Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wasted Opportunities

I've been getting ready for the Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Sunrise services.and Easter Sunday services.  I sometimes wonder in these busy days how I can be a better manager of my time.  Andy Stanley's series Time of Your Life (which I have been lifting up here these past few days) has some really good things to offer in response to this concern in his third of five installments.  He talks about compounding minutes.  

He suggests three things about time that we already know but we tend to ignore that you wish you hadn't ignored.  Here is his first point: there is cumulative value to investing small amounts of time in certain activities over a long period.  Just give certain things a little bit of time pays off a big dividend in the long run.  Whether it is taking time with family, spouse, physical fitness, practiving any sport of musical instrument matters.  It matters deeply when we invest small periods of time in worthwhile things.  I read somewhere that in order to change a behavior pattern someone has to do the thing that he or she wants to change over 21 days before it takes hold.  So little investments of time make a difference.

Stanley's second point is neglect is cumulative as well.  If you don't pay attention to some aspect of your life over the course of time, the effect from that neglect makes a negative impact on your life.  We cannot ignore the important things of our lives and expect those areas to flourish and be dynamic.  Not doing so can be hazardous to your health, well being, spiritual growth and 

His final point: there is no cumulative value to the random things we opt for over the important things.  When we add up the wasted efforts over the things that we could have been doing, they add up to zip as far as value is concerned.  The key is the random things.  It's fine to be spontaneous, but sometimes we need to be more intentional and plan to use our time much more wisely.

He stresses that we need to make the most of every opportunity with our time.  

Take a look at how Andy Stanley phrases this entire concern:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Guitar Lessons Made Easy

I was just taking a few moments to practice my guitar lesson for today.  I have been working on the key of D.  The chart at my left shows where my fingers are supposed to go.  My problems begin when I try to strum the chord and make sure my fingers are covering all of the strings all of the time. 

From what I can tell so far, learning how to play the guitar is going to take a lot of practice, a lot of pain (my fingers are too soft - the guitar strings leave a deep imprint in my fingers - #isthatnormal?), and a lot of patience.  I think having some kind of background in music is helpful, but I  know that there is a lot of work yet to do.

Now of course I can make a comparison to learning how to play the guitar to how we walk in our faith (#youcouldseethatcoming).  Allow me to take some of the key things I've learned about what it takes to play the guitar and apply it to how I can grow in my faith.  First of all, there is the obvious: it takes practice.  Like learning anything, we need to find ways to become better at what we do and one way to do that is to practice.  Certainly in faith we can see that practicing faith helps us keep our focus and the more we do it, the better we become at it.

Secondly, we need to be able to listen to hear what we are playing.  Listening can be a lost art in this day and age.  If we desire to grow our faith, somewhere along the line we are going to have to learn to listen to someone or something to help us learn.

Thirdly, we need to pace ourselves.  In playing the guitar, learning a new key or a new song isn't going to happen very easily if we start off with the speed of the original song.  We may need to slow ourselves down and work toward getting faster.  In faith learning, we can sometimes get ahead of ourselves and things can only get messier for us.  Go at a pace that works for you and trust that God will keep us in the race.

Just a few things that I've learned while learning to play the guitar.  I've got a long way to go...

Sunday, March 20, 2016

To the Four

Today is Palm Sunday - a day in the life of the church to recall Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  It also kicks off the themes for Holy Week as Christians everywhere walk with Jesus to the cross of Calvary, ultimately celebrating his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

I love this time of year.  Always have.  As I've written before, I know there is a great deal of tradition and experience that I bring to that understanding.  The tradition is of course from my parents and the things we did to observe these high and holy days.  The experience is the direct result of those events and the meaning that they have given me.  But there are two other things which are pretty important here as well.  There is reason and Scripture.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, called this the Quadrilateral: Scripture, reason, tradition, experience.

What I really like about Wesley's thought here is how the four are connected.  Let me paint the picture of how I understand these to be working together.  Imagine you are a painter and you are getting ready to paint a picture.  You need the easel, canvas, brushes, paints, and other supplies.  You also bring to the picture a sense of how color and shapes go together.  Whether you are an novice or a professional doesn't matter all that much, but those who have done this a time or two seem more proficient at it.

With that image in mind, here is how I see the Quadrilateral working together.  Scripture is the primary source and standard for the Christian - it is the canvas upon which we paint our faith lives.  Tradition is the witness of development of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures.  Experience is the Christ follower's understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life. Through reason the individual Christian brings to bear on the Christian faith discernment.  The last three only make sense if they are within the context of Scripture.  Anything that is beyond that doesn't belong on the canvas of life.

That being said, I generally don't sit down and analyze if each of these are present in my decision making (although I could) - it happens more as a framework of who I hope to be.  Now, I don't always get it right.  Don't make the assumption that just because I think I have this way of being that I don't make mistakes.  I do - more than I care to admit.  But I really do try to filter everything through these four dynamics.

