Monthly Archives: July 2012

a right word at the right time {part one}

“Therefore Jesus told them, ‘The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to the Feast, because for me to right time has not yet come.’ Having said this, he stayed in Galilee. –John 7:6-9

 

Sometimes we need to stay in Galilee a while longer. The Feast in Jerusalem will have to wait because those in attendance are not yet ready to hear the truth. Right words spoken at the wrong time do little to further the kingdom cause; instead, right words spoken at the wrong time often stir the pot of dissension, fueling the anger of the crowd and bringing untimely harm to the truth and the truth-giver.

 

Not that we shy away from speaking the truth for fear of personal harm, but rather we keep to the shadows until the threats no longer thwart the truth. Truth needs a readied stage, a readied audience. The beginning days of the Feast, when frolic and frenzy often reign over reason, rarely provide a readied audience. Sometimes, it’s best to wait for the frenzy to die down instead of prematurely jumping into the fray with right words that, more than likely, will be trampled upon by the wrong motives and wounded pride of those attending the Feast.

 

Jesus wasn’t afraid to die for speaking the truth, for being the Truth; it’s what he came to do . . . to free us from the lies of the enemy. But Jesus knew the right time to speak his right words. He wasn’t swayed by a human agenda that operated out of wrong motives. Instead, he waited . . . walked his Father’s agenda, and when the time was right, he emerged from the shadows and spoke his piece.

 

Eternity holds the witness of what Jesus’ waiting to go to the Feast accomplished for the kingdom. We cannot see the fullness of it just yet. This wasn’t the climax of Christ’s ministry, the biggest accomplishment of his earthly tenure, but it’s worth our time, our pausing a little bit with Jesus in the shadows in order that we might gain understanding regarding a right word spoken at the right time.

 

In this season, we’re being pushed from every angle to enter the fray and to engage in the frolic of a Feast that has little to do with truth and much more to do with pride. Right words have never been more important. But I’m wondering if just maybe we could learn something from Jesus about timing . . . about when to show up at the Feast and when is the right time to speak those right words.

 

We need to make the most of them . . . our right words. We need to make them count. Some would say there are no right words, only opinions. They would be wrong; there are right words, and when they are released in the light and moment of God’s timing, they grow his kingdom, not frustrate it.

 

Right words and the right time to speak those words.

 

I think I’ll pause with Jesus in Galilee today and travel in his shadow. Words not yet spoken that tarry beneath and within the shade of God’s holiness are words that will eventually carry the strength and witness of eternity. Those are the kinds of words worth waiting for, friends. They change the landscape of the world around us and bring the kingdom of God within reach.

 

Wait for them, right words and right timing. The world has never needed them more. As always . . .

 

Peace for the journey,

What is your tendency . . . to jump into the fray with right words too soon or to wait on right timing? What benefit might there be to waiting?

A Sunday Morning look from God’s Pew

This is where we went to church yesterday . . . at least for those of you who answered the roll call on my facebook page:
CommunityWalk Map – God’s House (7-29-12)
Twenty-five states represented (I think), at least twelve denominations and several non-denominational churches. You can click on this link for a better visual. Sorry, NC folks, we’re a bit covered up on the map. Thanks to everyone who pinpointed their Sunday worship to this completely random and highly unscientific poll. There’s no hidden agenda here, no huge motive attached to my survey, and certainly no guilt allowed for anyone who didn’t make it to church yesterday! I just wanted to give you a tiny (emphasis on tiny) of how our “church going” might look to God from his heavenly vantage point. Can you even imagine how we must look to him, how wonderfully warmed God is when he sees our worship meld together as corporate praise on any given Sunday morning?!

 

Along these lines, I’d like to share with you a reflection I wrote in my book, Peace for the Journey. It details the reasons behind my choice to be a church-goer. Blessings to you, each one, as you move forward in your faith this week. Shalom.

 

A Sacred Doing (excerpt from Peace for the Journey, F. Elaine Olsen, 2010, 134-136)

 

Church is a family business around here. Doing life with Jesus isn’t an option in our home. Hearts may refuse the deeper “doing”—the sacred work of the cross. But as it pertains to our physical “doing,” to our comings and our goings and our stops between the two? Well, there is compliance on the part of my children, at least for the seasonal eighteen years beneath our roof.

 

It sounds harsh, legalistic, and intrusive, but as parents charged with the sacred trust of “training up a child” in the way of holiness, we understand that church serves as an ample shaping ground. At least it should. If church isn’t your thing, if for some reason you’ve come to the conclusion that your church is doing more harm than good, then it is time to revisit the issue. Maybe even time to find a new church.

