My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Godspeed and may the wind be in your sails: A farewell to VBS 2014

Another Vacation Bible School is now in the books. This past week Chetek's one-and-only “Multi-Church VBS” was held at Chetek United Methodist. “SonTreasure Island” was well-attended (67 kids plus approximately 30 volunteers) and as usual, was lots of fun. Who would have thunk that the Methodists were not only open to the idea of having sand in their fellowship room (on their relatively new carpet) but were the ones who came up with the idea in the first place! There were little waterfalls and palm trees in different rooms of their facility along with all kinds of decorations that gave the illusion that we really were on an island somewhere in the Caribbean. Having a kindly pirate walk around throughout the day as well as the presence of a real live parrot (Duke not Polly) only helped contribute to the atmosphere.

His name is Duke not Polly


Of course you find sand at the beach

"You think you've got troubles..."
Paul may get to school yet
In 2 ½ days (SonTreasure's planning group chose to conduct a 5-day VBS in half the time with a Sunday evening, and all-day Monday and Tuesday faith experience) the kids raised $818 and some odd-change for Ekisa Ministries, an orphanage in Jinja, Uganda that cares for approximately two dozen children with various types of disabilities. Our goal is to raise $1800 which would enable three kids from Ekisa to go to school. We're nearly half-way there and the five participating fellowships have yet to receive an offering.

When we moved to town in 1991 there were five Vacation Bible Schools that were held during any given summer in Chetek – at Prairie Lake Covenant, Faith Baptist, Christ Lutheran, Chetek Lutheran and the Multi-Church VBS (Advent, Alliance, UMC and Refuge). What that meant is that if you were a parent of an elementary-age child you could pretty much sew up planning half of their summer mornings by just enrolling them in one school after another (and some did just that thing!) But the dynamics of the various faith communities have changed over the last twenty years. Prairie Lake, Faith and Christ Lutheran have all ceased to provide this kind of faith experience at their respective fellowship and this year for the very first time Chetek Lutheran joined “the Four.” We were only too happy to have them on board.

The White Witch points the way ('12)
Since the mid-1980s our “Multi-Church VBS” has been presented annually to the kids of our community. In my time here we have been to SonCreek Junction (2001) and SonHarvest County Fair (2003). We've turned different facilities into an army base (Boot Camp, 2009), an ancient market (Jerusalem Marketplace, 2008) and even a castle (SonCastle Faire, 1999). We've been to Narnia (A Journey to Narnia, 2012), held a sports camp (Mega Sports Camp, 2010) and dug for gold (Gold Rush, 2011). We've been to the savannah of Africa (SonMountain, 1992), the wilds of the Okefenoke Swamp (SonRise Balloon Adventure, 1997) and down a perilous river gorge (SonCanyon River Adventure, 2002). Some of the kids who have grown up attending VBS have gone on to serve at it (at this year's VBS there were kids helping in rec who not too long ago were playing in those games as participants and our youngest daughter, Emma [18], was one of our teachers.)  

Classroom at SonRise Balloon Adventure ('97)
The rec crew from Jerusalem Marketplace ('08)

SonZone Discovery Center ('00)
But to me the most remarkable thing about this VBS is that over nearly thirty years the players have changed (none of “the founders” remain in our community and I am the only one left who has participated in some way or fashion in the past 22 campaigns) and from time to time the format as well (we've tried an evening school, a family school, an off-site school and this year's half-week version) but the message remains the same: Jesus loves children and calls them to himself. Granted there are many ways to go about affecting the growth of the kingdom of God in our kids; VBS is but one way to do it. And while tradition can become a dead-thing this annual coming-together persists in our town and has proven over time to be life-giving to those who attend as well as to those who serve.

