Saturday, December 23, 2023

 A Star

 


A couple of years ago my wife and I were sitting around a fire with some close friends.  I was kind enough to bring the fuel for the fire, which I had an abundance of, having just remodeled our kitchen countertops. 

“Are those things safe to burn?”

“What could be bad about it?  Fire is fire…burning is burning.” I replied.

“The green flames suggest that maybe it’s toxic.”

“So are cigarettes, but people smoke those all the time.”

“I don’t smoke.”

“Good…then if you hold your breath now…you should be just fine.”

As I was throwing another laminated slab onto the toxic, green fire I noticed a line of moving stars moving across the sky. My first thought was that the green smoke might very well be hallucinogenic, until my wife also notice and asked, “What in the world is that?”

“I have no idea…but I am glad that I am not the only one who is seeing this…do you think we ought to call Area 51?”

“Not yet…let’s see if they take Andrew up into their ship and do any tests on him first.”

The long line of stars continued to pass overhead.  One after the other they moved and for a while I wondered if there was ever an end to the constant stream of new stars.

The four of us stared in astonishment, contemplating what the meaning of the sequential line of stars could be.  Perhaps Jesus was coming back…after all, there was one star when he was born…maybe this was Jesus with a line of angel soldiers coming back…or…it’s just super rich Elon Musk taking over the world with Starlink satellites.  It ended up being the latter.  We learned this when we all pulled out our smartphone and looked it up on the spot. 

This makes me wonder…at the wonder…that the Magi would have experienced in discovering a new star that had suddenly appeared in the sky.  Perhaps even more so, the wonder of finding the Christ child after the long pursuit of following that star. 

What strikes me the most is their reaction upon finding Jesus.  Here we have wise astrologers from the east…pagans…Gentiles…worshipers of idols and false gods, and when they find Jesus, they do something that not even the religious leaders and the teacher of the law would do.  They worship the King.  They worship the King of the Jews…they worship the Christ.

When we come to look for Jesus this Christmas, may our response be the same…to worship the King…to worship the Christ.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

 Preservation

 


I have never been known for my ability to grow facial hair.  This is disappointing, especially when considering how my dad and both brothers can grow fabulous beards and I am left with the mediocre allotment of facial hair sequestered to the tip of my chinny chin chin. 

Despite these inadequacies, I remember my boss confronting me each day as I walked into The Pizza Hut for my delivery shift while in college.

“Ryan! You need to shave!”

“Why? I just shaved last week!”

“You need to shave every day before work.  That is the rule. Now go into the back room and shave with the used rusty razor in the back.”

I did as he said.  In fact, I did as he said each day as I arrived for work unshaven. 

After having shorn my three to five whiskers, I grabbed my first delivery and darted to my 1991 Ford Escort.  I quickly worked the manual transmission of the 1.9 liter, four cylinder efficiently through the icy narrow streets of Excelsior, Minnesota. I pulled up behind the targeted house on Maple Street and left the engine running.  The quicker I moved, the more deliveries I could take and thus the more tips I could make on a given night.  This was important to me in lieu of needing to save up enough money for an engagement ring for my girlfriend…or a boat…I hadn’t decided yet. (Note to the reader…I chose the boat first…but please don’t tell my wife).

I ran to the door, heeding my boss’s mantra, “Fast on your feet and not on the seat.” I swung the storm door open, held it in place with my backside, feeling the hydraulic closer pressing up against my back.  I knocked on the door and when the homeowner revealed himself, I read back the order with the skill of an auctioneer, received the payment and the tip and dashed back to my running Escort allowing the storm door to crash closed behind me. 

As I ran, I was briefly troubled by the abrupt tug and crash that came from the no longer visible storm door.  Additionally, I began to sense the winter cold penetrating me in a way that had not been there moments ago.  When I reached my Ford and crawled in, it became apparent that some of my uniform was no longer with me.  In fact, the required black slacks of my Pizza Hut attire had been replaced in the back with white BVD’s. 

I knew that the boss would not approve of my uniform alterations, so as when I returned to the store I found a roll of duct tape and went to work securing my torn slacks with silver gray adhesive strips. 

It was several deliveries later when my boss took issue with my new look. 

“Ryan?! What is the deal with your pants? You cannot wear that.  You know our uniform policy, and we expect you to adhere to it strictly.”

“Well sir…here’s the thing…I ripped my pants and…”

“Never mind…I don’t want to know.”

Needless to say, I was not allowed to work again until I had replaced the black pants…and shaved.

It makes sense that my boss had to hold to a line that would preserve the image and integrity of the Pizza Hut company.  Yet, in my reading of the scriptures this week, (Matthew 1:18-25),I have found myself astounded by what would appear to his friends, family and culture, that Joseph, the husband of Mary, forsook all of his self preservation and laid himself vulnerable and bare to criticism, ridicule and shame. 

Joseph had a good and well known reputation and he was willing to let all of that go when God asked him to take Mary to be his wife.  Joseph was willing to obey God and let his preserved reputation go to the wayside. 

I wonder how often I choose to preserve my own reputation over trusting God. How often do I consider what people will think of me over doing what is right and following Jesus?  I am willing to bet that I am not alone in this realization.  I suspect that most of mankind may find themselves in a constant struggle of worrying about how they will be viewed by others.  If we are honest with ourselves, I believe that we will see how we tirelessly work to preserve our own reputations. 

May we come to celebrate the righteousness of Christ…even at the cost of our own reputations!

Saturday, December 9, 2023

With Us


Since the world shutdown of 2020, my wife has made a point of investing in relationships with friends and family, including regular calls to her mother.  She values the relationship and works to keep the two of them close, despite nearly 800 physical miles separating the two cities of Little Falls, MN and Dearborn, MI.   When relationship is important you will work to foster the relationship. Technology has helped bring long distant relationships of the space age Jetson’s, Star Trek and Back to the Future into a tangible reality with apps like Zoom and Facetime. 

Despite these advances, hearing someone’s voice and even seeing someone’s face is just not the same as being in their presence.  This is the concept that I hold to and answers the question of why I do not call my own mother every day…I would rather see her face to face. 

“Why don’t you call me like Sarah calls her mom?”

“Because Mom…I would just rather talk to you face to face.”

“Your brother at least calls me once a week.”

“He is probably just bored or wants you to send him some cookies.”

“I did send him some cookies.”

“What!? Why didn’t you send me cookies?”

“I would if you would call me!”

“I will be there for Thanksgiving…but he won’t…I will just eat cookies then…and pie…and lefse…”

“It’s just not the same.”

