Category Archives: Bible Study

it might be hope

I made a telling discovery this morning during my morning devotional time – a few thoughts I’m lingering on and in as I begin this grace-day with Jesus. It’s about my standing “near the cross” and the posture of my heart therein. Let me explain.

Three years ago, I led a group of women through Alicia Chole’s study, Choices: to be or not to be … a woman of God. In this current season, I have the privilege of doing the same with another group of women at our new church. One of the questions that Alicia repeatedly asks of us in our times together is, “How is your garden growing?” (alicia chole, choices: to be or not to be a woman of God, 2003, p.4)

What I like most about this question is that it roots in intentionality—something along the lines of: This is the garden of your soul, Elaine; what’s being planted in that place? What is growing there? And therein, I cannot sit back and simply lead. Instead, I must sit alongside my sisters as a participant. Just because I’ve done the study before, doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some fresh digging, fresh seed planted in the soil of my own heart. If I can’t give God access to the spade and shovel to work within the confines of my soul, I certainly shouldn’t waste the time of the members of my group in shepherding them toward the same.

And so, I give the trowel over to Jesus and ask him to break up the soil of my unplowed ground, to see, once again, what is growing within me nearly three years after this familiar blade first broke the soil regarding the choices I make … to be or not to be a woman of God.

Week Three, Day One (ibid, p. 29). Alicia guides me to consider that familiar scene at the cross, where Jesus’ mother, close friends, and followers were “standing by” as eyewitnesses to his suffering (see John 19:25). I journal my thoughts regarding the many, strong emotions that must have been present that day. I do so without looking back at the responses I wrote to this same question three years earlier. In keeping my responses fresh, I’m able to (at the conclusion of the activity) look back to those earlier responses and compare them with my current ones. It’s a rich exercise in evaluation.

Easily, I find the similarities. Feelings that include: confusion, emptiness, sorrow, loneliness, fear, gut-wrenching pain. I imagine many of you might reach these same conclusions regarding the emotions surrounding that day at Calvary. What surprised me the most in the comparing of my two lists was the inclusion of a couple of emotions this time around that were glaringly absent from my list three years ago. Those emotions? Relief and hope. Relief that Christ’s anguish had come to an end—a finishing point to an event that had, undoubtedly, been building up in their minds for a long season. And feelings of hope based on the reality of the finishing work of the cross—something along the lines of: Now that we’ve come to this moment in his story, I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.

And therein is my discovery, my lingering. Why the emotions of relief and hope this time around and not three years ago? Well, that’s another story for another day. But when I look back to where I was three years ago (a season of deep suffering and wounding) and to where I am today, the discrepancy is more clearly understood. Suffering sometimes clouds the truth, and the truth is … suffering does a finishing work in all of us. When we arrive at suffering’s end, hope often turns up in our hearts to surprise us and to invite us forward into holy expectation for the words yet to be written onto the pages of our lives.

This is the garden of your soul, Elaine; what’s being planted in that place? What is growing there?

Well, it feels like relief; it feels like it might be hope. What about you, friends? What is growing in the soil of your heart? Won’t you take some time today to consider the question with Jesus? It’s a fine deliberation and one that has the potential to yield abundant fruit for your soul. As always …

Peace for the journey,
 

"Draw Me Near" by Nancy Douglas {Bible study review and give-away}

Last week, I posed this question to my friends on Facebook:

What one deliberate choice are you making today to put yourself in close proximity to God’s presence? I made my choice early this morning in reading and studying the Word (Colossians was my focus), and God embedded a new promise into my heart! Rarely does a revelation of himself arrive without our active participation. What are you waiting for?

The response was positive. My friends agreed that an active approach is the best approach to growing personal faith. I’ve written about it many times before—these intentional faith deposits. The willing investments we make into our spiritual bank accounts today will be the strong anchor of our tomorrows. We need to cultivate our souls for something more than what meets the eye. We need to focus on what lies beneath—the unseen, yet-to-be-discovered threads that connect us tightly to the heart of the Father.