They throw a good party
There is one other subtle and yet tangible benefit to this annual tradition: it sparks and promotes unity within the Body of Christ in our community. For several months leading up to VBS, folks from the participating fellowships meet regularly to strategize, brainstorm, dream about and pray together for our upcoming school. A working harmony naturally develops which in turn fosters camaraderie and, if you will, Esprit de corps. Frankly, it's just a whole lot of fun. This year, Refuge shut down on the Sunday VBS began and joined Chetek UMC for a combined worship gathering. Pastor Carrie asked me the next day, "So when do we do that again?" 

The last time we were on Main Street
When the party is over and the last decoration is taken down and put away for me its rather a melancholy thing, like closing night at the Red Barn when the set is deconstructed and we all say good-bye. The good news is that if the status quo remains by March of next year we'll all start coming together again planning the 2015 school at Advent Christian. I always like it when it's there because we're on the main drag and that gives us high visibility. Some of our best sets have been there (SonCastle Faire, 1999, and Gold Rush, 2011). But what I like best of all is being with some of my friends from the other fellowships in town working together to see the Kingdom come in greater fullness to our city. I can't wait.

Monday, June 9, 2014

For better or for worse: An open letter to someone I know who just got baptized

Baptism in the Red Cedar
[The acting governor of Egypt] ordered me to abandon my Christianity, assuming that if I were to change the rest would follow me. But I replied in effect, “We must obey God rather then men” [Acts 5:29], that I worship the only God and no other, and would never cease to be a Christian. At that he ordered us to leave for a village near the desert, called Cephro. - Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria (Egypt) circa 251 AD 

So, yesterday you decided to follow Jesus in water baptism. Good for you. My only regret is that I could not be there to witness it. Despite how secular a country we are becoming there are still lots of people who profess Christian faith of one kind or another. But not everybody goes public with their profession. Some prefer to keep that on the “down-low” for fear that they will be perceived as being weird or goofy or, God-forbid, serious about their religion.

That was a great day
A few years ago I had the privilege of leading a man to Christ who by his own admission was a no-good drunk. When he was a kid, he had gone to church now and again but at 40 he hadn't been near one in a real long time. Like you, he prayed a prayer inviting Jesus Christ into his heart. And a month or so later he was baptized just like you were yesterday (although he got dunked in a lake not in an indoor pool). A little while later I overheard him sharing his story with someone else and this is how he explained it: “When I was born-again it was like I got engaged to Jesus. But when I got baptized it was like I got married to him.” I was struck by the language he used - “engaged”, “married” - he hadn't been a Christian long enough to pick up this kind of lingo by simply attending the weekly gatherings of our fellowship. No, Someone else had been instructing him because in that statement he was giving about as clear a definition of baptism that I can think of.

One day this will be you
One day far in your future you will mostly likely get married. And on that day people will gather to see you and your intended share vows with one another. It will be a day worth remembering for years to come because on that day you will “go public” with your devotion to the man you will one day call “husband.” He'll give you a ring and forever after when people see that on your left ring-finger they'll know, “well, she may be a look-er but she's off the market.” Creative as you are, you'll probably come up with your own vows but whatever you write they'll be an echo of the promises that couples have shared with each other time out of mind: have and to hold...
...for better, for worse...
...for richer, for poorer... sickness and in health...
...'til death parts us...

In other words, for always.

To be baptized is to say the same thing: To go public with what one guy refers to as the most important love relationship in your life; to make a statement to yourself and anyone else who happens to be paying attention that your heart belongs to Another. In some countries today that kind of profession comes at great price. People have been known to suffer bodily harm, economic hardship and emotional duress for publicly confessing Jesus as the Lord of their life. Jesus promised as much which is why he said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” which is to say he's in the driver seat not you. And if that's the case there may be times he may take you where you never planned on going or even chose to go. It comes with the territory of being a disciple of Jesus Christ in any day as Dionysius could tell you.