Perhaps this works for you as well.  Or maybe you haven't really given this any thought.  Let me encourage you to consider what it means to grow in Christ through these four points.

That would be my prayer for you as well.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Wild Rice and Air Pudding

I'm sitting here in my office at the church following up on all of the last minute details before tomorrow's Palm Sunday worship service.  I've always has a special place in my heart for Palm Sunday and the entirety of Holy Week, including Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and of course, Easter Sunday.  Growing up in northern Minnesota, my family's activities during this time of year were always focused on church.  My mother, who was the church's volunteer choir director, was busy preparing for the special music the choir would sing.  Of course, she was always getting ready for the Easter Sunday dinner that we would have, usually with my grandmother Lempi, who lived in Deer River, Minnesota.  

My grandmother was a stout Finnish woman who didn't take any nonsense from anyone, including her grandchildren.  Her husband, whose first name "Ivy" is my middle name,passed away at a fairly young age (by today's standards) in 1965.  I remember him as a very quiet man - my guess is that he didn't know what to do with ten kids running around his house in Deer River.  

Anyway, my grandmother would make two dishes which I always looked forward to - one was a wild rice hotdish (we called it hotdish, not a casserole).  Deer River was a center for wild rice production and my grandmother was a cook in the local school district and a restaurant for most of her working life.  Made out of wild rice and some kind of meat, it was always good.  I think I recall we had this dish at Easter, but it might have been Christmas as well.

The second dish was more about her ethnic upbringing.  She made a Finnish dessert called "ilmapuuro", which translated is "air pudding" (at least that is what I've always believed).  It was made out of some kind of juice (cranberry or fruit or grape juice), sugar, and farina or Cream of Wheat.  As much as going to church during Holy Week was a tradition in those days, so was the wild rice hotdish and the famous ilmapuuro.  I'd also have to give a shout out to my mom for the hot cross buns she always made.

My grandmother Lempi passed away a decade before I went into the ministry.  I sometimes think I'd have liked to have heard her thoughts on my career choice.  I know she wouldn't have minced any words.  Her response would have been straightforward and true.  That's just who she was.

Sometimes, meaningful holidays are made even more meaningful when injected with simple family traditions like these.  I'd be willing to bet that you've got some traditions in your house that help you remember the holiday gatherings.  We don't ever forget the reason for those gatherings - remembering the Good Friday sacrifice that Jesus made for each of us along with the hope and promise of everlasting life on Resurrection Sunday.  We don't forget those precious gifts from God.

We treasure these gifts, along with the precious memories of days gone by.  I hope this year, your Holy Week willed be filled with God's loving grace and memorable family moments.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The First Rock from The Son

The seconds - the minutes - the days are all as full as they can be.  Isn't that true?  Have you ever had a moment when you realized that you cannot have one more thing piled on top of everything else you are doing?  I know that I have.  More than likely, all of us have had a moment like that.  

Andy Stanley hits home with this point in his second installment of time and what happens when the time we use is at a capacity, when we simply cannot find the time for anything else.  His basic premise is that "priority determines capacity".  You can watch that video by clicking on the video image below.  But don't go there yet!  Finish this first, then go there because I'm certain that after hearing what Andy has to say, you won't even think to come back to this article to read my final thoughts.  

I'm trying to suggest Andy's premise - priority determines capacity.  What is really most important to you?  Who is really most important to you?  I love his message and I don't want you to miss it.  But finish my few meager thoughts and then go ahead and enjoy his discussion on prioritizing time.  The video is about 33 minutes, give or take.

I certainly agree with his premise, especially when he begins to talk about putting God first.  God is the first rock we need to place in our life.  Everything else surrounds that rock.  Everything else will blend in around that rock.  All too often we allow other things to go first.  Our agendas.  Our families.  Our jobs.  Our cars.  Our sports teams.  They get top billing while God is there, but down the line in importance.  This is important - we need to place God first in our lives.   First.  Not second or a distant third, or even further down the line.  First.

Matthew 6:33 says is best - "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."  Everything folds in around placing God first.

I understand that we live in a busy world with important things to do.  But if we elect to place God in any other place but first, it's just going to be a rockier road than it needs to be.  Okay - I've said what I wanted to say in the time I've set aside to do this... watch Andy and learn from him.  He's a terrific speaker.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Time Keeps on Slippin... Slippin... Slippin...

Growing up I listened to a lot of bands playing 70's and 80's rock music.  One of them, The Steve Miller Band, had a nice modern sound and came up with "Fly Like an Eagle" in 1977.  This song was to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the week of March 12, 1977.  

It wasn't until recently I came across the actual lyrics for the song.  I have to confess, I didn't know a lot of the lyrics for those songs - we didn't have the Internet to Google them and I never did purchase the cassettes, preferring to listen to them on the radio.  In fact, when I finally found out what some of the words were, it really changed the nature of what I thought the song was about.  Take, for example, the 1997 song from the album The Cranberries put out (which is a group from Ireland - nice to mention that on St. Patrick's Day) called "Kiss Me".  For some reason, I always thought that key phrase to the song was "Can't Sleep" - turns out they were singing "Kiss Me" - shows how much I know about music.

