per minute climbed too high.  On top of it all…the worn voice calling “Dada…Dada…Dada…” made it impossible to rest soundly.

Hannah and I spent the entirety of all three days binge watching the same 30 minute episode of Veggie Tales, “Rack, Shack and Benny,” (aka…”The Bunny” to the one year old…referencing the chocolate bunnies in the episode). Let’s see…7:00 a.m….until 9:00 p.m…30 minute intervals…3 days…that is A LOT of chocolate bunnies!

By the third night I was tired and exhausted.  I needed sleep…at least I needed some “good sleep” and the rocking chair was just not cutting it.  I rocked Hannah to sleep…and carefully set her back in her Plexiglas prison and tried to sneak into the waiting room to lie on a rock hard sofa.  Inevitably, she stirred as soon as I set her down.  Never the less…I stepped out to let her settle in to sleep on her own. I laid on a couch and fell asleep within 6 minutes…only to be awakened by a nurse 10 minutes later, saying, “I am sorry…but she is not settling down…her heart rate is spiking too high…I think you need to go be in with her.”

I stepped back in the room…reached my hand on to her hand…and gently held her down.  She quietly rasped, “Dada,” and went to sleep.  I didn’t.

The croup had hit her hard that year.  She doesn’t remember much of the ordeal…but I remember about everything.  What strikes me most, is that there was only one thing that she wanted…only one thing that she needed.  Her body would recover…she would heal with time, but to do that she needed to stay calm.  She had to relax, and the thing she needed the most to be able to do that…was me.  She only needed me to be near. 

We serve a God who is near.  Though Revelation 4:1-11 paints an amazing picture of God on his throne…he is a God who is NEAR!!!  He is all seeing, all knowing…and all present. He is worthy…of all power and glory and honor…and…HE IS NEAR!

May we find the nearness of God…and his power…and his glory…and his majesty…holding us secure.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

 Fin



We currently have no living plants or fish in our home, though we have had both in our home from time to time…they both tend to fair poorly.  I take the blame entirely upon myself

I have shared about my murderous brown thumb in the past.  If the plant is green, I will turn it brown.  The saving grace to any of my plantitary (intentionally made up word, in which I claim all credit to its eventual inclusion into Webster’s fine work…of boosting children’s height at the dinner table) successes is when I can place the trees, shrubs or flowering bulbs into the ground and let God take care of the rest.  I remember in college when my mother gave me a “Devil’s Ivy,” an ironic name for a Bible College student, as a gift.  As she delivered the item to me, she instructed me in the proper care for the plant saying, “It is really hearty…it will liven up the apartment...and it is durable…if it doesn’t get the care that it needs it will likely still survive…it is really hard to kill.”

I killed it.

Sadly, pets have been another victim.  When our third child was born, I bought 5 goldfish…one for each member of the family.  Each family member named their own personal fish.  All 5 are dead, and have been so, since the first few months of purchase. 

Over this past year, it looked as if my luck might change! Last March, our oldest daughter “won” a goldfish. My first thought, as I set my eyes on the small innocent beast, was, “You poor thing.” We cared for the fish about as well as we have cared for any plant or fish in our home, changing its water every so often and feeding it when we would think of it.  I must give credit to this little aquatic creature, because he appeared to be more resilient than even my Devil’s Ivy.

Some mornings, I would awake to find the fish floating belly up! The next morning, I found him swimming around like he was as healthy as can be! Seriously!

If ever I have encountered an “overcomer”...this fish…was it.  Yet sadly, this overcoming and enduring fish, Fin was his name, has gone to be with everything else that goes down the toilet.  His endurance finally ran out, and he gave up trying about a week ago. 

But Jesus didn’t.  Jesus is THE Overcomer, and He calls us to overcome with Him.  In Revelation 3:7-22, we find Christ speaking to the final two of the seven churches of Revelation.  He gives the same encouragement to these two, which he has to the previous five.  Endure! Overome! I don’t know what you encounter and struggle with from week to week…but there are times when I feel that I am just done….flush me down the toilet and end my misery.  I can’t do it anymore.  Jesus knows that I can’t do it anymore.  That is why HE did it…and now He invites me to fellowship with Him so that I can overcome, endure, hang-on…because He is my strength.  Without Christ, we cannot overcome.  With Christ, we WILL overcome.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

 Wake Up!


