Category Archives: calling

an obedience to sow…

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has designed to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. … For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”    

-1 Corinthians 3:5 – 7, 9.

She surprised me today during snack time. As I was leaving the cafeteria with my new crew of 4th graders, she was entering it as a two-week-in, sixth grader. She hurriedly made her way toward me, gave me a hug, and simply said, “Thank you, Mrs. Olsen … for planting a seed in my heart.” Her carefully chosen words paused my spirit and brought a silent tear to my eye as I patted her cheek and responded: “You’re one of the best of them, dear; one of the best.”

Seeds sown … this was her reason behind her gratitude; accordingly, it has become the reason behind my gratitude this afternoon. I’ve been waiting for her to “show up” for over a year now. When she walked out of my classroom in June 2015, I thought we’d pick up the relationship where we’d left it come fall. That was not to be, and it broke my heart. She, along with many of the other students in that class, distanced themselves from me. And while that is the natural way of letting go and moving on, it tore me up inside. I had loved them deeply, had given them the best of me for an entire year. To date, that season was one of the hardest walks of daily surrender I’ve ever had to make. So when it was over, and when an entire year passed amongst us with barely a nod from any of those students in my direction, well, I began to think that all of those seeds I had intentionally sown had fallen on fallow soil.

Apparently not.

Apparently some took root.

Apparently some are still growing, thanks be to God.

You see, it really is all God’s doing. Certainly, my obedience plays an important role in the growth process, but in the end, it’s God who superintends the heart’s development. I am nothing more than a fellow worker, a field laborer who releases the good seed of God’s love into the soil of human hearts. Every now and again, I get to hold the watering can. Occasionally, I have the privilege of seeing blooms come to harvest. But most days, I’m simply a sower, not a grower.

It’s been a tough lesson to learn.

In all of life, not just in the classroom, God intends for you and I to understand and to accept this sacred principle of kingdom sowing. We are the privileged farmers, and God alone is the King. We farm his land, and the work we do is for the betterment of his kingdom, not ours. It’s a weighty thing to try and take on God’s roll.

Who of us can grow a kingdom heart into God’s likeness? Who of us can shape a heart and make it holy? Who of us can raise a harvest that anchors deeply, grows uprightly, and points directly to the Son?

Oh, my friends, it is a dangerous thing to assume such noble responsibility. We are not fit for the task. Instead, we are fit for the plow, for some boots and for an apron full of seed. It is enough to stand there in that place of service. It is enough to walk the length and breadth of the land, broadcasting the good seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ upon the soil of men’s hearts. It is enough to just get to the end of the long day and to clean our mud-caked boots … our weathered hands and hearts from another day’s hard laboring. It is enough to live there in the shadows of not knowing whether or not the seed grabbed the earth and burrowed deeply within.

It is simply enough for us to be faithful with the sowing.

We don’t have to see the end. We only need to believe that the kingdom work we’re doing today is a step forward toward that end. In the end, we will see the fullness of the Father’s harvest, and we will understand that seeds sown in faithfulness never fall onto fallow soil. Instead, they fall forward toward fruitfulness. It is our holy privilege to stand there … in that place of release.

To understand this principle of sowing on the front side (and backside) of the planting is a good gift. But to see it firsthand … to taste the fruit of the harvest? Well, that’s one of the best gifts a heart could receive on this side of the veil. I pray that you, like me, may occasionally see and taste some of the fruit of God’s harvest through you in coming days. But if the fields seem barren and no visible fruit is seen, don’t lose your focus. Sow onward and let God do what God does best.

He gardens; he makes things grow. Of this I am certain.

Keep sowing, keep trusting, and keep knowing that He who began a good work in you and through you, is faithful to see it through to completion. As always…

Peace for the journey,

on being a “doorkeeper” …

“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

There was a defining moment in my ministry life several years ago. It happened unexpectedly but not by accident. I often find this to be the case with the Father’s holy whispers regarding my life. They arrive when I don’t expect them but are so specific in their delivery that they are easily defined as authentic, as divine rather than random.

