Saturday, June 29, 2024

 The Treasure

On a bright and sunny September morning, I took my three and a half –year-old son out for his first ever fishing trip.  I had intentionally prioritized this moment with his older sister the year before and now that his sister was sequestered into the halls of the higher educational realms of kindergarten, it was his turn.  We loaded the boat with snacks, bottles of root beer, life jackets and a Superman fishing pole. 

Along the way, we stopped at Kamps Korner in Swanville, MN to buy some bait and fuel for the excursion.  Once I had paid for our gas and minnows, I drug him away from the minnow tanks, insisting the he let go of the minnows in his hands.  He hesitated to leave the ichthyologic region of the bait shop until I promised him that he could play with the minnows that we had just purchased.  He eagerly agreed, and we pulled into the lake access a few minutes later.

After securing his life vest and launching the boat, I fired up the 1956 7.5 hp Evinrude motor and we put forth toward the not so secret black crappy location on the small lake.  Upon arriving at the small sunken island in the middle of the lake, I dropped the anchor and we set up to fish.  I took the cheap spincast Superman rod and set it up with a small slip-bobber, a hook and a minnow.  I made the mistake of showing Isaac how to cast, because despite my instruction of letting the bobber sit in the water until it is pulled under, he continued to cast and reel, cast and reel, cast and reel…never allowing the bobber to even sit remotely still. 

In a moment of surprise, I found that beyond my apathetic expectations, a short while later, the boy pulled in a respectable largemouth bass.  His excitement was frenzied and untamable! From this moment my son was hooked, (pun intended).  At the end of our time on the water, I loaded the boat while he stood on the dock and continued to cast the Superman.

Yesterday, 15 years later, Isaac and I loaded the boat and set out for the same small lake.  He no longer uses the Superman rod, rather, he uses a fancy baitcasting rod and reel combo.  It is indeed one of his treasured possessions, as he saved a long time for the Fenwick HMG and the Shimano SLX.  Perhaps it would be better said, “was,” one of his treasured possessions, since the rod suddenly blew out of the boat on our way to the lake and was immediately run over by the car directly behind us. 

To say the least, it was devastating.  We were both equally distraught as to what had just happened.  After picking up the broken rod from the roadway, we continued to the lake, both feeling soured from our earlier eagerness.  Our time on the water was subdued.  We caught a fair number of bass and enjoyed our time together, but it was difficult to not remember the loss of what we had just experienced.  At one point Isaac spoke up, “Well…It’s not like I would be taking it to heaven with me anyway.”

When we wrapped up our time on the water, and I was finalizing the securing of the equipment, I looked to the dock where my son stood.  I saw his silhouette against the setting sun as he continued to cast for bass just as he had done 15 years ago from the very same spot. 

He has grown…nearly 4 feet in stature and perhaps 50 feet in spirituality.  His struggle with the loss of the rod was real, but so was the evidence of his faith.  In that moment, he reminded me of what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:19-24.  It is easy to store up for ourselves treasures on this earth.  However, just as Jesus says, these treasures will rot, rust, be eaten by moths…or run over by a tailgating vehicle.  Yesterday, I experienced the REAL treasure…time with my son.  He is the one who reminded me of the EVEN GREATER treasure…the GREATEST treasure, the eternal time with Jesus.

May we come to know the GREATEST Treasure.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

 Attention Please

It is every child’s desire to be noticed…unless of course, said child is attempting to sneak Christmas cookies out of the freezer two weeks before the big day.  Aside from acts of conniving disobedience, children desire to be praise by their parents, teachers, siblings and friends. 

I remember drawing one particularly ugly portrait of my mother using nothing but the basic 8 pack of Crayola crayons, only to have my mother praise my terrifying work with affectionate words, “Oh Ryan! That is so lovely! Thank you so much! I just love pictures of frogs! This is really good work for a 4-year- old!”

Needless to say, I was incredibly offended.  Not so much because it was a picture of her and not a frog, but more-so because I was 16.

The desire to be noticed grows with us.  Middle school is perhaps the most treacherous, terrifying and yet the most vital time to be noticed by your classmates.  Being noticed is critical as a middle school boy, unless one is being noticed because they spilled their milk in an unfortunate area of their body and have to spend the rest of the day saying, “I didn’t! It’s milk! I spilled my milk! No! It’s not!”

The real goal of any middle school boy is to be noticed by the cute and popular girls.  Unfortunately, most middle school boys have no idea how to go about this without revealing what absolute fools they really are.   I was one of these middle school boys.

I would resort to all kinds of attention seeking foolish acts.  “Hey Amy! How much you want to bet I can jump off Mrs. Marten’s desk?” Before waiting for an answer, I ran, I jumped, I hit my shin on the front of the desk and face planted on the back of Mrs. Marten’s chair, displacing all of the English essays from her desk to the floor.  I scrambled to put all the papers back upon the desktop when Mrs. Marten walked in and immediately assumed that I was doing something foolish…which of course I had been…and asked me to stay after class. 

I wasn’t the only one.  My friends would stuff spaghetti noodles up their noses and thread them out their mouths and begin to floss their sinuses.  Additionally, these same friends would also turn their eyelids inside out, which always created the squealing, “Eew” from the girls.  How jealous I was of these gifted adolescent peers.  The girls always seemed enamored with their really great skills. 

My impressive efforts would at times put me into precarious situations.  On one occasion, 3 volunteers were requested at a youth event at summer camp.  My “friends” volunteered me, and the next thing I knew, I was sitting at a table with my hands tied behind my back and a week’s worth of leftover slop all mixed together on a plate in front of me.  “Ready? Set? Go!”

We then had to eat the slop without using our hands.  The two other “volunteers,” one on my left and one on my right, went to work consuming the insanely disgusting meal of yesterweek.  I tried…I really did.  I actually thought I was doing ok until I crunched an unidentifiable, something, and I lost it all, back onto the plate.  The mass of my peers watching, simultaneously moaned in disgust.  I looked up and saw their frightened faced and heard them say. “Come on Ryan…go! You are losing!”  So I did what any insane middle schooler might do.  I quit. 