 

Why? Because church was never instituted for our harm. Church was given to us as a gift, as a celebration, as a way of gathering hearts in one accord for the unified worship of the one God who is worthy of our reverent pause.

 

It’s not about programs and seeing how much we can cram into a worship service in hopes of raising our emotional fervor. It’s not about worship preferences, a rocking band, a stoic tradition, or even the dressing of our flesh. It’s not about who knows more, who seems less, who offers little, who tithes best. It has nothing to do with pageantry and pomp and circumstances created to boast a better faith than that of the competing churches down the road.

 

We may think it does, and in many ways, the best of these things often enhance our time of church participation, thus leading us closer to the heart of God. But to limit our church experience within such parameters—to define the quality of our faith based on these self-imposed guidelines—is to limit the sacred worth behind God’s intention for our gatherings. That worth is based on something far greater—a grander intention that cannot be matched by our feeble attempts at the same.

 

Church should be a place where we gather to know God. Any other intention falls subject to this overriding one. We may institute all manner of routes to get there, but at the end of the day, only one path leads us to the heart of the Father . . .

 

The cross of Jesus Christ.

 

Churches that are willing to follow along this path are not obsessed with the peripheral “rest of it.” Instead, the people are simply content to gather together in order to more fully examine and more profoundly entreat the Lover of their souls. Where two or three come together in God’s name, he promises his presence (Matthew 18:20).

 

And this is one of the primary reasons why church is family business in my home. I am counting on the probability that when our Sunday gatherings commence, there will be at least two or three others who have gathered with a similar intention. I want my children to be in the path of other believers, giving them the opportunity for the sacred intersection of their hearts with the heart of the living God, who knit them together in his likeness.

 

Does it always work out that way? Not always, but does that mean we should stop our efforts along those lines? Should we forego our corporate worship because it sometimes feels contrived and fake and so seemingly full of pretense? When God seems to prefer the hidden corners of our gatherings rather than a full-blown revelation of himself, do we pout out the doors in hasty retreat never to return? Further still, do we allow our children their choices about their participation? Are we content to coddle their preferences about God’s mandate for their sacred shaping? Where does our obedience lie?

 

Church will never perfectly practice our faith. Wherever flesh gathers, problems seem to follow. It is the tension of an earthly pilgrimage—this warring between selfish living and selfless surrender. Still and yet, it is our road to walk. It is our path of privileged participation. We can refuse it, or we can bend to it. Either way, the road requires our feet and the feet of those we hold dearest.

 

Better to give church the benefit of our many doubts and believe that somewhere in our “doing” of it, we will come across Jesus. And whenever that happens, friends, the kingdom of God is opened up for the partaking therein.

 

I don’t want to miss the kingdom feast. I yearn for the joy of its sacred celebration; it is a desire I hold for my family, a yearning I pray for you. Thus, I bow my head and offer this humble plea:

 

Show us, Father, the glory behind our obedience to “do” church. Meet us as we gather, and humble us with your presence. Forgive us when we think that you could do it better. We are a selfish and foolish people to put our needs ahead of your purpose. We want to know you, God; and then out that knowing, we want to serve your people with the truth. Keep us to church; root us in faith, and then carry us along the path until our willing obedience finds us safely in your arms, fully home, and finally at rest. Amen.

 

To learn more about Peace for the Journey and how you might obtain a copy, click here.

a secret worth sharing…

May I tell you a secret? For those of you who know me personally and do life with me on a regular basis, it won’t be fresh revelation. But for others—those of you who only know me as the woman who writes these words in this public place—my disclosure might come as a surprise. Are you ready?

 

I’m here today, writing these words, out of obligation—an allegiance to a gift that once flowed so naturally through my heart and my pen.

 

Obediently, I take to the task, not because of some burning desire to engage with my words, but because I owe it to the woman I once was—a woman who easily and willingly penned the thoughts of her heart. That ability was shattered by the rigors of cancer treatments. I want it back. Life would be so much easier (or so it seems) if desire was here to fuel my “want to.”

 

Obligation—the driving force behind most of my decisions these days. Obligation, not emotions, keeps me connected to my world . . . to people, to work, to faith, to God. I do what I must do—what I know is the right thing to do—in order to keep moving forward, believing that somewhere down the road my emotions will kick in and supplement obligation with a healthy dose of desire.