“I know…it’s better!”

I know that my wife cherishes her conversations, but even more so, cherishes her time together with her mother. 

In the recent past, my wife decided to surprise her mother and flew to Michigan without telling her.  As she arrived at her mother’s house, she called her mother at their usual time to chat.  Then, while the two of them were sharing their regular conversation, my wife walked into her mother’s home and stared at her mother face to face while they both still held the phone to their ears.  The phones were quickly put away in exchange for hugs and kisses and a long weekend of fellowship.

I see an image of Christmas in this story.  Since the beginning of mankind, God has had and has sought relationship with his creation…whom he loves.  Yet, something incredible took place on that first Christmas.  That is the day that God met us…mankind…face to face…through the face of a baby.  Isaiah 7:14 says, the “Virgin will give birth to a son and his name will be called Immanuel…God with us.”

Christmas changed everything…we now have God with us.  He was in the flesh when he first came and he will come in the flesh again.  In the meantime, we still have God with us…His Spirit living in those who have put their faith in Jesus.

May you come to know What Child this Is…He is the King of Kings…He is Immanuel…He is God with us.


Saturday, December 2, 2023

 Hopeful


As I watched another Thanksgiving Day pass, I reflected on some Thanksgiving days of the past.  Despite popular belief, I did not attend the first feast with the pilgrims.  However, each Thanksgiving dinner in our family holds to some of the national recognized traditions including a roasted turkey, cranberry sauce (though I refuse to slice mine from a can), mashed potatoes, stuffing and, of course, pumpkin pie. 

I recalled one year when I had invited myself…and my family out to my brother’s house in South Dakota for Thanksgiving dinner. 

“Hey Ross!?  How are you?  What are you plans for this weekend?  What time are you eating? Ok…we’ll be there…see you then!”

I am pleased to report that he did not serve the Peanuts special of popcorn, toast and jelly beans.  He did however make me provide the turkey and the pumpkin pie.  We baked the pies ahead of time but not the turkey…that we brought raw. Unfortunately, as we pulled into his driveway, one of my daughters was so excited to see her cousins that as she rushed out of the van, she put her little size 6 right into one of the pies.  It still tasted like pumpkin, so we ate it…plus the massive cavity provided additional vacant space to fill with whipped cream.

One year for Thanksgiving, my family went up to my parents’ place to enjoy the day with family.  The unfortunate aspect of this particular year was the fact that my dad happened to be violently ill with a kidney infection and he kept walking through the dining room…while we were eating…to vomit in the bathroom.  I thought about offering him a 30 gallon garbage can that he could use until we were done with the pie…but I refrained…I guess I am just humble that way.

There was a year before Sarah and I had children that we again decided to head up to my parents place for Thanksgiving.  We had been contemplating the purchase of a new vehicle and a friend offered to sell us her car.  She even offered to allow us to take it for the extended weekend and test drive it.  What she neglected to tell us, however, was that the gas gauge did not work…and that ¼ tank realistically translated into empty.  We did not learn this nuance until we were between Little Falls, MN and Randall, MN. 

This got me to thinking about hope.  On that unfortunately eventful Thanksgiving morning, I “hoped” that there would be enough fuel in the tank to get us to Randall where we could fill up before finishing the trek. The interesting thing was that as soon as the fuel was gone…so was the hope.  There was no longer any hope of making it to the meal on time, getting the first slice of pumpkin pie, or staying warm inside a running automobile.  With the red Lumina stranded on the side of Highway 10, we walked several miles home to get a gas can and the other car.

When we lose hope, we risk falling into despair.  There are so many things in this chaotic world that we can try and place our hope in.  Yet, I am convinced that each worldly hope will all leave us hopeless and falling into eventual despair.  At some point we will “run out of gas.”  There IS however ONE hope that will NEVER run out or will NEVER run dry…and that is the HOPE found only in Jesus.    

At Christmas, we remember when that Hope first came into the world.  We remember the birth of the Christ child.  The Israelites had waited in hope for hundreds, even thousands of years for the promised Messiah.  Even during all of that time, the True Hope continued, because the True Hope is based on the promises of God.

Likewise we wait in hopeful anticipation for that same Jesus to return.  Though we may wonder when this return will happen, we need not lose hope because His returns is based on the same promises made by the same God.

Even though I may run out of gas…yet will I hope…in Him.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

 Auditions

 


Recently, I was speaking with a friend who had graciously given me and my family free reign to enjoy his beautiful land.  My daughter was so pleased and appreciative that she excitedly exclaimed, “Wow! Thanks so much for letting us use your land!”

It was at this time that my friend broke into song…attempting to sing… “This land is your land…”

As his voice struck the notes, I was suddenly awakened with a deep core memory from my Jr. High years.  I remembered sitting in the Jr. High choir room while Mrs. Bjorkland went from student to student demanding that each one sing the opening chorus of “This Land is Your Land.”

Apparently, her purpose was to identify which students were sopranos, which ones were altos, which ones were tenors, which ones were basses and which ones had no business being involved in the middle school choir. 

Row by row she went.  She got closer and closer to me as each occupied seat near me was required to sing.  I sat waiting.  Just 5 people away…then 4…then 3.  I could feel the cold sweat running from the back of my neck, go down my spine and collect on the waistband of my BVD’s.    

When my turn arrived, I did the best that I could…which was not good.  In fact, I am fairly certain that when the Biology teacher Mr. Jeffers busted through the door, just as I was proclaiming, “the Redwood Forest,” he was looking for a live honking goose to dissect…or cook…or both.

When the painful experience was over, Mrs. Bjorkland separated the class into groups.  She put about half the girls in one corner and half the girls in another corner.  She then put about 75% of the boys with the second girl group and called them “Alto’s.”  She then sent about 10 boys to a third corner as Tenors and finally she placed one bearded 4 year middle school boy alone to the fourth corner.  He was the Bass.   

There were three of us left in the center of the room.  Mrs. Bjorkland looked at us quizzikly, muttering, “What to do with you three.”

“Are you sure you want to be in choir?”  She asked?

“We have to be!” we said in unison.

“Mr. Amundson said that we have to be in band or choir, because he wasn’t going to pay a teacher for just the three of us to be in “General Music.”  I added.

“Oh...” Mrs. Bjorkland voiced tersely.

Thus began my brief middle school choral career and for the next two years our class exasperated 4 different choir directors, each lasting approximately 4 months.

