Category Archives: kingdom

Spring Fever

“He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” -John 12:6

Spring fever has hit these parts. I don’t know about where you live, but for those of us living in eastern NC, spring arrived early, somewhere along January. Warm weather has been our companion throughout the winter, and it’s been a seasonal nightmare for the wildlife as well as the flora. The Canada geese arrived early (although I’m not sure they ever really left) and the finches, bluebirds, cardinals, and robins have been dining dutifully and daily at my bird-feeder. The poor azalea bushes bloomed a few weeks ago, only to be prematurely side-swiped by a drop in temperature, leaving them limp and colorless (as if they needed any less time to be lovely). The dogwoods are blooming, the pollen is thick, and the playgrounds are filled with students who’ve been celebrating the arrival of spring … well, since January.

It’s been a long, not-so-much winter around here. Which brings me (albeit slowly) to a spring scene, a spring thought I’d like to share with you. It’s been gnawing on my brain and in my heart since I witnessed it a few days ago while out on my afternoon walk. As afternoon walks go, mine are fairly routine. The 1.5 mile loop around my neighborhood is filled with established yards, driveways and basketball hoops, mailboxes, pine trees, and a few ponds tucked in and around for aesthetic purposes. And where there are ponds, folks, there are fishermen, all of them currently eager to see the catch that has emerged after our long, not-so-much winter.

One of them parked his car precariously close to the water this past week. I didn’t recognize it, nor did I recognize him. He was in his early twenties, and his uniform indicated his vocation as a Pepsi employee. Instead of holding a fishing pole in his hand and patiently waiting for a bite, he was scanning the pond, running back and forth along the water’s edge in sporadic, frantic fashion. Realizing that spring fever can do strange things to a person (remember, I am a fourth grade teacher), I gave him a wide berth before initiating a conversation.

“Did you lose something, Sir? Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no Ma’am. I just like to come out here after work and watch the fish swimming. There sure are some big ones in here this spring … bass. Have you seen ‘em? Seeing ‘em just makes me so happy.”

“Well, I sure hope you catch some today. Enjoy.”

“Oh, I’m not catching today. I’m just taking a look.”

True to his word, within moments he got in his car and left … a happy man. It didn’t seem to matter to him that his catch would be delayed. Instead, just seeing the fish, just knowing the fish were there, was enough to fuel his passion for a catch yet-to-be.

Spring fever indeed, and I am both thunderstruck and elated by his pure and unadulterated joy.

When was the last time you saw a fisherman running up and down the riverbank getting excited about the potential catch of fish rather than the actual catching therein, about sensing the possibility before it actually happens? It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that kind of joy about a catch yet-to-be. Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve scanned the riverbank for any signs of fish.

Spring may have come early to eastern NC, but spring has yet to arrive in my heart. Instead, I’ve been stuck in my long, not-so-much winter. Rather than looking for fish … anticipating fish … I’ve been content to look elsewhere, to keep a downward gaze instead of casting my eyes forward to the horizon of possibility. In doing so, I’ve missed out on something significant. I’ve missed the joy that comes from running alongside the Fisherman and seeing what he sees—a school of prospects swimming close to the riverbank and hovering even closer to the surface.

I’ve missed the opportunity to do a little early, spring fishing with the Master Fisherman.

And that, friends, has been gnawing terribly on my heart and in my spirit. It’s left a hole of sorts, a spring-shaped one that can only be filled with the letting go of winter. So, instead of lingering in what might have been, I’m going to do a little scouting with Jesus this week, take some time to walk the riverbank with him and to see, instead, what’s yet-to-be. Unlike the Pepsi man, I’ll bring my reel and rod. If the fish are biting, I don’t want to wait another moment to snatch them up and bring them home.

There’s a holy catch readying itself to be caught, maybe even a big bass. Keep your nets in hand, friends. Keep fishing next to Jesus. I’ll meet you at the pond. As always…

Peace for the journey,

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the song of the brook …

My students and I have just finished reading Song of the Brook by Matlida Nordtvedt. As literary prose goes, it doesn’t measure up to the classics, but it does serve a purpose in our classroom. It’s one book in a continuing series of books presented annually to students who use the Abeka curriculum; they seem to enjoy keeping up with the Johnson family from year to year.

