By Kathy Bergquist

On May 18, 1972, a 10 – year – old girl’s life suddenly changed when she attempted to cross Hwy 7 in Hopkins. No one will ever know why little Becky went across while her friends hesitated on the shoulder. But the impact of the motorcycle left an indelible mark on Becky, the Larson family, and nearly all who crossed her path over the next 44 years. On April 2 nd last year, Becky passed away after a 2 – year battle with metastatic cancer.

From her early days, Becky was vibrant and energetic; she loved people -especially babies. When I was born, 3 year old Becky was jealous, but it didn’t last long. Becky quickly became an adoring second mother who, much to our mother’s chagrin, wouldn’t leave her baby sister alone.

Three years later Becky transferred that (s)mothering to baby brother David and it was my turn to be jealous. We were typical siblings – best friends and worst enemies. I was the adoring (and an- noying) little sister who followed Becky around, and Becky alternately loved and hated having little sister Kathy as a constant tag – a – long.

Our family moved often with Dad’s job -from Minneapolis to Iowa, to Michigan, to Hopkins, and then to the Netherlands in 1970. Becky collected friends and ac- tivities wherever we lived. She was active in Good News Club, Girl Scouts, and church. This picture of Becky in a tree at the Kuekenhof is a good depiction of her spirited, fun – loving, independent personality.

We returned from Europe and settled back in Hopkins in January of 1972. On a beautiful afternoon in May, Becky and some friends went shopping to get a gift for their 5 th grade teacher. We were waiting for her to come home when Becky’s best friend arrived at our door and told us Becky had been hit by a motorcycle. Mom sent David and me to stay with a neighbor while she ran to be with Becky. I don’t remember much after that, but in that instant all of our lives were changed. I didn’t know it at the time, but Becky would never walk or talk again. Becky was in the hospital for 9 months before coming home to live with nursing care for more than a year. Our youngest brother Charles was born 2 years after the accident and Becky could not mother him as she would have liked.

Those early years were difficult for all, but especially difficult for Becky. I believe there were many things she want- ed to do and say, but she couldn’t. At times her frustration understandably came out as anger when she couldn’t do or say the things she wanted to. Over the years she became much more content and accepting. Little Becky grew into a strong and determined woman.

Becky and KathyBecky loved deeply from a wheelchair and without words. One way she communicated her love was through hugs. She also communicated her love silently through smiles and joyful expressions. Becky could light up a room. At times she would vocalize her emotions – joy, laughter, frustration, even anger – and while she couldn’t express those emotions in words, anyone nearby had a good idea what she was feeling. A difficult memory is of Becky clearly expressing her dissatisfaction with a grunt and a swing of her arm when Mom said she wished she had breast cancer rather than Becky. Becky had a good life, surrounded by people she loved and who loved her.

Some would say Becky’s life was wasted. We’ll never know why she crossed the highway ahead of her friends, but we believe her life was not wasted. Her life has had greater purpose than it might have had if our prayers for healing had been answered the way we wanted. I can’t tell you why God allowed Becky’s accident to happen or why He allowed her to have cancer, but I can share with you the beauty that God brought from the ashes of that day in May 1972. It is best told by our mother in this letter written in February of this year, from Becky’s perspective to Becky’s classmates.

Hello Everybody,

Yes, this is Becky Larson from your grade school back in the 70’s. Remember I was injured and suffered severe brain damage, my left leg was broken in two places and I was comatose for ever so long.  My mother is writing this for me because I cannot verbally speak or communicate with anyone.   I have things I would like you to know about me. So here goes…..!

Like many of you I am 54 years young, some might say I am stuck at age 10 which is when I was hurt.  Yes, some of my interests might be behind yours as I have not had your life experiences.  I love Disney Characters, Disney Cruises, live musicals; I also enjoy romance stories like most women do. I like to look at magazines, to be read to, go for walks and movies, especially I love my family and to be with them.