Everyone in that room knew that I had no business being in choir.  My forced “audition” revealed as much.  There have been other auditions and tryouts in my life from time to time.  I would “tryout” for a spot on the varsity wrestling team, I would audition for the fall play at my high school, I even auditioned for the all school talent show in 3rd grade.  Despite earning a spot on the wrestling team and even being casted as Little John in Wadena-Deer Creek’s version of Robin Hood, (No singing required), I was not placed on the docket for the talent show. 

Here is an incredible realization that struck me this week.  In spite of my lack to 3rd grade talent and inability to sing, and regardless of my wrestling and acting abilities, I am still wanted by God.

In fact, God does not even require an audition!  He loves you and invites you to be a part of His family.  He does not put conditions onto your acceptance.  It does not matter what I can or cannot do.  My “audition” not only has no effect on His love…it is fully unnecessary.

Here is a question that I asked myself this week.  “What is the greatest gift that God has ever given.” I believe that answer is love.  God’s greatest gift that he has given to mankind, (you and me) is His love.  It is out of His loves that he sent Jesus(Himself) for our salvation.  It is out of His love that He sent the Spirit to indwell those who have put their trust in him, and it is out of His love that he promises an eternity for those who will ACCEPT his unconditional invitation.

No auditions required…just one invitation.

When we accept the invitation we become members of the team…His family.  Then we learn to live as He would have us live empowered by His Spirit.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Less-cation


I just spent the last week on vacation.  It seems that the Lord teaches me lessons during all of my vacations.  For example, several years ago while on a vacation, I learned that one should never use a child’s Superman fishing rod to cast a Johnson silver minnow.  It is quite likely that said silver minnow may find itself embedded into the head of the caster.

I have also learned that when your nine-year-old daughter says that she has a stomachache during vacation…it is quite possible that it is appendicitis. 

I have learned that if you jump into the lake from the dock, you may end up with water up your nose which can likely lead to a major sinus infection and nullify any further enjoyment of the vacation…especially when you add into the fact that you become feverish with the sinus infection and it happens to be in the midst of a global pandemic shutdown for Covid-19, which you now become convinced that you have.  Once you test negative for Covid, you may find it possible that a family member suggests that you have a brain eating amoeba and you only have hours to live.  (Considering that this took place over 3 years ago…I think I am in the clear.)

Over this past week, I again have learned a few things.  I have learned that despite the fact that I am 47 years old, I am still physically able to give my son with a broken foot a piggy back ride up a ladder to get him safely into a deer stand without putting any weight on the broken foot.  He was perfectly safe the entire time…but I would ask that you not bring this up to his mother.

I have also learned this year that just because there were more deer than you could count running around the woods in September and October…doesn’t mean that they haven’t become incredibly skilled at playing hide and seek in the same woods…or perhaps they went south for the winter.

Finally, I have learned something more about the Lord.  As I sit and look at the same trees all day long, and listen to the squirrels and the blue jays and the occasional ruffed grouse…but no deer…I find myself compelled toward the Lord.  I learned how the Lord and his goodness and grace draws me, (us) into deeper communion with him.

This astounds me.  I know my life…including my own thoughts and actions and the unrighteous life that I have lived and still wrestle with.  This week I found myself drawn…compelled to a closer relationship with the Lord, not because of guilt…but rather because of grace.  Certainly, guilt and shame can be great motivations for behavioral changes.  Yet, how much MORE am I compelled to obey the Lord of grace who has bestowed upon me, grace upon grace.

1 Corinthians 12, emphasizes the “gifts of grace.” May we find ourselves compelled by his grace…to offer grace…as he empowers us in grace.

May we come to be compelled by His grace.

 


Saturday, October 21, 2023

 The Body


My son loves hunting.  In fact, I have come to believe that he loves hunting more than I love hunting, and that is saying quite a great deal.  Even as a young boy, he would insist on wearing his camo pants and his camo shirt and even his snot covered camo fleece hood whenever at all possible.  He would prefer that such items would not get washed, so that they could always be ready for whenever the need arose to disappear into the wilderness. 

His young obsession with hunting would last deep into the late fall of every hunting season.  Even after the Christmas tree had been set up, and most of my hunting equipment had been put away for the season, you could still find the boy dressed in his camo, hiding within the pine boughs of the Christmas tree armed with his suction cup bow and arrow waiting for his little sister to come by.  When she did, he would launch his arrow at her and if he hit her, she would graciously play dead while he dragged her out of the living room by her arms.  His excessive imaginative play would abruptly end when he began to speak of field dressing and his younger sister would hop up and bark, “Oh no! You are not field dressing me!”

Inevitably challenges arrive that limit hunting opportunities, such as…school, work, girlfriend, chores, football and of course…broken bones.  In 2021, my hunting loving son broke his clavicle during a football game of his sophomore year.  It was the night before the bow hunting opener.  He resiliently endured the pain in his shoulder as I waited alongside him in the ER.  He seemed to be handling it well…until…the doctor said, “No hunting for you this year.”  Tears welled up in his eyes as his pain went from his shoulder to his heart. 

Sure enough, his bow hunting season was done.  Yet, he was determined to spend some time rifle hunting,and so spent time practicing shooting from the hip…shooting left handed…putting the butt of the rifle against his bicep instead of his shoulder.  As I was practically hauling him into a stand to hunt one evening he said, “Oh man! I wish I had broken my foot instead of my shoulder! Then I could still hunt.”

Well…in 2023 his wish came true and he has found that it is just as difficult to hunt with a broken foot as with a broken shoulder.  I have to practically carry him to his stand…and haul him up into that stand, and then do the same upon exit.  He said to me just yesterday, “You know…I thought the shoulder was bad…but I didn’t realize that how much of life is affected by a broken shoulder or a broken foot…everything is affected.”

He is right.  The principle in his observation also carries on in the spiritual realm.  Paul speaks of charismata, (Gifts of Grace), in 1 Corinthians 12.  Paul emphasizes how each part of the body, has received this gifts of grace and is to use these gifts of grace to build up the body.  In verse 26, Paul says this, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  My son has encountered this reality first hand.  My wife and I have felt the effects as well.  His football team will feel the effects during the rest of the season.  His sisters have felt the effects as they already have had to do more chores around the house than before. (On an interesting note…they usually complain that he doesn’t do anything around the house. Now??? Huh…interesting).