The man himself
Who was he? Dionysius was the recognized leader of the Church of Jesus in Alexandria, Egypt, which at the time was quite a hub of Christian faith. As part of the Roman Empire, there was always an imperial presence in the city a fact that usually didn't affect the Christians there at all. Until Decius (249 AD) became emperor and after him, Gallus (251 AD). These guys were the first emperors to implement an organized and systematic rounding-up of anyone who wouldn't take the empire-wide loyalty oath, “Caesar is Lord!” Usually that meant Christians and those who refused to swear by the Emperor paid the ultimate penalty, usually after enduring great suffering first. Of course, some weaseled out of it and publicly denied that they had any association with Jesus, took the oath but, as they would later claim, with their fingers crossed. Others had friends in high places who claimed that they had, in fact, taken the oath when in fact they hadn't. But there were always were and always will be those who will be stubborn about the right kinds of things when called upon, the “7000 who have never bent the knee to Baal” (see 1 Kings 19). Dionysius was one of them. When he refused to take the oath, he was banished from his home and sent to live in what eventually became a penal colony for Christians like himself. His response to the governor's demand was, in so many words, “I am a Christian for always.”

Which brings me back to the whole idea of baptism being something like marriage in that it's for always too. Anybody who has been married for awhile knows that every good marriage is ultimately a labor of love, in that you have to work at it. As wonderful as your husband will be he will, from time to time, stress you out perhaps to the degree that you may think to yourself, “Did I make a mistake? Did I promise too much? (Just know if that happens then you'll know for sure you're a married woman) But most likely you and your guy will talk it through and work it out, forgive and forget, and move on. Real love and devotion is like that – you stick with each other through thick and thin, good times and bad, for always.

Universal symbol for "spoken for"

Being a disciple of Jesus requires the same kind of love. In my opinion, there are a lot of people who don't have a problem with me or any other Christian doing “our thing.” But to follow Christ means more often than not you will feel out of place and out of step. The pressure will be to conform to the mentality and habits of your classmates or your future colleagues. You know, it's okay to be religious so long as you're not too serious about it. But in my mind that's like someone saying, “It's okay to be married just so you don't get carried away about it.” Is there really any other way to do marriage? If you're not all-in, why get married at all?

So may God bless you at this juncture of your life and may he give you the grace to continue to choose him when tempted to do things on the sly or to quit altogether. Remember, as much as you chose to follow him and publicly express your devotion to him yesterday he, first, chose you to be in relationship with him and will give you the grace to stick with him for better or for worse.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Surviving the Storm (a meditation from Acts 27)

Next day, out on the high seas again and badly damaged now by the storm, we dumped the cargo overboard. The third day the sailors lightened the ship further by throwing off all the tackle and provisions. It had been many days since we had seen either sun or stars. Wind and waves were battering us unmercifully, and we lost all hope of rescue.”
Acts 27:18-20, The Message

Again trials, again contrary winds. See how the life of the saints is so composed of all these things: he escaped the court, and they fall into a shipwreck and a storm.” Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (347-407 AD)

For most of us, when we think of Luke's companion volume to his gospel probably some of the great moments in early Church History come to mind - the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), the conversion of Saul-later-turned-Paul the Apostle (Acts 9), the conversion of the first Gentile (Acts 10) and the council in Jerusalem where policy was made that Gentiles did not have to first convert to Judaism before they were considered full fledged disciples of Christ (Acts 15). And while Acts is history it's so much more: it's biography (specifically regarding the Apostle Paul), theology (e.g., what it means to be saved, who is “in” the greater family of God and the ongoing ministry of Jesus in the life of the Church through the Spirit), rhetoric (there are 26 recorded speeches in the book spoken by both Christians and non-Christians alike), poignant drama – Pentecost (Acts 2), the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3), and Peter's “great escape” from prison (Acts 12) to name three - and adventure. Acts 27 is the great sea-story of the book which one commentator considers “...the most vivid descriptive writing in the whole Bible” (Richard Longenecker), “like an excerpt from an exciting novel” (Ajith Fernando) says another. And it is good reading and given that Luke is on board what we have is not a second-hand report of a harrowing adventure but a testimonial written by one of its survivors.