I live in a group home where they take very good care of me providing me with all the love and care anyone could ever want or need.  I need to be tube feed now because I have trouble swallowing.  I am wheelchair bound but before the doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to my bones, I enjoyed walking for short distances with one person on each side of me.

What I would like you to know about me is that I am a very strong woman.  Oh, I have had my times of anger but that is pretty much in the past.  I know my life has had purpose. It may be hard for some to see or accept, but I am okay with it.  God has used my life to help many people with disabilities and their families. Because of my injuries my parents helped start Homeward Bound, Inc.  a home for people with developmental disabilities.  I lived there for 23 years and now I live at a Mount Olivet Group Home for people with similar disabilities as mine. My dad not only helped start HBI, but he was the director for 7 years starting shortly after the program opened.  After he left Homeward Bound he went to work for Lutheran Social Services and expanded their program to include many services for the disabled, elderly, and developmentally disabled people.  After that he was the director at Rolling Acres and helped many people move into community group homes; he also created a crisis support service.  All of these good things began because of my accident.  My mother says that on her way up to me at the scene of the accident God impressed a bible verse on her “All things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to his purpose”.  Sure it was all difficult and at times almost unbearable, but God has been with us through all of it.

Please don’t feel sorry for me because my parents, siblings and I have lived the life we were called to live.  I know at least a few of you have suffered because of me and my decision to cross the road, but please don’t grieve for me. Cherish my memory and the times we had together because I, in my own way, do cherish your memory and the fun we had.

My mom and I want to tell you this now because I have terminal cancer and am in hospice.  I have only a short time left on earth; soon, I will be with my Father in Heaven and I will be whole again.

Your friend,

Becky – written by my Mom

Early in 2016, Becky Larson entered hospice, went on a family vacation, then declined quickly. She went home to be with Jesus on April 2,
2016, with sister, Kathy and the rest of her family at her side.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to His purpose.”
Romans 8:28

Jerry and JeffIn 1971, while attending a Lutheran church in St. Louis Park, Tom and Pat Hallstrom decided to invest time through Kinsman ministry in two little boys living in desperate conditions in NE Minneapolis.  They were assigned brothers, Jerry and Jeff, ages 6 and 4.  Mixed – race, desperately poor, a deaf and mute mother and no father on the scene, these brothers were on a trajectory for troubled lives.   Just meeting them for the first time in the NE Minneapolis ghetto was unnerving.  Their mother was deaf, mute, and bruised.  Learning to communicate in sign language was the easier part for Tom and Pat.  Dealing with the bruised spirit was more challenging.  Pat still tears up when she remembers Sophie having Jerry ask his teacher what a Valentine was.  And since you can’t give away what you don’t have, Jerry and Jeff were bruised.

Pat remembers Jerry this way:  “He was a mischievous kid, but delightful and bright and clever.  I could tell that Jerry’s tremendous amount of energy, if channeled rightly, would benefit many.”  He looked up to Tom even though Tom had to keep a tight rein on him.  Nearly every Saturday for three years, Tom and Pat brought these brothers into their home and hearts for a weekly deposit of presence and stability.  Thanks to reports required by Kinsman, and the curled edged carbon paper copies Tom saved (it was the 70’s after all), Tom and Pat do not need to rely on memory of these unforgettable boys.

Tom and Pat loved Jerry and Jeff like their own, even when their own, Chris, was born in 1968.  They did more than “be there”.  They bought them bikes and taught them to ride.  At his 6 th birthday party, they gave Jerry his first birthday cake.  Then Tom and Pat got Jerry and Jeff into Immanuel Lutheran School.  At age 6, Jerry didn’t even know his alphabet.  When absenteeism became a problem, they helped the family find better housing within walking distance.  When skipping the school down the street continued to be a problem, Tom hunted the boys down and stepped in with tough love.  Evidence of Tom’s role as an early innovator in family equipping comes screaming off these carbon copy letters. In one letter, Tom scolds Sophie for caving to let Jerry stay home from school.  At least once, when Tom heard from the school, at noon he left his office, found Jerry playing in the park, gave him a swat across the seat of his pants, and returned him to school.  One has to wonder if the teacher was actually happy about this.  After all, she couldn’t leave this lovable but unbridled little boy unattended or he would pick fights with 8 th graders or disassemble the room.    In another letter, Tom gives Jerry’s mom a loving lecture about homework, bedtimes, and her role as a cheerleader for helping Jerry do better at school.