I have come to learn that seeking people’s attention and approval is NOT just a kid thing, or a middle school thing.  I still do it today.  My efforts look a lot different today than they did in middle school, but sadly they are still there.  It is a constant struggle to see myself through the eyes of The One.  I want to live my life pleasing The One.  Yet, too often I seek the accolades of others. 

This is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 6:1-18. Jesus gives several examples of doing good things; praying, fasting and giving.  Yet, he offers the caution of being careful to do these things for God and not for the praises of people.  Through most of my life,  I have received the rewards from people.  Now I am learning to trust in the reward promised by Jesus.

May we come to seek the eternal rewards of Jesus together as we learn to seek after Him alone.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

 At First Breath   


As we gathered around the table to celebrate my daughter’s 17th birthday this past week, our discussion turned to the topic of ‘pestering.’  I am not sure how, but the conversation pivoted suddenly into such a path, that I became the immediate defender of past actions.  Perhaps it was due to the fact that my parents had joined us for the celebratory birthday meal.  After consuming an excess amount of chicken wings, mozzarella stick and French fries, my parents revealed their strange vendetta against me for causing such hardships in their lives from my childhood years. I struggle to see how this can be the case, as I only remember the loving acts of kindness demonstrated from my hands and heart, which regularly poured positive reinforcement into the lives of my family.

One such false accusation became evident when my effort to help my siblings learn to swim was tragically spun into accusations of misdeeds and attacks.  Sadly, my parents and siblings seem to believe that it was out of some cruel and proletarian effort that I held the heads of my brothers and sister under the lake water during our summer trips to the lake.  I insist that these are groundless accusations.  It was purely for their benefit, as I was offering several life lessons that have doubtless helped to make them into the men and woman that they are today.  Perhaps they did not realize that I was benevolently gifting them the ability to hold their breath for extended periods of time.  The skill of holding ones breath has many valuable benefits.  Some such benefits include; improved underwater swimming, preparation for a prolonged visit to Mars, setting one up for the unfortunate event of being inconveniently buried underground and even improved parenting. Parents can find a great benefit in learning to hold their breath hoping that their teenage son or daughter will begin to make better and safer decisions.

Additionally, my brothers and sister obviously missed the fact that I was offering a great revelation as to the value of life.  My kinsmen should have been able to make note of the sweet breath of air that God has given them as their faces burst forth from beneath the surface of the lake.  I can’t figure as to why they did not come to appreciate this gift of spiritual awareness.

 Am I thanked? No! Rather, I am criticized.

I don’t know that we really appreciate breath and breathing. 

I remember one such breath of life that shook my world.  It was on a cold day in late January, near the end of my 27th year of life.  My wife lay in a hospital bed struggling to breath. 

“You have to help her!” One of the nurses barked at me. “She needs to calm down!”

“Sarah, you have to take it easy.  Calm down! Slow down! The nurses are here to help,” I insisted.

“I can’t!  I can’t! I can’t breathe!”

It was at this point that one of the nurses shoved me out of the way and grabbed my wife’s face and placed her own nose about 2 inches away from my wife.  “Listen to me Sarah…breathe with me…breathe with me.”

Sarah began to replicate the breathing and she was soon able to calm down.  Then after two more pushes a new scream pierced the air and filled the room as my newborn daughter took her first breath.  When the nurse had swaddled this new child and placed her into my arms, I found that everything I thought I knew about love changed.  It wasn’t as though I hadn’t loved before; rather, I had suddenly come to realize love in a way that was both unconditional and irrational. 

As I held this child for the first time, I watched her open her eyes and look up at me, and though I did not yet “know” her…I loved her and I would rather die than let anything hurt or harm her.  I also felt convinced that God felt the same way about her too.  I am willing to bet that many of us have had similar thoughts or experiences.  Yet, let’s be honest, it is much easier for us to see God’s love for our children, than for ourselves…or even more so…our enemies. 

If we are willing to read the scriptures for their genuine message, we will find that God loves the whole world and does not want anyone to perish, (John 3:16).  Additionally, he is crazy with love for people…our children, you, me…members of the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers…Joe Biden and Donald Trump. 

This doesn’t mean that he approves of everything that we do.  He does not approve of our sin…but make no mistake God loves us…and he wants us to love one another…including our “enemies,” (Matt. 5:33-48).

May we come to see how much God loves us and our enemies.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

 Keep Walking

I spent the last few days attending the Minnesota State Track and Field Meet.  I always find myself in awe of the ability that these high school students can achieve on the track and in the field.  As I sat among a plethora of Little Falls Flyers fans taking in the races, we were collectively engaged in each and every event, particularly the ones where our athletes were competing.   

Every year, there are contrasting moments of highs and lows among these events.  This year experienced many new state records, a number of underdogs becoming state champions, some “would-be” favorites fell short of victory, and some of these races were just incredibly close and exciting.  There were several moments where athletes encountered the never desirable, “agony of defeat.”  I watched one young man who, sprinting down the final stretch, battling to win the preliminary heat of the 4x200m relay, suddenly came up short after severely injuring his hamstring.  He, along with his 3 relay teammates, watched their hopes of a medal fade away, as every other team passed him while he continued to hobble across the finish line. 

In the girls 300m hurdle prelim, the strong favorite to win the gold medal caught her trail foot on the final hurdle and fell face first into the track.  She got up and stumbled across the finish line but not before all of the other runners had finished and her hopes of a gold medal in the 300m hurdle dissipated with the remaining dew of the morning.  In a great affect of grief and sorrow, she slunk to the track and lay prostrate and wept, being wrought with emotion. Her opponents gathered around her, picked her up and helped her to her feet.  While she was given multiple hugs and words of encouragement I looked at the tournament program to see what grade she was in.  When I saw that she was in 11th grade and had another year before her, I proclaimed to those around me, “She’ll be back.”  Though, I have no power to guarantee that will be the case, I remain convinced. 

As I look at my own life of mistakes and consider all of the times I have fallen flat on my face, I can also think of those who God has sent to surround me and pick me up off of the ground and encourage me by telling me that it is not over and insisting that we can start again.