But when I re-read it the other day I was struck by a thought I had never had before in previous readings of the chapter: “Why?” Given all the weighty matters that Luke has been addressing through his second volume why devote so much space to a perilous and near-fatal adventure? I was relieved to find that at least one commentator agreed: “It is surprising to find fifty-nine verses [he must be including the first part of Acts 28 to come to this number] devoted to a journey in a history book with a strong theological orientation. As we seek to apply this passage the most important questions to ask are, 'Why did Luke devote so much space to this journey?' and 'What does he want to achieve from this passage?'” (Fernando, The NIV Application Commentary for Acts). Why indeed.

When this episode of Acts begins, Paul is but one of many prisoners aboard a ship bound for Rome; by the time the ship hits a sandbar off of the island of Malta and its near 300 passengers drag themselves to shore a few weeks later Paul emerges as the unofficial leader of the venture. There's a tale that warrants listening to. How is it that a man under guard and one of many prisoners on board, comes to be recognized by the Roman centurion, at least, as someone whose counsel is ignored only at great peril? And other than being a cool story to read, why put it in the Bible? What can we moderns who prefer travel by air than by sea glean from the telling of it again?

If juxtaposition is the literary technique of placing two opposite things side by side in order to make a point,
Acts 27 is certainly a primary example of it. On the one hand you have the power-brokers – the professionals (in this case, the captain and his crew), the owner (who Luke informs us is on board) and the authorities (i.e., the Roman centurion and his men). They are the ones in charge, calling the shots and making the decisions that influence the fate of the lives of everyone on board. Opposite them are the prisoners, perhaps chained but definitely confined and there against their will and among them are three disciples of Jesus – Paul, Luke and Aristarchus. The contrast could not be greater – power and might aside weakness and impotence.

It was the wrong time of the year, really, to be sailing across the Med and it took them longer than usual to get to the half-way point at Fair Havens on the island of Crete. Both the captain and the owner are eager to press on but Paul smells trouble on the wind. He is no rube, mind you. Paul was an ancient-world equivalent of today's frequent flier having crossed these waters before. In fact, over the course of the last fifteen years he had logged thousands of leagues at sea, certainly enough to be able to report to the Corinthians of having been shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 11). So even though he is a man in chains and expected to keep his place he pipes up and warns the centurion and the crew that if they leave the relative confines of the bay disaster will befall the ship resulting in the doom of some or all on board (v. 10). Centurion Julius, however, will have none of it. Deferring to the counsel of those who do this sort of thing for a living when a gentle wind out of the south begins to blow, he gives the go ahead to make sail for a better harbor some forty miles west.

No sooner are they out at sea, however, and their beautiful day for sailing turns quickly ominous when a wind of hurricane force arises and drives the ship far out to sea. After a few days even the experienced hands on deck recognize that apart from good fortune the sea will claim their ship before they reach a safe harbor. After several more days of this, Paul speaks up for the second time.

Friends, you really should have listened to me back in Crete. We could have avoided all this trouble and trial. But there’s no need to dwell on that now. From now on, things are looking up! I can assure you that there’ll not be a single drowning among us, although I can’t say as much for the ship—the ship itself is doomed.

Last night God’s angel stood at my side, an angel of this God I serve, saying to me, ‘Don’t give up, Paul. You’re going to stand before Caesar yet—and everyone sailing with you is also going to make it.’ So, dear friends, take heart. I believe God will do exactly what he told me. (27:21-25, Msg)

Upon first reading, it seems out of place to hear Paul upbraid them with a “I told you so” but he doesn't dwell on the matter and quickly seeks to encourage everyone who will listen. “We're gonna make it. God has told me so hang in there even though the ship will certainly sink.” Luke is mute on the response of the men to such a statement. Do they mock him? Do they raise their eyebrows at the old man's admonition? Or do they simply strengthen their grip on whatever it is they've been holding on to while the ship continues to toss about endlessly upon the sea?