Tom and KidsWith a little rudder applied to Jerry’s wind – filled sails, Jerry’s progress was remarkable.  In less than a year, Jerry had learned the alphabet and caught up with the rest of his class.  Tom and Pat did their part in educating these lads…and their mother.  W hen Tom told Sophie he would like to take the boys to  the Art and Science Museum in St. Paul, Sophie asked what a museum was and was whisked off with the boys for the answer.   They also cared for Jerry’s soul.  Jerry was baptized at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in St. Paul on April 13, 1969, with Tom and Pat as sponsors.

In June, 1969, Prudential recognized Tom for an esteemed community service award for his investment in the boys’ lives.  In 1 973 , now employed by EDS, Tom was moved to California, ending the hands – on involvement in these boys’ lives.  Still tender about it today, no Prudential community service award in 1969 could assuage the guilt of moving away from this highly needy, now precious family.  As time went on, occasional tidbits of good news seeped through, lessening the guilt just a bit, though deep inside Tom and Pat feared the next bit of news being one of these boys dying in inner – city violence.

But the Prudential Principle was working — invest and let it grow.  Forty – five years later, Tom and Pat were about to see just h ow much that faithful, regular, modest investment had grown.  In mid – July last summer, Tom’s phone rang.   It was Jerry’s sister. Over the years, she had heard about Tom and Pat Hallstrom, so she tracked them to Rochester, then called through the “Hallstroms” until she came to Tom.  After introducing herself she said, “Jerry passed away from cancer.  His funeral is in Chicago on Wednesday (J uly 27).  Jerry would want you to know.”

Neither Chicago traffic nor tolls would keep them away.  From the funeral, Tom texted a friend, “God has exceeded our expectations again!” He later added,  “God just dropped every detail and everybody in our laps that we needed to hear or meet.”   In an apostolic black church in North Chicago, Tom and Pat were hard to miss, as was the overwhelming flow of love from Jerry’s family and friends. Throughout the day, the blanks to the past 44 missing years of Jerry’s life story were slowly filled in – Master’s degree, hard – working, happily married, devoted father, rabid Vikings fan, man of God.  “I think my greatest thrill was hearing at the funeral what a devoted friend, father, and husband Jerry was,”  Pat states.

Tom and Pat’s view changed from an initial phone call that a life precious to them had been cut short at 53, to a post – funeral confidence that Terry’s 53 years had been well – lived.  Life is not evaluated in duration, but donation.  Sounds like something a guy who spent his career working for an investment company might say.

Don’t think your regular deposits in the lives of others will pay dividends?  Maybe you should seek out Tom and Pat in Coffee Connection some Sunday morning and hear for yourself the return they saw for their three years of Saturdays with little Jerry.

Tom and Pat

Children's Heart Projet KidsWhen their American Airlines flight lifted off at 6:32 a.m., Tuesday, April 18, it carried three little passengers with literally a new lease on life. Calvary said goodbye to the 23rd, 24th, and 25th Children’s Heart Project kids hosted by our church family since joining as a strategic partner a decade ago. Dianne Orth, who helped Calvary launch this program in 2007, summarized what would have been the result had Otgonzaya, Nandinerdene, and Ernar not undergone heart surgery at Mayo Clinic: “Their bodies would have grown, but not their hearts. They would have died before becoming full grown.”