 

For now, my emotions remain unpredictable, yet another surrender that has been made in the name of health. I chose this, gave my good “yes” to the doctors when they asked for my consent regarding chemo, ovary removal, and a long-term drug that would block any remaining estrogen produced in my body. It was a good decision back then, the best one to prolong my life. But today, it seems too costly. In eradicating the cancer, I’ve eradicated most of my desire, and I find that a life based on obligation and void of desire is a very difficult life to live at times.

 

So be it. I’m not the first person to let go of desire in order to take hold of lasting life.

 

Why the confession? Why plead for your understanding and make it all about me and my woes today? Because in doing so, I believe there is a truth that surfaces for us all—a holy undertaking that typifies the life of an earnest believer.

 

Good health, optimal health, is often the result of hard surrenders. A choice for life is usually preceded by a choice for death . . . letting go of and stripping away the weight that keeps us tethered to the fleeting and unconfirmed desires of our infancy.

 

The life of a saint is a life of work, despite desire, emotion, or a lack therein. To grow up in Christ is to stay near him, move with him, lean into him, and learn from him. The life of a saint is a life of obligation. Once you give him your “yes,” you tether your forever to his. It’s the inescapable reality of salvation. God never promised us a life of ease. Instead, he promised us his presence in the unease, in the struggle, and in the sometimes torturous releases that best enable us to dig into, hold onto, and live unto his glory.

 

So what do we do when desire and emotions aren’t around to fuel our obligations?

 

We keep going. We base our choices for survival on good health, on previous faith, and in the truth that what is not always felt by us is felt by God. Knowing that he holds my desire—knowing that he hasn’t forgotten the woman I once was and the gifting I once felt—is enough to push me forward. I don’t have to understand it all; I just have to keep obliging my feet, my heart, and my mind to the faith that has carried me thus far. It will assuredly carry me home.

 

Obligation. It keeps me connected to God. It keeps him doing the same. We are holy, certainly, and beautifully obliged to one another, now and forever more. And that, sweet friends, is a secret worth sharing . . . one I won’t make you keep to yourself. Go ahead, tell everyone. You have our permission.

 

Peace for the journey,

 

How are you living out your obligation to God despite the difficult surrenders along the way? I’d love to come alongside you in prayer.
 

the trembling heart . . .

God sees the trembling heart.

He saw mine this morning, took notice of the growing conviction that began in me long before my burden made its way to my usual second pew. His Word sparked a fire. His Spirit fanned it into flame, and I trembled . . . all the way through four verses of Johnston’s and Towner’s Grace Greater Than Our Sin.

“Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,

Threaten the soul with infinite loss;

Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,

Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.”

Soul-threatening, infinite loss. There was something about that phrase that rang as a clarion call to my spirit; it stirred me in the deepest way, and my heart trembled privately in that moment. It didn’t warrant the response of others. I kept it hidden. Most times I don’t; soul-stirring moments usually move me to an altar and to my knees in responsive worship, but not today. Today, I stayed put . . . stayed hidden in Christ and allowed my trembling heart its due. It came in fullness, and I was washed afresh with a healthy and holy dose of reverence for the only God who can be known.

I fear the day when my heart no longer trembles with such awareness, when my soul remains unmoved by the Spirit’s stirring. That would be death to me. Certainly, there have been seasons in my spiritual journey when I’ve experienced a worldly numbness to God’s presence—times when I’ve been unaware of his movements within and around my life. Times when, perhaps, I chose not to look inward, to reach upward, to bow downward because of some foolish notion regarding my own abilities to shake off spiritual complacency and to stir up a fledgling faith.

I cannot create a trembling, reverent heart on my own. Without God’s participation and willing disclosure of himself, I cannot grow my fear of him. I can only receive it as it comes from him, times when God clearly and forcefully cuts through the chaos and clutter of my existence and announces his authority in undeniable measure. This I can recognize. This I can claim as truth.

God is God, and I am not. Today my heart trembled with this realization. In holy fear, I clutched my hymnal; I sang conviction, and the sinner inside of me looked inward, reached upward, and bowed downward in grateful pause for the holy love that swept me up, swiftly and fully into the grace of Jesus.

How long has it been since you’ve felt the holy trembling of your heart because of God’s revelation of himself? When was the last time your soul shook with the realization that God is God and that you are not? Have you forgotten to look inward, reach upward, bow downward in anticipation of God’s presence? What self-reliance is keeping you from holy dependence?