One of the strong messages that we see in Scripture is…”don’t quit.”  We see phrases such as, “stand firm,” “persevere,” and “endure.” In Matthew 5, Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount, in which he offers another example of how he has raised the bar, of expected righteousness.  Incredibly, he takes the capable act of NOT committing adultery and making it impossible by saying that even if we have impure thoughts we are guilty of committing the sin of adultery.  There I am…flat on my face once again. As I have noted before, Jesus is driving at our hearts ahead of our actions.  It hurts when we fall, but I am convinced that God wants us…every aspect of us…including, and especially, our hearts…to be able to get our eyes back on Him…and keep walking.  We can keep walking.  He helps us back up…and we start walking…with our eyes on Him and not on our failures.  His mercies are new every morning, and this ensures endless second chances until we are united with Him for all eternity.

May we learn to keep doing the hard work of getting up...and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus as we walk.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Happy June Day

The famous phrase is, “It’s the thought that counts,”…but does it really? I fall short of believing this.  I have thought long and hard about not eating the last slab of rhubarb apple crisp with two scoops of ice cream…but I failed.  The apple crisp is gone, along with any additional thoughts of it. 

If you really want to know my thoughts…I can’t stand the obligations of such holidays as Valentine’s Day, May Day, and…hear me out before you execute me…Mother’s Day.  The problem I have with these days is that they “require” you to perform acts of care and service to someone whom you care about…or possibly have a crush on.  All in all…this is not bad.  However, when it becomes insisted, I think it loses its power.  One year, I decided to take matters into my own hands .  I created my own holiday.  I decided to intentionally forgo, Valentine’s Day, May Day and Mother’s Day.  It has been stated that some argue that I “accidentally” forgot to acknowledge these holidays and my efforts were actually an effort to save my bacon as opposed to warranting a valuable statement.  I assure you…both could be true.

I created…June Day.  June Day was to be scheduled on the 1st day of June and would take place once a year on the same day of the year…until…I forgot about June Day and initiated…July Day. 

Despite my mediocre efforts of marital care there is something to be said about giving from the heart as opposed to obligation. Perhaps the better phase may be…“It’s the heart that matters.”

Jesus makes abundantly clear what REALLY counts as he speaks through His Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 5:17-26, Jesus begins to teach further what it really means to follow the Law and the impossibility to do so on our own.  In the examples that he lays out, he makes one thing abundantly clear.  Jesus cares deeply about our hearts.  Sure he wants our actions to testify to His Gospel, but I believe even more so he wants our hearts.  He wants to change our hearts. He wants us to love Him with our hearts.  After all, it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks.

May we come to see that Jesus loves us and he wants our hearts first and foremost.

Saturday, May 25, 2024


I like meat.  In fact, you could say that I love meat.  Not so much that I would marry meat, because that is just a pathetic effort at lame dad joke.  I love all kinds of meat whether it be pork, beef, poultry, mutton or venison. My palate is appeased to both wild and domesticated meat options, though I will draw the line on rodents and potential pets.  I was once offered grilled woodchuck…I adamantly refused…however, if you have a pet chicken, I am all in. 

When my dad briefly tried his hand at pretend farming, he added livestock to his 3.5 acre farm.  After planting an acre and a half of corn and potatoes he turned 1 of the 2 remaining acres of land into a pig pen and began filling it with young swine.  His idea was to buy small piglets and grow them into large hogs to sell, butcher and breed.  Once the pigs were purchased, my father, affectionately referred to as Fake Farmer Father, set his 3 sons to work feeding and watering the pigs. 

We were required to provide food and water for the pigs both before and after school.  During the Minnesota winters, watering the pigs consisted of filling a 5 gallon pail with hot tap water and carrying it to the barn and then pouring the hot water over the concrete water trough that was frozen solid from yesterday’s water.  The hot water would spill over the top of the trough as it unsuccessfully attempted to melt the frozen lump of water.  The pigs would usually get a few licks in before the January morning laid claim to the hot water, adding to the forming mass of ice. 

The payment in our farming efforts came in the form of pork chops, bacon, side pork, ham, pork steaks, breakfast sausage and pork burgers.  It was through these early childhood farming experiences that I learned that meat was expensive.  It has always been a family value to save money and one of the best ways to save money is to raise and or harvest the meat yourself.

That is why I am so passionate about hunting.  Why go to the store and buy burger for $3 a pound or more, when you can go into the woods and shoot your own deer and turn it into burger. The venison burgers are better anyway, and when you take into account the cost of additional incidentals like Little Debbie Snack Cakes, the price of venison may be in excess of $168 a pound.  I figure that the experience of hunting to be a value of $170 per pound, thus making the venison only $2 per pound.  The average deer could give you up to 60 pounds of burger and that would be a savings of $60!  I can’t see why more people don’t hunt.

The lessons that I have learned as a child has helped develop me into the kind of man that I am today…a man who hates wasting anything and will go to great lengths to eat old leftovers including nearly expired meat. It is remarkable how long meat will last if you add enough salt.  In fact I figure that fresh cuts of pork, beef and venison can last in the refrigerator 2 months or more if salted enough.  

I remember learning in Elementary School how Christopher Columbus and his crew preserved their meat for their 2 month voyage by salting excessively. When considering old meat I have come to live my the motto, “When it looks distrusting, start the salting.” I have yet to eat a piece of meat that has killed me.  Although, I have apparently eaten some bad salt from time to time as food born illnesses have permeated my past. 

Salt has saved my life.  My doctor says it is killing me…but what does he know about meat?...He’s a vegetarian.

It is possible that I have exaggerated my willingness to eat potentially spoiled meat…but then again…maybe not by much.  The truth is that salt is an incredible preservative and a delightful flavor provider.  I feel that Jesus must have had these factors in mind when he references the value and purpose of salt in Matthew 5:13-16.  We may sometimes get lost in the text for fear that we may “lose” our saltiness.  I don’t think Jesus is necessarily calling us to avoid losing our saltiness, but rather to use our saltiness to preserve and enhance the decaying world around us.  I think Jesus is the one who makes us salty in the first place and thusly may we use the transformation that he has caused in our lives to bless the lives of other and our world that the world too may taste and see that the Lord is good.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

 The Great Reward

I grew up as a farm kid.  Actually, that is not entirely true.  I grew up as a pretend farm kid.  It was not that I pretended to be a farm kid, but rather that my dad pretended to be a farmer.  After buying a 1930’s Allis Chalmers B series and some antique farm equipment, my dad began his journey into his own personal land of make believe farming.

