$20, the Price of a 4-Wheeler

Last week my friend John and I competed in a fishing tournament in Hayward, Wisconsin. That's John holding a top-ten size fish he caught the opening morning of the three-day competition. The story that follows is one I've told before, but I love the story so much and the truth it illustrates, I want to share it again.


From 2014...

When someone tries to give you $20, you take it, right? Not my friend John. Last week, John and I entered the 16th Annual Lake Chippewa Musky Hunt, a three-day fishing tournament for really big fish. As part of the event, there are several opportunities to win door prizes, everything from fishing rods and reels to gift cards, food, and clothing. At the closing ceremonies, each of the 200 entrants has a shot at winning the grand prize, a Polaris four-wheeler, by having his name drawn from a jar.

Early in the evening and as a door prize, John won a Musky Hunt logo vest, but the extra-large size was two sizes too big, and well, John’s personality wasn’t all that interested in the vest.

John thanked the hosts for the door prize and made his way back to his seat, chirping along the way that he had no use for it. I told him to sell it, that some guy at the event would gladly pay him for it. Just then another fisherman approached John and offered a twenty-dollar bill for the vest. John refused the money, instead, handing the vest to the man for free. The would be buyer offered his money again, and, again, John refused. In the end, the stranger walked away with both his $20 and a new vest.

To be clear, had John accepted the money that would have been fine to do. Simple and honest business transactions do not displease the Lord, but John views money and stuff a little differently than so many others.

Meet My Friend John

John came to Christ in college after a mostly gospel-less upbringing. I met John in Midland, Michigan, and have known him for more than twenty years and for the majority of his Christian life. He’s just a guy in the church, one of many, working Monday to Friday as a chemical engineer.

In his ongoing sanctification John is one of the most generous men I’ve ever known. John loaned his new van to a friend to go on vacation while his own infant son was close to death. He’s given cars to Christian school teachers, all the meat from a deer hunt to a needy family, and access to his land to hunt from deer stands and property he works to maintain. Only God knows how much money he’s given to the support of his local church, to missionaries, to poor families, and to so many others. Giving away the vest instead of taking the money was completely consistent with the pattern of John’s life. But there’s more to the story after John gave away his vest.

The Grand Prize

The tournament awards prizes to the top ten finishers, with the first place fisherman winning a $2000 Cabela’s gift card, but that’s not the big prize. The four-wheeler is the big prize and is the last event of the evening. Each contestant has an entry number he carries over year after year. John is number 50. I am number 51. A few years ago, number 52 won the grand prize. We were oh so close!

The MC of the event really builds up the grand prize giveaway. Every year she reaches in and pulls out the winning ticket, teasing the audience with her announcement. Last Saturday night she called out, “The winning number is less than 100.” She then said, “It’s less than 60.” John looked at me and I at him with huge grins on our faces, two school boys holding out hope that one of us was the winner.

She then said, “It’s higher than 49.” We had goose bumps. Then she called my number, “It’s lower than 51.” That wasn’t what I wanted to her, but it meant my friend won. “Number 50!” she cried. John and I jumped and hugged. Immediately the thought came to mind, “John gave away $20, and God gave him a four-wheeler.”

Not Prosperity Gospel

I reject and hate what is called the prosperity gospel. It is an unbiblical belief that says financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and if Christians will “sow the seed” of a monetary gift, then God will open the windows of heaven, pouring out on the giver much more money than he gave away. It was the doctrine of Oral Roberts and is the doctrine of Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen, Paula White, and many others. It is heretical, unbiblical, and predatory teaching. God never promises to make anybody wealthy if they will give what they have. When the poor widow gave her mites, she remained a poor widow (Mark 12:41-44).

Yet the Bible has much to say about giving away our money or possessions with the expectation of blessing. For example Jesus said, Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Luke 6:37-38). What was Jesus promising? Not financial riches. Jesus was promising the blessing of God on generous people in whatever way the wisdom of God distributes His blessings, but there is no promise of more money, more health, or more affluence.

