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…”


Stupid alarm clock! 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!”


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.”


“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.