He used the antique orange crank-starting horse to plow up half of the 3 acres of land that we owned.  My brothers and I were sent out to “help” him. 

“Dad!? Mom sent us out to help! What do you need us to do?”

“Mostly just stand there and watch.”

So, we stood there and watched our father begin to turn over the hard soil with the single blade plow.  We watched as he went around and around, lap after lap.

“Dad! are you done yet?”

“No…a few more laps and then I need to disc it.”

“How long will that take?”

“Not long.”

Dad put in enough laps with the disc to contend for a spot in the Daytona 500.

“Are you done now? We want to go inside.”

“No…I still need to drag it.  You guys can help.”

“What do you need us to do?”

“Mostly stand there and watch…I don’t want to run you over with the equipment…it would turn you into bloody raw hamburger and your mother might regret sending you out here to ‘help.’”

This helped assure that I stood at a distance, watching.  As the sun was setting, Dad finally turned off the tractor…or ran out of gas, but either way our “work” was done.

“That should do it for today…tomorrow we plant.”

The next day we did indeed plant.  We planted…(watched planting)…corn, potatoes, onions (I really didn’t care for onions at the time), carrots, radishes and some lettuce.

At the end of day two, Dad announced, “Boy it’s nice to have that done.”

What he really meant was…”boy that was fun and now I can’t wait to engage my three sons in slave labor by making them weed the 1 ½ acre farm over their beloved summer break.”

It was a pain staking effort.  It was painful to watch the planting and even more painful to weed the oversized garden. The harvesting was a little more pleasant.

As mid to late summer arrived, we would occasionally revel in the great reward of the fruit of the labor.  I remember the sequence.  Dad would light the charcoal grill while my mother called us boys to gather 6 big ears of sweet corn and 6-8 of the largest potatoes we could dig up.  We would husk the corn while our mother pulled out the vintage french fry cutting press and slice the potatoes while the oil heated over the stove. She sent us out with the ground venison patties to give to dad while the corn boiled in water and the potatoes were lowered into the deep fryer.

When all was said and done, we sat down to burgers, fries, and sweet corn…and on rare occasions chocolate shakes…great was our reward.  It would have been even greater if mother hadn’t secretly contaminated the burgers with onions.

Jesus speaks at length about the struggles that we will find throughout our lives.  I desperately wish that this were not the case.  I don’t like anxiety, back pain, stress, injury, heart ache, and persecution.  I can’t envision anyone relishing in any such toils…except for maybe the apostle Paul…but he has always seemed a little quirky to me.  I think Paul was able to come to the understanding of what Jesus spent so much time teaching.  I think Paul understood what Jesus meant when he says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

As this daily struggle continues, and I continue to feel the heaviness of life, the burdens of existence, and evidences of evil in the world appearing victorious, I all the more long for this promise of Jesus, “Great is the reward.”

May the Lord give you the strength to endure and remain standing as you await the great reward promised to those who have put their trust in Him.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Locked Door

I officiated the funeral of Pamela Kollman today. I have many years of memories of Pam and her involvement at the Alliance Church in Little Falls.  Pam volunteered many years with our MOPS program and was a gifted artist and craftsperson.  Pam liked to talk, and thus, she would make her weekly rounds of phone calls calling her friends and family and the church to chit chat and share the latest developments of her previous and current prayer needs. 

Pam operated under a rather consistent, high stress level, though she never struck me as frazzled.  In fact, she may have been the calmest stressed person I had ever met. 

Ring. Ring.

 “Good morning, Alliance Church, this is Ryan.”

“Oh Pastor Ryan…I just don’t know what to do…” she would state in a definitive manner absent of emotion.

“Hi Pam! How are you?”

“Not good.”

“What’s going on Pam?”

“Oh…I need to get to St. Cloud for a doctor’s appointment…and Dennis is working…and I have no one to take me…I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Well Pam…here is what we are going to do.  I am going to give you a phone number and you are going to call this number.  It is the number of a lady from the church who has offered to give anyone rides who needs a ride.  You will ask her if she can take you…ok Pam?”


(5 minutes later) Ring. Ring.

“Good morning, Alliance Church, this is Ryan.”

“Oh, Pastor Ryan, you were right. She can take me.”

“Wonderful! Have a nice day Pam!”

I have a favorite story of my experience with Pam.  It is a story I have shared on a number of occasions including her memorial service earlier today.  It is a story that reflects the work of Jesus in our lives.”

Ring. Ring.

“Good afternoon, Alliance Church, this is Ryan.”

“Oh Pastor Ryan…I just don’t know what to do.”

“Oh, hello Pam. How are you today?”

“Not good.”

“What’s going on Pam?”

“Oh, it’s my dog, he is in the bedroom.”

“Your dog is in the bedroom?”

“Yes, He is in the bedroom…and he can’t get out. The door is locked.”

“Do you have the key for the bedroom?”

“There isn’t a key for that door, it just has a lock on the inside.”

“Is there a hole or a slot that you can trip the lock from the outside?”

“No, it is an old door.  He is locked in and he can’t get out.  Dennis is at work and the dog is going to go crazy in there if he doesn’t get out.”

“Ok Pam, here is what we are going to do.  I need to go pick up my son from school.  I am going to go pick him up, and then I am going to get some tools from my home and then both my son and I will come and we will get that door open. Ok Pam?”

“Ok. Thank you, Pastor Ryan.”

“You are welcome Pam.  See you soon.”

I did as I said.  I walked to the front door with my tool bag in hand and my son walking behind me. We entered the house to hear a dog barking from somewhere inside. 

“Oh Pastor Ryan, he is going crazy in there.”

“Which room is he in Pam?”

“This one here.”

The muffled barking and whining continued on the opposite side of the old solid, paneled door.  I looked at the door knob and sure enough there was no hole or a slot to attempt to trip the lock.  The door swung in, and so I could not access the hinges as they were not visible from this side of the door. I reached my hand to the door knob…I turned the knob…and swung the door inward.  The dog ran out as soon as the door opened.

