Tuesday, May 12, 2020

What were those odds again?

Ok, I just had to get to this right away while the memory is still fresh in my mind.  If you've been following my posts, you will recall the Monday, April 20th blog entitled "What are the odds?" (You can review it here if you don't remember it.)  The short summary of that blog was that I really believed I was due to get a hole in one.  I wasn't arrogant about it (at least, I don't think I was).  It was just a matter-of-fact statistical look at the odds of any one golfer getting a hole in one.  At the end of the blog, I promised I would post when I got that hole in one to let you know it happened.

Well, today it happened!!  I was at #10 at Great Life Worthington Golf Course (which is the hole I had previously shown in that April 20th blog).  I was alone, but #10 is right next to the clubhouse - there is always someone nearby.  I had just played up #9 with Rick Dalrymple and another fellow, but they elected to stop for today after nine.  Rick said something about having to mow the lawn.  I told him he needed to get his priorities in line.

I will try to make this sound like a golf announcer: "#10 is a short par three that requires accuracy and a deft touch to a saddle style green.  Today, it's about 105 yards, very little wind - I see Daren is ready to hit his shot.  He has a nine iron.  The crowd is very silent - almost don't know that they are here.  The shot is on the way.  It is right on line with the pin.  Does he have enough?  Ohhh!  It hit the pin!  Dead straight!  But where did it go?  I didn't see it anywhere!  I heard the ball strike the pin - the only thing I can think of is that it's in!  It's in the hole!  Daren has a hole in one!  What a fantastic shot!  I believe that is Daren's first career hole in one!  And look at his response...the crowd is going wild..."

That's about how I might have imagined it had anyone been able to see it actually go into the hole.  I shouted "It went in!!  Did anyone see that?  It went in the hole!!"  I looked around and no one really heard me because there was no one there to hear me, except one guy who was preparing to go out on #1.  He came over and I told him what had happened.  He didn't see it, but he said that the golf pro was putting golf carts in the garage to recharge them.  Ben came out and I told him the same thing.  He said "Well go and get it"  and I said "Yeah, but someone has to verify it."  (After all, who is going to believe a pastor who is playing alone that he got a hole in one?)  Ben (the golf pro) said he'd watch me, but just don't have any golf balls in my pocket when I went to retrieve the ball.  Must have been golf pro humor.

I got into the cart and drove down to the green.  I cannot remember the last time excited and golf were used in the same sentence for me.  I walked over to the green and sure enough - there was my Titleist 3 wedged in the hole between the blue wrap that was installed for COVID 19 protection and the side of the hole.  I pulled the ball out and showed it triumphantly to Ben and the other guy.  I pumped my fist in the air and let out another shout "Yeah!!! Yes!!" I shouted.  It's not really polite to yell on the golf course, but who would care?  I drove back to the tee and Ben took my picture next to the tee box.  

It all happened so quickly.  But I was brought down to earth on the next hole with a triple bogey 7, but who cares?  Not me.  I didn't know what I was doing the rest of the round.  The odds of my getting a hole in one were 1 in 12,500 or something like that.  All I know is that it happened.

I was due!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Social Media Distancing

Since sometime in mid-March, the world as we understood it changed.  Almost overnight.  Life came to a standstill.  People and businesses and governments were paralyzed by a great unknown.  Everyone's lives were impacted - no one has been exempt from the shut down, stay at home, wear your masks in public, keep your distance to six feet, learn how to use your computer, device or smartphone better world we have discovered.

You've heard so many takes on this topic - trust me - I'm not sharing this blog with you to spin another frustration or perspective on any of the above items.  I'm wondering about one thing and one thing only... in the midst of making all of these changes, has the message I hope to bring to people been somehow circumvented by all of the technology I've had to use?

I think it is a fair question.  I'd love to say at first glance, no - not only no, but heavens no!  What choices did I have - did the church of today have?  Many of us had to learn how to use this technology and learn how to use it quickly.  I am so grateful that the leadership at First UMC embraced the move we made last fall to begin live streaming... I know that made our transition a whole lot easier.  I am so grateful that our leadership in Emmanuel and Adrian Church were willing to dabble in using video before we really needed to use video.  And I am ever so grateful for the many volunteers who have learned how to help with the media tech at First Church - running the projection program, adjusting the sound quality that is being sent out to various destinations (internet sites, monitors, nursery, and others), and being able to use the camera to project the worship service into the homes of many people.  In fact, if we were to center on numbers for a moment, we are reaching more persons now than ever through the various social media outlets we have available.