I was on highway 10 heading west from Wadena to Perham.  The white lines rhythmically called to me like the ticking of a clock in a dark bedroom, surrounded by feathered pillows, warm blankets and a sloshing waterbed from the 80’s. There isn’t much to look at on the double lane highways of central Minnesota.  The towns are bypassed with bridges and underpasses, so you don’t even have to slow down as you pass through them.  My passenger wasn’t much to talk to either.  As a soon to be freshmen in high school, my, mostly straight “A” brother, had his nose in a book. Whether he was studying or just reading for pleasure, I didn’t know, nor did I really care…nor did I have any interest in doing either one for myself. 

We were making our way to a wrestling practice.  My career was over…but for him, he was just hitting the big time of high school wrestling and needed to be ready.  Thus, I was making the 30 mile drive to take him to an open to the public practice at the Perham community center.  I didn’t want to be making the drive.  I was tired from working a full day at the construction company, likely hauling shingles while my coworkers dug through my lunch box to steal all of my cupcakes.

I was so tired in fact, that I knew I was not driving as safely as I ought to be.  The white lines continued to lull me and I struggled to keep awake.   By now, I was looking forward to getting him to his practice…and heading for the hot tub where I could sleep during the 2 hour practice. We had about 8 miles to go as we approached an overpass of the BNSF railway. It was at this time…that I fell asleep.

Praise the Lord, I woke just before the right front corner of my parents car collided with the guardrail of the overpass.  I jerked the low powered Pontiac back onto the highway and began to sweat.

My brother’s head rose up from his book…he looked at me…then went back to his reading.

I had no more trouble staying alert after that.  I was awake! Wide awake! I was fully attentive to the road and ready for the rest of the trip.  My near accident was perhaps the best wakeup call I could get for the moment.

We have all needed wakeup calls.  We need to wake up to get ready for school or work. We need wakeup calls to lead us to life change. I recall my dad giving me a verbal lashing at one time that served as a wakeup call, making me aware of how I was mistreating people.

Most of us dread our morning alarms. Yet, where would we be without them?...probably still in bed and without a job. We set reminders and alarms to tend to our everyday tasks…yet when it comes to spiritual matters…the things that matter the most…are we still in bed? 

Revelation 3:1-6, calls the church in Sardis to “wakeup.” To wake up takes effort…it takes humility…it takes discipline…and obedience.  Praise God that he is waking us up! He is getting our attention before we fly off the guardrail.  If the Lord is sounding the alarm…let’s not just hit snooze, rather…let’s wake up!  May the Lord wake us up this week…to what he has for us.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

 Hold On!

 


For as far back as I can remember I have had a passion and a love for working with wood.  I remember one summer, where my untalented 8 year old self, suddenly became passionate about wood carving.  I begged my father for an opportunity to use his Husqvarna chain saw to explore chainsaw carving.  To his credit…he did not allow this.  Yet, I can’t help but wonder how having developed chainsaw skills at age 8 may have altered my future.  After extensive begging, he did allow me to use some of his wood chisels to transform a rotting box elder into my own interpretation of Michelangelo’s David…in my version, however, I thought I would keep David looking a lot like a box elder log.  I went into the nearby woods and drug out the old rotting log…and hauled it into his garage.  I propped it up on some jack stands and began to get to work.  Six and a half minutes later…and two small eye holes evidencing my efforts…I abandoned my project.  I set the chisels on the floor with the log still in his garage, figuring he could clean it up later and went inside the house to watch the Andy Griffith Show. 

On another occasion, I adjured my patriarch for permission to use some of his white oak boards to build a toy box for my bedroom.

“No,” he numbly responded.

“But, Dad…It will really help me keep my room clean!” I angled.

“You wouldn’t even be able to pound a nail through the oak.” He reasoned.