When I had the chance to read through the lyrics of the Steve Miller song, I was surprised to hear the humanitarian focus from the third verse - look at the lyrics, chorus one, chorus two and verse one:

Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future
Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future

I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I'm free
Oh, Lord, through the revolution

Feed the babies
Who don't have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin' in the street
Oh, oh, there's a solution

How often (in time) have we actually taken the time to reach out to the less fortunate and help feed them, clothe them, house them?  I know, it's a big task.  But Jesus calls us to it.  From a conversation Jesus was having with his disciples, reported in Luke 3:11, Jesus says “If you have two coats, give one away.  Do the same with your food.” -  taken from The Message.  The imperative is there.  Our United Methodist Conference has these imperatives listed as "Grow in Love of God and Neighbor" (the Great Commandment found in Matthew 22:37-40), "Reach New People" (the Great Commission located in Matthew 28:19-20), and "Heal a Broken World" (discovered in the Great Proclamation from Luke 4:16-21).  

If you are involved with these three (especially the last one), praise God for it.  I know that in all of the churches I have served, missions and people have certainly been trying to accomplish these things.  But if not, somehow we just need to find the time to actually do these things.  

Because time keeps on slippin... slippin... slippin...

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Time After Time

For the past few weeks, I've been on vacation.  Nancy and I traveled to Gainesville, Virginia where we visited with our daughter and her family.  It was a great time to be together, but it also went by so fast.  Why does time seem to fly by so quickly, especially it seems, as one grows older?

I've heard it said that "time flies when you're having fun."  I used to work with a colleague who (whenever someone would say that phrase) would ask the question "do you know what the frogs say?"  Of course no one knows what frogs would say, so everyone says "No, what do the frogs say?" to which my colleague says "Time's fun when you're having flies".  I never realized that this saying came from that well known entertainer Kermit the Frog.  Hmmmm.  It's also never easy being green.

But time does seem to escape us, especially when we are least expecting it to.  For example, when we are waiting for something or someone, it seems like forever and a day until that moment happens or that person arrives.  The anticipation creates a sense of time slowing down.  We cannot wait and as a result, time seems to stand still.  But once that person arrives or the something happens, it's over in a flash.  Where did the time go? we wonder.  Well, the anticipation is over, so now we resume normal time and in the excitement of the moment and compared to the waiting, time seems to fly right by.  Ask yourself - isn't this true in my life?

So the relative question to address our human condition is this "What are we planning to do with the time that we have, no matter how quickly it goes by or how slowly it drags on?"  Andy Stanley has a terrific series on time - here is the intro to that series.  It's about 38 minutes and it is a fascinating look at time and what we are called to do with time. 

Watch it - if you can take the time to do so.  We'll continue the conversation - next time...

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Earlier this morning, our church members listened to people telling their stories of change and transformation.  The Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir came to First UMC in Worthington and with the Emmanuel UMC and some other members of the community, we heard this group of folks talk about the struggle to overcome addictions and pain and abuse and darkened lives.  It was a phenomenal 45 minutes.  After it was over, the choir sat with people from Worthington and ate dinner with them, continuing the conversation about how this program is helping them to save their life.

I'm not sure that I can always know exactly what these folks are going through, only because my experience of transformation doesn't sound as traumatic as theirs does. Maybe I'm missing a point here on what transformation really is.  Perhaps not so much of where one has been but where one is going... who one has been but who one is becoming.  In that I can see how I've changed dramatically in the past 30 years or so - from being focused on self to fixing my gaze on others.  From living apart from growing in faith to being strengthened daily by God's Word.  In these things, I have changed - been transformed from the person I used to be.  

The folks in this program demonstrate very clearly how blessed we are when we realize that the author of our lives can help us be transformed into people who know they are worthy, loved, cared for, and blessed.  

Check out their stories here and perhaps you will feel that blessing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Guitar Man

I mentioned in the last post that I had purchased a guitar at the church rummage sale for $5.  It isn't the best guitar, but it might be okay for a beginner like myself.  I haven't yet decided on the specific plan to learn how to play this instrument.  I think it might be good to take a few lessons from somebody who knows how to do it.  I downloaded an app that helped me tune the strings and believe me, it sounds a lot better.  But I might need to invest in an instrument that has a bit more going for it and doesn't have that musty smell (#beeninthebasementforyears - #wheresthelysolwhenyouneedit)  It's something that I've always had in the back recesses of my mind and suddenly, for some reason, now it seems to be important to learn how to play it.

I draw some encouragement from the example my father set.  One memory I shall always treasure is the sound of my dad's guitar - a Gretsch model - with its gentle sounds and melodious blend of chords softly invading the night's stillness.  From what I know, he taught himself how to play it.  When he retired, he set about trying to teach others for a time and had some marginal success.  I wish I would have paid more attention to how my dad learned and perhaps how he could have taught me.  But, that wasn't where my heart was at any time in my youth.