But numbers are not really the focal point.  I'm trying to imagine what we might have done differently if we still had only the rotary phone, pen and paper, radio and a megaphone to work with.  Those were the social media tools from the past.  They come from the age I grew up in and if we only had those things to go forward with, I'm convinced we would have made it work... somehow.

The point I'm trying to make is this: no matter what generational venue we are in, we still have to find a way to communicate.  This is especially true for the church in striving to convey the message of the grace of God and how it extends to all people, specifically when we are going through such difficult times.  My hope is that the technology we use never gets in the way of the message we bring.  I'm glad that the Lord has given us these tools to use and hopefully we will continue to use them to His glory.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Small Things

One of the things I learned to pay attention to is that sometimes small things can make a big difference.  I'm certain I didn't pick this up right away, but over the years, I've discovered this statement to be so true.  I've seen it over and over again... a small gesture of appreciation, a small act of kindness, a small word of encouragement.  These and other small things go along way to making a huge difference in the lives of people.  Even small things like our dog Maisy.

Maisy, our five month old dog, has been absolutely ruling the house over Ruby, our three year old cat.  She loves to "play" with Ruby... but there's one problem with that: Ruby doesn't want to play.  Maisy will latch on to Ruby (she's been practicing her biting techniques on Nancy and myself).  But Ruby doesn't really appreciate being that close to Maisy.  So after several meows and growls and howls, Ruby finally gives up and goes down the stairs because Maisy hasn't learned how to negotiate the stairs yet.  Our small dog Maisy has made a big difference in the life of Ruby.

Small things are adding up during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.  When people call to check up on people, it matters to those who have been hunkered down, protecting themselves from this rapidly spreading virus.  When someone does a kind deed like picking up groceries for someone, it matters to those who don't feel comfortable venturing out in public.  When a person prays for another person for whatever the request might be, it matters to the person being prayed for, knowing that not only others care for them, but God cares for them.  Small things make a big difference..

I came home from the office today and discovered this written in chalk on our driveway: "An awesome Pastor and his awesome wife live here!"  I can't even begin to tell you how this small thing matters in my life.  It's not that I believe for a moment that I am so deserving of an accolade like that.  I have my good moments, but I also have my bad ones too.  I'm just a ordinary guy with an extraordinary message.  What makes this huge is that somebody went out of their way to make my day special.  I have no idea who did it.  It only matters because I'd love for them to know how deeply Nancy and I appreciate the feelings behind it.

Only because we live in an awesome part of Minnesota - Worthington, Rushmore, Adrian, Bigelow, Brewster... Nancy and I are the ones who feel blessed.  

Because small things matter.  Don't underestimate them.  Just do it.  Do the small things for others.

Monday, April 20, 2020

What are the odds?

I came so close once.  I came this close (four inches) from getting a hole in one on the golf course.  It was at Pokegama Golf Course in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.  I can't remember how old I was, but I know that it was such a long time ago.  It was on the old #8, a par three that went back toward the clubhouse.  Usually an eight or nine iron, depending on the wind.  I don't recall my swing or the shot specifically, but I remember was how close I was to the hole.  That picture is indelibly etched into my mind.  Four inches to the right.  Perfect distance, but my aim was four inches off.  Just four lousy inches.

You'd think that with all of the golf shots on par 3s that I have played in my lifetime one of them would have gone in.  But sadly, no.  No holes in one for this guy.  The odds for getting a hole in one in golf don't seem too bad.  For a professional golfer, the odds are that 1 shot in 2,500 shots is going to go in on a par three.  For an amateur (that would be me) the odds jump a bit - one shot in 12,500 shots is going to go in.

So let's figure this out... I usually play out at the Great Life Worthington Golf Course.  There are four par threes in eighteen holes - #2, #8, #10, and #14.  Hole #10 seems like the most likely candidate to get a hole in one.  The distance is about 110 yards, depending upon where the tee is located.  Hole #14 would be the most difficult being that it is 186 yards from tee to green.  The other two are reasonable - #2 is only 155 yards while #8 is 158 yards.  Chances would be better on those two than on #14.  So, I'm going to figure I have as good a chance as any to get my first hole in one on either #2, #8 or #10.  If I use those three as my base, and I am also using the 12,500 number for the odds, that means if I play 4,167 rounds of golf with those par threes the chances are that I should get a hole in one on one of those rounds.. 

Let's do that!

