Monthly Archives: April 2009

A Building Matter…

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in. I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought Israel up out of Egypt to this day. I have moved from one tent site to another, from one dwelling place to another.’” (1 Chronicle 17:4-5).

I have little time to be here today, friends. Still and yet, I’ve been stuck in 1 Chronicles 17 for the better part of an hour and feel like I want to say something. Nothing new on my end; “saying” something seems an easy fit with my personality. That being said, not all my “saying” is worthy of the “saying.” Are you following me?

Even if you’re not, there’s something I want to say to you. Something I think that God would like for us to remember as we go about the business of our day, desperately trying to “build” a life that matters. We’re all busy building something.

Bank accounts.
___________________ (you fill in the blank).

Regardless of the “dressing” we’re wearing this morning, whether it be a hard hat, a whistle, and briefcase, some overalls, or, perhaps even our pj’s from the night before, you and I woke up to build something this morning. And while our intentions may operate from the purest of motives, nothing will build as lasting … nothing will frame as enduring… without the hands of God in the mix.

Here’s the deal. As Christians, we’re tempted to think that “If we build it, He will come.” Sometimes it seems to happen that way. But there’s a danger in thinking that the work of our hands and hearts can contain the holy presence of Almighty God. Our “building” may sound good on paper … might even match up with the truth of God’s Word and even receive the prayerful support of a well-intentioned committee or a home-team advantage.

But unless God builds it, we labor in vain … in our prideful attempts at trying to make God happen rather than simply letting God be. Where he will. When he will. Moving from one tent to another as he will.

You and I are that tent. As New Testament believers, we house the presence of the living God in this covering of our flesh—a temporary covering that will soon trade in for the eternal cloaking of a forever structure. Wherever we walk, he walks. God inhabits our flesh in order to build his kingdom through us, most days in spite of us. Most days we get it backwards. Most days we move ahead of God’s process.

We build and then we ask and then we wonder what went wrong. Why isn’t it working? Why isn’t the all-consuming fire from God descending upon our precious altar of hard work and sacrifice and causing it to burn with all the fervor and purpose of heaven? Why do the offerings of my brother or my sister’s heart seem more pleasing to God? Where is my payoff for doing something for kingdom?

Oh friends, we mean well. Really we do, and I believe that God honors our meaning well. We can’t always see on the front side of our laboring which way it’s going to go. Sometimes we just jump in with all the wild and wooly of a well-meaning trust, and rather than smacking us down immediately, God tenderly esteems the “want to” behind our building. He sees our hearts that are eager to do something … to be something … to work toward something that will matter in the end.

He doesn’t balk at our desire. Instead, he simply asks us for the shaping of that desire. For us to bring our desire before him … to sit with him in uninterrupted pause and consider the “building” together. As the “tent holders” of an extraordinary King and his kingdom therein, we carry the weighty responsibility of bringing Jesus into the mix of our everyday doings.

Wouldn’t it be better to consult him before dragging him into the work of our hands? In doing so, we might save ourselves a heap of heartache and disappointment on the front end of a long labor.

Regardless of your current building project, God is with you. Whether you started it in vain or whether you’ve sensed his fingerprints from the very beginning. God doesn’t abandon us mid-stream. He may not be a fan of our plan (and therefore calling us to change course), but God has and always will be a fan of our hearts. He understands that we won’t always get it right. That sometimes we let our dreams about “building something bigger” eclipse his dreams about “building something lasting.”

And I don’t know how you stand on the issue, but as for me, I’m after a “something” that is going to last. God determines the size of the building, and whether it is a big thing or a small fraction of that big, it will be a perfect fit into a perfect plan that constructs a perfect kingdom within a perfect forever.

I can live with that. Indeed, I can run with this one. Thus, I’d better get out of these pj’s and get on with my moving on. God’s got something to build through me; you too. And while we may not be able to see the fullness of the plan in this moment, we can be confident that there is one. May we all have the good sense and willing heart to sit before our Father this day and ask for it rather than assuming our wisdom and strength enough to build it. Thus, I pray…

Forgive us, Father, when we think ourselves worthy of building our lives in isolation. Your hands build everlasting. Mine build to dust. Keep me mindful and humble of the chasm between the two. Keep me thankful for the grace that covers my willful ignorance accordingly. Amen.

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PS: Whew… that’s a lot of saying for someone who doesn’t have much time today! That being said, I believe someone needed to hear it. I certainly did. If you want to take further time with this concept, please read 1 Chronicles 17 and see what God might be saying to you about your current “building” project. Mine looks a whole lot like a WIP (work in progress) near completion, but that’s another post for another day. Shalom.

The Amazing Confrontation of Grace

The Amazing Confrontation of Grace

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’” (John 6:60-64a).