“How did you do that?” Pam asked with some of the greatest expression I had ever noted in her voice.

“It wasn’t locked Pam.  It was a little tight…but it wasn’t locked.”

It struck me that many of us (perhaps myself more than anyone) have lived a good portion of our lives believing that somehow the key to finding Jesus is locked away behind a solid, paneled door.  We look for some hidden key to understanding God. We search for ways to work at opening the secret door.  Perhaps, if I could just do this or that, I could somehow find a way into the acceptance of God…and maybe earn my way to heaven, but this is not the way it is.  It has taken me many years to realize that the door that I thought was locked...wasn’t.  The way to God has been made.  When Jesus went to the cross to die for my sins he made a way.  The curtain in the Temple was torn, and thus a way to God was made. Through Jesus we can have peace with God. Jesus is the ultimate peacemaker (Matt. 5:9). Jesus unlocked the door.  May we open the door.

Saturday, April 20, 2024


One Halloween, my daughter decided to dress up in one of the scariest costumes I had ever encountered.  She found one of my old hats and went digging through my closet, looking for a specific shirt of mine that she obviously had in mind.  Before donning the hat, she stretched an ugly, bald skin wig over her head and tucked her hair up into the tight skull cap.  She painted her face with dark, grotesque marks, covering her chin and around her lips.  She grabbed my favorite stainless steel coffee up and said, “I’m ready!”

“Eeek! You look scary! Who or what are you supposed to be!?” I squawked.

“I’m you!”

“What!? I look nothing like that! Except for maybe the lack of hair…the shirt…the hat…and the facial hair…”

“Sure you do…not only do I look like you…I can act like you…watch this!” She began to carry herself in mannerisms that were strikingly similar to that of my own.  Additionally, she began saying things like, “Great Scott!,” “That could be catastrophic!,” “Listen to your mother!,” and “Wow, my back hurts…and my knees…and my neck…and my head…they all hurt!”

I was both astounded…and offended, as to how accurately she could display me.  She knew things about me that I don’t even think I was aware of.  She was able to reveal a picture of what I looked like to everyone around her, including myself. 

She knew me well enough to be able to share an image of what her father really looked like.  I was imitated so well that even a complete stranger would have been able to pick me out of a police lineup. 

Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul is speaking towards when he invites believers to, “follow me as I follow Christ,” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  There is really only one way that any believer in Jesus could ever say such a statement.  Before a follower of Christ could offer up such an invitation, that person must reflect the attributes of God.  When our movements and actions mimic the attributes of God, people take notice.  When mercy is shown, people pay attention.  When Biblical meekness is exercised, Jesus’ character is reflected. When we respond to people with a pure heart we find once again that the reflection of God is revealed.  In fact, I am convinced that when a Christ follower responds to others, in love with a pure heart, not only will they “see God,” (Matthew 5:8), but also reveal God’s love as it exemplifies His pure heart. 

May we come to pursue the greatest commands of God, to love God and to love our neighbors, with a pure heart, knowing that God will be revealed.

Saturday, April 13, 2024


Most of the boys, and a few the girls, in Mr. Halling’s 6th grade class would line up at recess to await their turn to demonstrate their authority, cunning, strength and tenacity in our own version of Fight Club.  We had rules for our Fight Club.

1.      You don’t talk about Fight Club.

2.      You DO NOT talk about Fight Club.

3.      When someone says or yells “Mercy!” it’s over

4.      Only two people at a time.

5.      No biting.

6.      No kicking.

7.      Both hands must be held.

8.      No holding hands.

9.      Wait…what??

Competitors were bracketed and the winner of each duel would advance to the next round while the non-winner, (we called them losers in those days), was eliminated.  Each competition would begin when two people would face each other, put their hands up, press them together, interlace the fingers, squeeze…and wait.  An official, (non participating competitor), would say go, and the two individuals would grip and twist the hands, arms and fingers attempting to create such a painful experience for their opponent that their adversary would cry out, “Mercy!” 

I was reasonably good at this later elementary school torturous pastime.  I had good flexibility. I was respectfully strong, quicker than some, smarter than others and had 3 siblings at home to crush, pulverize and torture for practice.  During this particular tournament, I had made it to the quarter finals and was about to face a small, but squirrely, adversary named Matt.  He was a lot like a chipmunk. He was quick, chatty and easily squashed.  I made quick work of him, twisting him into submission in mere seconds.  I now prepared to meet Benson in the semifinals.

Benson was a Behemoth of a student.   He was a man squashed into the body of an overly tall 6th grader.  He was brilliant, always scoring near the top of the class in all subjects but lacked, at times, common sense.  He had me outsized by several inches, and his arms were as large as my legs.  We grasped hands and he smiled at me.  He had a nice smile.  He was a nice kid…very kind. As far as we knew he had no first name…just Benson.  He was like a Spartan among toddlers…but a nice Spartan.


I watched the kind face of Benson morph into the grotesque feature of a demon possessed Leviathan.   

“Eeek! Who are you?!” I squawked as he began to bend me in half. “What did you do with Benson?”

“I’m your worst nightmare!” He chortled.

I swear I saw him salivating and drooling as I began to grimace in pain.

“Say it!” He screamed. “Say it! Say it!”

I cowered beneath his bloodlust.

“Say it!”

“Say what!” I begged.

“Mercy!” He giggled.

“Ryan wins!” the official announced.

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.  I had done it! I had made the finals.  The best part of making the finals is that you got to go against Christine DeClouster.  Everyone was enamored with Christine.  She was perhaps the loveliest girl in all of 6th grade and perhaps the most vicious.  I had yearned for this moment.  Not to win…but just to hold her hands…which I did…for about 3 second before I was screaming, “Mercy!” as her finger nails tore the flesh away from my knuckles.

Mercy…we all need it, and yet, often withhold it.  We struggle between the contrast of justice and mercy.  We are, at times” the first to expect it, but the last to offer it.  We cannot fully grasp the anomaly that is the just and merciful God. Both attributes are fully present in His fullness. God reveals his desire for us to be like him in this. Micah 6:8, “He has shown you…what is good and what the Lord requires of you. To act justly and to love mercy…”

Jesus calls us to mercy in even stronger language.  Matthew 5:7 states, “Blessed are those who show mercy for that shall be shown mercy.”

