Thursday, July 31, 2008

On the Road in the RV – But Not Like the Movie

Our son Gregg, wife Elaine, and their daughters Talli, Hayley and Aubrey are on the way to several National Parks in the Rocky Mountains. But fortunately, their trip so far has been nothing like the "adventures" the Munro family endured in the 2006 movie, RV.

Pictured above is their 28-foot long RV, purchased pre-owned two years ago, parked in an RV facility in St. Regis, Montana, where they enjoyed the beautiful scenery and spent a night. We haven’t heard much from them for a couple of days now, so we assume they’re enjoying every minute.

They took along all manner of recreational stuff from bikes to hiking gear to fishing poles. What’s great is that with an RV and an “open” schedule, you can enjoy the fun all along the way and stay as long as you want whenever you want. I think they plan an additional week and a half on the road.

Included are scheduled pauses at Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks and an overnight in the Grand Tetons. You can follow their trip on his blog (click here) as he submits posts from places along the way that have wi-fi.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Grace and Mercy Are Not Fair

Two of the most perplexing New Testament parables, for me, until the past few years, have been “The Prodigal Son” and “The Vineyard Laborers”.

The reason is that neither of them is “fair”.

In Luke’s “Prodigal Son,” the son who did everything right (and with whom I always tried to identify) got sort of shoved aside when the disobedient son (admittedly penitent) finally returned home to his father and was lavished with celebrations and gifts. I would at times wonder, what good is it to do things right all the time? (Shown, btw, is Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”)

In Matthew’s “Vineyard Laborers,” the landowner hired workers at various hours throughout the day but paid them all the same wage at the end of the day. I would at times wonder, why not go to work at noon, then, if you could?

Of course I missed the point on both counts.

Neither grace nor mercy is fair. But both are inherent in God’s character. And if you think more about it, it’s a very good thing for us humans that things are the way they are with God.

If God were fair, rather than full of grace and mercy, humankind would have no chance. If God were fair, he’d judge us on our own performance. And of course, in that vein, we’re all failures and, moreover, incapable of extricating ourselves from our deficient plight.

Fortunately for us, God’s grace and mercy was bestowed on us in this way, according to Romans 5:8 as translated in The Message:

God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.” (Italics mine.)

That is true grace. That is true mercy. Providentially for us, and as shown in the two parables, it isn’t fair.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pulling Back

Every once-in-a-while it’s good to “pull back” and give thought to the bigger picture instead of just blindly plodding on in the everyday slog.

I was thinking this morning (while awaiting the arrival of painters) of what God’s view of our world is like, compared to ours. I can imagine at his first glance it is something like this photo.

But as he would look closer, the image would reveal us humans, hustling and bustling around like hordes of ants on a mound. My sense is that as God looks down on this activity-filled planet, he laments all of the purposeless human effort.

I can hear him grieving, “O what I could accomplish through my people if they would just be responsive to my nudgings.”

Of course as humans, we’re consumed with our “important” work. We must plan for unexpected eventualities. We must take care of our family. We must invest wisely. We must plan and save so we can send our kids to college. We must be self-sufficient. We must plan for retirement.

But do we ever pull back and ask the most important question of all? That is, WHY are we doing all these things? Is it so that we can better live out God’s grace in the world (which is our sacred calling as Christians)? Or are we consumed with “our” agenda?

All of the aforementioned concerns are “western” (read Euro-American) values. And we American Christians have thoroughly bought into them. Jesus, however, had quite a contrasting plan for us, and I’ve alluded to it before in these posts.

Consider this observation by the late, Dutch Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen: “We are called to be fruitful – not successful, not productive, not accomplished. Success comes from strength, stress, and human effort. Fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and the admission of our own weakness.”

And then look at what Jesus said about fruitfulness in Matthew, chapter 7: “Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits”.

So, apparently, Jesus evaluates us by what we are accomplishing for him in terms of fruitfulness, not by what we are accumulating for ourselves and/or for our future.

God’s perspective is one and the same. Which means he’s looking for some fruitbearers among us ant-like humans. Does he see any? Lord, help me to be sensitive to the nudges, and give me the faith to be a fruitbearer.

Friday, July 25, 2008


As I’ve posted before, we’re in the midst of a remodel in our main living area. The entryway and great room are getting a removal (entry closet, lighting fixtures are gone) and a makeover (new electrical, new paint, new doors and new floors).

During the process (now painfully lingering on a full month longer than expected or planned), we’ve learned a new, much broader definition of the concept of “reliability.” For instance, “tomorrow” doesn’t necessarily mean Friday if today is Thursday. It can mean any random day in the future.