The main character of the story is Hilda, a young girl from Bellingham, Washington, who is learning to live with change: a move to a new community, the disappointment with that community, discord amongst extended family members, bullying on the playground, overcoming insecurities, and the like. Despite the chaos in Hilda’s new life, she finds solace in an unexpected place – the babbling brook running beside her dilapidated house. At night, she sits next to the open, bedroom window and listens as the brook “sings” her a song. Repeatedly throughout the story, the brook impresses upon Hilda’s heart various phrases to soothe (and sometimes to meddle with) the aches within her heart. Her brookside meditations are Hilda’s way of spending time with God and hearing his voice therein.

Even though Hilda’s story is set in time nearly 100 years ago, the problems she faces back then are not unlike the problems we face today. Who of us haven’t known the ache of relocation, the tears of disappointment, the fracture of beloved relationships, the taunts of a bully, and the crippling of insecurity? Today’s troubles aren’t much different from yesterday’s harms; the scenery simply has changed.

Unlike Hilda, I don’t have the beauty of a singing brook running by and next to the parsonage in Laurinburg, NC. I don’t raise my windows in the evening for fear of unwanted critters (or humans) disrupting my night’s slumber. The sounds of my city at night are no match for the idyllic evening lullabies of the countryside, those wide-open spaces that seem to more easily host the voice of the Creator.

Still and yet, I hear the Father’s voice. His words speak to me as I take the time to listen in, to open up the window of my soul and to meditate upon the scriptures he has written to me in his holy Word. Sometimes God’s melody soothes the aches within; sometimes his refrain meddles with my will. At all times, his song is truthful. God cannot lie; neither will he sing a song over me that will lead me down a wayward path. Instead, his song … his words are for me, for my good and, most importantly, for his kingdom good.

Lately, his holy refrain has been crystal clear:

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

Over and over again, for the past several weeks, these words have cycled repeatedly throughout my mind, like the lyrics of a song you just can’t shake.

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

In living out this obedience from John 13, there are always ample challenges. Stinky feet aren’t my preference. It’s easier to touch cleanliness than dirtiness. It’s less problematic to embrace the feet of a friend than it is to embrace the feet of a betrayer. Even so, the Father sings…

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

I don’t know what this will look like for me in the days to come, how this yielding will play itself out. But of this I am certain … it will play itself out. Whether at school, at church, at home, and maybe even at Wal-Mart, stinky feet are everywhere – walking in front of me, behind me, next to me, over me, and, yes, sometimes within me. We all get our feet dirty from time to time. The Father’s basin and towel are equal to the cleansing task, yet another undeserved grace from his heart to ours that allows us to get clean and then to offer that same cleansing to others.

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

The window of my soul is open. The song of the brook is singing. Even so, Father, I am listening.

As you have done for me, Lord, help me to do so for others. Amen.

Image Credit: Copyright: ideastudios / 123RF Stock Photo

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kingdom momentum

waves breakingFor forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth.” –Genesis 7:17

It happened yesterday … the earth’s baptism became ours. Let me explain.

We’re twenty-three days into the academic year. Each morning, we begin our day with pledges, prayers, and a time of meditation in God’s Word. Thus far, while our sessions have been lively and often full of questions, I haven’t felt a building momentum within my students’ hearts for the masterpiece that is God’s Word. Certainly, they’ve been willing to receive it, but absorbing it at a deeper level—the level where the Holy Spirit turns the key in the lock to open up the secrets of the kingdom of God? Well, I’ve been waiting. Yesterday, I saw it … felt it for the first time … in their eyes and in the temperature of the classroom.

We’ve been building up to the story of Noah – a story so familiar to most that the wonder and mystery often gets buried in translation. In the past four weeks, I’ve talked often about the issue of “movement” away from Eden – God’s original home for his original people. In that discussion, we’ve drawn a conclusion together: the further the people moved away from Eden (both in time and distance), the more wickedness there was in the world. By the time Noah arrives on the scene, sin abounds. Gone are the days of perfection; come are the days of deep iniquity.

“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth – men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air – for I am grieved that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)

And so God’s flood—rains falling from the sky and waters rising up from the earth to fully engulf all that had “the breath of life in its nostrils” (Gen. 7:22-23). Indeed, how it must have grieved the Father to bring this judgment so early in those beginning days, to wipe out his image-bearers and to (in a sense) begin again with fresh brushstrokes on a re-created canvas.

At this point in the telling of the story, I asked my students a question. In doing so, I felt the shift in my spirit and in theirs. I hadn’t planned on the shift – it simply and profoundly arrived, begging my participation.