May we come to see the mercy that we have been shown and show the mercy of God to others as a testimony of who He is.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

 I Can’t Wait


I arrived home after services this past Easter Sunday and I was famished.  I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.  Unless, of course you count the multiple slices of banana bread, of which I had just stuffed my face with 30 minutes prior.  Incidentally, I was still famished…very famished and I felt that I just could not wait for Easter Dinner.  I walked into the kitchen, only to find that the beautiful ham dinner, mashed potatoes and dinner rolls was still cooking and wouldn’t be ready for several minutes. 

It is at this time that I may or may not have attempted to snitch some pretzels to pacify my urges, only to have my hand swatted away before I could even reach into the bag.  This was just as well, since someone had crushed the entire bag of pretzels into pulverized crumbs and they were hardly worth eating.  Who even does something like that??

I find that life is filled with yearnings.  Food is often near the top of my list of yearnings, but so are activities like hunting and fishing and hiking and biking.  I frequently find myself longing for days and events of the future, which promise to be filled with satisfying experiences and opportunities.

Take camping for example.  I love camping, and I yearn for the quiet getaway in the woods where I can sit by the warm crackling fire and sleep in the cool night air.  It all sounds so satisfying.  Until…it isn’t.  My longings of restful camping have at times turned into longings for home.  Like when the clear evening suddenly turns stormy and leaves the electrical system in the camper shorting out and constantly tripping the breakers. The desire for camping ebbs when mosquitoes chase you away from the campfire and into the camper and still they find a way into the temporary shelter only to leave your hands, arms, neck, legs and feet covered in dozens of itchy bites.  The aspirations of camping wane when you wake in the morning yearning for a cup of hot coffee but realize that, you have no electricity and the matches are soaked from having been left overnight in the rain next to what had been the fire.

Like camping, so many things that promise satisfaction, only leave one left with the feeling of longing and dissatisfaction.  What you had thought would satisfy…doesn’t.  The experience may have been good…but the satisfaction that came with it doesn’t last or it was not what you thought that it would be.  What you had originally yearned for has morphed into a desire for something else.

There are so many things in life that I truly enjoy. These are things that I long for and even find a sense of satisfaction in…even if only temporary.   Yet, there is only ONE thing that I believe can truly satisfy, and that is Jesus.  I know that we may hear this statement a great deal and perhaps we struggle to believe it.  Jesus, himself, speaks of this truth on several occasions in the Scriptures, including John 4, but also, He speaks of it in a short phrase during His Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied.” 

Oh, what it would be like to be satisfied?  It would be like being able to Easter dinner forever, without getting full and without feeling hungry.  You get to enjoy every bite.  You get to indulge in its full flavor and exceptional texture without worrying about over eating and without worrying about having enough.  It is perfect satisfaction.

We get a taste of the satisfaction that Jesus has to offer here on this earth, but it is merely an appetizer of what is to come in the perfect satisfaction that is promised for eternity.

May you find yourself yearning for the righteousness of Christ, because only in Him can you find complete satisfaction. 

Saturday, March 30, 2024

 The Trade


I’ve got problems. For the most part, I am ok with this fact, mostly because…so do you.  In fact, we all have problems, it’s just that some of us know it and some of us don’t.  Yet, even with that reality, I (we) likely have problems that I (we) am still as of yet, totally unaware that I (we) have. 

For example, a week ago I was driving home on a Saturday, after having spent some time reviewing and tweaking my sermon for the Sunday morning service.  I had spent some time at the office as well as the local bakery.  Some of my best work is done with a donut being stuffed between my teeth.  Overall, it was a problem free morning.  Yet, as I entered into the three block radius of my home, I noticed a Silver Dodge Grand Caravan parked in front of a neighbor’s home.  The vehicle looked strikingly similar to the one that my daughter is currently the primary operator of. 

Though there are Silver Dodge Grand Caravan’s in nearly every block of every city in the continental United States, it seemed to me that even from a distance that this was, indeed, our van.  There are a few unique indicators that set our vehicle apart from others, such as the dark bug deflector on the hood, the half eroded Little Falls Cross Country decal on the rear window…the rust…the bald tires…the tiny little bright colored plastic ducks and chicks lining the dashboard, the Holstein patterned steering wheel cover, and of course the “baby Yoda” phone cradle on the heating vent. 

I find it interesting how my children have taken to personalizing these vehicles that are still titled in my name.  My daughter has placed all kinds of scents and fresheners and accents to the inside of her vehicle. While my son’s vehicle is filled with filthy football clothes, cleats, sweaty shirts, fishing gear, (including portable ice house and auger), and one oversized stuffed Mickey Mouse doll pulled from a neighbor’s dumpster.

Despite how much ownership as they have taken to these cars,  their “ownership” seems to suddenly go out the window when the cost of repairing the power steering, the dead battery or the wheel that falls off on the way to school, becomes a factor of ownership.

As I drew near the van on this Saturday afternoon, my first instinct was to question what boy lived at this house and why my daughter was parked here, along with what must I do to this now unfortunate teenager?  I soon found that this was not the issue and a teenage boy was not my immediate problem. Yet, my Saturday afternoon was by no means problem free.  It appeared that while I was away from the house working, problems were arising that I had no idea were becoming a reality.  The left rear tire of the van was flat…in fact it was entirely mangled.  The tire was not unlike a tough steak that has been chewed and spit out, being too tough to swallowed. 

It was time to fix yet another problem. 

About 120 minutes, and dollars, later the problem was fixed.

There are other problems in life that time and money cannot fix. 

In fact, there is a problem that all humans face; though not all may be aware of the problem.  We may be driving through this life, totally unaware that there is a proverbial van with a flat tire that needs our attention. 

Our greatest problem…My greatest problem, is not a flat tire.  It is sin.  I know that I sin.  I know that I sin a whole lot more that I care to admit or even am aware of.  I, like all humans, have a propensity to justify my actions and pretend that I live a pretty good life…a life that is not as bad as others.  Yet, the biblical truth is that my sin condemns me to death and an eternity in Hell.  Yep! The Bible talks about a real place called Hell and that is where I belong.  In fact, that is the ONLY place that I am headed unless my sin problem is repaired and I have NO ability to fix my sin problem. 