Otgonzaya
#23, Otgonzaya

Children’s Heart Project finds children with birth defects in their hearts, and partnering with hospitals around the world, fixes them. In the past 10 years of partnership, Calvary has hosted 25 children, their mothers, and CHP chosen translators from Ecuador, Bolivia, and Mongolia. Mayo Clinic has adopted CHP kids as their only remaining international charity and covers the complete cost of appointments, surgery, and hospitalization. Between the medical team at Mayo and the Cal-vary hosts, these children’s lives are in our hands.

CHP kids are chosen based on need and one-operation-fixability. By need we mean they could not get this life giving heart surgery in their home countries. By one-operation-fixability, we mean that it needed to be a life giving repair that could be done in one surgery since Mongolia is quite literally on the exact opposite side of the planet.

Nandinerdene
#24, Nandinerdene

Dianne smiles as she reflects over a decade, “What amazes me is how weak and sick these kids are when they arrive, and how energetic they are when they leave. CHP does a one-year checkup on the kids we have hosted. Sometimes they tell us the children are literally twice as large.” CHP also invites CHP kids to Heart Camp as teens. The result of seeing these young men and women run and jump and play will bring you to tears. (Don’t believe it? Type this link into your browser and watch Sheena dance! https://www.facebook.com/search/str/rochester+mn+childrens+heart+project+network/keywords_top). At Heart Camp, CHP kids are also challenged to get their spiritual hearts healed.

Ernar
#25, Ernar

Speaking of spiritual hearts, over the ten years of hosting CHP kids, God has healed the hearts of a number of the moms. They come wondering why Samaritan’s Purse would open their purse, and American host families would open their homes. Before they leave, that question is answered -the love of Jesus. It is the goal of CHP to send interpreters who love Christ and place these moms in host homes where that same love is modeled. That strategy is bearing fruit. A number of moms have trusted Christ as their Savior during their stay in Calvary host homes, and some have even been baptized! This year, Otgonzaya’s mom, Tonga, sat in our living room listening to Pastor Antonio Figuera share his testimony (Pastor Antonio was our guest over a weekend when we were hosting the CHP group in our home.). Her heart was softened. The next day at Calvary, she gave trusted Christ. She Facetime-called her husband in Mongolia and shared she had trusted Jesus. He told her he would start going to church with her. Five days later, on Good Friday, Tonga wrote her name on the painting in the gym representing sins Jesus had paid for, then had her first communion with us and Gaala in the Fellowship Hall.

If this year is any indication of the previous nine years, it appears heart procedures extend to the hosts. The Orvis family hosted Nandinerdene, Otgonzaya, their moms, and interpreter Gaala for the first three weeks of their visit. Here is how Abbie Orvis (age 16) describes the impact the CHP families had on her: “When asked to be-come a host family, we were able to open our home and our hearts to these precious children and their families as they lived at our home for a month while the children were operated on and recovered.As I reflect on the experience, I feel that my heart was changed just as the hearts of the children were.Our guests were strangers to us, not even speaking our language, yet this did not stop life-long relationships from being built between our families.Many would see this experience as arduous, time consuming, and not worth the effort. However, I would not trade this experience for the world.Despite having to make sacrifices such as giving up my room and spending countless hours in the hospital, I was able to serve these people who needed help and in turn, I was blessed by them through this experience.” Annie (age 13 -see photo with Otgonzaya) chimes in, “It’s a wonderful experience opening up our house to babies who need heart surgery.It is so incredible to watch these girls grow stronger and healthier in such a short period of time.I love having the opportunity to share God’s word and the love of Jesus right in our home.We have grown to love them dearly.”

Annie and Otgonzaya
Annie and Otgonzaya

Opening up one’s home to 3 to 5 people for 14 to 18 days can seem daunting. But thankfully, that didn’t stop Dan and Meredith Orvis from making this life-changing experience possible for CHP kids and their own girls. They share, “When first considering the decision to have five people from another country stay with us, we took a while to pray and consider if we were up for it.It does take a lot of effort and puts your household in a crazy, unpredictable state for a long period of time, but it is pretty neat that God has allowed us to be missionaries in the

comforts of our own home.We were able to witness to these moms in a time when they were truly open to hearing the Gospel.It is so amazing to know that we played a small role in their new understanding of who Jesus is and what His love looks like in a practical way.I cannot even imagine what it will be like in heaven to be reunited with the moms we have seen come to know Christ during their visits to America and Children’s Heart Project.On the outside it looks like we are taking the time to bless others, but it has always come back to be such an amazing blessing to us.”