For fourteen days the storm rages without respite and then at last the crew senses that the ship is approaching land. Soundings are taken and their instincts are confirmed – the ship will run aground soon. It's at that point that some of the sailors lower the lifeboat feigning to let out further anchors in order to slow the ship down but Paul sees through the ruse and speaks up a third time addressing Julius: 

If these sailors don’t stay with the ship, we’re all going down.” (v. 31). 

If at the beginning of the story Julius brushed Paul off and was annoyed by his meddling in matters that don't concern him two weeks later his opinion of Paul has radically changed. When Paul warns him that these sailors are abandoning ship at everyone's peril, he adroitly orders that the lines be cut loose. The irony is acute. As Chrysostom pointed out, The centurion who was free needed his prisoner who was in chains, the skillful pilot needed him who was not a pilot, or rather, who was the true pilot” (Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles). With the lifeboat adrift, now everyone is definitely in the same boat, their lives, from a human point of view, in the hands of a guy whose own hands are chained.

As dawn approaches, Paul speaks up for the fourth and final time:

This is the fourteenth day we’ve gone without food. None of us has felt like eating! But I urge you to eat something now. You’ll need strength for the rescue ahead. You’re going to come out of this without even a scratch!”

He broke the bread, gave thanks to God, passed it around, and they all ate heartily—276 of us, all told! With the meal finished and everyone full, the ship was further lightened by dumping the grain overboard. (27:33-38, Msg)

Land at last

Twice during their journey it's Paul's voice that has steadied men who are seasick, exhausted and besides themselves with fear. While all hell is breaking loose he retains his sense of composure because God has assured him that he and everyone else on board will make it. It is a word of hope in the midst of a literal storm. And therein maybe lies one of the morals of the story. Christians experience hardship and trouble just like everyone else on the planet. Our devotion to Christ does not necessarily shield us from the effects of gruesome war, catastrophic flooding, murderous terrorists or devastating tornadoes. Frequently we are, like Paul and his traveling companions, literally in the same boat as our pagan neighbors and friends hanging on for dear life. Our houses burn down like theirs or are swallowed mercilessly by a river of mud like theirs. We may be unfortunate to find ourselves on the floor of a classroom with the rest of our classmates while a crazed gunman blasts away. But at times like these what is needed are men and women who know God and have a sense of what he is doing at that particular moment. What's more, that knowledge provokes them to wade into whatever trouble they are facing and by word and deed profess that despite the trauma we may be facing God is here. It's that kind of word that can turn an awful circumstance into something that can be borne by Christian and pagan alike.

Shortly after their hastily devoured meal, the ship does indeed run aground. The force of the relentless surf will quickly pound the boat to splinters. So the guards make ready to kill the prisoners. It is a trade rule of the Legion that if the prisoner under your watch escapes that you suffer the punishment that would have been his. But wanting to spare Paul's life (v. 43), Commander Julius forbids his men from doing so and orders everyone over the side and make for shore the best they can. A short while later all 276 men lay about the beach alive and relatively unharmed. Just as Paul had promised they lost their ship but they had all survived. That they had the author wants us to know was due largely in part not to the sailing prowess of the crew or the competence of the soldiers but to a word of God spoken to one of his own, a prisoner no less, who in turn had shared it with everyone else. As far as Luke is concerned, this was the difference-maker as their lives hung by a thread – a word “fitly spoken and in due season” (Proverbs 25:11, AMP). 

The monument on Malta that commemorates the saving of a crew because of a word from God

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Near death on the river (or the story some of you have been waiting for)

The view from here
Last Thursday, my daughter, Emma, and I had a scrape with mortality. The good news is that we lived to tell of it and now will have a story to share for years to come.