Along those lines, I’m a firm believer in Bible study, both corporate times of learning and private seasons of discourse with the Father. What makes a Bible study a good Bible study?

Two things. The Bible and a willingness to study. Everything else is just gravy, good gravy. Remember this post?

That being true, I treasure “story” within the Story–someone else’s leanings and learnings as related to Scripture. Accordingly, I’ve always got a Bible study going. I don’t wait for the seasonal gathering of friends to dig into the Word. Ten-week studies are great, but considering there are fifty-two weeks in a year, there have to be some times of individual study in order to fill in the gaps between seasons.

Over the last year, I’ve quietly worked through a few friends’ studies: Leah’s From the Trash Pile to the Treasure Chest, Mariel’s Knowing God through His Names, and Rebecca’s The Beauty of a Disciplined Life. All solid Bible studies. All not getting the press they deserve. All telling a “story” within the Story. I love them all for different reasons, and I love the women who write them. Why? Because these women can be trusted with the Story. They’ve lived it; they are continuing to live it each day, willingly laying down their hearts before the Father and asking him to change them from the inside out. Thank you, ladies!

Most recently, I’ve been blessed by Nancy Douglas’ Draw Me Near. The work lives up to its title. Indeed, in these five weeks that I’ve been applying God’s truth to my heart via Nancy’s pen, I’ve drawn nearer to God. Nancy’s story is embroidered into every lesson, and I’ve grown to respect her witness in a way that might not have come to me had I’d not taken the time to work through this study.

Nancy’s faith journey is a compelling one—a transformational work of grace that mirrors my own. And while the details of our stories are very different, we both have come to a place of whole-hearted, soul-stirring devotion to the God who has claimed us, named us, restored us, and who daily transforms us. I love a woman who is willing to hang on tightly for the finishing of her faith, don’t you? Nancy is one of those women, and her ten-week study is one that, if you are willing, will shepherd you toward having a rich encounter with God.

Here’s what I love most about Nancy’s study. Each lesson is a balanced blend of reflection, scripture focus, and practical application. Each lesson is a fork’s worth of food rather than an entire meal. And while the fork’s worth has sometimes not been an easy “chew” for me, I’ve always left the table feeling full and in great anticipation for what tomorrow’s fork might hold. Nancy gives readers permission and time enough to absorb meaningful truth without wearing them out in the process. I’ve needed this pacing, and I’ve needed room to breathe in the truth of God’s Word without having to rush through to victory.

Thank you, Nancy, for writing your heart. For seeing the need. For telling your story and for weaving it so beautifully into the story of our Savior. Your commitment to write these words has strengthened me in my commitment to grow my faith. The honest, soul-stirring conversations that I’ve had with God, spurred on because of your study, have been a rich blessing to my heart. I look forward to continuing the conversation over the next five weeks.

Readers, if you are looking for a study to further your conversation with God, Nancy’s is a good conversation-starter. Along those lines, I’m giving away a copy of Draw Me Near. Simply leave a comment with this post (even if you don’t have a blog), and I will announce the winner with my next post. For an additional opportunity to win a copy, visit Nancy at her blog. She is also hosting a give-away. Ordering information is available there.

Take good care of your hearts this week! Make a choice to put yourself in close proximity to God’s presence, and see if he is not faithful to draw your nearer to his heart! As always…

Peace for the journey,
~elaine

A little bit about Nancy…

Nancy and her husband Jimmy have been married twenty-eight years and have two children, Drew and Danielle. After the birth of Danielle, born Autistic, deaf, and Failure to Thrive, God began a drastic work in Nancy’s life. Amidst the struggle to accept the reality of her daughter’s disabilities, Nancy soon discovered God’s call on her life.

Founding the Olive Leaf Ministries in 2006, Nancy speaks, teaches, and writes. She has written the 10-week Bible study “Draw Me Near” and “Freedom, Healing for Parents of Disabled Children,” her latest work dedicated to those suffering loss.

Nancy and her husband, Jimmy, enjoy spending time with family, shopping, and raising their dogs Cocoa Bean and Ecclesiastes.