Ernar, Eka, Gani, Ed and Linda
Ernar, Eka, Gani, Ed and Linda

Ed and Linda Laskowski were hosts to Ernar, his mother, Eka and interpreter, Gani. They, too, were touched. “It is awesome to see Jesus, The Great Physician, heal physical hearts. He loves us so much.It is also a privilege to see how His church shows His character and His love to reach spiritual hearts. And it was a blessing for us to get to know these precious people.”

Nandinerdene and Josiah
Nandinerdene and Josiah

Hosting and getting to know these precious people was made possible by a team of Calvary and Rochester believers who played a role in providing hospital visits, prayer, meals, rides, and respite time for hosts to tend to many of their own necessities. Dianne Orth’s eyes glitter with gratitude as she notes, “This year, Calvary people rose up above and beyond even what was done in the past. This couldn’t happen without a team effort.”

Ten years of caring. Twenty-five children given new leases on life. Moms and families back home impacted by the vivid display of the love of Jesus through their CHP experience. And a number of Rochester hosts who opened their homes, along with the helpers who made that possible, discovered in the process that their own hearts have been transformed.

TierneysMatt and Vicki Tierney had ministry on their minds almost from the moment they met as Lawrence University students. Graduated and newly married, this history and music major landed in Byron. Here, they made their first Calvary connections. They were called to student ministry by Tentmaker Board members, Bill and Nancy Monsen, Steve and Rosie Koebele, and Kurt and Faye Wendland. Tentmakers sought to reach and disciple teens among five mainline churches in the Byron area. For five years the ministry grew to a core of 30 teens. Their family grew, too, with daughters Paige and Abigail arriving.

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FalksWhen Brian Koch met Chad Falk at Calvary in 2005, they clicked. These former jocks shared a love of sports. Through talking smack as competitors in slow pitch softball, Brian, the pitcher, developed a profound respect for Chad the shortstop, especially when he witnessed Chad’s off the field priorities – his God, his wife, then as they arrived, his growing family.

Cancer

Chad, a superb athlete and standout hockey player in Canada, had learned to play through pain. So early in 2015 when his ribs throbbed, Chad dismissed it as a sports injury. Finally on a Monday in August, Chad had the pain in his chest checked out. That Thursday, the doctor told him the pain was a broken rib, fractured at a cancerous cyst. When Brian heard Chad had Stage 4 metastatic lung cancer, his first thought was, “I have to do something.” As a salesman, Brian also knew he could motivate people, and he had a highly motivating cause – a wonderful man with a young family and a terminal disease.

Brian also had a network of contacts. One of them, James Bolin, area director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, had an idea – to have local Viking player, Marcus Sherels, sign his jersey and raffle it. Marcus came to Rochester, signed the jersey, took a picture, and threw in a pair of the gloves used to hang on to footballs. The raffled items raised $1500.

John Deedrick, director of Great Deeds, wanted to do something for Chad’s children. John arranged to have the Great Deeds firetruck show up at Chad’s house and give Chad and the family a ride. Brian’s in-laws, Tim and Barb Ruopsa, followed the firetruck to the house to capture the moment in pictures. “Who would imagine a person showing up at someone’s house with a firetruck?” By the time Chad’s son, Ezra, and Brian’s sons, Ian and Carson rode into the driveway, sirens blazing, Tim and Barb were all in, determined to encourage others who wanted to help do something too. What neither anticipated was the burst of massive grace and energy that was about to explode.