I made a two-year-old cry this morning.

I didn’t mean to make her cry. Singing about the amazing grace of God isn’t supposed to bring one to tears, at least not her kind of tears, but this morning … it did.

Perhaps I sang it too loud. Perhaps too shrill. Perhaps too full of a truth that exceeded the silence of the moment. Regardless of the reasons behind her tears, they came in full measure toward the end of my song, accompanied by her tender proclamation to her grandma, “I don’t like that song.”

It made my heart smile, and then it made my mind think.

The amazing grace of Jesus Christ is a confrontational word. It is meant to stir a response in the hearts of those who sit within earshot of the proclamation. Jesus Christ didn’t go all the way to Calvary and back to keep us paralyzed by its truth. Grace is meant to evoke a response in each one of us.

For some, grace swallows sweet. For some, it’s a longer chew. For others, grace doesn’t swallow … amazing or otherwise. It’s simply too big of a bite for a stomach that is content to gnaw on the stony rations of an uncomplicated understanding.

Just ask them—those “followers” of Christ who were eye-witnesses to the real-time unfolding of grace’s “amazing.” Some would immediately take to its unwrapping. Some would live with it for a season before coming around to acceptance. Some would simply balk at the weight of it and run in the opposite direction. The “them” of Jesus’ day are no different than the “us” of this day.

We like to think that our responses to Jesus would have been different had we been there. That somehow we would have immediately taken to the truth of his living witness. But I don’t think the benefit of a 2000 year hindsight has birthed a better faith in most of us. Why?

Because we have the truth of Christ’s living witness in our midst. He is here among us; he didn’t vanish on a hillside to never be seen again. He’s been presenting himself and his amazing grace to humanity throughout the existence of time. You and I sit on the backside of grace’s redeeming finish; still and yet, its truth isn’t an easy cloaking for many. It is a “hard teaching” in our time, even as it was during its genesis on a Judean soil so long ago.

Does this mean that grace no longer works? That the amazing of John Newton’s 1779 penned reflection lacks in its truthful punctuation about the completed work of the cross? That our many words about the Word have somehow lost their potency … their capacity and strength to transform?

Not at all.

Grace is still amazing. Two thousand years of testing its waters hasn’t diminished its effectiveness. Grace’s truth remains, despite man’s neglect to the contrary. But grace is as grace has always been.


Thus, some will receive it and some won’t because confrontation pushes the issue of our consent for God’s holy consecration of our lives. Grace stands at the door of a heart and knocks and pleads and invites and offers, but never will it hammer its insistence into the heart of unwillingness. The cross of Jesus Christ will never force its grace into the will of an unbeliever. It only forces a choice in the matter.

Acceptance or rejection. There is no middle ground when it comes to the amazing grace of an amazing God. Hearing his truth requires a response.

As a teenager, I walked my definite response to an altar on a wintry night in Alabama during a youth retreat. In some ways, it was a familiar walk; from my earliest days I have believed in a great big God who loves me beyond reasonable limits. It wouldn’t be the last time I would walk a pilgrimage of surrender. I’m still walking it. I did so today.

Not because I have finally come to the conclusion of what an amazing grace means, but rather because grace and all its amazing is worthy of my bended knee and a heart’s pause that cries out a prayer or two of unashamed thankfulness.

Even when it’s loud. Even when it’s teaching is a hard swallow. Even when it elicits unsuspecting tears. And especially when the fullness of its truth exceeds the worth of a world’s silence to the contrary.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

How glad I am for the amazing confrontation of God’s grace with my heart. May I never lose the wonder behind its unwrapping. May I always speak the witness of its truth. I pray the same for you. Thus, I offer my plea this day to the One who created us with grace in mind…

Intersect our hearts, Father, with grace’s amazing witness this week. Fill our mouths with the sweetness of its taste. Loudly knock its truth upon the door of our wills so as to drown out the world’s insistence to the contrary. When it’s hard to understand, when it’s difficult to accept, paint grace for us in a way that swallows easy and that portions fully. May our tears pour the witness of understanding rather than the wet of confusion. Gently wrap our faith in the mystery of Love’s redeeming work and then give us the ample courage to tie the bow accordingly. What we now know in part, we will one day fully grasp. Keep us in revenant anticipation of that final revelation. Amen.

[i] Robert J. Morgan, “Amazing Grace,” Then Sings My Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 78-79.

beyond the sippy cup…for Colton

beyond the sippy cup…for Colton

When you were young, you were prone to accidents. I thought age would cure it. I kept waiting for it to happen … a season of maturation that would nip said tendencies in the bud.Soon, you’ll turn eighteen, and albeit your accidents mask differently these days, you’ve still got a knack for knocking things over, tripping on rugs, and leaving a trail of milk and cereal while on the way to the couch. We used to tease you that you would be taking your sippy cup with you to the prom.