“Oh, ok..,” I sadly sighed.

I was not yet ready to let it drop. I figured that if I could show him my amazing hammering skills…he wouldn’t have any choice but concede to my building plan. 

I entered the garage and climbed up on the wooden bench near the wall.  By standing on the edge of the bench and stretching over…I could just reach the white oak boards that extended across the rafters.  I grunted as I struggled to free the bottom board…as my short arms could not reach the loose top boards.  My older brother stood on the ground and watched. “Whatcha doin’?” he implored.

“I’mmm…gettttinggg…a…brrrd…doowwn…frrr…a prrro…”

I didn’t finish my well crafted sentence as the board came down from the rafters...and I began falling from the precarious height.  My un-grown fingers clasped at the edge of the rafter…and I hung there.

“AHHH!!!” my brother exclaimed! “Hold On!!!” 

My brother grabbed a ladder and wrestled to get it up next to me.  Whether…purposely…or incidentally…my older brother let me down…though not with the ladder.  Due to his delay…I could hold on no longer and I came crashing down.  To his credit…he opted to break my fall by allowing his body to be crushed for the sake of mine.  Had he not taken the hit…I may have been injured or even suffered a bruise on the hard concrete floor.

His last words, (before ouch) were, “HOLD ON!” Sometimes…it seems so difficult just to “hold on.” In Revelation 2:18-29, we find a challenging picture of a church who is struggling to do what is right.  They are being deceived by Satan through a woman nicknamed, Jezebel…a reference to the Old Testament adulterous influencer to Israel.  Jesus, challenges this church…he knows what is going on…he knows her deception…he will deal with her…but for those who are still following Him…he says, “HOLD ON!!!”

Some days…it feels that all I can do…is hold on.  May we…with the strength of the Holy Spirit…learn to hold on, and trust Jesus to do what only He can do!

 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

 Foul



“Foul! Foul!...Call the Foul!...What are you BLIND!”

These are the words that I decried from the top row of the bleachers at one of my son’s recent basketball games.  I called it out with confidence…though if I am to be entirely transparent…I wouldn’t really know a basketball foul if it bit me in the nose. 

I grew up as a wrestler…and I consider myself to still be a wrestler…at least at heart…though, if I tried wrestling  now, I would find myself out of breath and in immobilizing muscular pain for 3 ½ weeks. After my son’s recent game I gave him some worthwhile advice.  I instructed, “If you take your left foot and plant it firmly behind his right foot…extend your left arm in front and just above his waist…and then turn your hips counter clockwise…he will end up on the floor, sitting suddenly on his backside.”

“Dad…I am not sure that is legal…”

“It is in wrestling…in fact…you get two points for it!”

Despite my obvious lack of any basketball knowledge there are a few things that I have learned along the way. 

1.      You are not allowed to push…that is called a foul…yet you ARE allowed to tackle…as long as you are going for the “ball”…which results in a “jump ball.”  That one confuses me.

2.      You are not allowed to take any steps when holding the basketball…you may however, take steps as long as you are bouncing the ball as you move…this is called dribbling.  An additional rule allows the holder of the ball to run to the basket…if they can do it in less than 3 steps…and throw the ball into the air near the basket.  It is irrelevant as to whether the ball goes into the basket or not.  That one also confuses me.

3.      Each fan (including myself) believes that they are always right…and that uncalled fouls are an act of injustice.

4.      Officials may or may not have trouble with their eyesight.

We have all experienced injustice in our lives.  Some of it is as superficial as the example just given…or as superficial as the injustice that Minnesotans must endure 10 consecutive days of sub-zero weather. It is certainly a unique thing to experience the celebration of the day when the thermometer finally says 1°F.  I suppose Floridians also suffer injustices by enduring at least one hurricane each summer.  Though both of these prior examples are superficial…if given the choice…I choose the cold.

There are much deeper sufferings of injustice as well…some even unspeakable.  We find injustice in human sex trafficking, theft, government corruption, murder…the list goes on and on. 