To be sure God owes a debt to no man. As wisdom says, He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given (Proverbs 19:17), and He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor (Proverbs 22:9). When we are generous, God gives back to us in whatever manner He thinks best. Generosity is a godly trait that God’s people should develop. It should be on display in our tithes and offerings, in our assistance of needy people, and whenever we have the opportunity to do good.

Have you noticed how miserable stingy people are? Have you observed that generous people are joyful people? Making a tight fist around your money and your stuff can wear you out just like making a tight fist around a rope will wear you down. Stop clinching your hand around your money and your stuff. Sure, you’ll keep your money and your stuff, but you will miss out on the greater blessing of God.

I am convinced God poured into the lap of a generous Christian man a great gift. John exchanged a twenty-dollar bill for a four-wheeler. The difference is John didn’t know ahead of time he was doing this nor was that his motivation. He was just being generous because that’s what Christians are. They are generous just as their God is generous. John never thought, “Maybe if I give this guy my vest, God will give me a four-wheeler.” That’s a version of the prosperity gospel. The Christian gospel is Freely you have received. Freely give (Matthew 10:8).

You’re So Lucky!

Do you believe in luck? Nearly all of us say flippant things like, “You’re so lucky” or “If it weren't for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Again, do you believe in luck? I do not. I believe in a sovereign God who’s “got the whole world in his hands.” When John won, somebody said to me, “He’s so lucky!” No, He. Is. Not. Luck had nothing to do with it. God had everything to do with it.

I believe every verse in the Bible. So when James writes, Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father (1:17), I believe that. John’s winning of the four-wheeler was a gift from God to John.

I do not know if God would have given John the four-wheeler had John not given away his vest. Here’s what I do know – John lives a generous life, demonstrated once again when he refused the $20 and gave away his vest, and God liberally gave to a generous man a great gift.

John opened his hand allowing another to have what was in it. God put into his open hand something John never expected.

Why Not Me?

Admittedly, I wish the MC would have called out, “Number 51” handing me the keys to the four-wheeler. Like John, I too would have yelled out, “Praise the Lord.” But I am glad God didn’t give it to me. Instead, God gave to me a much greater gift. He gave to me the most powerful example I’ve ever witnessed of Christian generosity and God’s giving back to one of His own. I witnessed give, and it shall be given to you. God taught me in high definition it is more blessed to give than to receive.

My Expectation

John and I have fished in this tournament for the last seven years. Until two years ago John proposed a deal – If either of us won the four-wheeler, then we would sell it and split the proceeds. Though John lives on a hobby farm, he declared he had absolutely no use for a four-wheeler. I disagreed with his opinion, but John can be…strong willed.

A year ago John changed his tune and began to tell me how he would use the four-wheeler were he to win it. Our years’ long deal was off.

Now John has his four-wheeler, and he will use it like he’s dreamed of using it, but I guarantee that will not be its only use if John stays true to form. When he becomes aware that he can serve somebody else with the use of his new toy, he will. Should he discover that his four-wheeler can benefit somebody else, he will gladly lend it to him. Should the Lord take it away from John, I expect John to quote Job, The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Then I expect God to pour into the lap of His generous servant a greater gift.

Christian friend, be generous and remember God loves a cheerful giver.

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Thank You For Doing What You Do Today

Thanks for going to work today, and yesterday, and the day before that. And thanks for going to work tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. I get to write because you go to work today. I do not take that lightly, and I fully respect what that means for me.

I am able to live and provide for my family because you give your hard-earned-money week after week, month after month for the support of the ministry here at First Calvary Baptist Church. That’s sobering to me.

Obviously, I should not slack off or give minimal effort because the Lord sees all I do or…don’t do. However, another motivator should be what you do. I should not slack off or give minimal effort because your work makes it possible for me to read and write, to study and preach, to dream and plan, and to visit, be in the community, and pray. Thank you.