Our spring, ladies’ Bible study was coming to a close. During the final Tuesday night session we explored the concept of “calling”—the ministry that God has assigned to all believers to serve as his conduits of kingdom grace. We discussed the above scripture from Psalm 84 and what it meant to be a doorkeeper in the house of God. In the course of our conversation, a cell phone rang. The embarrassed participant fumbled around in her belongings in an effort to silence the distraction. The curious look she had on her face led my curious heart to make an inquiry: “Everything OK?”

“Elaine, you’re not going to believe the picture my sister-in-law just sent to me on my phone. Take a look.”

I did and went slack-jawed at the revelation. It was a picture of a beautiful wreath hanging . . . on a door. No sooner had the words passed from my lips about being a “doorkeeper” in the house of God than God sent his holy confirmation via a picture of a door on a cell phone. Unexpected? Yes. Accidental? I don’t think so. You might think so, but I’ve lived long enough with God to know when he’s trying to solidify a point. It doesn’t always happen this way; sometimes his directives are less obvious. But when his knock is blatant, I’ve learned to open up the door to entreat his instructions.

And so, that night I bowed my head and heart to this anointing, believing that God was calling me to the simple, yet profound task of being a doorkeeper to his extraordinary kingdom. To be a servant who stands at the threshold of God’s temple, guarding the sacred trust within and graciously opening up the door so that others might enter into their Father’s house, so that they might finally know what it is to come home and to be welcomed and warmed by the truth of his love. At that time, I didn’t fully understand what this sacred affirmation would look like for me in the coming months. Years later, I still don’t fully grasp the breadth and depth of what this means for me. But this I do know: the memory of that defining moment is still defining me. It stalks me, calls me, reminds me, and strengthens me. It minimizes my fear about my calling by keeping it fairly simple, despite my attempts at making it so very complex.

Calling. I think we’ve done a disservice within the Christian community in our conversations along these lines. We’ve made it too hard, wrapped too many formulas around the notion of “calling”, trying to fine-tune our areas of ministry to the exclusion of ministering in the moment-at-hand. Certainly, God has instilled in each one of his children different giftings that lend themselves to a particular area of ministry. We should walk in those giftings, develop them and offer them to others in service to our King. But our calling should not be limited by our giftings; instead, our calling should extend through them. Our calling stands before and behind, above and below any outpouring of excellence. Our calling is greater than our giftedness. Our calling is simple: to know God and then, out of that knowing, to lead others to know the same.

“‘Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’” –John 17:3

 “‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” –Matthew 28:18-20

In establishing the vision for our ministries, these two criteria serve as the foundation for God’s vision therein. Know him and then, from that knowing, lead others to know him more fully. For me, that looks a whole lot like being a doorkeeper. Accordingly, I tend to the sacred trust I’ve been given, carefully guard the good deposit within me, and then, as the Lord prompts, I open up the doors to that kingdom storehouse and invite others in to feast on his treasures.

Every now and again, there comes a defining moment for all of us as it pertains to our ministries going forward. God’s word to you might be very specific. He may firmly grip your heart with an affirmation about what job you should take, where you should live, how you should serve. If that’s your case, then walk on in confidence. Do not hesitate to take hold of God’s holy confirmation.

But if that’s not you, if there is no grand moment of clarification, don’t get too hung up on the particulars. Instead, lend your heart to the moment-at-hand. Serve the kingdom right where you are. Stand at the gate of your temple; guard closely the doors of your heart, and tend fervently to the wealth within. Live there, in God’s house, and you’ll better understand this notion of calling. In tending to our temples, we tend to the Father’s business. Out of that overflow comes a life defined, a life on purpose, and a life on fire for the King and his renown.

Be a doorkeeper, friend. Be a protector of all things sacred. Be a greeter for the kingdom of God. I don’t imagine there’s a finer calling on this side of eternity. Thus, I pray . . .

Keep us to our calling, Lord, to stand watch over the temple and to open its door to others when they come knocking. We want to know you more and then, out of that knowing, help others to know you as well. You are the Way. You are the Truth. You are the Life. In knowing you, we hold all the knowledge we will ever need for this pilgrimage of faith. In knowing you, we know enough to get us safely home. Amen.