We are human beings…and by nature we don’t like to be wronged, disrespected, undermined or taunted. We don’t like to be robbed, abused or cheated. When we are…we want justice…and rightly so.  When we read the scriptures we see that the Lord guarantees justice, (in His timing….”vengeance is mine says the Lord)…yet He also promises suffering.  I don’t know what you have suffered.  I feel that most people have probably suffered more than I have…although it does appear that arthritis is becoming an issue for me.  However, whether you have suffered much…or very little…here is what the Bible promises…we will suffer for Christ…and HE will administer the justice.  We don’t get to choose when…or how…but He does.  Those of us who believe…and overcome…are promised exoneration…with a little white stone…and a new name. Read about it yourself in Revelation 2:8-17.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Mario Kart



“Do you love me?” she asked.

“Huh?” I replied…as I steered my digital go-kart around large green pipes protruding up oddly in the center of the race track, while gophers attempted to pop up and stick to the front of my vehicle causing Mario…and I, the controller, to lose our collective minds in frustration.

“Do you love me?” she begged…unsatisfied with my previous response.

“Sure I do!” I mumbled, as I turned my entire torso trying to encourage Mario to pass Bowser.

“How do I know?” she implored.

“Because I give you…SWEET Star Power Mystery Box!”

“What?...You have never given me a mystery box…unless of course you count the cooler you took hunting and didn’t clean out until I found it black and moldy 2 ½ months later.”

“Yes!...I won!”

“Are you even listening?”

“Sure…you asked if I loved you…and I said yes…and then you asked how do I know…and then I said…because I give you stuff.”

“How else do I know?”

“I don’t know…I take out the garbage and stuff.”

She sat in silence for a moment.

I studied her and probed, “Why are you asking?”

“I don’t know…It seems that perhaps others things seem more important to you…than me…or…us.”

“How can you say that?” I challenged as I sneakily slid the Super Nintendo controller out of sight, behind my back.

I am happy to say that Sarah and I have been married for more than 20 years now and I no longer play Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo…apparently the old technology is not very compatible with new televisions.  Despite my love for Mario Kart…I can honestly say…I love my wife much more than the race tracks. In fact, I remember the day that we were married. It was an incredible day and I love every part of that day!  What is even more astounding is that I can honestly say that I love her more today than I did that day.  Yet, if I am to be totally honest…there were times in our marriage where that may not have been a true statement.  Life is hard…marriage is hard…there were probably times when she didn’t like me…let alone love me.  Despite the hardships, we endured. I remembered the wife of my youth as mentioned in Proverbs 5:18. I remember the love we had at first, yet I am even more so now, thrilled with my marriage.  In a parallel…I want the same to be true for my relationship and love for Jesus.  In Rev. 2:1-7, we find an account where Jesus speaks to the church in Ephesus.  This church has done so much good…they have taken out the proverbial “garbage,” but they have forgotten their first love.

I don’t ever want to forget my first love in Jesus.  I don’t want anyone to forget their first love in Jesus! May we endure together the sufferings of Christ…and love him first…because he first loved us.


Saturday, January 30, 2021

 Smoking Steve



It is hard to believe, but I have not always been the poster child for “coolness.” In elementary school, I may have been the awkward kid sitting in the back of the 2nd grade classroom trying to secretly pick my nose without any cute girls spotting me…not that it would have made any difference…I wouldn’t have received any positive attention from them anyway.  I would often arrive at school wearing homemade denim jeans that were too tight for my already skinny legs and wearing empty bread bags inside my moon boots to keep my feet dry.  All of this to say…I was an easy target.

I remember, one cold January day, as I approached the entrance to the Wadena Elementary School, I was ambushed by Jason and his henchmen. They had been hovering just around the corner, and as I stepped into the 30 foot radius of the door, three black streaks zoomed in for the kill.  I was struck square in the chest and thrust back into the deep snow with my backpack leading the way. I was like a turtle stuck on its back with three ugly salivating wolves standing over it, ready to devour.  I could see no way of this ending well.