Isn't that a part of growing up?  Learning that I could have paid more attention to things that my parents did or could have learned had I not been so wrapped up in my own agenda?  The other day I had a conversation with my son who said that as he became father for the first time, it was as if some of the things that I was all about clicked for him - the light bulb went on.  Nearly overnight, he gets me much more than he knew.  Just because something changed in his life that caused him to look back for a moment and realize that there is redeeming value in what parents are all about.

Exodus 20:12 offers great wisdom in all of this:"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."  
It's a commandment. It's not a suggestion.  It's not a recommendation.  It's a command - an imperative.  We do this because it's right and it's good and we are commanded by the Lord to do it.  Now, I'm not saying that learning how to play something that your parents played is the end all.  There are countless numbers of things my dad and mom taught me growing up.  I've embraced some of those things and incorporated them into the way by which I live.  Of course, I didn't always do that - I had my rebellious moments.

But in the rhythm of life, there's always a time to learn something new.  It's a nice thing to know that it's never too late to realize that you can learn from those who know you pretty well and love you the best.   

Friday, February 12, 2016

Something Old - Something New

For the past few days, I've marveled at the number of volunteers who have come to the church fellowship hall, helping the First United Methodist Women's group prepare for the annual Rummage Sale which begins today from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and on Saturday starting at 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.  

It's been a joy to watch people give of their time to help others.  It's also been overwhelming to witness the amount of items given to support this mission fundraiser.  So many items from shirts to shoes, Christmas decorations to kitchen items, books to toys... many have donated these items because they can.  Not only that, but a large crew of people are present to help others get what they need, carry it out for them, and just be in friendship and fellowship with these area neighbors.  The proceeds from the rummage sale will be donated - 100% of the funds raised will go to help others in various missions across this nation and the world.  A lot of energy expended to God's glory.

I did something quite unusual for me.  I picked up a used guitar for $5, thinking that I would like to learn how to play that instrument.  I never do things like that, but who knows?  I don't plan on becoming the next Carlos Santana or Chet Atkins (my dad's all time favorite guitar player) but I might learn something about myself.  I might be reminded that I am never beyond being able to try something new.  I might learn that with God I can do all things, even learn how to play a new instrument. Then again, I might learn to not give up my day job.   

What matters is that we be open to try.  That we would have a spirit of adventure in life - that we would be so willing to trust in the Lord that he would lead and guide us no matter what pathway we have decided to chose, especially if that pathway encompasses a new challenge, learning a new skill or moving from one chapter of life to another.  You see, they are all connected.  God is always in the midst of the next new thing.

In fact, He's also in the midst of our old things as well. Just check out a rummage sale and you'll see.

"See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."
- Isaiah 43:19

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Perfect Swing

Every so often in the midst of this cold winter weather I find myself thinking of the warmer days and the perfect golf swing.  The perfect golf swing delivers the proper club head speed, swing plane and impact zone that propels the golf ball exactly where you plan it would go - right down the middle and a good distance down the fairway every time.  That is the perfect golf swing.

It's a swing that is in my thoughts, not usually my golf bag.  Sure, every so often I can catch a close to perfect shot and that keeps me coming back to the game.  But the game of golf is spent dealing with and adjusting to the swings that are not so perfect.

So it is with life and the question of how can we lose our fire for God?  Oft times we take swings of faith at the challenges of life - sometimes they are good swings, perhaps even perfect ones.  the good to perfect ones usually get us to where we hope to go.  But we have to admit that sometimes (maybe most times) our efforts fall short and we become discouraged and downcast when our less that perfect attempts find a hazard or go out of bounds.

One of the things that can dampen our fire for God is when this happens.  When our best efforts fall short and we struggle with how to get back on track.  It's hard.  It's difficult.  It makes life challenging.  It's not easy.

The birth of Jesus comes as the remedy to this problem: a Babe born of an unwed mother – no earthly paternal father. Born in a stable – a place of poverty and uncleanness – animals, dirt, feces, bad smells.  The offspring of Galileans, a people who were not respected or admired even by their fellow Jews.  A child raised in obscurity in a remote corner of a poor land under the heel of Roman Domination.  How less than perfect do you want?

That’s really the point: our faith does not require us to become perfect to attain merit or favor from our Creator.  Through the teachings of the New Testament, we see that perfection is not a prerequisite for entering into a relationship with God.  Instead, perfection is the outcome of our relationship with God.  We are perfected by our faith.  We do not need to do anything to merit it, other than to believe.

This means you are accepted, and acceptable, just as you are.  You are loved, and lovable, just as you are.  You are valued, and valuable, just as you are.

Don't worry about always trying to live the perfect life.  God has you covered.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Soul on Fire

"Tell you what -
over the next few posts,
let's take a look at what it means
to be on fire in our faith."

