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?”


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


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

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


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 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 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 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.  


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


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.


“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.