Not all pastors have it this way or want it this way. In smaller works where there simply are not enough people to support a pastor full-time, that pastor must be bi-vocational. That means he fulfills his pastoral responsibilities and works a second job to make ends meet. Many church planters do this. Other pastors are bi-vocational by choice. The church is large enough to support him, but he chooses to hold another job for a variety of reasons – he wants the contact with unsaved people, or he desires the church use its financial resources a different way, or he just likes doing that kind of work (like teaching at a seminary maybe).

My Musing today isn’t very long nor all that deep. I just want to say thank you for getting out of bed today and going to work or thank you for getting out of bed all those years before retirement and going to work. You make it possible for me to be your pastor. What you do allows me to do what I do. Your labor and sacrifice means a great deal to me.

Most of you work really hard. Some of you work at stress-filled jobs. It’s my intention to do right by you by working hard at my job.

My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen (1 Cor 16:24).

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.


What Happened to Summer?

The Minnesota State Fair is in its second week. (By the way, have you tried any of the new fair foods? There's the Bacon Fluffernator, a cinnamon bun sandwhich loaded with bacon, peanut butter, and marshmallow. Who can resist the Bacon Up Pup, a Belgian waffle on a stick with bacon in the batter, dipped in chocolate, coated in maple syrup and topped with whipped cream and bacon? Then there's the Bowl O' Dough, scoops of safe to eat cookie dough served with a side of ice milk. If you get to the fairgrounds early in the morning, grab a Breakfast Buddy Bowl. Simply, if it's for breakfast, there's a good chance it's in the bowl.) Our college students have left to begin a new semester. Fall sports teams open their seasons in just a few days, and shopping for school clothes and supplies is the number one agenda item of moms everywhere. I hope your summer brought smiles, laughter, and memories for you and your family.

I’ve never been fond of the winter season. For me, summer cannot get here soon enough and leaves all too quickly. With the exception of Christmas and New Year’s Day, I tolerate winter. My thought has always been, “Live where it’s warm, and vacation where it’s cold.” Long underwear, layers, and leather gloves just aren’t my style. I prefer short sleeves, baseball hats, and swimming in lakes. I joke with our church family, “I know why I live here. I live here because you live here. What I don’t know is why you live here!”

That’s not entirely true. I do know why most of you live here. For some, this is where you’ve always lived, and you love life in Minnesota for many good reasons. For others, this is where your family is, and the comfort and closeness of family keeps you at home. For most of us this is where our jobs are. We live here because we work here. In recent years a number of our families relocated to other parts of the United States because of a job change. That’s nothing new and will continue to be a part of our church life. By God’s grace, new families will join us as they relocate to the Twin Cities because of work.

Still, many of you could live somewhere else if you wanted to. One of the great luxuries of life in the United States is autonomy to live in South St. Paul, South Dakota, South Carolina, or Southern California. So why do you live here?

For us as Christian men and women committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, living here is more than comfort, family, or a job. We live here because we believe this is where the Lord would have us serve him. Simply, we live here because we think this is the best place right now to do what Jesus wants us to do. This is where He where He wants us to be salt and light (Matt 5:13-16). This is where He wants us to make disciples (Acts 1:8; Matt 28:18-20). He doesn’t want us on a tropical island, on a seacoast, in the Sun Belt, in Asia or in Europe. He wants us right here, engaged in His work. It’s so easy to long for something else, someplace else. That’s not good for us. Fantasizing about life somewhere else creates a sense of discontent that diminishes our effectiveness for Jesus Christ in the place where we are. As one old-time preacher used to say, “Grow where you’re planted.”

So let’s get after fulfilling our Lord’s will for us right here. Summer ends with the coming Labor Day holiday. We’ve had a good rest. Now let’s get to work pursuing relationships with unsaved neighbors and friends. Let’s get busy teaching younger Christians how to live the Christian life. Let’s care for each other in our church family so that no need we can solve goes unmet. Let’s pray daily and earnestly that the work we do here in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota, will endure for generations.

Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

An Empty Nest

My parents experienced it, and yours did too. The day comes for all parents when their house empties of the sounds of adolescence. They call us, “empty nesters,” and Brenda and I are there.