That's where I left the end of yesterday's blog.  Let's start with one verse that says a great deal about what it means to have a heart for God that is on fire.  Romans 12:11 - "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."  Words like zeal.. fervor... serving.  They mean something when it comes to demonstrating a heart that is on fire for the Lord. 

Zeal - great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective.
Fervor - intense and passionate feeling.
Serving - to be useful to somebody in achieving or satisfying something

We can't sleepwalk through life, especially when it comes to our faith.  I once attended the Dale Carnegie Course for Public Speaking and one of the great lines we learned in that class was "Act enthusiastic and you'll be enthusiastic."  Granted that axiom may be designed for the business climate, but it holds true in every venue of life.  We may not always feel excited about all things in life and perhaps we might decide to withhold our energetic personality.  Somehow, we need to fight through the lethargy of daily life and demonstrate that we are excited about what our faith has in store for us!  

The second part of that verse is about the depth of that energy - what is the emotional response that undergirds our energy?  What fuels that inner joy that can sustain the enthusiasm when life gets hard?  It's our fervor.  It's that intensity of the emotion - the love that we feel from God's amazing love and grace.  His love and grace matters - it makes a difference.  

As a result of all of these two things, then serving the Lord will be the most natural thing we can do.  Doing all that we can to help others know why we are excited about our faith is about serving God.

Tomorrow, we'll look at what can douse the flames of our zeal and passion.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

On Fire

As we say goodbye to January, we settle in for the last run of winter's icy grip for the next two months (at least, we hope it will be the as short as the next two months).  According to the Groundhog Day prediction, winter has seen its best.  Spring is on the way. 

One of the coolest (no pun intended) things I've seen is the Ice Castles that are constructed across the Midwest.  I've held a fascination with them since first hearing about them.  The way they are constructed - the amount of time and money required to put them together.  It's a remarkable event.  Looking at them makes me want to turn on the fireplace.

Who doesn't love an open fireplace?   There is a therapy in the flickering light, the crackle of fire, the smell of burning wood, the direct heat of a cheerful flame.  Maybe we don't have such a fireplaces, but God has always had His fireplaces.  The burning bush, the brazen altar of the tabernacle, Mount Carmel, and His Pentecost people -- these are just a few of God’s fireplaces.  The only fireplaces He has today in all the world are the hearts of His people....We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The fire of the Holy Spirit is to burn in the fireplaces of our own hearts

I wouldn't say that I think the church of today is on fire.  We are warm, I believe.  We are trying to do the things we need to do.  But we aren't really on fire.  I can only say that because I think we would know if we were on fire.  We would sense it.  We would know it.

Tell you what - over the next few posts, let's take a look at what it means to be on fire in our faith.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Super (?) Bowl 50

Both teams are getting ready for the 50th
Super Bowl being held in San Francisco this Sunday... I don't particularly care who wins, but I only care about how they win.  Let me tell you what will drive me to watch reruns of "The Reluctant Astronaut" if this happens before halftime.  

Cam Newton is a phenomenal quarterback.  He can do it all - throw laser accurate passes, evade charging behemoth linemen who are faster than snack food disappearing at a diet program meeting, he can run and he is huge (6'5" tall).  He is an amazing athlete who has captured the hearts of every one of the Carolina Panthers fans.  But Newton does one thing that I don't like - whenever he scores a touchdown, he pretends that he is pulling his shirt off like Superman does in the comic book series.  His nickname is actually Superman, which makes sense with respect to the actions that he does.

The reason this troubles me is that football is a team game.  I'm sure that the Carolina fans and Newton's teammates don't really care how he celebrates a touchdown.  I'm certain they want to see him do it many times this Sunday.  But as a team game, I just think that others were instrumental in getting you there if and when you score.  

Maybe I am just old fashioned.  Vikings coach Bud Grant used to fine his players $500 (back when an NFL player actually cared about $500) for spiking the football in the end zone after they scored a touchdown.  He didn’t want them to do it.  He would tell his players, “Act like you’ve been there before.”  Robert Smith (a great running back for the Vikings in the early 90's) would simply flip the ball to the official and head to his team's side of the field.

Now, that's classy.  He's been there before - I would say to myself.  And he will get there again.  Yes, there are many players in today's NFL who have different celebrations in the end zone - Viking players included.  I never said I liked those either.  The one thing I appreciate about football is it is a team game.  Let the team celebrate.

By the way, the team with the most points at the end of the game will more than likely be the Super Bowl winner - quote from John Madden (actually it was Frank Caliendo imitating John Madden - watch his Late Night with Letterman appearance here - pretty good stuff).  My sentimental choice is Denver.  But I'm afraid that Newton's "super powers" might prevail.

"Look!  In the end zone!  It's a bird!  It's a plane!  Nope - it's just Cam Newton."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Blowing Wind

As I mentioned yesterday, the snowstorm that rolled through the area was met with an indignant attitude from the people from this region.  How else can we explain over 370 car crashes last night?  It can only be the arrogance of drivers who are oblivious to the fact that 8 to 10 inches of snow means "SLOW DOWN"! 