Tonight, you proved me wrong. I looked for it. I didn’t see it. Instead I saw something different. I saw a young man on his first date, struggling to “get it right,” all the while making his mother proud. There were a few tenuous moments while working the Velcro to attach the corsage, but in the end, you … my boy … gave me a lovely remembrance.

We’ve come a long way son; together we’ve struggled in our maturing, but always have we loved. And I love the man that you are becoming.

Thank you for letting me mother you for a season longer. Soon you will walk across that stage and then, walk on … on to a next that walks, in part, without me. I know you’re ready. I’m not quite there. But just in case I forget to say it in the flurry of the next few weeks…

It’s been my privilege to call you son and to watch you grow beyond your need for sippy cups. You stand at the edge of an extraordinary “next.” Your God has made sure of that, and I will continue to applaud each milestone with all the proud and joy that this mother’s heart can hold.

I love you, Colton. Tonight, you made my heart smile. Deeply. Richly. Far beyond what I ever imagined possible all those years ago. Thanks for allowing me to love you imperfectly. Thank you for forgiving me accordingly.Your best days are ahead of you; walk them … live them … like you mean it, and may you always know in Jesus Christ,

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Walking the Earth

Today I walked the earth. Rather, it walked me.

Normally I run it, but a ferocious northwest wind coupled with last Saturday’s face plant at the Great Outdoor Provision Company (I’m not kidding) necessitated my compliance. Two years ago, I severely injured my ankle while out running. It would take a long season of healing before I would, once again, feel the earth beneath my pace.

I was reminded of that today. And while my ankle and my pride have survived the embarrassment of an awkward fall, I felt a twinge of reminder as I took to the road. My ankle would have absorbed the weight of a mild jog, but when I felt the added resistance of a tempestuous wind, I decided to give myself a break.

And here’s what I’m thinking…

Some days we get a pass, friends. Some days it’s better to walk it then to run it. Some days … some seasons … in our lives are so full of some “stuff”—some good and some not so—that it seems wiser to walk the race rather than to run through our paces with the maddening intent of a fast finish.

Are you with me?

I’m a fast finisher. Always have been. Get to it, get it finished, and then get on with the moving on. Thus, when life interjects the wisdom of a slower cadence, I’m quick to walk my way around it; at least until I’m forced to bow before it.

Two years ago, I bowed. My running wasn’t an option. Today I did the same; this time, however, not because I had to but rather because I’ve seen the beauty of what an intentional slow-down can bring. Today I walked out of my “want to” rather than my “have to,” and in doing so, received the gift of sacred perspective.

As Christians, we are well-familiar with the Apostle Paul’s spiritual metaphor of “running the race.” It’s a pulpit favorite, a devotional favorite, and one in which I’m sure I’ve interjected my own two-cent’s worth. A worthy word because, indeed, you and I have been given a spiritual journey that is worthy of a heart’s best efforts at completion. Accordingly, we should take to the road with all the truth and confidence of heaven to back us as we go.

Some days the course runs smoothly. Some days the wind runs at our back, buoying our steps and moving us in fast progression to the next corner. But then there are those other days. Days that run ragged. Days that take our breath away and that force our sweat and determination at a level that begs to differ. Days when the wind engages our steps with a frontal assault and with the ferocious fury of hell’s intention. Rather than finding our stride, we fight to stay upright and in forward motion.

It’s all we can do to walk it through … sometimes even finding our crawl to make it through. I know. I’ve got the calloused knees to prove it. I boast the swollen fragments of a hard fought faith that has, at times, sought to get the best of me, but in the end, has acquiesced to the least of me. The tiny, mustard-seed part of me that was willing to hang on and to push through because I understand that this is the journey that I’ve been given to complete.

No one else will finish it for me. It’s mine to pilgrim. You’ve been handed your own to walk.

Accordingly, it’s good to know that some days (when we need it the most) we get a pass to walk it through with all the patience and beauty of a slow-going, yet forward moving faith that will eventually land us at the end of the road. Whether we run it, walk it, or crawl it through to the finish, all of us will come to that end.

When we do, we’ll have the beauty of a backwards’ glance that validates the steps taken to get there. It won’t matter how they paced; what will matter is how they finish. And as for me and my heart, I’m after a “well-done”—an “all is well that end’s well” because my life was lived well … with intention and on purpose.

Today, I walked the earth. In turn, it walked all over me, and the sacred perspective that was birthed between the two is enough to warrant my continuing trust for the road ahead. How I pray for the willing strength to keep pace with a gracious and willing God who has allowed me my footprints upon his earthen sod at such a time as this. Yours too.