I cannot create a trembling moment for you. I can only point you to the One who is willing to give you one of your own. Get to God. Ask him for more of himself to be revealed to you in your hour of need. God is not reluctant in giving himself to his children. God stands ready. He’s looking for those who stand ready to receive.

“Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,

Freely bestowed on all who believe!

You that are longing to see His face,

Will you this moment His grace receive?”

Oh that we would never grow too grand and too certain regarding our righteousness that we forget the marvelous grace of our loving Lord! It exceeds our sin and our guilt and postures our souls for heavenly gain. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

“Beyond Cancer’s Scars” Part Three (disappointments along the way)

Six years is a long time to hold on to a dream. Really, I’ve been dreaming the dream much longer than that. Some dreams initiate in childhood when minds are less cluttered, less bothered, and more willing to believe that it could easily and actually happen—the fruition of one’s dreams. At the age of three, maybe four I stood on Beulah Riddle’s front porch in Hartsville, IN, dreaming some dreams and forming some words.

“Beulah, I wrote a song. Want to hear it? It goes like this . . .”

I don’t remember the song or the words. I don’t even remember it being a dream at that point. I just remember the memory, singing some phrases and feeling Beulah’s pleasure. Perhaps this was my first foray into the publishing world . . . stringing words together to sing a song, to tell a story, to entreat an audience. It would be a while before I could spell those words and scribble them on paper, but maybe the dream started there, on her front porch.

It hasn’t left me—my desire to tell my story. But that dream has morphed over the years, been shaped by the harsh realities of the publishing industry. Not everyone appreciates my songs like Beulah did. Not everyone is willing to take a chance on my words. I’ve spent the last six years actively trying to get someone’s attention, trying to make it past the front porch of traditional publishing.

It hasn’t worked, at least according to the large folder of rejection letters I’ve collected over the years. I’ve made it to the porch a time or two, even gone so far as to sing a few lines of my song to some well-known publishers. But no one ever sticks around for the benediction. They have their reasons. I’ve heard them all. But none of them feels reasonable to me. Reasons (whether valid or not), don’t change the fact that when rejection arrives, rejection cuts into the dream . . . whittles away at passion and pulse.

I know this one. Past rejections regarding my written words have scarred me, not silenced me but wounded me enough to strengthen my resolve and my decisions for how I want to handle my stories going forward. I carried both my writing scars and my cancer’s scars with me when I attended a writer’s conference last summer, just days after completing my latest manuscript. I also carried this resolution: a publisher’s reluctance to take a risk on me won’t wound me as deeply this go around. If they didn’t want my story, then I would find a way to get my story to readers. Holding this confidence in my heart freed me to be me, to say what I needed to say during the five publisher appointments I snagged during the conference.

My pitches (a.k.a. making your book irresistible to publishers) weren’t perfect; far from it. I blubbered my way through each fifteen minute time slot. In the end, four of the five publishers took my proposal back to their publishing houses. A year later, I’ve yet to hear back from two of them; I almost made it past the front porch with the other two, but in the end, my words received a “thanks, but no thanks”—some kind of mumbling about how cancer doesn’t sell. And I felt the cut, once again. And then I heard these words from my son one October afternoon when my sorrow spilled over on to him (turn up the volume; Jadon used his inside voice on this one):

I did get back up from my wounding, brushed myself off, and found the one idea that worked for me. With the willing and prayerful consent of my husband, we forged ahead to publish the book ourselves, not unlike what I did with my first book. It’s been no small thing; it’s been a huge undertaking. There have been obstacles, frustrations, and a more than few reasons to find my knees along the way. But as we round the corner toward home, I’m thinking that the end result will be worth the struggle to get there. I’ve paid a high price to write this story, both with my flesh and with my bank account. I’ll never get a full return on this investment (at least when measured by industry standards), but I’m counting on something greater . . .

A lasting legacy. A living witness. A personal investment into the lives of those Beulahs who are willing to sit on the front porch with me and listen to my song. If I can give them the words that God has graciously given to me . . . if I can give them to you, then my story, as well as my faith, move forward. In the end, what else matters?

The world doesn’t get the final word on our dreams, friends. God does, and word has it, his front porch is big enough and sturdy enough to cradle them all.

“Beulah, I wrote a song. Want to hear it? It goes like this . . .”

Peace for the journey,

What dreams do you hold in your heart? Who are your “Beulahs”–the ones who’ve championed your story, your dreams? I’d love to hear your witness from the front porch today.

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