So I had a day to myself.  No traveling.  No meetings.  No sermon preparation.  Just a day to spend to myself.  Nancy was called into work early so there it was.   I'm not certain that I feel as though I was productive at all.  I guess I am so task driven that I need something before me in order to feel as though I've accomplished something.  All I did (really) was shovel my daughter's driveway and entryway several times - so that now it looks like snow never came.  The picture to the left will verify it) not that I needed verification - there is my task driven self again!)

Of course I am thinking of making a comparison to cleaning a driveway full of new fallen snow to some aspect of life.  I just can't help myself.  It doesn't matter what happens during the day - I can make some kind of connection of that event to my faith. 

I remember clearing some snow in Norcross, Minnesota for the first time while serving the Faith United Methodist Church in that small western Minnesota town.  No one told me about the winds of the prairie.  Where I grew up, as it began to snow you went out and shoveled because the snow came straight down and stayed down.  On the prairie, all of the snow you blow or shovel somehow ends up right where you started, which is what happened.  I waited until the wind stopped before clearing the walkway again.

My faith comparison wasn't really a stretch - the wind of the Holy Spirit blows where it will and we do not know how or why, but that it does.  So embrace the wind of the Spirit and go with the direction the Spirit is blowing you (see John 3:8).

That's just been my life over the past 26 years plus.  I try to go wherever the wind of the Spirit is blowing me.  It takes some discipline to pay attention to that direction and I won't tell you that I've been stellar in following it every time.  I've had my rebellious moments when I thought I knew better than the wind.  I was wrong every time.  But I've also had some moments when I've paid attention and in those moments, God was right.

Every single time.

So, pay attention to the wind of the Spirit.  Allow it to blow through your life to where it wants you to go.  You won't ever regret it.

(Incidentally, check out this article about Minnesotans and the snow.
You might agree with some of it.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Reflections from a Snowy Lane

My daughter Liz and her husband Ryan live on a street in Rochester, Minnesota that lived up to its name today... Snowy Lane.  From this morning we got about 8 to 10 inches of snow.  I took a picture of their street sign just to verify the street name and the snowy day.
Today was a great reminder of what makes a Minnesotan special - or maybe different from most other people in the world.  8 to 10 inches of snow?  No big deal.  In fact, it's almost an annoyance to most of us.  We can't believe that school has been cancelled for the second day in a row.  We shovel two or three times because we don't have a snow blower.  If we do have a snow blower, we might decide to help others because we just want to be helpful. 

We are ready to make fun of anyone in the nation who freaks at the mention of a snowstorm and we scoff at the wind chills.  Goodness, did anyone see former Viking coach Bud Grant flip the coin at the Vikings playoff game earlier in January?  Coldest day of the year and there is Bud, wearing a short-sleeved shirt - daring anyone to say something about the cold.  I'm sure the Seahawks took notice.  That is what it is like to be from this state.  We hold a fierce pride to winter and all of the stuff winter presents.  We'd spit at it if it didn't freeze on us first.

8 to 10 inches of snow?  That is nothing to us!  15 degrees below zero?  Big wow!  Let's grill on the barbeque!

Before I add anything further, I'm guessing that anyone from Wisconsin, either of the Dakotas, or perhaps even Iowa could say the same thing about their states.  But I still hold that there is something distinctively different about a native Minnesotan.  You can take the person out of the state, but it's hard to take the state out of the person.  Being a native from the state goes with you everywhere you go.  You cannot escape your destiny (or is it density?).

In some ways, I wonder why we haven't got the same intense linkage with being a follower of Jesus.  I'm not saying that we aren't passionate about following Him, but it doesn't seem to be the most natural thing we do.  We have to work at it a little harder.  Perhaps that's natural.  But I really wonder why we can't have it as a part of our DNA, like being a Minnesotan, or someone who identifies passionately with any other state in the union.   Why isn't it just a part of our framework?  Just a part of who are?  Part of who we claim to be?  Naturally...

I believe I know one part of that answer and it is this: because evil doesn't want us to feel like it is natural and easy.  As a result, so many little storms in life are hurled at us all the time: temptations, sin, greed, lust, jealousy, envy, rudeness, and just being mean to one another.  At some point in our lives, we must come to the realization that these things hold no power over us.  These things cannot impact us in relationship to our identity in Jesus.  Until we come to that moment of clarity, life might always be a struggle.  It will always be a battle.  We will always feel like we are on the outside looking in.

A little temptation and greed?  That is nothing to us!  Lust and jealousy?  Big wow - not part of who we are!  Rudeness and sin?  Forget about it!

That's what it must be like to be a true follower of Jesus... at least, that's what I think as I look out on Snowy Lane and 8 to 10 inches of snow. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

When Tires Go Flat

Today, Nancy and I planned on spending the day together in the Twin Cities.  Initially, we were going to see "Sister Act" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, but didn't know that the theatre is closed on Mondays.  Evidently the cast and crew and support staff of this entire production need to take a day off in order to recharge their batteries.  They need new air in their tires.