Thursday was a beautiful late spring day promising to be perfect for canoeing. Since 2008 I have made it my goal to canoe the Red Cedar in its entirety and since 2009 Emma has been my partner in this endeavor. So, a couple of times a summer since then we have canoed various sections of the river. On Thursday, we set out to cover the section between the landing below Colfax on Highway 170 and Lamb's Creek Park north of Menomonie.

My co-pilot
The Red Cedar is what you might call a “family-friendly” waterway – it usually meanders slowly south ambling its way toward the Chippewa. During the “dog-days”, one of the favorite past-times of people in these parts is to float the river due to its laggardly current and relative shallow depth. This is no Wolf or Colorado with their Class III or IV rapids. But we had a lot of snow this past winter and what's more, we had quite a bit of rain of late and so when we arrived at the landing it was very clear that the water was up and the current unusually strong.

We lathered up with sunscreen and bug spray, donned our preservers and put in. Immediately we were greeted by an eagle making his way downstream. Humorously Emma assumed her best First Nations accent and remarked, “Father, it must be a good omen.” We were moving along at a brisk pace and as I am wont to do, after a few strokes I would take a moment to squeeze off a picture – a picturesque sandstone bank here, a massive eagle nest there. In my backpack at my feet, among my other gear, were my palm-size video recorder, my digital camera as well as Emma's phone, my wallet and the keys to the van. Just like I've always done, as the fancy hit me, I would pause from my paddling, reach into my back pack for my camera, take my picture and then return it to its place and resume my paddling.

Beaching the canoe for lunch

Snags are frequent at times
We couldn't have been more than ten minutes into our journey when attempting to detour around a snag as we came around a bend, we suddenly capsized and just like that we were in the water. However deep it was at that point, we were in over our heads. The canoe temporarily lodged under an overhanging tree branch that we both vainly tried to hold on to but the river was relentless. Emma let go and the current took her quickly downriver. Somehow or other she managed to hold on to both paddles and our bike helmets (we had stashed our bikes at the take-out so that we could bike back to our van) but the backpack got away from her. Meanwhile, I managed to pull myself up onto the south bank holding on to the canoe which was half submerged. About 40 yards downriver Emma was able to get out on the north bank. Thankfully, we were emerged fairly unscathed but now about 30 yards of fast moving water stood between us – she on one side with the paddles and me on the other with the canoe. What to do?

Just like that
(I couldn't figure out how to embed Google map into this blog but if you follow this link you can see just where our canoe upended At the bend in the river)

Behind me was nothing but woods but about a 100 yards behind Emma was a farmhouse and so I shouted to her to go for help. Perhaps someone would give her a ride to my side of the river so we could at least get paddles and canoe together? I saw her walk off while I stood on the bank of the river fishing my smart phone out of the pocket of my shorts. My new phone of only two months had been duly baptized. Amazingly, it came to life – and I had signal! But not wanting to scare my wife, Linda, unnecessarily I turned it off. Even if I had chosen to call her what would I have said that wouldn't have made her worry anyway? About ten minutes later, Emma returned to the north bank with the woman who apparently lived in the house. I asked her if there was a road behind me somewhere and if there was could she be so kind to bring Emma to me? She informed me that she would be happy to help but I would have to make my way back up river about a quarter of a mile or more to where a road neared the river. While they drove off, I started walking the bank walking through tall river grass that I couldn't help notice had a fair share of what appeared to be poison ivy in it.

Near the place where our canoe was swamped, the bank is steep so I had to climb about 50 feet or so to the top and make my way east adjacent to the river. Within 15 minutes or so here came the lady in her van with Emma riding shotgun. Her name was Candy and she handed me a little piece of paper with her phone number on it in case we ran into any more trouble. We thanked her again for her kindness and with that she drove off and Emma and I proceeded due west through scrub pine and underbrush back toward the canoe. After passing through a few barbed-wire fences and meandering through more river grass we made it back and put our 17 foot fiberglass canoe back in the river. Our hope now was that the backpack got caught up in another snag somewhere downriver. I figured my cameras were lost but my wallet, Emma's phone (in a zip-lock bag) and especially my van keys perhaps could be recovered.