Why is this a thing for me right now?  That's a fair question.  I guess I just need a diversion from the constant barrage of COVID 19 updates that are everywhere.  Now that golf courses are open in Minnesota (with social distancing measures in place) persons can at least get out and play a round or two.  Whether a person likes to walk, bike, jog, run, golf or swim, it's nice to get some physical exercise in during the day. 

I will post when that hole in one happens.  It might take a while (4,167 rounds of golf is a lot of golf!) but the way I look at it, I'm due!  I'd better get started!

Friday, April 17, 2020

A Different Drummer

Growing up in the Greenway school system in Coleraine, Minnesota, I look back on some precious memories - I treasure the ones I can remember today.  You see, I was blessed to be in one school district in all of my thirteen years of elementary and secondary education.  I love remembering the teachers, the activities, the school buildings, the events, and the students I grew up with throughout those years.  

One of my thematic memories involves music.  Greenway had what I would consider a relatively strong music program.  From grade school to high school, learning to play in the band was a big deal.  As I finished my senior year, I was playing trombone in the high school band.  I also played in the local Mississippi Melodie Showboat Band, three local city bands, a local rock band (that played a lot of brass groups like Chicago), and even played in the Itasca Symphony Orchestra.  Our high school band instructor, Tom Patnaude, was a trombonist who played for the Air Force Band and he was an excellent trombonist - he still is.  

Mr. Patnaude was a bit ahead of his time.  We had students who were arranging music that our pep band played, putting it light years ahead of the Dirty Dozen (from Int'l Falls HS) or our rivals to the west, the Grand Rapids Indians Pep Band.  We made a record when I was a junior, something that in today's world would not be such a big deal.  Back then, it was huge.  I still have the 33 1/3 LP album packed away somewhere in the house.  A few years ago, my sister Laura had a cd made of the record.  It's awesome to be able to listen today to those sounds that were made by our high school band in the early 70's.

But as much as I loved the trombone and patterned my playing (in a poor man's way) after the example that Mr. Patnaude taught me, the trombone wasn't my first choice of instrument.

Surprised?  Yeah, it's true.  It started in the sixth grade when Mr. Patnaude came to our grade school and invited any interested students to begin to learn how to play by taking lessons.  I was a drummer (or so I thought).  My oldest brother Curt was a drummer and we were always in competition with each other, so why not?  I can be a drummer - if Curt can be one, so could I.  It was a relatively inexpensive instrument to take on.  I only needed the practice book, a practice drum pad and a pair of sticks.  I tried my best to learn how to hold the sticks properly.  I tried my best to learn a simple drum roll.  I tried my best to learn how to count properly.  Sadly, I don't think my hands were as coordinated at that young age as I might have liked.  Mr. Patnaude was a pretty patient teacher, but I could tell he didn't believe I would make it as a drummer.  The next year, when I started band in seventh grade, he asked me if I would try to learn how to play the trombone.  

Changing something like learning to play a musical instrument at an early age might not be a very big deal.  It didn't happen overnight.  I wasn't certain I had the right stuff to play it.  But somewhere along the line, I started to practice a bit more and began to get better at it.  By the time I was a senior in high school, I was getting a pass from my homeroom class to go to the music room and practice for an hour.  Imagine that.  Yeah, I got better.  Practice will do that for a person.

So, now we are in a world that has changed.  We couldn't have ever envisioned how a virus could have altered our way of life so drastically.  Many of us are still wanting to play the drums when we need to take up a different instrument.  And trust me, we will need to be disciplined in order to get better at this new normal.  We will need to practice how to live in the new normal in order to thrive and live with joy and peace.  Paul writes about this in his letters to the many places that he has been because people in all ages need to amp up their practice all the time.  Here is what he wrote to the community in Philippi: "The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." - Philippians 4:9.  

Keep practicing the things that you have learned about your faith.  If you need to learn more (which we all do) then find a way to learn more - because practice makes perfect.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Jeweler

I'm not even sure how things like this happen... I looked at my watch band the other day and realized that one of the links was unlinked (not sure if that is even a word).  I had this band replaced by a local jeweler several years ago.  It's a Speidel watch band, if that means anything.  I am not certain that this jewelry store is even open because of the order barring non-essential places from being open.  I was resigned to the idea that I would have to repair it myself.  I have no idea how the link broke (I'm not in a high energy, physically stressed filled job, after all).  So, I set about repairing the broken link.