Good Gravy and the Beth Moore Closet

Good Gravy and the Beth Moore Closet

“Oh good gravy!”

(My newest expression used in times of frustration. Please don’t tell me there’s something wrong with it; I could have said something else, have often said something else, but please don’t take my “good gravy” away from me. Thanks to Jet and Cord, cowboy brothers currently running “The Amazing Race” on CBS, I have a new expression for my moments of frustration. It’s nice watching two brothers being kind to one another on this show, considering that most of the other paired contestants are challenged when it comes to kindness and to finding alternate expressions for the four-letter expletives that flow like water from their mouths. Yes, I love me some clean-shaven, boot-wearin’, nice-talking, momma-lovin’ cowboys.)

Back to my “good gravy.” (Which, by the way, I couldn’t make any to save my life. I’m not a cook. On Monday I ventured into the kitchen to make spaghetti for my family and set the smoke alarms off… I’m not kidding. But I digress, again. I imagine it might happen to me a great deal over the next three months. My brain is being pulled in a thousand different directions. Bear with me, K?)

Anyway, yesterday I made the brave decision to venture into one of our closets in our spare bedroom. Not just any closet; the “Beth Moore” closet. Yes, I admit it… I have one. My husband added shelving to the closet several years ago as my Bible study resources began to multiply. Along the way, Beth’s made shelf-room for some of her other author friends. Over the past six years, I’ve accumulated curriculum kits that include:

Beth’s

  • Jesus the One and Only
  • John the Beloved
  • Believing God
  • Psalms of Ascent
  • Esther
  • Daniel
  • The Patriarchs
  • Living Beyond Yourself
  • A Woman’s Heart, God’s Dwelling Place

Nancy DeMoss’s Seeking Him
Priscilla Shirer’s One in a Million
Jennifer Rothschild’s Fingerprints of God & Me, Myself, and Lies
Alicia Chole’s Anonymous

I’m sure I’m leaving something out… help me Bible study gals! That’s a lot of meals out, friends, approximately $3000 worth of eating out or buying clothes or taking a nice vacation with my family, but I’m not bitter, I’m just sayin’, that’s all. And then there are the file boxes crammed with other teachings, ones I’ve developed and ones that I used prior to our moving here (a spiritual gifts study, advent study, Easter study, etc.). Oh, and the “props” attached to the studies (the golden scepter, the crown, the fountains, the candles, the dozen or so table cloths made to match the colors of the bookcovers, etc).


And lest I leave out the rest of the closet’s contents, how about the 100 or so CD’s that have done little more than collect dust over the past six years, and the craft supplies crammed in the upper corner, along with an endless supply of gift bags and wrapping ribbon, and the spiral notebooks crammed with study notes to which I will never again refer; not because they aren’t worthy, but because there is absolutely no organization to any of it.

And this is just one closet, friends (HELP ME, Cindy!). The more I dug, the more I found. Quickly I was surrounded in a sea of struggle, and with tears running down my face, I simply looked up to God and offered my “Good gravy!”

His response?

“Yes, Elaine, a lot of it.”

And as I looked around me, on the bed and stacked all over the floor, I saw the witness of a good investment, some “good gravy.” I could have invested my money elsewhere. Even more importantly, I could have invested my time in a thousand alternate directions, but as I began to sort and pitch—being careful to hold onto the good and eliminate the non-essentials—my heart was tendered by the reality of what God has done through me over the past six years, most days in spite of me.

Not only has he taught me a great deal about his Word via some awesome Bible study mentors, he’s allowed me the lavish fellowship of friends who have come alongside me to share in the teaching. My Tuesday night gals have made the investment worth it. Collectively, we carry the wealth of the kingdom within us, exponentially increasing its value everywhere we go. We may not be able to recall with specificity all the valuable insights we’ve received via the fourteen-plus studies we’ve done together, but we’ve certainly taken hold of the one thread that’s been woven throughout them all.

Jesus Christ and the life-altering truth of his Word.