The bottom line I guess is this.  As the body of Christ, we are called to build up and support and encourage the body as a unified body.  When one suffers, all suffer…and when one rejoices, we ought all to rejoice.  We are a body with many parts and sometimes these parts can be broken and hurting.  This will affect the whole body.  Let us follow the leading of the Spirit, as we use our gifts of grace to build up this body for God’s glory!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

 “Ta Ta Ti Ti Ta”


Ms. Shoemate entered my 1st grade classroom wearing one blue shoe and one red shoe…the irony was lost on me at the time.  She wheeled a shelving cart stacked with bins containing a vast array of rudimentary musical instruments.  I could see blue sticks and green sticks, black wooden boxes, mallets with long skinny handles, a few different styles of drums, a variety of bells, and even a triangle. 

I instantly began salivating upon spying the triangle.  I had watched enough episodes of Gunsmoke to know that the triangle was primarily used to call for victuals.  Not only did my tummy rumble with hunger, but my gut longed for the opportunity to play such a splendid and unique instrument. 

Before we could get to the distribution of the instruments, Ms. Shoemate began working through the regular music instruction, cuing the class on proper rhythms and tempos. 

“All right class…listen carefully and repeat after me and follow my lead.”

Ms. Shoemate then clapped her hands together once and sharply inserted the word, “ta,” at the same time.

“Ta.” We clapped and repeated.

“Ta, Ta.” Ms. Shoemate called out…clapping her hands to the rhythm.”

The class copied her perfectly.

“Ta, Ta, Ti, Ti, Ta.”  The Ti, Ti’s were quicker, but we managed the challenge fluidly.

After spending an exorbitant amount of much time mimicking this musical binary code, the time came for the instruments to be distributed.  My hand instantly shot into the air and waved around as if trying to hail a cab in down town Chicago.

“Ooooh, uuuh, eeeeh,” I cried trying to get my hand to touch the louvered fluorescent lights secured to the white, concrete ceiling. 

“Yes, Ryan…do you have a question?”

“Yea, ummm, can I have a triangle?”

“You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit,” Ms. Shoemate curtly replied.

I slumped back into my seat and anxiously awaited my assigned instrument.  As if to add insult to injury, I watched Ms. Shoemate give the triangle to Julie…the obvious teacher’s pet…as the first instrument to be handed out.  As each student received their offering, I continued to hope beyond hope that I wouldn’t get the sticks.  Anything was better than the sticks. Though the triangle was gone, a drum would be nice…even the wood block or the bells…but not the sticks.  They are so boring.

As Ms. Shoemate approached my desk, I saw her pull out a pair of blue sticks and extend them to me.  Reluctantly, I received them.  Once all of the students had their instruments, the music teacher then orchestrated a first class rendition of “Ta Ta Ti Ti Ta” that is yet to be matched to this day. Each student played their given instrument as instructed, and as a whole, the production was a passable success.

I did not receive my instrument of choice, yet, I was just as much a part of the symphony as everyone else.  I can’t help but reflect on Paul’s teachings about the gifts of the Spirit as found in 1 Corinthians 12.  In this passage, Paul addresses one of the problems that the Corinthian church was facing.  It appears  that people were fighting over who had the better gifts.  It was as if the people in this church were all asking for the triangle and no one wants to play the sticks.  However, what Paul clearly lays out for them…and for us…is that EVERY person in the body of Christ matters and is given a gift to be used to encourage the church.

In the same way that I did not get to choose my instrument, I do not get to choose my spiritual gift.  That is the work of the Lord.  My responsibility is to use whichever gift is given to me, for His glory and purpose.    

May we come to, willingly, receive what God offers us and then use every gift faithfully…no matter how great or insignificant the gift may seem. 

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Gifts of Grace


There are certain days of the year that ring of the utmost importance.  Christmas and Easter ought certainly to top the list.  Thanksgiving would closely follow, just below the ultimate duo.  Then…we come to a series of holidays that we just don’t know what to do with…namely, Halloween, Presidents Day, St. Patrick’s day, Columbus Day…or should we say Indigenous People’s Day, and of course…Valentine’s Day.  Of these holiday’s, Valentine’s Day is NOT one of my favorites.  I struggle with having Hallmark tell me to spend my money to purchase flowers and candy for my wife on this specific day…or else.  What gives Hallmark this kind of power?  It can’t be their movie making skills…cuz seriously, if you have seen one Hallmark Christmas movie…then you have seen ONE too many Hallmark Christmas movies.  Yet, I know that if I don’t obey the Hallmark rules…then I may NEVER see another Hallmark Christmas movie…but, let’s be honest…is that really a bad thing?

In protest to Hallmark, I briefly created my own annual holiday. I called it June Day.  June Day would take place on the 1st of June every year, and it was celebrated by me…giving my wife a surprise gift of some form.  It began with flowers and maybe some chocolates.  Then as the years progressed the holiday developed into the giving of shoes and taking her out to eat and sometimes having to do different jobs around the house. 

June Day has now officially and permanently been cancelled due to a variety of reasons including, finances, busyness, forgetfulness, children and likely politics. 

As I look at my history as a husband, I must confess that I have often given gifts to my wife out of “obligation.” I have given the flowers, and candies, and jewelry etc…because I “had to.” I hate to admit it, but it is true.

There have been other times however, that have been different.  For example, after seeing my wife endure a particularly hard day of stressors including, children, work and the like, I surprised her by taking care of supper.  No…I didn’t cook…I ordered pizza, but to her, you would have thought that I had baked a beef wellington. 

There is something different about a gift that is given out of grace as opposed to a gift given out of obligation. 

The Apostle Paul speaks extensively about gifts in the New Testament.  Specifically, he speaks about “Charismata.” Charismata is literally translated to “gift of grace.”  Paul uses this phrase to speak about the gifts of the Spirit.  We find this phrase in many of Paul’s writings including 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.  I believe that if we look closely to Paul’s writings we will see how he draws our focus to what is behind the gift rather than just the gift itself.  For example, Paul reveals the need for love to be behind our every action (1 Cor. 13).  The heart behind the gifts…is grace!    

Believers are given these gifts of grace, so that we may use them…as gift of grace to others, that they too may experience God’s grace.     

May the gifts of grace that have been bestowed upon us, be expressed in grace to those around us, not out of obligation, but rather for what it literally is…a gift of grace.


Saturday, September 30, 2023

 Correction


Over the past five weeks I have placed my backside on the cold hard bleachers of local high school stadiums every Friday night to watch football.  I have a vested interest.  My son is in the midst of his senior season and I don’t want to miss a game.  Additionally, I feel that it is my fatherly duty to keep a close eye on my two younger daughters who also attend these games.  Unbeknownst to them evil boys are on the prowl and I must ensure that these boys DO NOT make any “non-football” moves. 