Yet, I know that is not where I am headed.  Not because I have done some secret task or earned enough credits from good deeds somehow building up imaginary karma.  It is because of what we celebrate at Easter.  When Jesus went to the Cross, he fixed my sin problem.  2 Corinthians 5:21, tells us of how Jesus fixes our sin problem.  It says that He, Jesus, who had never committed one single sin…BECAME sin.  Jesus offers us a trade.  He makes a trade with us...he takes our sin…though he is innocent…and in return he gives us His righteousness. 

If you want to engage in this incredibly unfair trade: all you have to do is agree with it.  “Ok, Jesus…let me get this straight…You will take my sin…and give me your Holiness?...Your Righteousness?...Your Perfectness?...if I simply ask you to do it?”


“How can this be the case?”

“Because the tomb is empty! I am ALIVE! All Authority has been given to me!  I can do it, because it is finished!  What do you say?  Will you follow me?”

Saturday, March 23, 2024


It is possible that safety is an overrated concern for some parents, and a constant obstacle of interference for adolescent boys.  It has produced a never ending battle between mothers and sons.  Mothers diligently strive to keep their young boys safe from the foolish decisions that promise unavoidable injury, further brain damage, or even death.  Boys, on the other hand, cunningly scheme to overcome the safety precautions that have been unfairly placed upon them.  For example, a potentially hypothetical situation may find a mother whose 8 year old son has been using a ladder to climb onto the roof of their home.  He does this to gain the high ground in attempt to shoot unsuspecting squirrels, gophers, and crows from the peak of the second story gable end. 

“Ryan! What in the world are you doing up there!?!”

“I am shooting at squirrels and gophers and birds and stuff!”

“Where did you get the gun?”

“Dad gave it to me!”

“Get down from there now! It’s not safe!”



“Drat…I missed.”



Now you would think that the problem would be solved when the mother insisted to have the ladder put away and locked up to prevent the possibility of a repeat offense.  However, it could happen, that as the mother was hanging the bed sheets out on the clothes line she once again heard, “Bang. Bang.” followed by “Drat…I missed.”

“Ryan! What are you doing up there?!…HOW did you get up there?!”

“I crawled through the window and shimmied up the eave.”

As much as they try, mothers only have so much power to keep their curious sons safe.

I remember one spring day when I was climbing a tree. 

My mother had reprimanded me on several occasions for climbing trees.  Each time, I would be cautioned about my lack of safety for either climbing too high or not holding onto anything with my hands.  It seemed obvious to me that tree climbing would be safer with a ladder.  This truth must have been overlooked by my mother or she may not have taken it away from me.    

I took my mother’s concerns to heart and thus made several adjustments to safeguard my own safety for this expedition.  First, I selected a tree that my mother did not yet know about.  I did this to ensure that she could not come back to me and say, “I thought I told you not to climb that tree.” 

If she attempted to make such a statement, I could simply reply…“Not this one…that was a different tree.”  As you can see, I was a pretty thoughtful and obedient child.

Second, I built my “own” ladder with some old wood that I had found in the barn. 

Third, I tied a big heavy rope around my chest and allowed it to hang loosely behind me as I ascended.

Once my safety precautions were in place, I set to work.  I climbed the old elm easily, bouncing and swinging through its natural sturdy beams.  The large, heavy limbs generated a vast array of hand and footholds protruding in every direction.  As I reached a deep Y, half way up the towering deciduous, I lowered myself into a yawn between the limbs and tied off the loose end of the rope…and then…I slipped.  I tried to snatch a limb on my way down, but the abrasive bark only served to bruise, cut and batter my entire body on the way down.  Three feet before my face met the base of the elm, the rope tied around my chest slipped to my waist and snapped tight holding me fast. 

The good news was that my face was spared the maiming impact of the earth below.  The bad news was that the Old Timer jack knife that my grandfather had given me slipped from my pocket and fell to the ground.

Looking back on my childhood, I have come to realize that strength is only as good as the cord that is holding you.  Self confidence and pride can easily build as we gain abilities and talents.  Naturally, this brings into our lives a sense of self assurance and boldness.  It is often at these times when the pride comes before the fall…sometimes proverbially…sometimes literally. 

Matthew 5:5 states, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”  Meekness is not something that is championed in our culture.  Yet, that is what Jesus exemplified.  One of the most astounding moments of both His meekness and majesty are reflected in his entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.  Why can Jesus be so meek?  I think that, perhaps, it may be because He knows how secure He is in the strong cord that holds Him tight to the Father.

May we come to see that meekness is relying on the strength of the Lord and not on ourselves.

Saturday, March 16, 2024



My life is filled with regret.  I can’t help it. It seems, every day of my life leads to more regretful moments.  Regret is like that unwelcomed and uninvited uncle who always shows up to Easter dinner, even when great pains are taken to keep the hosting venue a secret. 

“Grandma, can you please pass the ham?”

“Egad! What do you think you’re doing!? Keep your voice down! Uncle Anson will hear you!”

“How in the world is that even possible? He doesn’t know where we are and the last we heard from him he was in the Himalayan Mountains of southern Chile.”

“The Himalayans are in Asia…not Chile.”

“That makes it all the more impossible for him to have heard.”

Ding Dong.

“Hey all! Happy Easter!”

“Well! Would you look who’s here!? It’s Uncle Anson!...How did you find us…I mean…I hope you got the Easter invite this year…we left it under that big rock behind the barn, under the old rusted tractor.”

“I must have missed it! But no worries, here I am! You all have no idea how difficult it has been to find you…but I did!  Who would have thought that a destination Easter dinner in the bowels of Alcatraz was in the cards for this year! Could I get me some of those mashed potatoes?”

Regret…kind of makes you wish you hadn’t asked for the ham…despite Grandma’s reputation for delectable hams.