That’s why most of the participants kept coming back to study on Tuesday nights. They understood it wasn’t about me, but about God. About learning more, seeking more, growing more, living more. About realizing that the “more” is best lived within the context of community, rather than in isolation. Could we have grown in our spiritual walkabouts with Jesus apart from one another? Certainly. God’s Word tells us that he has given us everything we need in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit to grow in our faith and understanding of his truth (see 1 John 2:24-27). But without one another, we would have grown differently, perhaps at a slower pace and without the benefit of sacred participation—of having our hearts intersect for a season so as to bring about a richer, fuller expression of faith.

My Tuesday gals have been my “charge and keep” for a long season, my very “good gravy” and then some. They will continue on without me, for they have seen the merit of what it all means. I’m not sure if I’ll be facilitating another study come fall in my new home, but one thing is for certain.

I’ll carry my closet with me as I go. And should my new home have ample room for a “Beth Moore” closet, I’ll tenderly unpack each study, give them a place of individual prominence, and be thankful for the “good gravy” that has already come to me because of their presence in my life.

Thank you, Beth, Priscilla, Jennifer, Nancy, and Alicia. Most importantly, thank you Tuesday night gals for making Bible study a priority and Jesus Christ, all the more. He is our anchor, our Teacher, and our very great Reward. Keep to him all the days of your lives and see if he is not faithful to fill your plate with enough “good gravy” to keep you well fed for the pilgrimage home. I love you more than words will allow. As always…

peace for the journey,

PS: For those of you interested in simplifying your life and especially your home, Cindy at “Letters from Midlife” has done umpteen posts along these lines. You can find them HERE. Thanks, Cindy. I imagine that I’ll be revisiting your thoughts/words often in the weeks to come.

Copyright © March 2010 – Elaine Olsen



a phone call from God

a phone call from God


Yesterday was a good day. I can’t let today go by without chronicling the truth of my yesterday. It would be easy to forego the writing… to let yesterday’s goodness linger as sweet remembrance in my mind, but I don’t trust my mind as much as I used to. My mind is prone to wandering, to forgetting, to casually and occasionally reflecting on the goodness of God rather than keeping it constantly before me.

Thus, my pen and a few words this morning, so that in seasons to come—when March 16, 2010, is long forgotten—I can reach back to this piece of paper and remember my God, his goodness, and how he took a simple day and made it something significant for me.

It happened like this…

My Tuesday was well-planned for me long before it arrived. Bible study preparations were on the agenda, as well as preparations for an upcoming speaking engagement this weekend. Once the kids said their good-byes, I took to my agenda willingly and with energy, believing that God would strengthen me with his power for the completion of tasks therein. But as I have learned (and it’s been a life-long learning, friends), before I can be effective in God’s kingdom work, I must first come to his feet for the feeding. Without his filling, my daily tasks proffer more like religious productivity rather than relational privilege.

So we sat together… me and Jesus. We read his Word together, prayed together, and then in usual fashion, I asked him a question, not unlike the question I asked of him the other day regarding my “next.”

Father, what would you like for me to be for you, to do for you in my next season of living?

It’s a good question to ask of him, for with the asking, God has the privilege of entering into our queries with the deliberations of his Holy Spirit alongside. I think our Father likes nothing more than to engage with our honest pleas for guidance, especially when those pleas issue forth from a humble desire to serve him better. Certainly, I know how I might like to serve the kingdom in the season to come, but it seems to me that further refinement of just exactly what that service will look like is needed—some clarity and defining that I don’t fully have at this point. And so, I asked. And so, he answered.

Doorkeeper.

The word from the Word regarding my “next.”

You are to be a doorkeeper, Elaine.

Immediately, my thoughts went to the verse in scripture that says something about “being a doorkeeper at the temple rather than dwelling with the wicked.” I didn’t have the verse memorized. I knew it was somewhere in the Psalms, and I made a mental note to pull out the concordance at a later point in the day so that I could more fully engage with God’s directive to be a doorkeeper. I closed my time of devotion, thanking God for his Spirit and for entering into my deliberations. I asked him to bless the work of my hands that day, and then I moved on with my day.

Bible study prep.