My salvation arrived in the form of Smoking Steve Swenson.  Steve Swenson was the Swede of Swedes. He was two grades older than I, and stood 6 inches taller than most 5th graders. He had fake tattoos on his arms and a candy cigarette hanging from his lips…(thus the nickname, Smoking Steve), he was SO cool!

“Hey, what are you three losers doing?” Steve barked at the 3 wolves.

“Nothing, Steve…just going to help this poor loser out of the snow bank.” Retorted Jason…

“Ugh,” uttered henchmen one.

“Urg,” agreed henchmen two.

Jason and his cronies shuffled off…and Steve, saying nothing, turned and walked away.

There was a picture of power that struck me that day. The power was certainly not within me.  Jason had some…but Steve…was the real authority in the group. 

There is a much more valuable picture of power and glory and honor and magnificence found in the Bible.  In Revelation 1:4-20, we find the Apostle John receiving a vision of the things that are to come.  Specifically, he sees an image of Jesus in ALL of his power and glory.  It is amazing…It is astounding! I am struck with this image.  Jesus says to John, “I am the first and the last, I am the Living One; I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever!”

Our world, our country, our circumstances and our health are all in question and in chaos.  I don’t like it…and I am certain that you don’t like it.  However, this is what I do like…I like looking at this image and seeing Jesus in his majesty and glory and knowing…that he’s got this…he can handle it.  He is who he says he is…he says he is coming back…and I believe him! That is my hope…He is the real Savior!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

 A Gift Card



I had a dream last night.  I had gone into a sporting goods store…I was only one of about 4 customers in the store, plus the associate.  Hung on the walls of the establishment, were three pictures.  Each picture was like a 2 dimensional sculpture.  As I looked at the pictures, they seemed to be in a constant state of change.  Not “altering”…just adjusting.  All of the other people were closely examining the pieces.  I asked the associate…”What’s the deal with the pictures?”

“If you can correctly guess the image of each of the three pictures…you will win a gift card to the store.”

As I watched everyone get closer and closer to the pictures...looking at the details for a clue to the identity of each image…I stepped back.

I shifted my head from side to side, and I backed away from the first picture.  The image became clear…it was Kirby Pucket…former Minnesota Twins’ star outfielder.

“The first one is Kirby Pucket.” I secretly whispered to the clerk.

“That is correct…and the second?”

I followed the same procedure for the second picture…

“Hmmm…is it Frank Viola???...NO!...Wait!...It’s Billy Martin?. (also both Minnesota Twins’ greats).

“That is correct…and the third one?”

Sweet! Two down and one to go!

“Yes I know this one!...It is none other than…”

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Stupid alarm clock!...now I’ll never received my gift card!!!

It is possible that my dream was sparked by my love for the Minnesota Twins…or my fondness for sporting goods stores…or possibly my affinity for gift cards…yet it is probable that my dream may have been inspired by my recent studies in the New Testament book of Revelation.  This incredible book, as a whole, is filled with challenging details, symbolism, prophecies and promises.  These key little pieces are wonderful and they actually point us toward a much larger picture.  If we are not careful, we can become enamored with the details and miss the beauty of the larger picture. Revelation can be confusing at times…but I think that if we can step back and look at Revelation as a whole…certainly taking some time in some of the details…but keep the big picture in sight, we will see and be deeply blessed by these promises of God.  Promises that show that Jesus IS King…that God IS going to do what he said he is going to do!...that God is full for grace and mercy AND justice.  When we step back and look at the larger image…we will see that pain will end…Heaven and Earth will be rebuilt…and eternal Love will rule.

This week…we begin with the intro…Revelation 1:1-8…and how God is uncovering this amazing picture.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

 Good News



It is really quite easy to get depressed, and in the opposite fashion, it is certainly quite challenging to stay optimistic. 

For example, with the recent snowfall from this past week…a pessimist may say…“Ugh!...I don’t like the snow…it is so wet…and cold…and then it gets slushy…and I really DON’T want to build a snow man…despite the catchy song!” Whereas, the optimists among us may exclaim, “Good news! It’s snowing!...Now I don’t have to go to work today and I can stay in my jammies all day!...Hooray!” Incidentally, COVID-19 has given many Americans the equivalent of 320 consecutive snow days.