The “do something” snowball was rolling. Century High School Athletic Director, Mark Kuisle, invited Chad and Brian and their boys to be guests on the sideline for the Century Football game against Faribault. Brian’s flag football assistant coach, Alex Jensen, suggested the Falks as the recipients for this year’s Christmas Anonymous fund raiser. Others heard about the Falks and stepped forward to help with time and donations. A signed poster of Adrian Peterson along with 40 other items screaming “Silent Auction!” were sitting in Brian’s spare bedroom by Halloween.

At first, Chad was hesitant when Brian suggested a silent auction on their behalf. But all that changed the moment Chad realized this event could be the ideal platform to love on people and share his faith. When Tim Ruopsa asked Brian how many items they should shoot for at a silent auction, Brian shot back, “Two hundred.” “Brian, you’re crazy,” was Tim’s response. But Tim remembered his thoughts that day the firetruck showed up at Chad’s house, “People just want to do something.” And people doing something together can be something extraordinary.

Overwhelmed

Between Halloween and the silent auction, Brian and Tim and other family members and volunteers simply told Chad’s story When Brian Koch learned that good friend, Chad Falk, had stage 4 cancer he knew he had to do something! Brian (along with his wife and in-laws) got busy requesting donations and spearheading a silent auction on Chad’s behalf. The results were amazing. The generosity and outpouring of love and support were overwhelming. Brian and Michele Koch Tim and Barb Ruopsa to individuals and businesses. As a salesman, Brian was used to asking for the sale. But for most of the others, this was a comfort-zone stretch. Tim stated, “I was simply stunned by the level of generosity of these businesses, and in looking back, I am more aware of how powerful generosity can be.” Over 80% did something, and a few went over-the-top. One of those was Kirk Gordon of Potbelly Sandwiches. When Kirk heard the story, he offered to give 20% of the proceeds of any day’s sales to the Falks. Brian picked the Tuesday of the week of the Fundraiser, knowing Tuesday was a slow restaurant day and not wanting to look pushy. Word was put out on Facebook, through an email to literally thousands of families connected with Rochester youth sports organizations, and through personal invitations of friends of the Falks. By 10:30 that Tuesday, so many people placed orders for food that they crashed the Potbelly’s website. Kirk had to stop taking orders by 11:00 a.m., with 26 pages of online orders, 15 orders to a page cued up to be made. By 2:00 p.m. Potbelly had exceeded all sales records for a day. Kirk offered to continue the fund raiser on Wednesday – which happened to be National Secretaries Day. Volunteers stepped forward to help Potbelly deliver that day. One of these delivery boys was the manager of a competing restaurant. Over $2400 came in for the Falks.

Local chef, Joe Karau, went over-the-top. Brian, a “no worries” kind of guy if you ever met one, was losing sleep over how to plan for and feed the 400 people he expected to show up. After hearing Chad’s story, Joe insisted he plan the menu, order the ingredients, prepare it and deliver it to Calvary at below cost. The $900 need was quickly donated by a local real estate agent couple who just wanted to do something to help.

Exceeding Expectations

On the morning of the silent auction at Calvary, volunteers moved the donations that had taken over the Koch’s and the Ruopsa’s homes to the Calvary gym. Eight volunteers spent the day creating baskets for the silent auction and displaying them. A dozen more came in the afternoon to do final preparations and to serve steaming hot food by Joe and his staff. From 5 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., between 400 and 500 people showed up at the silent auction, including 35 from Canada, to bid on items and eat and hear from the guest of honor, Chad. You can hear what he said on You Tube. Search for Falk Auction Speech. Donations including buy-it-now items far exceeded Brian’s goal of 200. The $28,500 raised that night was almost twice what Brian had hoped. And the generosity and love continues to flow for the Falks. Members of Chad’s mini-congregation have asked Chad and Kate for a to-do list for anything and everything they need done at their home or for their family needs. Others have provided a Florida timeshare as a family getaway.