Over these past five games I have enjoyed both wins and losses along with the varsity squad.  I have jumped to my feet in response to incredible big plays and I am sure that I have incidentally kicked the lady sitting in front of me as I have contorted my body in agony as the opposing teams scored yet another touchdown.  Sorry about that Cindy.

Although every game is different, they share common threads.  Every game includes amazing catches, wonderful runs, powerful tackles and touchdowns.  Additionally, every game includes missed tackles, dropped balls and incomplete passes.  Each game consists of its own combination of victories and mistakes.  It seems impossible to not allow my emotions to build.  Mistakes are made and emotions build. 

I took special care during the game last Friday to pay special attention to the larger picture.   

One of the interesting things that I noticed was that there appeared to be mistakes made on every play.  As I reflected back on past games, I concluded that there must be mistakes on every play of EVERY game.  Not only is no one perfect, but no team is perfect and no game is perfect and no play is perfectly executed.    

For just a few minutes on Friday I watched the game looking for both mistakes and adjustments.  Here is what I observed.  I watched teammates in a constant flow of encouraging one another during their victories as well as their struggles.  I watched young men miss tackles, only to have other teammates step up and finish the tackles.  I watched these boys encouraging one another after a bad pass, a dropped ball or a missed block.  I watched coaches pulling athletes aside to correct their mistakes and teach them a better way to play.  It was at this moment that I had an epiphany…“What would it be like if none of those things took place.”

I imagined that the opposing team would run for a score after each missed tackle.  I envisioned players criticizing each other after every mistake.  I concluded that players would continue to make the same mistakes over and over again because no coach would step in to advise them to make adjustments.

I watched a team in unity.  The team lost on Friday, but they lost together.  The root of unity…is unit.  The football team is a unit…and so is the church.  In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-18, Paul teaches on the value of “good” confrontation.  Let’s be honest, no one likes to be confronted.  Yet it is vital to the health of the individual and the unit. 

The ONLY good way to approach confrontation is out of love for the individual and the love of the unit.  Good confrontation brings about peace and grace.

May we come to love Christ, the church and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

 Copycat

 


I have heard it said that imitation is the best form of flattery.  This can often be the case when you begin dressing exactly like the coolest kid in school…unless of course the coolest kid in school graduated 16 years ago and is now living in the basement of his parent’s home. 

I remember my parents using this phrase when I was a child.

“Mom!!! Ryan’s copying me!!!” cried my frustrated little brother.

“Imitation is the best form of flattery.” My mother encouraged, trying to quiet her obsessively quarreling offspring in the back seat of the Pontiac.

“Mom! He keeps twitching his nose at me!” he insisted.

Silence from the front seat while I continued to mimic my nose twitching younger parasite of a brother. He would cover his eyes so he could not see what I was doing. I did the same.  He grunted and groaned in frustration. I did likewise. 

“Mom!” He won’t stop!”

“Mom! He won’t stop!” I repeated.

“Just ignore him.” My mother retorted.

My little brother turned his shoulder to me, placed his head against the window and went silent looking out the window.  I did the exact thing mirrored to the opposite side of the car.

“Mom! Now Ryan is ignoring me!”

“Good dear, that’s nice!”

Unfortunately, many of my actions in life have not been worth imitating, including the mocking imitations of my little brother and others.  In fact, it is always easier to proclaim, “Do as I say not as I do.” Yet, what we once again see in Paul’s second letter to the Church in Thessalonica, is an invitation to imitate. Paul claims that he, along with Silas and Timothy, has given the church an example to live by.  Paul is encouraging the believers to do what he says AND does.  That is a bold declaration.  How can Paul be so bold?

As I have wrestled with this text, I believe that what I see is Paul’s invitation to imitate is deeper than just action.  I believe Paul’s call is to love and follow Jesus as he loves and follows Jesus.  When we put our full selves behind seeking the Lord, I am convinced that obeying Him becomes a passionate joy and not an effort of obligation. 

Paul invites us to work.  We are called to serve and to work to minister and further the Gospel.  It is indeed a command, but it is a command that follows the greatest command…to love the Lord you God. 

May we love the Lord and passionately follow him that we too can say…”Follow me as I follow Christ.”

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Strange


My wife is strange…not the sitting in a dark closet by herself secretly eating trail mix kind of strange…that’s more my cup of tea…though I did catch her once.  But rather, strange in the way where she has repeatedly stated, “I love birthing babies.”  That phrase in of itself is ludicrous.  Though I have never experienced the act of birthing firsthand, I have been present for this crowning event four times.  I have watched the pain.  I have heard the screaming.  I have endured the chaos.  I have massaged my wife’s back and neck tirelessly trying to help her relax in this birthing process.  I have suffered clawing fingernails embedded into my biceps, of which scars may still be visible. 

I remember the first time I heard my wife say those words. 

“Oh Ryan, I just love birthing babies…I want to have another baby.”

“What did you say?”

“I want to have another baby.”

“No…before that.”

“Oh Ryan?”

“No after that.”

“I love birthing babies?”

“Yes…that!”

“What about it?”

“Were you THERE? Do you remember the event? Do you remember the stress and the noise and the pain?”

“Nope.”

“That’s weird.”

This conversation has been repeated two additional times resulting in a total of 4 children.  I seem to recall her beginning the phrase since then, but I usually run screaming from the house before she can finish her sentence. 

Perhaps what is most strange…is that despite the challenges that my wife faced during all four of these child birth events…she meant what she said.  This leaves me to conclude that not only is she strange…she is also resilient. 

I remember when our first child was born.  Sarah had been laboring for over 30 hours and she was exhausted.  I was at a loss as to how to encourage her.  “Push!” I said.

“Stop saying that!”

“Oh…um…ok…um…you are doing good…and stuff.”

“Ugh…just be quiet!”

The nurse was also lecturing me… “Step it up man! You are her coach! Help her through this.”

“Umm…ok…ummm…looks like there is another contraction coming…hold on!”

“Zip your lip!!! Why would I want to know when another contraction is coming!”

“Ok.”

“Why are you not telling me when the contractions are coming!?”

“…ummm…”

After Sarah had been pushing for 3 hours…I fell asleep in a chair.  While I slept, she began to slip into a hyperventilating panic.  In hindsight, I really feel that she could have learned something if she had just looked at her calm husband sleeping in the chair next to her. 