By the end of the week, our four bedroom house with the upstairs dormitory will be empty, kid free, and strangely quiet. For more than 26 years she and I, the two who became one, have lived life with at least one other person. With only the rarest of exceptions have there been nights when no children lay head to pillow under the same roof as the two of us.

Beginning with Michael and growing with the additions of Jennifer, Emily, and Jeffery, our house and home out of necessity have centered priorities on those two sons and daughters. Where we lived, when and what we ate, the time we went to bed, the vehicle we drive, and determining a monthly, weekly, or yearly calendar all revolved around the education, activities, and lives of our kids. As a matter of daily life, that time is over. It’s a weird thought to consider.

Neither of us is afraid or anxious. We are curious. We’ve never done this before, and we wonder what it will be like. We’ll know soon enough. Thankfully, the bonding enjoyed by Brenda and me has not resided primarily in the joint task of raising children. Our bond was forged three decades ago, years before a child entered our lives.

We know change is coming. There’s no need to have multiple gallons of milk in the fridge or six varieties of opened cereal boxes. We also know we will need to serve each other more and differently than we have in recent years. Teenage kids do a lot for parents; we will need to do those things for each other.

I find this stage of life odd. There is no formal preparation for it like there is for other monumental points on the timeline. There was pre-marital counseling and birthing classes, but where’s the class on how to be an empty nester? My instinct is we’ve spent the last 26 years raising children while also unwittingly preparing for what begins next week. If I’m mistaken and the years leading up to this week have not prepared us for next week, well, then I guess there’s a sharp learning curve on the horizon.

While I am looking forward to time with Brenda without the interruption of “Mom!” there are some moments I think I will miss – at least in the short term.

I will miss the ride in the minivan to Sunday worship. At the very top of life with our children is the three-mile ride from home to church building. Like every family Sunday morning can be hard, but we figured out how to minimize the struggles. Sunday morning van rides filled with singing and prayer have been a gift to me. I will miss the sound of my children’s voices on a snowy February morning.

I will miss our family dinners. We discovered early on the happiness a family can have at a shared meal. I know it’s not universal in Christian homes, I wish it was, but the laughter and pure joy when Christians gather at a family meal can hardly be duplicated. I think if you asked our kids about some of their most memorable cherished times with their siblings and Brenda and me, they would talk about our dinner table.

I will miss the car rides to and from athletic practices, music lessons, Wednesday children’s programs, and youth activities. I’m telling you, I had some of the best moments with my kids ubering them to whatever the next thing was on the calendar. I suspect Brenda and I have done more parenting with an eye toward the future behind the wheel of a car than at nearly any other time in our lives.

There’s more we will miss, but I don’t want to convey a sense of discontent. I don’t think that’s where we are. The Lord gave us a task to do for period of time. Aspects of that task have come to an end, some remain. Others will become apparent in the days, months, and years ahead. We peer with wonder into the future of what our kids’ lives and ours will be like as time marches on. What we desire for them we desire for ourselves – to be faithful to our Lord, to serve him in every new way, and to trust his sovereignty in our lives. Each of them now lives the remainder of life on the foundation we tried to lay before leaving our home.

If you need Brenda or me, please leave a message. We are celebrating young love.

As always I welcome your comments or any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

A Mother's Heart


From the beginning of the year, our church has prayed and anxiously waited for the birth of five children to five women in our church. When my phone showed the call was from Dan, I answered, "Is there a baby?!" Dan's next word's took my breath away as the young father told me his daughter, only days away from her due date, had inexplicably died in womb.

As you can imagine, the funeral was a somber setting. We were Christians weeping with those who weeped. The small, white casket held the infant body of Melody. Her mother asked me to read a letter to the daughter she will meet again in heaven. I share it with you with her permission.