I listened to someone say recently, “Good news! 2020 is over!...bring on 2021…it can’t be any worse!” Yet, I have heard others proclaim, “2021 might be ok…as longs as you don’t watch or pay attention to the news…especially the political news.  Ooops…too late…rough start to the new year.”

I remember, once, when my sister’s Barbie doll lost her head. She was so angry and frustrated with the mean brother who ripped the head off.  I tried to soothe her, by offering some encouraging and heartfelt words of consolation, “Hey look at the good news…now I won’t have to listen to you make that annoying Barbie doll voice that you do.”  She proceeded to attack me with the headless plastic figurine.  Oddly…my words landed on a hardened heart that day.

When my wife was giving birth to our first child…and fully wired to the contraction monitor, I once stated, “Good news honey here comes another contraction!...Ohhh! This looks like a really BIG one!”

My smile quickly faded, as her finger nails drew blood from my biceps and she kindly asked me to, “STOP GIVING ME REPORTS!” through gritted teeth.

Perhaps you are feeling like I am…in some desperate need for some Good News.  In Acts 27-28, we find the Apostle Paul on his final journey by boat…from Caesarea to Rome.  Along the way, he and the others on the ship are caught in a major storm for 2 weeks…adrift aimlessly at sea, eventually they are shipwrecked, and to top it all off, Paul is bitten by a poisonous viper.  Most would consider that journey to be a series of most unfortunate events.  Interestingly, throughout the story we find Paul seemingly poised…if not relaxed.  In fact, at one point, Paul breaks bread…and gives thanks.”  Paul seems so secure.  He seems secure with his current circumstances…he seems secure with his future…he seems secure in who he is and what God has called him to do.  Paul sees the Good News. 

I have come to believe that this Good News…is the very reason as to why Paul is so secure and at peace.  He has Good News.  He has a message of Good News.  In fact, when he finally arrives in Rome…the only thing that we really see him doing, is telling people of the Good News.  The Good News is this…Jesus’ Kingdom…is COMING!

So no matter how difficult we have it here and now…no matter how many Barbie dolls lose their heads or how much political mess the world finds itself in.  The Good News is the same.  Jesus IS COMING!, in which he will bring the Kingdom of God into fullness!

That…is some REALLY…GOOD NEWS.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

She Said Yes       



I was 23 years old and had just been hired at the Alliance Church in Little Falls, MN.  The year was 1999, and truth be told…I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing…who I was…or where I was going.  In contrast, I now know…who I wasn’t…where I have been…and I still don’t really know what I am doing…but, at least now, I am closer to learning who is in charge.  I was single at the time that I was hired…kind of.  Sarah and I had been dating for about 2 years…(I consider it 3 years…but apparently there was a year where I thought we were dating…but she didn’t see things in the same way)…so I will say 2 years. 

It was at this point in our relationship that I wanted to seal the deal.  I was desperately afraid that she would find out that I wasn’t really that great of a catch…so I needed to act quickly.  If I didn’t, she may learn that I only had 11 dollars to my name and cut things off because she didn’t want to live in the cardboard box I kept in the back of my 1991 Ford Escort.

I drove 12 hours to visit her…a week before I began my new job.  Technically speaking…visiting her was my second priority for that trip.  The top priority lay with the intimidating task of asking her father for permission to propose to his daughter.  That was the second scariest moment of my life…the first being watching “The Shining” at age 6.  On the morning before I was supposed to head back to Little Falls…I knew that it was time to pull the trigger. I got up early that morning…and spoke to her father…asking his permission…which he granted…after lecturing me about finances and providing for her…I told him, “I’m good!...I have 11 dollars!”

One month later…the moment of truth came.  I had it all planned out.  She and I were going to attend my college roommates wedding for which I was a groomsman.  I was going to pick her up when she arrived and take her to our favorite park and walk along the beach on the shores of Lake Minnetonka and pop the question.