The nurse woke me up and barked, “SHE NEEDS TO BREATHE!!”

“Oh…ok…breathe Sarah…”

“I..i…i…I’m…t...tr…try…trying…h…h…h…i…i…i…c…ca…can’t…t…t”

The nurse shoved me out of the way…grabbed my wife’s face with her right hand…squeezed her cheeks and looked her straight in the eyes. “Breathe with me Sarah,” she asserted, while taking deep measured breaths.

Our daughter was born a few minutes later…blue and screaming.  I came to realize that there is nothing easy about birthing babies, yet the reward of the hard work and perseverance is immeasurable. 

Likewise, the Christian walk is also difficult, and yet promises even greater rewards than childbirth.  Additionally, the Christian walk is also not meant to be walked alone.  In 2 Thessalonians 2:15-3:5, we find Paul praying and asking for prayer.  His prayers are prayers of encouragement and endurance. 

I can’t help but be reminded of Moses standing on the hill while the Israelites fought against the Amalekites.  Moses’ arms grew tired Aaron and Hur were there to encourage him and even help keep his arms raised as the Lord brought victory to the Israelites. 

The Christian walk is difficult, but take heart and be encouraged, the victory in the Lord is sweet!

May you come to faithfully follow the faithful God.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

 Old Faithful

 


Old Faithful was once known as “Eternity’s Timepiece,” but I think that was before the Apple Watch was introduced. Since its conception in 2015, the Apple Watch has perhaps overtaken Old Faithful with the title. 

“Hey Siri, how tall is Mount Everest?”

“Mount Everest stands 8848.86 meters tall and is the highest point anywhere on the planet earth.”

“Hey Siri, What time is it?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.  Could you repeat that?”

“What time is it?”

“A 12 pound turkey should take 3 ½ hours in the oven at 325 degrees”

“WHAT…TIME…IS…IT?”

“The average size of a Pomeranian is between 3-7 pounds and is 7-12 inches long.”

“Ugh!...fine…what is the temperature?”

“It is 5:38 pm, Central Daylight Time.”

…ok…maybe the Apple Watch has not claimed the title of “Eternity’s Timepiece” just yet.

It was once said that this famous geyser was so faithful that you could set your clocks to the trustworthy waterspout as it burst forth every hour like clockwork. 

However, things are beginning to change with the old water cannon.  What was once a 60 minute interval between eruptions has now come to be around 90 minutes.  This isn’t a real big deal for most people, unless you have hungry children that are whining about being needing food…now!  In which case, you may find yourself waiting longer than expected for the “Little Less Faithful” geyser to fire its load 100 feet into the air.  I have visited this natural wonder twice and in both cases…it was late.  If it would have been up to me…I would have given the geyser a pink slip.

As I have aged, I cannot tell if I have become less trusting, more skeptical or perhaps I just hold a higher expectation of what being faithful really means.  When I was in 10th grade I trusted most of my 10th grade buddies.  Now however, every 10th grade boy that takes a second look at my 10th grade daughter is up to no good…I just know it.”

“Hey!? What are you looking at?”

“Nothing Sir! I mean…I was just going to ask your daughter how she did on her English quiz.”

“Why!? Do you think you can swoop in and smooth talk her with your slick greasy words of English elegance?”

“Nnnn…nn…no Sir!”

“Then scram!”

“Yyyy…yy…yes Sir!”

“You see sweetheart…that is what I have been telling you.  Boys are bad and they cannot be trusted.”

“But Dad…English isn’t even his native language…he is a foreign exchange student from Casablanca.”

“He is NO Bogart! I can tell you that!”

“No Dad! He is a foreign exchange student from Morocco!”

“I rest my case.”

Let’s be honest, it is becoming extremely difficult to find things that are truly faithful and trustworthy in this world.  We struggle to trust politicians, religious leaders, teachers and even…can you believe it, used car salesmen.  Yet, as humans, we continue to resist putting our trust in the ONE person…who is fully faithful and fully trustworthy…Jesus.

As we read 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, we find Paul is continuing to emphasize the work of God in the lives of people.  This passage reveals the faithfulness of God.  The Scriptures testify that God has done everything that he said he would do.  We see this evidence over and over and over again throughout the Bible.  God has NEVER failed.  That…is FAITHFULNESS!

May we come to put our trust in the ONE who is truly faithful! 

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Grip

 


It is no secret that I have an aversion to amusement parks.  I don’t like the crowds, I don’t like the heat, and overall I don’t care for the rides.  I am not ashamed to speak of my cowardice, though that has not always been the case.  In fact, I remember that on my first ever excursion to Valleyfair, (Minnesota’s only viable option for outdoor rollercoaster thrill rides), I pretended to be fearless.  Additionally, I mimicked enjoyment secretly loathing the next thrilling “I might die” moment.    

Just last week I was listening to my youngest daughter describe her own recent rides on some of Minnesota’s less than legendary coasters.  She spoke of how on one of the rides, she was harnessed into the attraction with her feet hanging below her and was then hauled “straight up,” and then accelerated “straight down…face first.”

“Wow! How did you like that?”

“Ehhh, I didn’t really want to go on it, but I didn’t want to be the only one who didn’t ride it…so I went on it.” (The apple doesn’t seem to fall too terribly far from the tree.)

“Was that the scariest ride?” I asked.

“It would have been if it hadn’t been for this other one.”

“Which one?”

“The one where my seatbelt came unbuckled and I thought for sure I was going to fall out! In fact, I think that I probably would have if I hadn’t been holding on so tight to the crossbar! I totally thought I was going to die!”

This reminded me of a similar experience that I had had on that pioneering trip to Valleyfair 35 years ago.  My friend Matt had insisted that we ride the “Viking Ship.” 

It looked safe enough.  The swinging ship mostly went back and forth…except for the three times it goes upside down and hangs you there in mid air long enough to allow all of your gumball machine money to fall out of your pockets and into the hands of the pimple faced teenager controlling the ride. 

As we buckled into the ride my “friend” Matt intentionally loosened the lap belt…AND…did not pull the locking shoulder harness tight against us.  Rather he left the harness loose and insisted, “It’s more fun this way!”

In hindsight I can tell you…it was not more fun and just like my daughter, I thought that I was going to die.  I had NEVER held onto anything so tightly in my life…except for maybe the hands of my children while exiting the movie theater after watching The Sound of Freedom. 