“We’ll get back to you with the cost on the changes,” has no discernable meaning. We’ve had at least a dozen total “no shows” (the guy just didn’t show up – no phone call, no nothing). We’ve had many “lates” (they eventually got there but not at the time they said).

Our contractor has a very fine overall reputation and comes well recommended. And they do wonderful work as it’s completed. When we asked why few workers show up either on time or at all, we were told “it’s typical of our industry”. Yikes.

The real problem, they explained, is that due to the housing slowdown, many more people are doing the same thing we are. Sub-contractors are therefore backed up and everything has a “ten-pin” effect. And of course that doesn’t even touch on the fact that these hard working guys (and gals) put in such long hours (when they work) that they often find creative ways to charge their batteries over the weekend.

Which adds to Monday no-shows, Tuesday back-ups and Wednesday frustration.

Today happens to be Friday and the floor guys are frantically trying to finish today so they won’t have to come back on the weekend.

We can only hope.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Meet the Petersons from Nigeria

Pictured are Dave and Gretchen Peterson, who live and work in Nigeria with the Rafiki Foundation. They both teach orphaned children ages five to 16 at a Christian school in the village of Jos. They are retired and kind of close in age to my wife and me.

We first met Dave and Gretchen about a year ago at a church dinner hosted by another Koskella (yes, there are others with our name, albeit spelled slightly differently) when they were last home. They had previously completed two years in Uganda, and at the time had been in Nigeria for almost a year.

Both Kay Lynne and I “resonated” with the Peterson’s story. After retiring, they felt called to use their gifts to help kids in Africa. They were led to the Rafiki foundation, which provided a perfect fit for the work they felt God was leading them to.

At the time we both commented how totally committed the Petersons were to leave family, friends and country to live out the rest of their lives helping others on another continent. We marveled at the grace God had given them and at the strength they had found once in Africa.

We had lunch with them again today at church following the late service, and I mentioned to Dave how much their lives had affected us. “Well what’s keeping you here?” he asked. “Why not come visit us on a “mini” mission (short term)?”

And you know what, Lord willing? We’re going to think and pray about that. A lot has to happen before such an excursion could take place, but all things are possible, the Good Book says. After all, we do have time, now that we’re retired, and is there a better way to invest it?

“It really doesn’t matter where you die,” Dave mentioned, almost casually, as he talked about their living overseas. And you know what? He is so right.

Click here to get a little better acquainted with these wonderful people who are genuine examples of true followers of Christ. Once at their web site, follow the links to their newsletters, especially, for pics of some of the cutest kids on earth.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Season Is Here. The "Bug" Is Here. The Boat Isn’t.

There have been few days in my life when, upon awakening, I didn’t have the "bug" to go fishing. Today is no exception. But the odds are pretty long that I won’t wet a line.

Yesterday was the opening of the “short” chinook salmon season (hatchery fish only) in nearby areas. It lasts until the quota is met or 30 days pass, whichever comes first. You can also fish for coho of any type during this period.

Prior to the slow reports from yesterday, it was expected that the quota would be met in as little as 10 days. But at the rate fish were caught yesterday, it might could go the distance. We’re very fortunate here in Puget Sound to have any kind of a salmon season at all. Oregon and California have none this year.

Pic above is of one of the “hotter” areas in which to catch the tackle-busting kings – that’s Point-No-Point near the top of the distant left center, looking north from the Eglon point area. Whidbey Island is faintly in the distant top right. Click on the photo for a larger, clearer view.

The boats are out in force again today all over this area, but I won’t be among them. I sold the dependable little Arima late last Fall.

Of course the local charters are always looking for customers. Hmmm….

Monday, July 14, 2008

Record in Home Run Derby

Tonight in Yankee Stadium, at the Major League Home Run Derby held the night before the Annual All Star Game, Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton (right) hit a record 28 home runs in his first round of competition.

But, as it turns out, he didn’t win the event. Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins did.

Evidently, Hamilton’s early herculean efforts took their toll in tiring him, as he was only able to hit three dingers in the final round, while Morneau hit five to win. Three of Hamilton's shots were over 500 feet, and fans were egging him on to be the first player ever to hit one out of Yankee stadium. That didn't happen.

The point of interest in the story is other than baseball. Hamilton, in the last year or two, has reversed a life of addictions and is finding success in both life and baseball beyond his wildest dreams. He attributes it all to a newly-found faith in God.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Birthday Celebration

Aubrey hit a ticket jackpot while playing Wheel of Fortune at Safari Sam’s last night, the first stop in a three-phase, sixth birthday party. That’s her mom behind her and her friend Cicely next to her.

