Saturday, March 25, 2023

 The Trap

I once played high school football…that is if you count 9th grade C squad as “high school football.”  I had spent the previous two years honing my football skills, which consisted of…hitting other kids very hard…over and over again.  That was the full gamut of my football abilities.  Despite the lack of an array of skills…this is what I loved most about football.  I knew the bare bones minimum about the game. 

Since my 7th grade team, I was regularly placed on both the offensive and defensive lines.  This was likely because I was the tallest player on the team…but with the simplicity of play of 7th grade football…it could have been my inability to comprehend much more than basic play.

On offense, my sole job was to push my opponent…and to know which way to do it.  If I pushed to the left, the running back would go to my right and if I pushed to the right the running back would be running to my left…simple.  While on defense, I was given the simple task of ripping the guy in front of me to little tiny bits and pieces…and then…attack the quarterback.  The coach noticed that I was too dense to know which player was actually the quarterback, so I was instructed to attack the guy with the lowest number.

The game of football was great!  Every play was another opportunity to destroy any opponent that stood in front of me. 

In 9th grade, things began to change.  My coach asked me to start “reading” the offense and shifted me to linebacker.  He liked my aggressive play…but he was unaware of my poor reading ability…not only in class…but especially on the grid iron. 

“Ryan! You can’t always attack the quarterback! There are times when you need to drop back and cover the receivers or tight ends!” 

“But coach…the quarterback has the lowest number.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

My coach also began to make changes on offense.  He introduced me to what was known as the “trap.”  He instructed, that when the ball was snapped, I was supposed to leave the opponent in front of me and run to my left.  This struck me as very counter intuitive.  If I left the guy in front of me, there would be no one to stop him from attacking our player with the lowest number.  Additionally, he instructed the guys on the other side of the line to let the linebacker come through the line untouched. 

I became convinced that this 9th grade coach was not going to see another season of football…he was an idiot…a lot like my 4th grade teacher.  In fact he had the same name as my 4th grade teacher. Now that I think about it…he WAS my 4th grade teacher.

“Ryan…when the ball is snapped…I want you to leave your place…run to your left and smack the guy that will be standing right here,” he stated as he pointed to a specific point left of the center. 

“But coach…”

“No buts…just do it…”

We practiced the play for the remainder of that week and when our next game rolled around, sure enough he called for the “trap.”

The ball was snapped…I did as I was instructed and ran to my left, feeling very uncertain as to what would transpire.  I apprehensively left my opponent and ran to my left.  Just as I reached the point where the coach had pointed a linebacker appeared.  His eyes were like snake slits focused on digging his fangs into our own low numbered guy.  Just before the two of us met, I saw his eyes become hard boiled eggs of surprise as I blindsided him into the next county.  (Just to be clear…we were already in the next county).  As I blew him up, our running back exploded through the gap that was left behind us and scampered for a 65 yard touchdown.

It was at this moment that I went from believing my coach’s words to trusting in them.

Paul reveals a similar transformation in 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16.  Here Paul expresses a powerful exhortation to these people who have not only “heard” the message of the Gospel and believed it…but they were transformed by it.  Oh, may we become like the Thessalonians, who not only believe in the Word, but are transformed by the Word! 

May the Spirit of God transform our hearts to become “owned” by the Gospel of Grace.

Saturday, March 11, 2023



Boldness can come in many forms.  For example, an overconfident 17-year-old boy might respond to his mother’s request to clean his room  or be grounded…with, “Oooo, scary!” in a mockingly shuddering tone. 

Bold? Yes.

Smart? No.

Rude? Absolutely.

Boldness could be seen in a Green Bay Packers’ fan braggingly strutting in front of a Vikings fan, boldly calling, “In your face!” after the overrated “blind rat” quarterback accidentally finds the cheese headed receiver in the end-zone…all hypothetical…of course.

Bold? Yes.

Smart? No.

The Result? Vikings win.  All losses are quickly wiped from my memory.

Other bold comments might include telling a pregnant woman that she looks, “terrible,” “tired,” “sleep deprived” or any statement drawing any attention to her physical growth.  Sometimes it is just better to not be quite so bold.

In 2013, my family visited one of the many water parks in the Wisconsin Dells.  These parks are nothing but cesspools of recycled water sanitized with heavy doses of chlorine and algaecide.  These parks are filled with daring and downright scary opportunities to approach death by plummeting into bacteria filled waters at inhuman speeds and death defying angles.  Somehow my brother-in-law convinced my 6-year-old daughter, Carissa to engage in the highest, steepest, scariest and most dangerous slide in the park…the Durango Drop! (cue the dramatic Indiana Jones style music).

As you approach the yellow, 350 ft., fiberglass chute of doom, you will find the warning signs.  “People with heart conditions should not ride,” “Pregnant women should not ride,” “Cowardly people should not ride,” “People with sensitive skin should not ride,” the lists of warnings seem endless.  After an infinite climb of the switch backed stairs, a red suited lifeguard, who seems to care more about their own perfect tan, than the well being…or age…of the would-be riders, gives instruction to each rider.  The words come in a monotone robotic voice, “Cross your feet and cross your arms over your chest.  Do not sit up during the ride and never uncross your arms or your feet or you may die.  Have a nice ride and enjoy your day on the Durango Drop!”