An image has come into my mind that ties these moments of fear in our lives with the security that only God offers.  It is no secret that we as Americans are obsessed with security.  We have locks, dead bolts, car alarms, security cameras, door bell cameras, dogs, baseball bats, broom sticks, tennis rackets, golf clubs and in some cases a rubber spatula, to help protect our things.  We tend to hold onto our stuff too tightly, trying to do all that we can to keep our possessions from being taken from us.

Sometimes I wonder if we do the same thing with God.  We try and hold on to God so tightly trying to never let him go.  Perhaps we fret and work at doing the right things so that we will be accepted.  We might even be afraid that if I slip up and sin that I will somehow lose my grip on God and lose my salvation.  I think Paul is revealing something very noteworthy in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15.  Here the Thessalonian believers are so afraid of missing out on the Day of the Lord…and the salvation that God has promised, yet, Paul is insisting that they have not missed anything.  Paul reveals that they are secure…they are in the grip of God’s grace.  Perhaps it is not about how tightly we are holding on to God…but how tightly HE is holding onto us.

May we remember the words of Jesus in John 10:28-29 where he assures us that no one can snatch us from His hand…nor the Father’s hand.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

 Fixer Upper


In 2013 Chip and Joanna Gaines aired their first ever episode of “Fixer Upper” on HGTV.  The episode lasted for 43 minutes and in that astoundingly brief period of time, Chip and Joanna were able to fully renovate a young couple’s home.  In less than three quarters of an hour the home went from drab…to fab.  In an interesting contrast my parents purchased their own fixer upper in 1980.  In a mere 43 YEARS later…they have been able to…keep working on it.   

During this past winter, my retired parents sent me a series of photos of their extensive kitchen remodel. In their 43 year old “episode,” this has become their second or third kitchen remodel.  I am sure that many of you can relate to their story, especially if you are a home owner that has lived in the same space for 20 or more years.  This is all the more to be expected when you consider that the home that my parents are “still” fixing up  happens to be more than 100 years old to begin with. 

Many of my childhood hours were spent working on this “fixer upper.”  Before the enforcement of child labor laws, I was sent onto the roof to shingle the roof…by hand.   It is likely that I, as a 6th grader, secured between 0 and 100 shingles…single handedly. 

As with any remodel, or “fixer upper” project there comes a time when a job arises that takes particularly specific skills that only a few craftsman have.  Even as a 5th grader, I had obtained some of these skills. 

“Ryan…I have a job for you.  It is a job that only you can handle.  Are you up for the job?” my dad asked.

“I guess…can it wait until after Bugs Bunny?”

“No! Come here!”

“What do you need?”

“I need you to crawl into this 3 foot dark and dirty crawl space and glue this piece of insulation board to the inside of that concrete wall on the opposite side.”

“Why can’t you do it?”

“Because I no longer weigh…  Because I am too bi….  Because I am not smal…  Because my waist is too…  Because it is a hard job, in a hard place and only you can do it.”

“Well…ok…since you put it that way.”

That day…I did a hard job…in a hard place…and I would like to think that was the day that I became a man.  However, 7 years later when my dad wanted me to enter into that same crawl space to run some wires, I realized that I too had grown too large to fit.  It became clear that it was now my little brother’s turn to become a man.    

My dad has a way of bringing young boys to manhood by sending them into the nether regions of small hard to reach places.  Several years ago, my own son, (12 years old at the time), was sent into an attic crawl space by his grandfather…to do that which my dad or I could no longer do. 

Life is filled with hard tasks in hard places. Yet, just because something is hard to do…or perhaps involves going into a hard place, doesn’t mean that it is not worth doing.  I find that God has designed each one of us to do hard things in hard places throughout our lives.  For some of us the hard places could be a middle school classroom, for others it could be bat-infested attics, while yet others it could be being sent to the jungles of Gabon…if in fact there even are jungles in Gabon…which I really don’t know. 

May you see the hand of God leading you to do hard things in hard places, while remembering that it is HE who has given you the power of His Spirit to accomplish what he has for you to do. Phil. 4:13


Saturday, August 5, 2023

The Plug


I recall one fine fall day during my middle school years.  My 3 siblings and I had just stepped out into the crisp, autumn afternoon air, which was a staunch contrast to the stale, rotting smell of body odor which permeated the yellow bus of our recent departure.  It was the kind of day that made you feel fresh on the inside.  You know the ones…the kind of a day that puts a smile on your face and just makes you happy to be alive…and no longer in school.  The four of us entered our home to find our father standing there to our left.  He was working inside the baby blue bathroom with the door open, wearing a defeated scowl on his face.  He had a blue toilet lying prone on the floor by his feet.

“Two pickles,” he grumbled.

It was an odd greeting to be sure.

“What was that Dad?” I asked.

“Argrmmmph,” he replied through clenched teeth.

“Dad?...What are you doing with the toilet?” These were the words of my older brother.

“Granshhugaght…pickles.”

“No thanks…I’d rather have cookies.” These were the words of my younger brother.

“Why…why…why?” He continued to grumble.

“Can I use the potty daddy? I really have to go to the potty! Can I go to the potty now daddy!?” These were the words from my baby sister.

As we entered the kitchen we found our mother.  She was sitting alone at the kitchen table.  I could not tell if her face was red and embarrassed or white with fear or blue with sadness.  I figured she must be feeling especially patriotic.  Yet, her words spoke otherwise.  She too was mumbling…“I thought…they seemed like the same size…I figured why not?  Pickles aren’t THAT big…there were just two of them…there wasn’t a turd…I mean third.”

Needless to say…two pickles was two too many.

The legend of the pickles has remained a topic of levity, remorse, inspiration and as a sober reminder of what NOT to do with two stale, dill pickles left unwanted for too long in the refrigerator.  Despite the lessons of the pickles, I have still found myself in a similar position as my father, caused by a variety of clogs and plugs in my own Olson home.   I have battled clogs from grease, hair, toothpaste…and well…you know.  In most cases, a plugged sink or toilet will eventually empty itself as water slowly passes through the clog.  When the clog is finally cleared…it is kind of like flushing the toilet…well…it is exactly like flushing the toilet.  Whether it is a newly cleaned sink drain, tub drain or plunged toilet the water goes screaming through the pipes like snot from a sneeze. 

I see this phenomena playing out in a much darker picture within Paul’s writings in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.  Here we are confronted with the mystery of the “Restrainer.”  We know very little about who or what this restrainer really is, but what we can see is that God is restraining the flow of evil into the world where we currently find ourselves.  Yet, one day, that restrainer will be removed, and when the restrainer is removed evil will be free to gush and flow in all of its lawless horror.  Praise God that this will be for just a short time. 