So we went to one of our old haunts when we used to live in Lakeland... Ruby Tuesdays restaurant in Stillwater.  We had a nice dinner - used our 20% off coupon and decided to wash Nancy's car.  (It is her car... she lets me drive it every so often).  So we went to a car wash with the older style tire guide.  You know the type, where you move your car slowly toward the center of the guide until the lights scream silently at you.... "STOP! STOP! STOP!"  Unfortunately I was outside of the tire guide and drove over a corner of the guide at an awkward angle.  

Nancy's car has an advanced information panel that informs you when the tire pressure changes significantly.  Almost immediately after driving over the guide, the tire information screen popped on, showing us that our right front tire pressure was going down... rapidly!  21... 18... 15... 11.  No doubt I had punctured the tire.  We finished the car wash and drove one block to a Holiday Stationstore to fill it with "free air" (a term that has always troubled me - who supplies them with the free air?). 

I pulled the car to a parking lot area and started to do something I haven't done in years... change a flat tire.  I was doing very well until I couldn't get the tire off from the wheel hub.  Evidently tires can be stubborn that way.  So we called roadside assistance and about an hour later some burly young man with a brightly colored tattoo on both arms showed up.  He jacked up the car a bit more with his hydraulic jack, kicked the tire with the back of his boot twice and the tire popped right off.  He secured the replacement donut and we were on our way, driving the recommended 50 miles per hour all the way back to Rochester.

It was a normal day for Nancy and I.  For the past six plus months, we haven't had many normal days. Our time spent together has been a few days here and there ... usually each week.  With Nancy working in Rochester and me at the churches in Worthington, any time we get to be together is precious, but it isn't normal.  Sometimes, I yearn for a normal day.

Romans 12:1-2 speaks about placing your life before the Lord everyday.  The Message says it like this ... Romans 12:1-2 "So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering."  

By this measure, a normal everyday routine looks more like what I try to do everyday. Because life isn't about me.  It's about a loving Lord who cares about me so much that he gave me a precious gift of everlasting life.

A gift that puts air in the flat tires of my life.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Proverbs: Day 31 - Things Your Mother Taught You - [Chapter 31]

You might think that Solomon would save the best for last... that this final chapter would include the best and wisest sayings that he could offer.  Instead, we get the sayings of someone named King Lemuel (and actually not even that because these are the things that Lemuel's mother taught him.  Now, I'm not suggesting that there isn't anything significant or important about this chapter.  Lemuel's mother offers sound wisdom on how to live one's life - with respect, integrity, and staying away from wild women.  

I'm not certain if verses 10-31 are from Lemuel, his mother or Solomon.  Nevertheless, the entire section is about a wife of noble character.  Whoever is writing this has set the bar high.  It describes a wife who is always looking to bring good to her husband, working hard at providing food for her family, planning and investing in her family's resources, reaching out to the needy, making clothes, and having the ability to speak with wisdom.  

When I mentioned that whoever was writing this set the bar high, I really mean that the bar is set high for women, with no mention of the expectations for a husband.  I've mentioned this in a article before this one that we have to remember the time in which these words were written.   Women were considered lower class people with specific roles to perform.  Men had expectations - just different ones.  There are places in scripture which speak of the roles and responsibilities for men as well as women.  So before I get out there too much, I must remember that as well.

I believe it's important to consider how all of us fill certain roles and responsibilities with care, respect, integrity and love for one another.  

Perhaps that wisdom came from my mother as well...

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Proverbs: Day 30 - My Daily Bread - [Chapter 30]

So out of nowhere comes this man named Agur.  Who is he and why is his stuff presented toward the end of Solomon's wisdom - you ask?  Great question.

I've read through this first section a couple of times.  Agur is an unknown to nearly every biblical source known to man.  So is his father Jakeh.  And the person he is communicating with (Ithiel) is not on the best known biblical characters list.  So why is his "utterance" here?  What does it mean?

Agur is speaking of his insights regarding life.  From what he writes, he was weary - worn out (verse 1), he did not consider himself wise (verses 2–4), and believed God’s words to be true (verses 5–6).  He asks God to remove lying from him and give him neither riches nor poverty (verses 7–9).

Agur's simple yet profound observations on life reveal some interesting aspects of this unknown person.  For example, he realized God’s wisdom was greater than his own.  He understood the temptation of riches.  He knew many aspects of life and of God’s creation would remain a mystery beyond his understanding.  And Agur knew the importance of controlling anger, avoiding foolishness, and living for God.  He encourages his reader to refrain from a life that dishonors God and results in judgment.  He promotes living life with a proper fear of God and concern for other people.

With this in mind, he seems to complement Solomon's key thoughts regarding attaining wisdom, even if the mystery remains of how his words wound up in one of the final chapters of Proverbs.  

Personally, I was drawn to verse 8 - "Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread."