I had all the tools I felt necessary: a large pair of pliers, a very small pair of tweezers, an equally small flat screwdriver, and my newest toy, a lighted magnifying glass with holder.  That last tool allows you to work hands free on something that is smaller than the naked eye can see.  Repairs on broken watch band links qualifies as smaller than the naked eye.  I did my best to remove one link from the watch band.  It wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done - I readily admit, I'm not a jeweler nor should I ever be a candidate to be one.  Usually, in matters like this, I can sometimes hold my own.  And sometimes, a broken link can get the best of me.

I think that's what this past month symbolizes for me - it's like a broken link in our lives.  The Stay at Home order, the face masks, social distancing, not to mention the disruption of our entire schedules can make us feel as though a link in our normal lives has been unlinked.  We are in a very different place than we have ever been before.

I wish I had an easy answer to how we can link back to the normality of life.  Many have suggested that we will never be able to go back - that our lives will be forever in a new normal.  I can see that.  Will our gatherings ever be the same as we wonder if this virus has lost its grip on our world?  I cannot envision that.  The authorities are talking about a three-phase process of restarting the economy and a return to some semblance of normal life.  We will need to exercise caution because this could backfire upon us and we'll have gained nothing.  What I really want to know is how can I - how can we - keep our lives linked to the important things we have always held dear?

The solution can never come from our own efforts or striving, but comes only from Him.  In other words, we need a jeweler who has the ability to put our broken links back together, make them stronger than they ever have been before and ensure that the connecting links have been repaired with expert ability.  For me, our Lord is that heavenly jeweler.  Personally, I've discovered that I cannot sustain the effort to try and do it myself.  I must submit or turn it over to God and allow God to put things back together.  I trust His ability to cement his promises with my life.  If I ever desire to experience a sense of wholeness, normality, or even unbrokenness again (whatever you'd like to call it), I have to put my time on this earth in the heavenly jeweler's hands.

Only then will life make sense and order will be restored at long last.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Discover the Resurrection - Believe the Resurrection!

There are things that you can accept as being true and then there are things that are just ridiculously false.  For instance, I was watching a television program the other night when a commercial for Skittles came on.  There's a guy who is shown milking a giraffe, who has taken a lick out of a rainbow.  But what comes out of the giraffe is Skittles.  The guy takes a handful of the Skittles and laughs while the voice over says "Discover the Rainbow - Taste the Rainbow".  Obviously this commercial is suggesting that a) giraffes can actually lick rainbows, and 2) a person can actually milk a giraffe, and d) a milked giraffe who licks a rainbow will produce a handful of Skittles that you can eat and laugh while doing so.  If that were true, I'd be the first one to laugh.  But it isn't true.  It's ridiculously false!

Okay, before you think that I'm off a bit and been sequestered apart from being around normal people, I know it's only a commercial.  I get it that it's not supposed to be true.  It's just supposed to help you remember that Skittles are fun.  I guess it worked because I remember that much.

I share this as an example because I wonder if the resurrection of Jesus didn't take a while for people to really come to believe.  We've been exposed to this amazing story and we believe it - hands down.  But to those first persons who heard it, it could have sounded like an amazing story, but how to believe it?  Were it not for the firsthand eyewitness testimony of the disciples, I can only imagine it might have sounded dubious to some (see Thomas' story).  They believed because Jesus has appeared to them - more than once or twice.  They knew it to be true.  They believed in His resurrection because they had seen him.

So, my friends, how do we believe in something we cannot see?  If that is ever our question, let's stop for a moment and pay attention to this lesson: we cannot see (for example) a coronavirus without the help of some microscope of some sort.  For argument's sake, let's agree that we cannot see it.  But we cannot deny it is there because of the effect it has had upon our world.  It's presence has changed people's lives, altered our current norms, and given us a surreal sense of life right now.  Further, we are not even certain when we will get back to the new normal.  All because of something many of us cannot see, but we know it is there.

When it comes to faith and believing, we choose to believe for many personal reasons.  They are all valid.  They are all important to each person.  There is one undeniable fact that has always been the constant since Jesus appeared before the disciples one last time and ascended into heaven: the impact Jesus' resurrection has made on the world since it happened is unparalleled.  His victory over death has made all the difference in the lives of millions of people over the past nearly two thousand years.

We grow to trust in the stories that have been handed down from the generations of believers from years and years past.  We grow to trust in the promises of God because we've seen the evidence of them in our lives.  Our belief in God, in Jesus, in His resurrection, the presence of His Spirit and countless other things that have impacted our lives continues to be strengthened all along our journey.

I'm telling you, if there was ever a story where Jesus made giraffes milk Skittles, I'd believe it!

Discover the resurrection!  Believe the resurrection!