In the meantime, may we find the truth of God’s word, and relish that God is still at work restraining evil as we anticipate the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

 Laws


We have rules in our home. Despite that many of these laws are unwritten, (all are, in fact, unwritten), they still hold within their parameters the power of behavioral change.  As an example my wife and I spent many years quarrelling about making the bed.  She seemed to think that it was necessary to make the bed daily, whereas I viewed things from another angle. 

“What is so hard about making the bed?” She would tersely ask.

“I don’t know…it is just so dumb!”

“Are you saying that I am dumb for wanting to have the bed made?”

“No! I never said that!”

“Then why don’t you make the bed?”

“I don’t know!”

“Make the bed!” She demanded.

“Ok…how about this…we can make the bed EVERY day…ONLY IF…we DON’T ‘unmake’ it each night.”

“That’s insane!”

“Are you calling me insane?”

Her silent stare screamed, “Do you really want me to answer that?”

After a great deal of responsible communication we were finally able to agree upon a solution that has been found satisfactorily acceptable by both parties. The official unwritten Law now states, “He or She who is last out of bed shall there upon make the bed.”

Interestingly, upon the ratification of this law, I suddenly became a staunch morning person.  So much so, that if I even hear her stir in the morning I dash out of bed in attempt to shed the consequent responsibility.  There may or may not have been several mornings that could have required an “instant replay” to determine whose feet actually hit the floor first.  They were mine…end of story.   

We have other laws in the home as well.  These laws include our children’s beds being made, dishes being loaded and unloaded from the dishwasher as well as laundry responsibilities.  There is also the law that if you are the one that plugs the toilet then you are the one that plunges the toilet.  It is astounding to me that no one ever seems to be the one who actually plugged it.

The laws in our home help to keep some semblance of order, but I must admit…that with my wife being gone to Ecuador for 10 days, our home seems to have the tendency to default from a place of pristine order into a state of lawlessness.  It appears that the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which insists that everything goes from a state of organization toward a state of chaos, has been fully implemented in the Olson home over the last 10 days.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul reveals a coming lawlessness as well, though in a spiritual sense.  In this challenging portion of scripture we get a glimpse of a future degradation of the world into lawlessness.  Though there are many details that are omitted from Paul’s description, what we can see, is what appears to be a direct attack against everything that God is.  This lawlessness will be a full assault on God’s goodness, His kindness and His love.  Everything that God is, will be attacked and attempted to be countered by Satan and his “man of lawlessness.”

This may seem to be so far into the distant future that it doesn’t feel real.  Yet I am convinced that if we just pause and reflect on our society we will quickly see the increasing lawlessness growing in the world. 

As hard as these realities will be to swallow and perhaps challenging for us to understand, we must question what is a believer’s role in the face of this lawless world.  I think we know. We…by the power of the Spirit in us…must LOVE.  Jesus himself said that all of the law and the prophets come down to this…to love God and love your neighbor.

May we come to love well in the midst of a lawless world, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

 I can’t help it

 


My daughter had some college friends over this weekend.  Watching them interact with one another brought back many memories from my own days in college…some of them good…some of them not so good. 

Armed with one “master key,” I remember my good friend Geoff and me sneaking out late at night and taking the college security vehicle, The Cushman, for a joyride all over campus.  We secretly snuck into the library after hours and watched movies, (we were not allowed TV’s and “streaming video” was only known on Star Trek).  We found our way onto the college roof and had a picnic, into the elevator shaft and drank Coca Cola’s.  On one late night we pulled my friend’s 1976 Cadillac Hearse into the school auto shop and replaced the intake gasket using the college mechanic’s tools.  During our test drive that followed we used the funeral procession light to pull over one of our college classmates.  We let him off with a warning.

At one time I took an old fiberglass fireplace from the college basement and put it into my room.  I saw the fireplace and thought… “That will look great in my room!”…and so I took it.  I figured that it would be better to be used than just to sit in the school basement.  To add to the look, I brought in an old upholstered high backed chair with one broken leg that I found left on a curbside for free…at least I think it was supposed to be free.  I repaired the leg with a Minneapolis phone book, threw a pipe into my mouth and sat down to read.  It was great…until I remembered that I really didn’t read much.  So, I gave up the book and just left the chair and fireplace set up to keep up the d├ęcor. 

If my friend and I thought of anything to do…we did it.  There was no reason not to.  It just came to us.  It was like we couldn’t help it…it was who we were.  A couple of years later I discovered why this was the case.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently I was “impulsive.”  I learned this when my now wife and I were attending premarital counseling.  My bible professor…and premarital counselor informed me that according to the Taylor Johnson Temperament Analysis, I tested off the scale in regards to impulsive behavior. 

“That’s crazy! There is no way that I am impulsive!” I stated as I took his sport coat down from his coat rack and slid it onto my torso. 

“Ryan…that is my coat.”

“Yeah, I know…but it looks good on me right!? Can I have it? You have others right? I should be able to have this one…you won’t miss it!”

“No…you cannot have it.”

To this day, I still find that I can be a bit impulsive.  After giving Sarah a full 15 minutes to decide what she wanted for a new dishwasher, since our last one went belly up, I pulled the trigger and ordered one myself having become weary of waiting for her answer. That may or may not have gone over as well as I had hoped.

We all have parts of our character that defines who we are and what we are like.  I am naturally a bit impulsive, although as I have aged that has changed.  Many parts of our character ebbs and flows and changes over the years, but the Bible says that God does not change.  In fact, I have come to believe that in a very unique way…God can’t help the way that he is.  He is God.  His character does not change.  He is who he is.  He is good.  He is kind.  He is just…and he can’t help it.  God can ONLY operate within his character.  What does that mean?  It means that God can only act in kindness, and goodness, and justice, because that is WHO He is!

Everything that God does, will ALWAYS be in accordance with who he is.  He does not have to wonder, “What is the right thing to do here…I better weigh my decision carefully…”  God can ONLY act in justice and that act of justice will be right and kind and good.  That is who God is…he can’t help it.

Understanding this helps me to navigate what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-12 a little easier.  Many people struggle with the thought of God and His justice.  People cannot understand how God can be called just and allow good people to suffer and sinful people to thrive.  What Paul does reveal here however is that EVERY decision that God makes is RIGHT…every decision is JUST…because God IS JUST.  He can’t help it!

May we come to see that God is just…and that God is right…and that everything that He does…is exactly what needs to be done!