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.