Category Archives: knowing God

the sermon that was never heard…

I had a dream last night. So strong in its witness, I needed to “get it down” on paper this morning. Perhaps in doing so, it will get down to a deeper place inside of me so that I might more fully live it outside of me.

The sermon that was never heard.

Allow me to explain. In May of 2016 my father was scheduled to preach at the Garner UMC. There was nothing particularly unusual about this event. Dad was often called upon to “fill the pulpit” on occasions when the pastor wasn’t available. As a professor of preaching at Asbury Seminary for over thirty years, and as a pastor of several congregations in the last fifty years, my dad has always been a natural choice for such occasions. His spiritual journey, as well as his giftedness in and eloquence for telling a story, have allowed him notable stages from which to deliver God’s message. But no stage was more glorious and important to my father than one holding a wooden pulpit overlooking an audience of Sunday morning seekers. Accordingly, dad rarely refused an opportunity to fill a pulpit.

I had planned to make the two hour trip to Garner to hear my father speak that Sunday. My mother texted me early in the morning to tell me not to come, that dad wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to preach. Later that day, when pressed for more details, dad revealed that he was having trouble reading his sermon notes, that his thoughts were jumbled up inside of him. And while he didn’t have any manifestations of a physical illness, he knew something was wrong. So did we. Thus began the unraveling of the diagnosable mystery known as a stroke.

For the last nineteen months, we’ve walked with dad through this period of redirection. The adjustments have been numerous. And while dad’s aphasia has altered his daily routine, it hasn’t changed his heart or his passion for telling the story. Certainly, the “stage” has changed; they’re smaller now, more intimate. His words are fewer and, sometimes, aren’t delivered as eloquently as he would like. But the warmth is there, the smile, the laughter, the love … always the love from dad. And through it all, we’re all learning to make peace with…

The sermon that was never heard.

The words that were never spoken that Sunday morning. The “text” that (some would say) would be my father’s final declaration from the pulpit. And this morning, after tossing and tumbling all night long, after mulling over what my father’s final benediction might have been from the pulpit that morning in Garner, I have decided that God is still writing that sermon. That after nineteen months of altered steps and interrupted dialogue, the sermon that was never heard is still preaching its witness.

And therein, folks, lives and breathes the greatest story ever told. When the curtains are drawn, the script is lost, when the words won’t come, and the audience has departed, what remains is the sacred echo – the deafening whispers of the sermon that was never heard.  

Like my father, perhaps even like you, I have a few more stories I’d like to share, a few more moments of dialogue I’d like to give to the world. But I am no longer convinced that these are the “sermons” that God will most thoroughly use to live and give his witness. What I am growing convinced of, however, is that…

Not every sermon needs a stage.

Not every manuscript needs eloquence.

Not every word needs to be spoken.

Instead, our “sermons” just need to be lived in the shadow of Almighty God. With warmth. With smiles. With laughter. With love … always the love.

If we can get to that place of settled peace, friends, then the sermon that was never heard surely will be boldly proclaimed with a depth and with a clarity that may not come otherwise. So…

Thank you, Daddy, for teaching me how to live with an unwritten, unspoken, and unfinished script.

And thank you, God, for making it count eternally. 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.

Everything Moments

These are days of plenty. This is a season of more-than-enough. This is holy generosity dispensed to me by the King.

This isn’t a season of less-than, although as of late I have been tempted to argue otherwise:

• Aging parents and accumulating needs making their withdrawals from the ledger.
• Financial interruptions that dip into the “summer fun” account.
• A lingering infection that coughs abruptly, heats up sporadically, and labors diligently to take hold of instead of break free from the flesh.
• Fractured conversations with the children I bore … the children I adore.
• Marital miscommunications that unearth seemingly forgotten pain and an oft-spoken question … (Again, Lord?)
• A sadness that sometimes sneaks quietly into my spirit, taking a long summer nap in the shade of my heart.
• High cholesterol, creaking knees, hot flashes, and a body that has failed me.

Cumulatively collected, it seems as if a detour around the poke-and-prod of summer is in order. Cumulatively and currently lived, however, I think I’ll stay right where I am. Why?

Because today, knee-deep in the might-be misery of my summer, I shared a bag of McDonald’s fries with my daughter, and I thought to myself …

This is good. This is grace. This is generosity. This is pure, untainted joy – an everything moment often uncalculated during a tabulated struggle. My life is filled to over-flow with everything moments. God has not short-changed me on anything. Instead, he’s lavished me with his holy everythings:

• Conversations and time spent with parents that cannot be replicated.
• Financial blessings that leave some wiggle room for summer fun.
• Prayers and medication that release me from my flesh, not keep me bonded to it.
• Enough love to mend fractures.
• Enough love to salve old aches and old conversations with a fresh helping of God’s mercy.
• Enough peace to awaken sadness.
• Enough laughter and humility to forgive the aging process.

God’s holy everythings are everywhere. It takes a holy heart to seek them out and then to hold them up to the light despite the shadows of a dimly-lit life. In doing so, in giving these everything moments a place of illumination while suffering through the pokes-and-prods of summer, we keep the life-ledger balanced.