Like the inevitable arrival of the unwanted guest are the perpetual visits of regret.  Regret appears everywhere.  It is there when we miss our highway exit and find that we have just added 2 hours onto our already 12 hour road trip. It is opening the jar of peanuts believing that you can have just one serving, only to find that the jar is empty in your hands just 33 minute later.  It is telling yourself that you have enough gas to make it to the next gas station, knowing full well that you are pushing it pretty thin, only to run out 5 miles before the fueling station…without an empty gas can to even carry any fuel back to the stranded vehicle. 

Regret often runs deep…much deeper…as well.  Regret follows the allowance of irresponsible words which spill from between the lips and wilt the recipient with a crushing blow.  It is the unjustified burst of anger that conflicts with a testimony of grace, of which a believer is called to reflect.  Regret comes to visit when a poor action results in loss…the loss of life, freedom, affection or more. 

My life is cluttered with regret, like a long forgotten storage room in the unfinished basement of my soul. The space is filled with old dusty mistakes that lie dormant in the corner waiting to be remembered and suffered over from time to time.  As life goes on, the regretful basement of my soul continues to collect junk.  My sin is the greatest contributor to the junk of regret filling the cellar.

Unless something is done, the soul…my soul…will soon be overrun with the burdensome regrets of grieving mistakes and unattended sin.  Jesus not ONLY offers forgiveness of my sins…but he also offers a path of healing through the mourning of my sin.  Matthew 5:4 reveals that “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”  Jesus certainly offers comfort from our grief, but I am learning that in the case of this passage, Jesus is drawing his followers into a deeper mourning.  He is drawing us into a grief…a mourning…over our sin.  Not only do followers of Christ need to be aware of their spiritual bankruptcy (as found in Matthew 5:3), but we are also told to mourn over the sin that has left us there.

It is one thing to sin and hide it in the basement and it is quite another to mourn over our sin.  When we learn to grieve over our sin in such a way as to mourn over it, I am convinced that we find Jesus not only forgiving us of our sin, but also de-cluttering the overrun basement of our souls.

May we come to grieve and to mourn our sin, so that we will be comforted by Jesus Himself.  May the comforts of Jesus lift up our weary souls. 

Saturday, March 9, 2024

 The Majestic

I recall one evening when Sarah and I were still without children.  We would have thought that we were living a busy lifestyle at this time, but until we decided to parent 4 kids, we really had no idea what a busy lifestyle really looked like.  Yet, somehow a telemarketer had tricked me into using the ONE…“free”…evening that my wife and I been able to find for the entire month. 

“What do you want to do tonight” I asked Sarah.

“It doesn’t matter…I am just glad that we don’t have anything to do…period!!” She sighed in response to my question.


“Who is at the door?” she bequeathed.

“I have no idea.”

I answered the door to find a young man and a young woman standing at our door with a clipboard and a rather large chrome cylinder resembling that of a silver R2D2.

“Hello Mr. Olson, we would like to thank you for having us.  If you will just step aside and allow us to enter your home I think that you will find your time with us to be very worthwhile.”

I stepped aside and said nothing.  I was stunned and struck dumb.

Finally, I stammered, “Excuse me…what? Who did you say you were?”

“My name is Heather and this is Michael, we represent the Majestic Cleaning Company, we carry the world’s foremost cleaning and filtering products.  We sure appreciate you agreeing to have us into your home and give you a demonstration of these fabulous appliances that can revolutionize your home.”

“I don’t remember to agreeing to anyth…”

“Sure you did.  If you remember the phone call you received on November 14,…we have it recorded so there will be NO arguing…there was a brief moment when you said yes…and we took full advantage of “that”…to take advantage of “you” and your free evening.  Now if you would just kindly get out of our way…go ahead and sit down and shut your trap while we give you this remarkable demonstration.”

I did as I was told, trying to avoid the shocked and glaring looks of my beautiful young wife.

“What did you agree to!?” Sarah tersely whispered to me as we sat down next to each other on our used sofa.

“Nothing…I mean…I don’t know!”

“This was our ONE night!...ONE night!”

“I know…maybe we will still have time to enjoy something once they leave?”

After 3 hours of demonstrating how great their product was and…how filthy our home was, the sales representative, Heather, asked how much I would expect to pay for this fine tool of the future.

“Are you asking how much I am willing to pay or how much I expect it to cost? Because I MIGHT consider paying up to $60, but I am guessing that it will cost more like $260.”

“So, you are willing to pay $60”

“NO! I am willing to ‘consider’ paying $60”

“Well…would you consider paying $60 per month for three and a half years?”

I did the quick math. “Wait…are you saying this costs $2500!!!???’

“Technically, $2600.”

“No way!”

“But you saw all that it can do! Don’t you want a clean home?”

“Not for $2600!”


This was my turn to interrupt. “You don’t understand. We really don’t buy anything.  In fact, if you look around this home most of all that you see has been given to us. We didn’t purchase most of what you wee.  That recliner that you are sitting in?…given to us.  This sofa? Given.  The end tables, coffee table and dining room table? All given to us.  The refrigerator, the microwave, the oven…given.  Our washer and dryer down stairs…given.  The TV and VCR (yes…I did just date myself)…given.  That china hutch…given.  I even built our bed with wood that was given to us.”

“What about your car?” He asked is a mildly snarky tone.

“GIVEN TO US!!!” I proclaimed in triumph!

“Heather, you must understand” I continued, “Pretty much all that you see around you is nothing that I have gathered and accumulated for myself.  Rather it is all representative of the provisions that the Lord has provided.” 

Heather and Michael left a short time later after packing up all of their demonstrative items.  As they left through our front door…they GAVE us a fake Christmas tree for our time.

I remember that story well, but I never made the connection until now,  of how this symbolized the Lord’s righteousness in my life.  Every good thing in my life has come from the hand of God.  The ONLY righteousness that can be found in my life is what falls under the cloak of Christ’s righteousness, which covers me.  The home of my heart is filled with righteous furnishings that have ALL been given to me by Jesus.  If it were up to me, my “home,” would be found void and empty and broken.  He however, covers me in His righteousness.  Without Jesus, I am spiritually bankrupt.

I think this is at the heart of Jesus’ teachings specifically the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12.  Those who want to inherit the Kingdom of God, must first find themselves…spiritually bankrupt.