Whether your name is Agur or Solomon or Daren, these are fine words to live by.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Proverbs: Day 29 - Loosen Up! - [Chapter 29]

"Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed
- without remedy."

- Proverbs 29:1

Stubborn (stiff necked) people.  I've heard that phrase more than once in the Bible.  Pretty sure I know what it means, but it's helpful to learn a bit more about the origin of the phrase.  

Literally, the word means "hard of neck".  In those days, the plow was usually drawn by two oxen. The plowman needed one hand to guide the plow, he carried in the other a light pole, shod with an iron spike.  With this he would prick the oxen upon the hind legs to increase their speed, and then would touch upon the neck to signal the oxen to turn, or to keep a straight course when deviating.  If an ox was hard to control or stubborn, it was termed to be "hard of neck," or stiff-necked.  This phrase is used in the Bible to express the stubborn, untractable spirit of a people not responsive to the guiding of their God.  

They are unwilling to turn.

Stubborn people are unwilling to turn from their point of view.  But in our politically correct world, we allow everyone to hold their own perspective.  Solomon's wisdom suggests that these persons would be granted some leeway, but only up to a point.  At some moment, if they were unable to see the light of God's word and God's way, they would be destroyed without hesitation.  I'm not sure that this verse is talking about these persons being killed, because of the last two words - without remedy.  Once you are dead, there is no remedy - no need to even suggest a remedy.  

But a person can be destroyed in other ways - reputation, spirit, character - just to name a few.  The Message translation helps us here -   
"For people who hate discipline and only get more stubborn.
There’ll come a day when life tumbles in and they break,
but by then it’ll be too late to help them." 

The learning from this little bit of wisdom is for us to not be so adamant about our own agenda, but to embrace what God has in mind for us.  Don't get so narrow focused that you can't see how to turn around.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Proverbs: Day 28 - Absolute Power - [Chapter 28]

Solomon doesn't mince any words when he speaks of those who are rich or in power.  In fact, I need to be careful not to read so much into his wisdom sayings that speak in negative terms toward these persons that he believes those who are rich or in power will never amount to anything.  I don't believe that is his intention.  He does focus on a negative behavior pattern that can accompany the accumulation of wealth and power. 

Most of his sayings reflect on the dangers of taking advantage of the poor and those who are powerless.  What I don't hear as much are those rulers and persons in power who share their blessings or walk in right paths, even though they may have great power.  I actually do believe people can demonstrate those qualities even though they may have abundance.

It's easy for us to resonate with Solomon because we hear so much bad press for those who have and abuse power (rightfully so).  I've always been a glass-half-full kind of guy.  I look for the positives in these kinds of situations.  Sometimes that might be hard to find. I know that having money can change a person (although I can't speak from personal experience because of my own financial condition).  But it shouldn't disqualify someone from being able to be nice just because they have money.  

The same should be true for persons in positions of power.  It all depends on how one uses his or her influence or position - for good or for bad?  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Proverbs: Day 27 - Boasting About Tomorrow - [Chapter 27]

Chapter 27, the first verse: "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring."  I've also heard it translated as "you do not know what tomorrow may bring".  

Great verse to begin the conversation!  The first thing I want to know more about is this: what does Solomon mean by "boast about tomorrow"?  Yes, we know what it means to boast - by definition, to boast means to talk with excessive pride and self-satisfaction about one's achievements, possessions, or abilities.  I'm not quite convinced of how that definition relates to Solomon's wisdom for tomorrow.

I know that humans have limitations about what we can know about the future.  Based on our past experience, we can know with a high degree of certainty that the sun will come up tomorrow morning.  Our weather departments can predict what kind of weather we can expect the next day (which helps in our planning for the next day).  Political parties are banking on reports and trends and surveys that point to which candidate has the edge.  Currently, the sports world is making their best estimate on who will win the Super Bowl in February.  Yes, we are limited, but we still can't help ourselves from speculating about what tomorrow may bring.

But is speculating the same as boasting?

Sometimes, it's helpful to turn to a different translation or paraphrase.  The Message has been a resource that can offer insights into verses written long ago in the language of today.  Listen to how The Message reports chapter 27 verse 1 of Proverbs:
"Don’t brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow;
you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow."

Now, that seems a bit more helpful.  Brashly announcing what you are going to do tomorrow might set you up for failure.  I remember when Joe Namath was leading the New York Jets into Super Bowl he was responding to a comment made by someone in a news conference before the big game and he said "I've got news for you.  We're gonna win the game.  I guarantee it."  Sure enough, Broadway Joe led his upstart Jets to win Super Bowl III over the Baltimore Colts 16-7.  Namath obviously didn't read Proverbs 27:1 before making that statement.

But neither did the outside world that expected Baltimore to handily defeat New York.  They didn't know the first thing about tomorrow.  The point is to choose your words carefully, especially when you are ready to announce to the world what tomorrow might bring.

I'm guessing Namath would have never predicted he'd be wearing pantyhose for a television commercial!