By comparison, the rest of our trip was uneventful. We made it to Tainter Lake without further incident but unfortunately without any sign of the backpack. Our languorous paddle across the rather placid lake was only interrupted once by the appearance of some long-ish fish (perhaps Dog Fish?) sunning themselves and one who decided to give the water a mighty thwack of his tail just as we reached him giving Emma an unexpected scare. At that moment I couldn't resist quoting Roy Scheider's infamous ad-lib from Jaws, "We're gonna need a bigger boat."

We eventually found the spot where the Red Cedar emptied out of Tainter Lake and completed the rest of our float to the take-out at Lamb's Creek without incident. Soon after I discovered that my Android phone made by Caterpillar that was supposed to survive up to 30 minutes underwater had essentially drowned after only two. So there we were without wallet, van keys or phone. We walked across the Highway G bridge to the Pioneer Grill and Saloon on Highway D north of Menomonie and I told the bartender, "I've got troubles. I lost my phone, my wallet and my van keys not to mention both my cameras and so I was wondering if I could use your phone." She very kindly allowed me to call Linda at work and inform her of our dilemma. I figured at this point this was a better place to be picked up than ride our bikes the ten miles or so back to the put-in below Colfax. Besides, here we were on a main road while there we would be in a mosquito-infested park waiting for perhaps an hour before Linda would arrive.
This from our passage of Rice Lake a few years ago

Good food found here
After I hung up, one of the patrons at the bar walked up to me and handed me a twenty dollar bill. "You're gonna be here for awhile and you can't hang out in a bar without money," he quipped. I thanked him for his kindness and Emma and I promptly ordered a few burgers for lunch. Following our satisfying meal, we checked on the canoe and then found a place outside the saloon to lounge until the cavalry arrived with the spare van key. After Linda got us back to the van, Emma and I had to drive back to the take-out to pick up the canoe and the bikes. We pulled in the drive-way at home just in time to clean-up a bit before dinner.

So it had been an adventure. We nearly died (well, let's just say we had a few terrifying moments), lost most of our gear but due to the kindness of a few strangers and Linda's boss who let her leave work early, we made it home and weren't late for dinner. Our phones have already been replaced. I had to cancel my debit and credit card in my wallet and will have to replace my Driver's License as well but as Emma concluded, "Well, at least we have a story to tell now" and Linda added, "and a sermon illustration." They both are right. Since I made the incident my status on Facebook on Friday morning, I have been asked about our harrowing tale by a number of my friends (fortunately, my mom isn't on Facebook yet) and at the Justice Center on Friday and at Refuge on Sunday, that story showed up as Linda predicted in my messages there.

And what's the moral? Easy. Life happens. It can be a fine spring day with the world as your oyster and just like that you can be in the water hanging on for dear life. A friend of mine presided at a funeral this week of a fine young man from their congregation who had just got engaged. While driving down a four-lane highway unexpectedly here came a car heading the wrong way. It was a head-on collision and both drivers were killed instantly. Two years ago on another fine spring day, Steve, a guy from Refuge, got on his Harley for a late afternoon ride when a deer ran into him. Just like that he and his family's life turned on a dime. So the fact that we emerged from the river camera-and-phone-poor but otherwise unscathed leaves us a lot to be thankful for.

Yes, life happens but God is good.  In Steve's case, that he hit a deer is not too unusual but it's where his long skid came to an end that is - within shouting distance of an off-duty EMT's driveway. That little detail is part of the reason his life was spared that day. The stretch of the river we were on is thinly populated between Colfax and the entrance to Tainter Lake but we upended essentially in someone's backyard. As Candy informed Emma, "It's a good thing you came to my house as everyone else around here is old. What's more, I'm usually not at home at this time." The long and short of it is we made it and emerged on the other end with a story of God's faithfulness that even came with a burger and fries.
Be back out there soon