Devoted

 

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” –Luke 10:38

I listened to my daughter read this familiar story to me a few days ago. She was draped across my bed, dressed and ready for the day, hoping that I would soon follow suit. We had a full agenda set in place long before the August sun brilliantly heralded its morning chorus. But instead of diving head-long into our “to-do” list, I decided to drape myself alongside my daughter on the bed and, together, we had morning devotions. There’s a sweetness wrapped up in that – draping and devotions and a daughter – a tender, gentle, eternal reminder of home, of what awaits me just on the other side of this veil.

Her words caught me off-guard, as is so often the case when I hear God’s Word read aloud. She read five verses; my heart and my mind, however, remained solidly fixed on the first one – the one printed above.

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way ….”.

It’s a familiar posture for our Lord, both in practice and in spirit. His feet and his heart were always moving forward. Places to go; people to see. A path to follow; a hill to climb. Never once did Jesus lose sight of his final destination. But along the way and as he went, there were some glorious pauses of holy revelation, occasions where he left his divine calling card in the soil of humans souls so that they (and we) might know how to live our lives forward with purpose and with his final destination in mind.

I like this. This particular weaving of my doing with my being makes sense to me. It anchors my heart in this season when I have a destination in mind but with a lot of open road in between my now and my then. That open road? Well, there are multiple routes that will lead me to where I’m going. That used to bother me; not so much anymore. Why? Because Jesus is my now. Jesus is my next. Jesus is my then. I don’t need to get all fussed up about the details. I simply need to lean into and alongside the One who’s walking the road with me. Jesus will not abandon me, and the weight of my details always lands easily on his broad shoulders. Along the way and as we go, he will direct the rest stops – those unforeseen pauses requiring our presence where we’ll have the rich privilege of leaving a divine calling card in the soil of human souls.

This has been a season of unforeseen pauses for me. I haven’t liked most of them, but I haven’t lost Jesus in any of them. And this is how I know that I am heading in the right direction. With Jesus, I don’t need a compass. Jesus gloriously and holy is the compass. Accordingly, I worry less these days about the road to the finish line – the miles in between where I am now and where I’m headed. Instead, I give more attention to the One who will carry me there.

I am a daughter deeply devoted to her Father, willing to drape my days with his presence and with the truth of his Word as my covering. There is, indeed, a sweetness wrapped up in that – an eternal anchor that (every now and again) pulls me beyond the veil to catch a glimpse of my forever. I pray it is the same for you, that the details of your current detour aren’t weighing you down too heavily but that, instead, you are sharing the road with Jesus. His yoke is easy; his burden is light, and he will not abandon you. Jesus will carry you.

This is enough grace for the road we’re traveling, friends. This is enough Peace for the journey to lead us safely home. Keep moving forward. The best is yet to be.

How might I pray for you today?

narrow steps in a broad world …

 

A few days ago, my eldest son called to talk. These are always rich occasions – conversing with my sons as adults. His heart was heavy (as was mine) regarding the chaos in our world. One doesn’t have to look too far to identify it; disorder and turmoil blanket the earth like a thick fog. Without a break in the clouds or a strong light to guide us through the dimness, navigating our way along the planet-path is mostly a clumsy attempt at survival.

I don’t want to walk through this life clumsily, putting too much trust in steps that are guided by fate and by man. Instead, I want to walk through this fog with steps fortified in faith—a sure and certain hope of what I cannot see, but what I know is there …

Truth.

And so I offered my son (as well as myself) a bit of advice to help us both step our way through this season of confusion:

Surround yourself with Truth. Surround yourself with Truth-tellers. Shut out the noise—the voices of dissidence that are hacking away at Truth’s foundation. Stay in the Word; study the Word; search the Word for answers. Saturate your soul with Truth. Then, walk on with Truth as your compass and as your strength.

There is only one source of truth; truth isn’t relative, based on popular opinion. Truth authors from Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14:6). Get to know him and the darkness surrounding us becomes as light to him (see Psalm 139:12). When we cannot see for the thick fog surrounding us, we can know that he sees for us. Accordingly, we must rest in Christ’s presence. We must walk with Christ’s guidance. And we must, must, must fan into flame Christ’s candle so that our families, our friends, the Body and Christ and beyond, may safely and securely find their way along the narrow path that leads to home.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” –Matthew 7:13-14

We know the way home, Christians. We know the way that leads to life eternal. We shouldn’t be surprised by the narrowing of our pathway in these days; instead, we should be enlivened by the witness of this tapering. This tightening of our steps is simply and profoundly the sharpening of our souls. Few will accept this divine, thinning process; many will, instead, accept the world’s version therein, herded along the wide-path, trampled beneath the weight of sin, and buried in darkness eternally.