I pulled out my notes and workbook from a previous week’s work in Jennifer Rothschild’s study Me, Myself, and Lies. How I have enjoyed my time together with my Tuesday night gals this go around! The study has been timely, needed, chock-full of truth, and the fellowship with other believers has been ever so sweet. We’ve grown in ways I never imagined possible when we began this journey together seven weeks ago. God has been faithful to meet us each and every week and has, especially, been faithful to strengthen me with a rich portion of leadership capabilities that I didn’t think I possessed.

As I was re-reading Jennifer’s words from “Week Six: A Hope Filled Thought Closet” I arrived on “Day Three,” page 138. On that particular day, Jennifer had us re-write Psalm 84 in our own words. As I read over my rendition, something began to stir in my spirit. Could it be? Is it Lord? The very same scripture you impressed upon me in our prayer time? The one about being a doorkeeper? Well, lookey there…

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10).

I was moved to tears and, again, made a mental note regarding my need to further explore this concept of being a doorkeeper on a later occasion when I had the time to process it more fully. Fast forward to last night’s gathering at Bible study.

I was sharing with the ladies about my moments of intimate exchange with the Father earlier that day. I told them about his initial word to me during my prayer time… about being a doorkeeper and what that might mean. And then, I told them about the moment from that initial moment, when I received a further prompt in this direction while reviewing my notes for our gathering that evening. As I was describing this to them last evening, at exactly 7:20 PM, something happened I didn’t expect. Something so perfectly timed, that if it wasn’t true, you’d think I’d set it up somehow.

Kim’s phone rang. No sooner had the words about my being God’s doorkeeper come out of my mouth, then did her cell phone ring out, eerily resembling the sound of a doorbell. We all had a good laugh, as I said to the Lord out loud, “Yes, Lord, I’m listening. I’m headed to the door and will open it up to see what you might have to say.” We all were kind of stunned, perhaps thinking it a nicely timed coincidence in keeping with our discussion, but it didn’t end there.

A few minutes later, I looked over at Kim. She had a puzzled look on her face. I knew something was up, so I asked her about it.

“Elaine, you’re never going to believe what that call was about. You need to look at this… a text picture someone just sent to me on my phone.”

I walked over to the phone and looked. This is the picture that I saw.


A door with a wreath hanging on it.

Needless to say, we were all stunned—none more than me. All I could do was bow to the moment and offer my words of obedience to, indeed, tend to the voice of the Lord as it pertains to my “next.”

Apparently, I’m to be a doorkeeper. I don’t know what that fully means at this point, but I’ve some thoughts along these lines. I’ve done some research, and I will continue to flesh it out in the days ahead. I am convinced that God will be doing that as well—sitting beside me and showing me what it means to be his doorkeeper. I’m not looking for a whole lot of defining from outside sources; I’m fully confident in God’s ability to bring clarification, and after all, his defining is what I’m after, not the world’s.

I don’t know what this means to you today; perhaps, it was meant just for me. But I think you need to understand something about our God…

He longs to offer you his voice, his direction, his defining, his answer. He will go to great lengths to make sure that you hear him correctly. Some of you may feel a bit short-changed in this area, may feel like his silence is indication of his lack of interest in your future. I understand. I’ve been there many times before. But then a moment like yesterday happens, and my faith increases, further confirming my belief in the practice of intimate discipleship… of coming to the shores of God’s grace and eating some breakfast from his fire every day.

It’s a practice that is serving me well, friends, and it brings hope to my spirit that there is more to come—more “in the moment, on fire, from the holy, hot breath of God” kind of moments that will arrive for me, as I am faithful to keep pulling my ship to shore and anchoring my heart and thoughts to the One who has been faithfully waiting for me in the night.

God is good, and his voice is sweet. I am exceedingly grateful for his willingness to share that goodness with me in any form he chooses.