My dearest Melody Lucinda,

This is a letter I never thought I would have to write. Of all the babies in the world, I never thought this would happen to mine and I still don't understand why God chose to take you to heaven and why he chose me to have to endure this heartache. When we found out we were expecting you, your daddy and I were thrilled. We were so excited for Joseph to have a little sibling and I began hoping for a girl because I knew how much he would love a little sister. I remember taking granny with me to my 10-week midwife appointment, where we thought we would be able to hear your heartbeat for the first time. The midwife explained that since it was so early in the pregnancy, sometimes they can't find a heartbeat at that point, but she was able to hear yours almost immediately. "Must be showing off for grandma," she remarked. It was a relief to know you were thriving and growing.

Then a few weeks later, daddy, Joseph, Grandma Kallestad and I went in for your 20-week ultrasound. Everything looked perfect and toward the end, it was time to find out if you were a boy or girl. Even in the womb, you were as stubborn as could be. I had to flip back and forth to try to get you in a position where we could see what we needed to see. Then finally the technician announced that you were a girl. I was overjoyed to be having a daughter. I had the name Melody Lucinda picked out for at least ten years and I would finally get to use it.

Over the next few months, I had fun picking out all sorts of girl clothes, decorating your nursery and dreaming about what it would be like to have a daughter. I thought about getting to wear matching outfits, teaching you to play the piano and watching you and your brother interact and play together.

Joseph was so excited to meet you. Whenever we asked him where baby sister was, he would point at my belly and say, "Baby." When he felt you kick, he would get a huge grin on his face and say, "Baby kicking." One night I told him to give sister a hug and he did and said, "Love you baby." We tried teaching him to say your name, but the closest he ever got was "Mo-nee-nee."

As your due date approached, everyone was anxious and wondered when you would be coming. I went in for my 38 week checkup and everything was normal. Your heart was beating wonderfully, just like it had been for every other appointment. I hoped that would be my last appointment, but at 39 weeks you still hadn't come. I went in for my normal checkup, not knowing that this would be the furthest appointment from normal that I could ever have. After trying to find your heartbeat on two different machines, I began to sense that something was very wrong. I sent daddy a message at work and said he needed to come quickly. When he arrived we had an ultrasound, but unlike most ultrasounds, this was not one we were looking forward to. After confirming your little heart had stopped beating, we were left to absorb the weight of our new reality. We wouldn't be bringing you home from the hospital. There would be no getting up at night to nurse you, no bringing Joseph to the hospital to meet you, no hearing you cry for the first time, no dressing you up in your many outfits, no getting to sing "In my heart there rings a melody" to you and no getting to watch you grow up.

But, in between all the "nevers," I tried to focus on the things you get to do that most babies don't. You saw the face of Jesus before you saw your parents. You went from knowing the love of your family to the love of God. You will never know what it's like to feel pain or sadness.

Whenever I have a moment of missing you, I think about you getting to play with your great aunt Lucinda. She was very special to me and after she passed away, I knew I wanted my first daughter to have Lucinda as her middle name. The thing I remember most about her is how joyful she was. Her laugh was contagious. I can't ever remember her getting upset, even as she was dying of cancer. I was sad that she wouldn't be alive to meet you or hear your name, but now she gets to meet you before I do.

Melody, I want you to know that even though you only lived inside me for 39 weeks and 2 days, just like your great aunt Lucinda you brought so much joy to so many people. We were all looking forward to seeing you and holding you. As I held you in my arms after delivering you, I was amazed at how beautiful you were. You had ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. You looked so much like your big brother, yet you were your own person. I wanted to be able to do something to help you. I felt like I had failed you as your mommy. I kept wishing more than anything that you would wake up, but I knew that wasn't going to happen.

Had you been born alive, my prayer for your life would have been that God would use you to point all those around you to Him. Even though your life was much shorter than anyone would have thought or hoped, my prayer is the same. I look forward to seeing how God is going to use your life for His glory. Sweet Melody, I will never forget you or the joy you brought me. I praise God for allowing me to carry you for 39 weeks and 2 days. It is an honor to be your mommy and I look forward to meeting you someday. I love you more than words could ever express. You will forever be my baby girl.

Love, Mommy  

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.