The problem was…she was delayed in traffic…and arrived 2 hours later than planned.  She told me that she would meet me at the groom’s dinner at the church after the rehearsal.  Hesitantly I agreed and went to the church.  She arrived just minutes before the rehearsal was finished and we went to sit at the meal together.  Time was not in my favor.  The weight of the ring in my pocket continued to grow as I watched the clock tick away.  I needed to get to the tuxedo shop before they closed at 8:00…and it was already 6:45!  I ate my 8 oz. parmesan chicken breast in two bites and my mixed vegetables in one…shoved the dinner role in my pocket for later and asked, “Are you finished?”

“Wow!  That was nuts! What’s the hurry? We haven’t even had dessert yet…it’s cheesecake…and you know how I feel about cheesecake.”

I sat there…shaking…my knee bouncing under the table, rattling the flatware and splashing droplets of water out of the short plastic cups.  “Chill out!” she uttered.

“Easy for her to say,” I thought….but said, “I need to go get my tuxedo!”

“Fine,” she said…just as the cheesecakes arrived.  It took her 16 bites to finish the 2” square! I had my done in 1.

“Do you want me to finish that for you?” I asked!

“Why are you so jumpy?!” She begged?

Finally when she finished…I grabbed her hand and drug her to the Ford Escort...I pointed us eastward toward the tuxedo shop and put the accelerator to the floor.  The small 1.9 liter, manual transmission made it to 30 mph in about 4.5 minutes, just as we were finally getting up to speed…I slowed down and swung into the parking lot of our favorite beach…“The Plan”…was back on. 

“What are you doing?” she tersely beckoned!

“I just thought it would be nice for us to walk along the beach before we go to the tuxedo shop.”

“What??? We don’t have time for this!”

“Now she realizes it!” I thought.  “Just a quick walk…from one end to the other…”

“This is stressful!”

“Come on! It will be quick!”

“Fine”

The disgust in her voice was dripping with frustration and confusion.

“Let’s take off our shoes.”

“What!? What is wrong with you? Have you lost your mind?”

“Let’s just take of our shoes.” 

We took off our shoes…and I grabbed her hand…and we began to speed walk to the other end of the beach.

“Why are you walking so fast?”

“Because we don’t have time for this.”

“Exactly! That is what I was saying!”

“Come on! Move it! Get your knees up!...Look alive there, sweetheart!”

Just as we approached the other end of the beach…I cried out, “OUCH!!”

“What now?” She implored.

“I stepped on something…some glass or something.”

“Seriously!?”

“Owie…owie…owie…It hurts!” I squeaked, “I need you to look at it!”

I hobbled over to a large rock…sat down…reached for my foot and lifted it to my lap while secretly slipping the ring onto one of my toes.

“Do you see anything?” I asked.

She said nothing for a moment…and then…“What?.....Ryan….What?”

I took the ring…got down on one knee and said, “Sarah…I love you…Will you marry me?”

She said…”Did you ask my dad?”

“Yes…I did.”

“And he said it was ok?”

“Yes…He did.”

Then she said, “Yes!”

I cannot tell you the relief I felt at that moment. She said YES!

“Great!  Let’s go get my tuxedo!  We don’t have time for this!” I grabbed her hand and drug her back to the less than sports car.

She couldn’t take her eyes off of the ring…and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her (fortunately it was a 3 lane high way and I had plenty of room to swerve).

It was after this moment…that I was obsessed with telling everyone that she said YES…she actually said yes!.  I told everyone.  Why? Because I loved her…and she loved me…and she said yes. She was just as obsessed as telling the story as I was!

In Acts 26, we find Paul speaking to King Agrippa after about 2 years of imprisonment.  When he is given an opportunity to defend himself…he uses it as a time to tell Agrippa…ALL ABOUT JESUS!  Why does he do that?  He could have defended himself and been set free.  (The Bible says so in vs. 32)! Paul speaks about Jesus…because he LOVES Jesus.  When we truly love something…or someone…we can’t help but to testify to that love.  I love my wife and my kids…and I love Jesus.  I will speak about all of them…anytime.