“Kids, can any of you identify one of this week’s spelling words that might best describe what God was doing to the earth at this point in history?”  

A few of them grabbed their spelling books to peruse the list. One of them, however, caught it immediately. With eyes as big as saucers and a light exploding therein, she dispensed with the hand-raising formality and blurted out …

“Baptize. Mrs. Olsen, he was baptizing the earth!”

And they got it – all of them. It was probably only a moment of stunned silence, counted in seconds rather than minutes, but it felt like more than that, like time stood still as this eternal truth took hold and embedded itself deeply within the soil of their souls. The earth’s baptism became ours, and I’m thrilled to report that spiritual momentum has arrived for the fourth grade!

That may not mean much to you, but it means everything to them … to me. Folks, there needs to be some depth to what we’re doing, how we’re spending our lives. Regardless of where God has you in this season of your life, every now again, you need to feel that momentum—that shift in your spirit that validates your station in life, your purpose for being here. Too often we lose that sense of purpose; we muddle through our existence because we have to without realizing that, along the way and as we go, we can build momentum for the kingdom of God. With our attitudes, our obedience, our words, and our willingness to authentically live therein, we can move the kingdom forward.

I’ve waited four weeks for momentum to take hold in young hearts; some of us might have to wait a bit longer. But in the obedience to dig for it and to prayerfully expect it, when it arrives we understand that it wasn’t an accident. Rather, we know it was and is an intentional work of grace by and from the Holy Spirit. God, the Creator of everything that has life and breath in its nostrils is faithful to baptize our hearts and the work of our hands with the fresh wind of his Spirit as we are faithful to bathe our lives (and to live our lives) in the truth of his Word.

So in gratefulness, and with expectation, I pray …

Let it rain, Lord. Not just in me, and not just in the fourth grade, but let your rain pour down into us and within us, baptizing us with newness of life and with a fresh revelation of your presence and your purpose for our tomorrows. Cleanse us from the wickedness that seeks to strangle us and that keeps kingdom momentum from accelerating in us and through us. Lord, we long to be part of your plan, to surrender our lives for your many good purposes and to know that our obedience is yielding a fruitful harvest. We applaud your faithfulness. We honor your Lordship. We delight in your companionship. We welcome your baptism. So rain on us, Lord. Humbly we wait for your waters today. Amen.  

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when harvest comes …

27569576_sRough edges. I have some. They were readily exposed for me to clearly see this past year. The catalyst for that exposure?

Fifteen students hand-picked by God to move me on toward my perfection!

For the past several years, I’ve been incubated from such exposure; life and its many detours have allowed me some shade and protection along these lines. Certainly, there have been occasions when I’ve felt the soul-shaped sanding from others but not as intensely as I have experienced it in these past ten months.

Most days, I wanted to run away and hide, crawl back into the shell I had so carefully crafted for myself during my earlier season of isolation. Exposure was painful and bloody, with precious few moments of joy to temper the ache. But I hung in with Jesus … every single day. I called upon the name of the Lord more times than can be counted. Together, he and I walked the school year through, and as we rounded the corner toward the finish line, I was finally able to see the amazing work of grace.

Growth.

I grew. They grew. And as we spoke our final good-byes, I held a little fruit in my hands – the same hands that (to date) had only held seeds, only sown seeds in hopes of one day having them grow into something more substantial.

This has been a fruit-bearing year for me. I couldn’t see the fruit in the beginning, and I certainly couldn’t feel it along the way and as we went. But I always believed in it, always trusted God for the greater work of grace that surfaces as a direct result of willing obedience to the call of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we choose the mission field, friends; sometimes it chooses us. Either way, the responsibility is the same – to sow extravagantly the seeds of our faith. To break up the unplowed ground beneath our feet with the spade of God’s Word. To water it with the sweat of our brow and the tears of our surrender. To nurture the seed and soil with fervent prayers and gentle hands. To trust in the unseen work of the soil and to believe that every hour of intentional investment will yield a harvest of eternal proportion.

Sometimes we have the privilege of holding that resulting fruit; sometimes we can only believe in it. Either way, our responsibility remains.

sow extra one

Keep sowing God’s seed in this season of your life. Whether uncomfortably exposed or intentionally hidden, you have a choice to make regarding the faith seeds that are stored in your heart. In releasing them for the greater work of the kingdom, you are making a choice for growth – for yourself and for others. Don’t be surprised when the spade digs deeply and (sometimes) harshly. Expect it, believing all the while in the unseen work of the soil and in the eventual harvest to come.