Ours are the intended footprints of a perfected plan—an extraordinary gift of everlasting proportion. Thus I pray…

Let the markings of my feet, Father, be a trail of faith for others to follow in the days to come. Strengthen my feeble frame for the straight and the narrow path and keep me to that path all the days of my life. When I run, when I walk, when I stumble, and when I crawl, may the wind of your Spirit be with me to push me forward with all the dignity and grace of heaven’s acclaim. I cannot finish well without you, Lord. Keep me mindful of my need. Keep me humble all the more. I’m coming home to you. Pace my steps accordingly.

In the name of the Father loves me, the Son who carved the path for me, and the Spirit who is faithful to follow after me and to fill me with the truth and strength of my forever, Amen and Amen.


Copyright © April 2009 – Elaine Olsen

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PS: I want to direct you over to an incredible post I read this afternoon at Jennifer’s “Getting Down with Jesus” blog. She’s new to me, a fabulous writer, and has a great story to share with us about waking up the earth. I loved it for so many reasons. Check it out when you have time. Shalom.

Ruby Tuesdays: A Mighty Woman (part five)

Ruby Tuesdays: A Mighty Woman (part five)

Join us today over at Refreshmoments for Ruby Tuesdays! Add your own post to the mix and link accordingly. To read my previous posts, click here.

“In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.” (Proverbs 31:19).

Distaff and spindles.

A calling, friends, if ever there was one. Why? Because it requires the use of both hands and a full attention therein. Spinning fibers into thread is a skilled and ancient art form … a gifting that exceeds our casual and over the counter purchases of fabric. Fabric roots back to the thread. Without thread, no blankets, no garments, no coverings of soft and tender to wrap our flesh and our need.

Modern technology has made the progression from wool to yarn an easier reach; but you’ve got to give it up for those who possess the capacity to create a tapestry through the giftings and sole intention of their hands. For those who have enough vision to see the end before the beginning. For the rare few who have the capacity to weave the unusable into something substantial.

Our modern approach to the finished product holds little interest to the weaver of ancient tradition. Instead, what matters to the weaver is the craftsmanship that exists to bring about the fruition of a hard day’s labor … a life’s long endeavor. To hold the distaff and the spindles and then to couple them in unison to create a thread that will serve a greater purpose is the lifeblood and heartbeat behind a weaver.

Indeed, a calling of supreme and everlasting significance.

As it is with the weavers of an ancient thread, so it is with a mighty woman. Thus, a question or two as it pertains to the holdings of your hands.

What boasts the grasp of your fingers this day? What distaff and spindles have been entrusted to your hands? What is the tapestry commissioned to your tender care and intention? What artistry has been assigned your life? What weaving is yours alone for the lacing?

We’ve all been given one. A gift. A treasure. An unusable holding assigned to us for its reshaping into something of worth. Mine doesn’t necessarily look like yours; yours could never perfectly fit into mine. Yet all are worthy as it pertains to the embroidering of an eternal kingdom.

From the very beginning, our gracious God has been working it out through the likes of you and me. For some reason beyond reasonable sense, He’s allowed us the gift of sacred participation … of adding our own colors and schemes and fanciful whimsies into the mix of a greater purpose. Through us, He seeds the full spectrum of a sacred and unified kaleidoscope.

It may look like chaos to us, but through His eyes and because of His imagination, the giftings that He has allowed our hands, paint a perfect portrait of a faultless to stand before the throne kind of finish. Accordingly, who would deny Father God the privilege of seeing his many threads weave together to unite as a beautiful fabric?

I don’t want the guilt of God’s objection. Instead, I want my hands to know the fullness of the distaff and the spindle that have been specifically designed for my grasp. I want to be one of the rare few who are able to imagine the end, even as I begin to weave my “unusable” into something of worth. I don’t want the fast forward approach of modern technology to rob me of the joy that comes from an intentional and, sometimes, challenging participation.

Instead, I want the satisfaction of holding a finished product that has come about because of a willingness to fill my hands with the business at hand. God’s business, not mine.

That, my friends, is a calling. When we take hold of all of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of us, we cradle our life’s long endeavor that always weaves substantial and that continually breathes with all the providential hope and joy of heaven.

Distaff and spindles. What’s in your hand this day?

Weave it well and with all the craftsmanship of a mighty kingdom participant who understands the truth of a sacred holding. Only you can spin your gift. It is your privilege to do so. Thus, I pray…

Show me the worth of my hands, Father. Fill them with the truth of your giftings for my life. Forgive me for thinking it not enough … not worthy of my intention or my time. Whatever treasure you place within my hands, give me a deliberate heart to tend to it with the finest service toward your kingdom end. Thank you for trusting me with a part of your perfected tapestry. May I always be found faithful to weave my portion in willing accord with you heart. Amen.

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