Yes, this is the world we’re living in, but thanks be to God, this is not the world we’re ending in. In choosing the narrow path, we make a choice for the wide expanse of our Father’s forever. The road home may be dim, may even be cramping some of us out of our comfort zones, but make no mistake – the path we’re walking today is leading us home to our eternal resting grounds. All roads have an ending point. All earthly journeys will cease. Whether you’re stepping wide or stepping narrow in this season, your next steps matter. Accordingly, I offer you the same advice that I offered my son recently:

Surround yourself with Truth. Surround yourself with Truth-tellers. Shut out the noise—the voices of dissidence that are hacking away at Truth’s foundation. Stay in the Word; study the Word; search the Word for answers. Saturate your soul with Truth. Then, walk on with Truth as your compass and as your strength.

Truth will guide us home. Truth will welcome us as we arrive. Until then and as we go …

Peace for the journey, friends!

 

an unexpected walk to Emmaus

She asked if we could take an extra lap around the ball field at recess. I didn’t mind. Some conversations require an extra lap … or two.

Her heart is so tender, so easily touched by these morning, God-conversations we’ve been having for the past 148 school days. Today was no different. During our Bible story time, I’d planned on covering the Walk to Emmaus, but we never made it there. Instead, we got stuck right in the middle of Mary Magdalene’s arrival at the empty tomb (John 20), the two angels book-ending the place where Jesus’ body used to be, and (at the urging of my students) a detour to the book of Exodus 25 to look at a possible connection between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant and the seated angels in Christ’s tomb. I watched their eyes engage with the correlation. My baker’s dozen pondered the possibilities and accepted the mystery and beauty of God’s Word. They (perhaps better than most adults) are still warm to the things of God and more easily moved into a posture of acceptance.

“It’s flawless, boys and girls. From beginning to end, Old Testament to New, God’s Word is flawless. This is your history – your past, your present, your future. This is your story, and these are your people. Learn it well. Live it forward. This has become your trust to keep and to tell. Who will tell the next generation coming up behind you if not you?”

I’m not certain they all received my admonishment in its fullness, but I do know that a few of them did. Only God can take these planted seeds and grow them for his kingdom. I may not be around to watch them blossom, but I am at peace with and fully trust in the planting that’s being done.

And so, she and I took an extra lap together at recess to discuss the things of God – our own Emmaus walk of sorts. Two hearts burning as we talked about Jesus and her desire to know him more. Further still, her deep, soul-aching desire for her family to know him more. She carries a burden for them, for kindness and love and reconciliation to rule the day.

“If they could just love Him like I love Him, Mrs. Olsen, things would be different. I pray and nothing changes. I thought God would answer, but it doesn’t seem like he’s listening. Is it me? Am I doing something wrong?”

And therein began my reassurances to her of God’s listening ear and man’s wandering heart – the free will built into all of us – the gift of individual choice and God’s great hope to be chosen. That she cannot choose for her family but that she can choose for herself …

To love God. Know God. And then out of that knowing, lead others to know the same.

My calling. Her calling. The singular calling for all of us as disciples of Jesus Christ.

She can be a light, pointing in the right and very good direction. I tell her it will make a difference in the end, and she’s willing to believe me because I am her teacher and I have earned her trust over these past 148 school days.

These aren’t merely words to calm an anxious spirit. These are words to live by. Why? Because God has proved them over and over again to me. I’ve seen them at work in the lives of countless others, and I’ve watched them come to fruition in my own journey of grace.

A single flame can spark a fire. A lighted candle can lead a heart safely home. And an extra lap around a ball field can ignite a soul with enough hope to fuel godly desire for a season longer.

This was our Emmaus Road – hers and mine.

This is forever kingdom privilege.

And this, dear friends, is one of the more sacred punctuation marks added to 148 days of hard labor and obedience.

This is my story; these are my people. By God’s grace, I’m learning it well. I’m living it forward. This is my trust to keep and to tell. I will tell the next generation coming up behind me. I pray you’ll do the same. As always …

Peace for the journey,

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