What cannot be seen or held is seen and held by God. He is superintending the process, and the outcome is not in question. But don’t take my word on it, take his …

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. … You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” –John 15:8,16

In season and out, sow generously and sow believing that He who began a good work in you is faithful to see it through to completion. As always …

Peace for the journey,

Photo Credit – Copyright: nikkiphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

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from doing to breathing and the grace in between

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“When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’” –John 1:37-38

As of late, my pen has been silent. There hasn’t been room enough in my life for words.

Just doing. Mostly, just doing my job. It consumes my waking hours, which is most of them … all twenty-four of them. Whether I’m upright or horizontal, I’m thinking about my fourteen fourth-graders. I am exhausted. A life of perpetual doing doesn’t always leave room enough for breathing. Too much doing and the spirit goes dry. Life without breath feels like death to a soul, and for the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly suffocating.

And crying. And praying. And asking God through choke-filled sobs for this doing to start making sense, even one little bit.

My family’s been praying too. On Thursday night, Billy and the kids huddled together upstairs on my behalf and sent God their requests in sacred whispers. They just wanted me to find the air that I so desperately needed … for a fresh wind of the Spirit to blow over me.

On Friday God answered their quiet whispers as loudly as he could.

Every school day begins with a Bible lesson (one of the great privileges of teaching at a Christian school). I consider this to be the best part of our day together. I’m in my element when I’m telling God’s story to others. In the first half of the year, we covered Genesis, the Christmas story, and have recently begun to talk about Jesus’ early, ministry years. This week’s focus has been on those first disciples who took those first steps toward following Jesus. In particular, we’ve zeroed in on the question that Jesus asked of Andrew and John at their initial meeting:

“What do you want?” or as the King James’ version states, “What seek ye?”.

I asked my students to consider that question, to have those ancient words jump off the pages of holy writ and to imagine God asking the same question of them.

“What do you want, fourth graders? What seek ye?”

In our moments of morning contemplation, I could see that my students were thinking – that just maybe this question was meant also for them and not simply for those disciples in those early days of kingdom expansion. This was a good way to start the day; regardless of any drama that might follow, a solid foundation had been laid.

Fast forward a few hours. The students were finishing up a reading quiz when one of them approached my desk and asked if she could speak to me in the hallway. Her distress was apparent, and I immediately took her aside to assess the situation. We’d barely made it to the hallway before the tears began to collect in her sweet brown eyes. Quietly, tenderly, and most assuredly, this precious young girl added words to the moment. In doing so, she’s added a thousand more words to my heart.

“Mrs. Olsen, I need God.”

Let that settle in on you, friends. Just be with us there in that moment. Don’t rush past it. Moments like these should be held up to the light and cradled … celebrated in the heart. Really, could there be a more worthy, purer confession than this?

In the minutes that followed her disclosure, we sat together in the hallway where we talked about her need and about our God. And then as smoothly and as naturally as breathing, we prayed together and the kingdom of God expanded … just one little bit. For everything that hasn’t made sense in these past five months of doing my job, Friday’s one thing made perfect sense, and I am stunned by such privilege.

Every tear I have cried; every prayer I have prayed. Every word I have spoken; every plan I have made. If this one little bit is the sum total reason for God calling me out of my comfort zone and pushing me into the middle of discomfort, then this is enough fresh air to keep me breathing in the season to come.

Tonight I hear the Father asking me a familiar question, the one he asked his first disciples 2000 years ago and the one I asked my students earlier in the week:

“What do you want, Elaine? What seek ye?”

My response?

“This, Father. Just this.”

How beautiful this grace that is sufficient and all-powerful. It reaches past and beyond my weakness and perfects the imperfect. One little bit … one little heart at a time.

On Friday, I had the joy of welcoming a new child into God’s family. I’m so glad that she has Him and that He has her. She doesn’t know it yet, but her best days are ahead of her. With Jesus, her best days are yet to be. The multiplication tables and helping-verb lists she’s mastered in the 4th grade may not be remembered in years to come. But this one little moment?

Well, it will never be forgotten. It’s etched into eternity. This is forever.

Peace for the journey, sweet girl. God is with you. God is for you. God loves you.

I am too – with you, for your, love you.
{aka – Mrs. Olsen}

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