My 6-year-old daughter sat down at the top of the near 90 degree drop of the yellow shaft.  She crossed her legs.  She crossed her arms.  She laid back and began to slide down…at which time…in a panic she immediately uncrossed her legs, threw her arms out to each side, stretching to try and slow her decent, while sitting up to somehow flee from her imminent demise.  It was at this time that I, standing near the bottom, looked up to the top of the slide and saw what looked like a tiny starfish accelerating through the stream of water toward me.

As she splashed and tumbled to the bottom, she is pulled out of the water by another bronze skinned and red suited teenager.  The teenager set her back on her feet and pushed her in my direction.  She approached me like a drowned and drunken cat that had just climbed out of the muddy waters of the Mississippi. 

“Oh hello, Daddy!”

“Wow, Carissa! That was you going down that big scary slide?”

“Yes, Daddy!”

“Are you going to go again?”

“No, Daddy!”

I fear that perhaps I have been guilty of misunderstanding what boldness really is, especially in the context of Paul’s call to boldness in the Scriptures.  For most of my life, I have believed boldness to be an ability of a person to tell another person, with attitude, what they think, or what they believe, or what they think that you should do.  This boldness seemed to avoid taking into account how the other person may feel or think in response to the message or the attitude in which it was given.  I often see politicians attacking one another in aggressive boldness that is cutting and demeaning.  I have observed professional athletes present themselves in an elevated and egotistical boldness that leaves me un-attracted to associate with their fandom.

I believe that my daughter gave me perhaps a more accurate picture of the beauty of boldness.  Here, I saw a 6-year-old girl approach something very scary and intimidating and not back down.  If I had been there at the top of that slide, looking down…especially as a 6-year-old…I am quite certain that I would have turned around and gone right back to where I had come from. 

She did what was scary, and yet, was bold enough to tell me that she was unwilling to do it again.

I believe that the boldness that we see in Paul, Silas, Timothy and the Church in Thessalonica is in no way an arrogant, prideful, rude or in your face boldness. Rather, I see in their boldness of speaking the Gospel…a boldness to love in the gentleness of a mother and as one who cares as deeply as a father.

May we come to speak the Gospel with this kind of boldness.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

 The Chore

When I was growing up, my older brother and I had to do ALL the chores in our home. It was he and I that had to feed the pigs and water the pigs and mow the lawn and wash the dishes and dry the dishes and put the dishes away and haul wood into the house to burn for heat.  My older brother and I were the ones who had to dig a 6ft x 8ft hole, 6 ft deep into the ground and then fill it with garbage…and then light it on fire.  My older brother and I did EVERYTHING! Our little brother and sister did NOTHING! I was pretty sure that my mom and dad didn’t do anything either.  When it came to laundry, house repairs, auto repairs, sweeping the floors, cooking, earning money and the other stuff that sometimes happens in a home…they just happened by themselves without anyone having to do them.  That is how it was in my home as I was growing up.

I remember telling my mom and dad at one point in my childhood, “I can’t wait to have kids of my own!”

“Oh really!? Why is that?” My mother asked.

“Because then I could make them do all the work like I do.”

My parents both laughed.

And they laughed.

And they laughed some more.

I have come to see that my perception and the reality were not aligned at that point in my life. I have come to see…that my older brother didn’t do anything either.

Now that I have children of my own, I too require them to do chores.  It is only fitting that I make them do all of the things that my parents made me do….except digging a large hole in the ground for burning garbage.  I am pretty sure that is illegal…and would be highly noticeable to the neighbors…and local law enforcement.  Any holes will have to be dug in the basement…under the cover of night. 

In my early parenting years, I differed from my own parents in that I attempted to divide all of these chores evenly among my children…as it seemed that that is what a good, highly-educated parent would do.  This is no longer the case.  I now assign jobs with whoever is nearest me, or who I see first or whoever has most recently upset me.

Like my own days as a child, my offspring also carry an aversion to chores.  Additionally, their perception about such chores is rock solid as a pogo stick in a rowboat. 

Just this morning I asked my son to do a job.  Not only was he the first child I saw, but he was also the one who stole my Snickers bar.  Upon the request of the task, you would have thought that I had asked him to dig a 6ft x 8ft hole 6 ft deep…with a teaspoon…in the basement of course.

“Ugh! Why do I always have to do it!?” He raged.

“Because you need more responsibility in your life!” I rebutted.

“My sisters do NOTHING around here!”

“I know…but you are the ONLY one I can trust with this job.”

“What!  That’s dumb…anyone can let the dog out to go potty.”

“Exactly!  See how simple it really is? Now stop acting like you need to climb Mount Everest, barefoot and without food and let the dog out.  It takes less than 60 seconds…I’ve timed it.”

He did it.  The dog did it.  It was over…until next time.

It astounds me how quickly we can lose sight of reality.  I am, likely, the guiltiest.  My perception of the events in my life can so easily become skewed.  It is at times like these in which I feel that everything in life is terrible and my world is collapsing around me.  Certainly there are some real sad and destructive events happening worldwide from, wars and famine and infanticide and violence and hate.  I believe that what God says is true…”the world is wearing out like a garment.”  Yet, there continues to be an ever present unchanging reality and that reality is that God is in control, He has a plan and He has a purpose…AND…He loves us more than we can ever imagine. 

Paul calls believers to the realities of life in 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10.  Paul wants the believers in Thessalonica to hold to the Truth…the Truth about God and to not be swayed by the perceptions of the world or the false perceptions that we often allow to misalign our thinking.

May we come to see the reality of God’s Truth!