St. Francis of Assissi said, “It is in giving we receive.” I don’t know if St. Francis ever talked smack on a softball field, but he knew something about the impact of sacrificial love between friends. In giving sacrificially of his time and energy to do something for his friend, Chad, Brian has been changed. “What’s important in my life has become clearer now. I’ve realized I can trust more in the people around me and I don’t have to run the whole show. It’s clear that God directs us and puts us in a place for times like these.”

Our Splotch

You’ve done it, too, haven’t you?  Left the coffee pot on when you left the house?   You didn’t witness the last cup become sludge and then bake into a thin black splotch at the bottom of the coffee pot, but the smell of baked caffeine hit you the minute you walked into the house.

Splotches are what’s left when everything else burns off.  My last episode with a coffee pot splotch got me to thinking what would be left if everything else in my life was burned off.   Well, I don’t know what I would find, but Scripture tells me what I should find.  After 40 years of boiling the teachings of Scripture down, I think it could be summarized in three words:  faith, friends, and fruit.

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My son Drew received a pile of money for Christmas when he was ten. He had seen the advertisements running on television, so he went to the mall and plopped down nearly the whole wad of cash on an Air Hog plane. I mean, how could he miss? This is what the company promised on the box.

“Precision designed and patented, Air Hogs R.A.I.D. engine is built to the strictest tolerances and starts every time!  Just pump it up and watch it fly over a hundred yards at altitudes of up to 100 feet! Pump up the plane, turn the propeller, and listen to the roar of the engine! Give it a throw and watch the incredible power of this flying wonder.”

Hog is right! Drew and I never were able to get that pig off the ground. Ever. We worked at it for hours. We tried everything, including turning the wings around and having the propeller turn backwards. Exasperated, we shoved it back into the box and shelved it.

That same week, I was launching a series on Ephesians in my church. The book of Ephesians has three chapters explaining what Christ has done for us, followed by three chapters on how we can, and should, live because of what He has done.  And between these two sections is this Air Hog-like  promise:

“When I think of the wisdom and scope of God’s plan (for us!) I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glories, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit. And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more that we would ever dare to ask or hope. “ (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Wow. Talk about a marketing! I mean, how could we miss? So many of us have plopped down our lives on Jesus and the Gospel and that promise that he can not only give us eternity, but help our lives fly well here and now.

To paraphrase Dr. Phil, “How’s that Gospel-thing workin’ for ya right now?” Have you worked and worked at it? Tried everything to get lift but can’t seem to get a new life off the ground? Thinking about shelving the whole thing, concluding the Gospel is hype, or maybe you’re a lemon?

I wondered that about Drew’s Air Hog. Then a few weeks after we got it, I used our failed Wright Brothers’ experience as an illustration in the  Ephesians series I mentioned. Later that afternoon, I got an email from a woman, named Heather, in my inbox regarding her husband, Jeff, who coincidently, was a pilot for Continental Airlines.

“Jeff got an AirHog plane for Christmas and he flew it for three hours. He loved it.”

Which got me thinking. As with the Air Hog, the claims the Gospel advertised in Ephesians 3, and elsewhere, are not hype. We didn’t get a lemon. The problem is user-error.

That’s why each of us should accept Jesus’ Great Invitation and join him in the yoke of intimate apprenticeship with him.  And that is one reason to faithfully attend worship at Calvary and be connected to a smaller community within Calvary, consistently probing God’s word, hearing the  in-the-yoke stories of others, and applying what we learn. In doing so, we can get airborne as apprentices of Jesus. “… accomplish infinitely more than I could ever dare to ask or hope.”

 

Have you ever played Dutch Blitz? In Dutch Blitz, the purpose is to unload all your cards as fast as you can by laying them in ascending numerical order on any players discard piles in the middle. The goal is to see how fast you can empty your hand. I would have named it Solitaire on Steroids.

For many of us, everyday life is a like a game of Dutch Blitz in reverse. In this past-paced game, players are frantically picking up more cards and shoving these cards into their own hands and the hands of the other players. The goal is to make another player be the first to lose when his hand is too full and he spills all his cards. The cards are activities and responsibilities. Most of our hands are loaded and spilling over. It is life on steroids.