Even with a cell-phone. I can hear my Savior calling; he’s calling for you as well. As always…

peace for the journey,

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Copyright © March 2010 – Elaine Olsen

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Breakfast on the Beach with Jesus (part three): seeing whom we see

“Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.” {John 21:7}

I’m sitting here this early Saturday morning, wrestling with his question. I first took notice of it two mornings ago, even though it was initially asked 2000 years ago. It haunts me, intrigues me, saddens me, and quickens my heart for a response all in the same breath. A question spoken by Jesus to his well-meaning disciples, who after three years of intense discipleship beneath his sheltering wings, were still a bit confused regarding his identity.

“Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will enough for us.’ Jesus answered, ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?… “ {John 14:8}

“Don’t you know me, Elaine, even after I have been among you such a long time?”

His is a question that cuts me to the core. If you’ve been a reader of my pen for any length of time, then you know that I firmly believe God intends for his ancient questions (whether spoken by prophet, an angel, his own voice, or Jesus) to jump off the pages of scripture to become a question we entreat within our own spirits. In fact, I’ve written an entire manuscript answering some of those questions, but that’s another bend in my road I’ll re-address in a future bend in the road.

I’ve walked with Jesus my entire life, and still there are days when Jesus’ question to Philip is an appropriate response from his heart regarding my faith. Not always does my faith practice with the corresponding revelation of God’s truth within my heart. Not always do I know him, understand him, recognize him, and see him, even though I’ve shared my life with him from the beginning. And this contradiction doesn’t sit well with me. It leads me to some Galilean waters—to a boat and to some disciples whose “right side of the boat” kind of fishing opened their eyes to the truth of the One who was waiting for them by a breakfast fire.

Take a moment to re-read today’s focal scripture from John 21 as printed at the top of this post. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

“As soon as…”

When was the last time you held one? An “as soon as” moment of sacred revelation that spurred you into the waters of reckless abandon? When was the last time your eyes beheld the living Lord? When did you last look up from the “busy and bounty” of your nets to behold the Lover of your soul tending to the fires of your soul’s feast? When was the last time you jumped ship for Jesus?

It’s been awhile since my robes were wet with Peter’s anticipation. I spend a lot of time “doing what I do” {part one} and “answering what I’m asked” {part two}—good things and good gains, but “seeing whom I see”? Perhaps, not so much.

It’s easy to get caught up in our nets, friends. Kingdom fishing is a big business these days. God has issued his call for fishermen and women, even directing our nets to fertile waters ripe for the “catch.” We’re obedient to go, obedient to cast our energies and God-given abilities on the right side of the boat, believing that our Father will honor our obedience. But sometimes in our eagerness to serve, we lose sight of the shore. Sometimes the net’s haul grabs too much of our attention, masking our need for some down time with the One responsible for that haul. Sometimes our wrestling with our nets leaves us restless in our spirits because, even though God inhabits those nets, his unseen presence is masked by the seen and tangible holding of his provision.

It’s a delicate balance—seeing provision and Presence all in the same moment. It’s a quick leap to think that our “right side of the boat” bounty is all about us. But it isn’t; not really, at least not as much as we think. It’s all about Jesus and his willingness to place those 153 fish in the pathway of our nets. Certainly, we must be faithful to direct our nets to right and good waters, but in the end, without fish we have little to show for our hard laboring other than our weariness.

But when we hold provision in our hands—when we hold the living reminders of God’s grace within our grips and are careful to examine their authenticity and ownership—then we, like Peter, risk the wetness of the waters that bridge the chasm between our hunger and the breakfast waiting for us on the shore. When we make the connection between the seen “rewards” of our hands and the unseen treasure trove of God’s heart that placed them there, then we can say as John said in that moment, “It is the Lord!”

His Presence leads to provision, and his provision helps us to recognize his Presence.

Seeing whom we see… knowing whom we know. Two realizations wrapped around one revelation… one Truth—

Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ.

See him this weekend, friends. Know him as well. Let your faith in that seeing launch you into the waters of expectancy so that you might come to the shore of God’s fire and feast on the provision of God’s heart. He’s been up all night in anticipation of your arrival, and don’t be surprised if he’s got a few questions for you. Receive them as his invitation to sacred conversation, and be thankful for the gift of consecrated relationship with the living Lord. As always…

peace for the journey,

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Copyright © February 2010 – Elaine Olsen

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