Does a new pair of eyeglasses cost more than a bag of McDonald’s fries? No doubt, and it is one of the reasons behind my nagging worries this afternoon.

But to hold the attention (and the heart) of the one whose eyes rest behind those eyeglasses for a few moments? Well, folks, the ledger is more than balanced. The ledger is dripping with eternal abundance.

The Father who made us, knows us. He understands our summers … all of our seasons. He knows what will bring us peace, even as he knows about the turmoil that leads us toward unrest. Accordingly, along the way and as we go, he’s planted everything we need in order for our minds and hearts to push beyond the mayhem in our lives. He’s sown a garden of everything moments, so that we might be able to step outside of the temporal and to see his eternal. When life is measured through that set of lenses, life is duly celebrated.

So today, I raise a toast to my everything moments. To yours as well. Further still, I pray for eyes wide-enough to see them as they arrive, for wisdom enough to lift them up as illumination, and for a thankful heart to God for being so very generous with me. Would you join me in celebrating our everything moments today? I’d love to hear about some of yours in the comments below. Shalom. Be well.

Everything Moments (© F. Elaine Olsen, 6-28-2016, allrightsreserved.)

A spontaneous hug, a lingering kiss,
A ride through the park, a sunset unmissed.
A morning unhurried,wrapped safely in sheets;
An afternoon rain, an evening walk through the streets.
A tub full of bubbles, a gerbera in bloom,
A bird sweetly singing, a new bride and her groom.
A dip in the pool or a dip of ice-cream,
A nap in the shade, colored by the wildest of dream.
A smile round the table, for there’s corn to be shared;
Warm bread and soft butter, enough room to be spared…

For more love, more grace, more moments face-to-face.
More comfort, more strength, more confessions at-length.
Less guilt, less blame, more skin in the game.
Less hiding, less fear, more room for a tear…

Gently released, gently received,
Gently embraced, gently grieved.
Gentle hands, gentle souls,
Gently walking, fewer holes…
Left wide-open, left unguarded,
Consequently, less bombarded…

By nothing-moments that shouldn’t count,
By worldly standards that rate discount.
By devil’s schemes that work their ill,
By temporal needs that rarely fill.

Instead, by everything-moments that fruitfully amount,
By godly standards that take into account…
A Father’s love that heals all ill,
Eternal grace that lavishly overfills…

Everything.
with his moments.

who shall declare His generation?

“He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken” –Isaiah 53:8

Their words brought a chill to my bones, while at the same time setting my spirit on fire. Chilling because of the certain reminder of how powerful and effective the winds of strong words can quickly bring a sleepy soul to shivering and warming because of the certain reminder of how powerful and effective the fuel of strong words can quickly fan into flame the embers of a fire temporarily forgotten.

Isaiah 53. The entire chapter. Twelve verses. Spoken from memory, together and out loud for the first time by sixteen, fourth graders on Thursday morning. They’ve been working on the chapter in sections since the beginning of the school year, and this week, they put the verses all together. I wish you could have been there as witnesses. The further along they went in their recitation, the louder their volume. When they got to the end, a hearty round of applause could be heard, and for the more perceptive, a few tears could be observed in the eyes of their teacher.

This is how we win, students. This is how we defeat the enemy, the true enemy behind all the evil in the world. We may not be able to stop a bullet from tearing into our flesh, but we can stop a bullet from tearing into our spirits. This is how we win. With God. With truth in our hearts and with truth spoken from our lips. Do not ever let these words depart from your heart. Practice them every now and again so you don’t forget. This way, for the rest of your days, you’ll always know that you’re not alone … that there is One who has made his home with you, taken up his cross to save you, and now lives to make intercession for you.

And then I told them that, perhaps, in those hallowed moments of their speaking truth out loud, God just might have called the prophet Isaiah over and, together, the two of them listened in to our morning recitations with a smile across their hearts. I can’t prove it happened that way, but I like thinking about it. So did my students.

Chilling winds; stoked embers; peaceful pause.

This is how we win. This is how we defeat the enemy in times of terror. We may not be able to stop a bullet to our chests, but we can make certain that if one lodges there, it is encased and swallowed up by layers of truth – God’s truth that is lavishly given to us in the pages of holy writ, the Bible. The world would be a better place if it stopped trying to manage and manipulate truth, and, instead, meditated upon it, memorized it, and allowed it to transform each one of us from the inside-out.

Who shall declare his generation? Who will tell his story?

I will. Maybe even a few of my students will. Why? Because his story has become … is becoming our story. Every day we are learning truth, and while it might not all make sense to my students at this point in their journeys of grace, I know one day it will. Why? Because God makes sense and his words have everlasting depth. They strike through to the bone, chilling us when we need to awaken from our drowsiness and warming us when we’ve forgotten the strength of a single, lit match.

Stay in the Word, friends. Stay with Jesus every day. He is how we win. He is how we stay alive, even in the midst of death. As always …

Peace for the journey,

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?

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