Is this Dutch Blitz in reverse life what Jesus intended for us? Frenetically packing more and more activities into our lives? No. In fact, Jesus invites those of us caught in this frenzied game to pause and consider an alternative way to live. In what some have labeled Jesus’ Great Invitation,” Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30]

Which of these two phrases from Jesus’ invitation best describes your life? “Weary and burdened” or “fits perfectly and…burden…light?” “Weary and burdened” – that’s where a life on steroids leads. To those of us caught in such a game, Jesus offers “rest.” The word “rest” simply means, “wholeness of soul” – a calm sense of purpose and wellness. It is available to those who accept Jesus’ invitation and join Him in the yoke as His apprentice. In that yoke, we rely on His power, we respond to His direction, and together with Him we accomplish His purpose.

As someone has well said, “We can’t follow Jesus at a sprint.” To remain in the yoke next to Jesus means this Dutch Blitz-in-reverse style life on steroids needs to change. We must discard activities. We must stop allowing people to shove activities into our already overflowing hands. We must learn to say, “No” to others and to ourselves.

Why is it so difficult to discard non-essential activities and to say “No” to others who try to shove more activities into our bulging hands? Here are four common excuses I hear myself say:

1. I don’t want to say, “No,” because I like to do this! I do it because I don’t have the wisdom or the discipline to pass on the fun things in order to invest in the important things.

2. I shouldn’t say “No,” because I owe him. I don’t have the courage to speak honestly to people about my limitations or my priorities when they “should” on me with perceived or real guilt trips.

3. If I say, “No,” people will think I am ungrateful, or a lazy deadbeat. I care more about how this person views me than I care about me than what Jesus thinks about my steroid-driven life.

4. If I say, “No,” this won’t get done. I put the pedal to the metal because, like Elijah, I am puffed up to think that I am essential to the activities’ success.

Jesus models for us how we can find more balance in this frantic-paced life. In the yoke beside him, Jesus can teach us simple strategies to get off a steroid-driven life. Here are four that jump from the pages of the Gospels:

1. Ignore the boos of men by listening for the applause of the Father. Jesus said he only took on cards that were pleasing to the Father (John 8:29) We are going to disappoint people. A key to wholeness of soul living is to learn to disappoint the right people.

2. Consult the Father before picking up any card. Jesus said before picking up a card, he got advice from his Father. (“I do nothing without consulting the Father.” (John 8:28) Furthermore, Jesus did not appear to be in any hurry about how long that consultation lasted. We would do well to, like Jesus, drag our feet about picking up another activity in order to give us time to go to our knees for counsel.

3. Jesus shot straight with people carrying cards. Jesus often shared his heart with those who tried to shove a card in his hand. Jesus wasn’t mean-spirited, but he wasn’t Minnesota-nice. He spoke the truth, and so should we. Picking up a responsibility without embracing it with our hearts is compliance, lacks authenticity, and leads to bitterness.

4. Jesus knew why he was here. Jesus didn’t pick up a card (a responsibility) if that card didn’t fit His purpose, regardless of how fun it might be for him or urgent it might be to others.

What do you think?

 

Let’s be Polished Together in 2013

My childhood friend, Kevin, was always filling his pockets with stones. Back in his room, he placed these stones, some water, and a dash of “mystery ingredient” into a contraption on his dresser. Almost four decades later, I can still hear the rock tumbler’s slurry swoosh.

Did you know that Calvary is God’s tumbler? If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a “living stone”– ordinary looking, but hand-picked and beloved by God. And God has loaded the rest of us in here with you. Like my friend Kevin, God never places just one or even a few stones in His tumbler. God knows critical mass is essential for adequate results.

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The phoenix is a mythical sacred fire bird that can be found in the mythologies of the Arabian, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, Turks, Indians, Phoenicians, and Canaanites. It is described as a bird with colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet. It has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again.

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