We stuffed ourselves with pizza at Sam’s and then headed home for cake and ice cream and blowing out candles (below Aubrey and Grandpa blow out the candles – we share the same birthday).

But that wasn’t all. The culmination was a swim party in Gregg & Elaine’s backyard pool, which they share with three families of neighbors. The day and evening were quite warm, so it was a perfect time to get wet. Pic below shows Aubrey and her friends splashing their way to a great time as they enjoyed a perfect end to a fun birthday celebration.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Aubrey Turns SIX

Our youngest granddaughter, Aubrey, is six-years-old tomorrow, and we’ll be there to celebrate.

At right is Aubrey last year on her fifth birthday. The lower pic is Aubrey when we were all together in Disneyland; she was just shy of four. This is my all-time favorite pic of her.

You can tell that Aubrey knows who she is and that she’s not shy about expressing it. And did I mention she likes sunglasses? And likes to dress up? And is a bundle of fun?

Aubrey also knows exactly what she likes, and she’s thought a lot about how she’d like to celebrate her birthday.

For this event, she’s chosen a place called Safari Sam’s – a Chuck E. Cheese-type place (with a whole lot more food than just pizza) that has all manner of interactive, fun, climbing and jumping activities and games.

“It’s TWICE as big as Chuck E. Cheese,” she points out. “You can even get lost in there,” she warned us today on the phone. Ok, I’ll carry a GPS.

Tomorrow will be again one of those days that grandparents live for. And we’re no exception. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AUBREY!

Monday, July 07, 2008

What Did It Mean When Christ Said, “Take MY Yoke Upon You… (For It) Is Easy, and My Burden Is Light”? Perhaps Not What You Might Think.

In our worship, once again this past Sunday, we got a fresh perspective on some familiar Scripture verses. Who of us hasn’t heard Jesus’ oft-quoted words in Matthew, chapter 11, verses 28-30:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Most of us, from our western-world, “feel good” approach to the faith, have interpreted this verse to mean that “if we trust Jesus, he will in some way partially carry our life’s load, and therefore our own burden will be much less” – or something like that.

We often like to view our faith as something that can make our lives better, or maybe easier, when the truth is that the call to discipleship is usually anything but comfortable. But it appears Jesus was focusing on something else.

Our Pastor pointed out in his sermon that, in context, the “yoke” that Jesus was talking about was actually the Jewish law – and the inability of humans to keep it perfectly. Instead, what Christ was offering was his provision of salvation – a much lighter and easier-to-bear “yoke” – freely provided.

The sermon was another in the wonderful Lutheran perspective of emphasizing the incredible Grace of God and how this Grace extends to all. This passage of scripture will now forever be, for me, a refreshing and encouraging support for living out that Grace. Thanks be to God.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Is Freedom a Universal Human Yearning?

Everyone wants freedom, or liberty, right? I used to think so, but now I’m maybe not quite so sure.

The first obvious caution light is Iraq – and what’s going on there right now. Are the Iraqis clamoring for a free democracy? Hardly. In fact, it’s looking more and more like we may have to leave permanent troops there if it’s even possible to maintain any democratic influence at all. Why?

A few weeks ago on 60 Minutes I watched an episode where northern European students (in Denmark, I think) bragged that their government “pays them to go to university,” instead of paying to go to college, like we do here.

If they graduate successfully, they are “guaranteed a job, at least six weeks of annual holiday, full health coverage for life and a spot in a retirement home.” Good grief, is this Nirvana?

What these young Europeans give up, however, is almost 60% of each Euro they will ever earn. The government takes it instead. Is it worth it?

“Totally,” said the young Danes, seemingly content to just live and let live.

A zillion questions immediately pop into our western, incentive-motivated minds. What about success, achievement, self-worth, and the good life? Apparently, the Danes are unconcerned. What’s in their air?

And they’re not the only ones, evidently. Other socialist countries and quasi-monarchies in the world are sailing along and seemingly doing just fine – or, at least their people don’t appear to be in dungeons.

Of course this brings up the age-old debate of freedom/liberty vs. control/subjection. Pick your side, and see if you can defend it.

As the world shrinks and national, economic and cultural differences are oozing toward the blender, what will emerge? Your guess is as good as mine. One can just as easily be an optimist – or a pessimist.

I just hope Lady Liberty will retain meaning and represent hope for a long time to come.

O yes, Happy 66th Birthday, Jim.