Monthly Archives: June 2008

Concluding Exhortations

“Let love of the brethren continue.” (Hebrews 13:1).

Concluding exhortations.

That was the topic of this morning’s adult Sunday school class. I am not on the circuit of regular teachers for this group of mature seniors, but I have been attending their class for nearly three years. I dearly love them, both collectively as a group and as individuals. Their words drip with wisdom, and their love breathes as genuine. They’ve lived long enough to find their compass—to anchor their hearts within a centered peace and an abiding faith that are not easily shaken.

So when I was asked to offer my voice as their leader, I welcomed the opportunity. Problem was…the invitation was issued a few months back, and in the busy of my past two weeks (i.e. vacation in Gatlinburg), I neglected its remembrance. Mid-week of my mountain retreat, I remembered and was tempted to bail. After all, I had left my curriculum guide at home and was weary with my lazy.

God gently reminded me that no curriculum was necessary. The truth of his Word, alone, was enough to carry me through. Thus, I contacted one of the class members to retrieve the scripture.

Hebrews 13:1-16.

A to-do list of sorts. Some final thoughts to punctuate the previous twelve chapters detailing the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

Loving one another.
Entertaining strangers.
Remembering those in prison.
Keeping sexual purity at a premium.
Keeping a love for money at a minimum.
Finding contentment in the “have”, realizing that the “have”—Jesus Christ—is all we’ll ever need.
Receiving the truth of that “have” as changeless—yesterday, today and forever.
Imitating the faith of the saints.
Guarding the Gospel as the truth.
Bearing the reproach of Christ.
Offering the praise of sacrifice.
Doing good and sharing that goodness with others.

Indeed. Some final, heavy thoughts, packed into sixteen verses of scripture duly categorized by modern-day translators as some…

Concluding exhortations.

And for all of the ways I could have taken the lesson this morning, sticking with the theme of this one phrase was the right way to go. Even though these words of organization are not included in the original manuscript, they are rich in their application, especially as it pertains to the contents of Hebrews 13.

I asked the class to consider their concluding exhortations. Exhortation, as found in Hebrews 13:22, is the Greek word paraklesis. It is a word meaning “encouragement, entreaty, consolation, admonition, importation, refreshment, and persuasive discourse.”[i] Thus, I challenged my pupils (whose wisdom and maturity surpass me by at least three decades) to pause and to consider what they might like to say as a concluding word of encouragement to those whom they love and to a world who desperately needs the exhortation of such Godly influence.

It is a tough question to ask, especially to souls who are aging and who, undoubtedly, live with some memories and pains and regrets that have shadowed them into these golden years of living. But tough is not always wrong, and this morning, tough was very right and became the tender soil of God’s plowing. I witnessed my students’ tears of understanding as we marshaled our way through sixteen verses of “forget-me-nots.”

They laced the discussion with their laughter, with their memories, with their truth and with God’s. And as quickly as the ten o’clock hour arrived, it left, and I was stunned by the provision of God’s grace and presence who arrived on the scene to partake in our discussion.

It is his promise to us, straight out of Hebrews 13:5-6.

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”

Indeed, if there is one exhortation that breathes from the hearts of the Friendship Sunday School class, it is this simple truth. For all of the years traversed upon this earthly sod, there is God who has journeyed it with them. Fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, and almost ninety year’s worth of walking it through with the LORD, Covenant God. Helper and Sustainer of life.

Man has already done his doing over their lives–years worth of doing that have left some scars. But the fear, well it is mostly gone now, for they have learned the secret of being of content. In little and in much. In sorrow and in joy. In sickness and in health. In the present and in the tomorrow yet to come, for with each day comes Jesus. And they have all reached the conclusion that Jesus is, in fact, worth their living.

This is why they were there this morning, present and accounted for in a “doing” that they’ve been doing for a long season. This is why I was there this morning and will continue to attend the senior-adult Sunday school class at my church. The class members live and breathe a concluding exhortation worthy of my pause…worthy of my embrace. They warrant my time and my preparation, for they are my brethren, and my love for them and their love for me…continues.

Deeper. Stronger. And more fully with every conversation that we share. We are a Hebrews 13:1, loving kind of people. We’re working on the other verses, but this love thing?

We are living it, and it is my great joy and privilege to be living it alongside them. And so I pray…

Make me like them, Lord. Let my life breathe a concluding exhortation that includes love as its anchor. Keep me close to the wisdom of these saints, even closer to your truth, so that we may grow as one body in the unity and grace given to each one of us through your cross. Give me ears to listen, a heart to receive, and a hand to serve these precious friends of mine. Give them, each one, the strength to find their voice and the praise to find their lips so that their final chorus sings with a faith that will melody throughout the generations to come. Thank you for the privilege of their companionship along the road. They have been your grace to me, and I am the better for having them in my life. Amen.


Copyright © June 2008 – Elaine Olsen. All rights reserved.

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God has been stirring my thoughts for another mini-study to begin in the near future. Stay tuned for further details. Shalom.

Packing Up a Vacation…Punctuating a Week

Packing Up a Vacation…Punctuating a Week

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12).

I was ready to come home. Sort of. Vacation is always a mixed bag of everything for me. Good, along with the bad, and a whole lot of other that rests in between.

I was tired going into our trip. I am even more tired coming out of it, and even now I can barely muster the strength for a complete thought. But there is a lingering thought…one final memory of our time in Gatlinburg, that I find worthy of my pen this night.


I spent some time with them yesterday afternoon. A storm was brewing—the kind of storm that smells before it swells. I knew that my moments of outdoor devotion would be brief. I am not a storm girl. They frighten me, but yesterday I found my strength in their embrace. I grabbed my Bible and headed out to the deck of our mountain loft. The hot and humid of a June afternoon gave way to the cool and breeze of a better wind.

And through my cluttered and chaotic, God used his trees to teach me a few things about clutter free living. Things like…

Trees are rooted for the wind. Rarely, if never, do they break with the wind’s embrace.

Trees are the instruments of the wind. When the force of a wind caresses the limbs of its instrument, the melody is magical.

Trees rhythm with the wind. They don’t bobble and bumble their way through the song. They sway in step with their conductor.

Trees bend with the wind. For the touching forth and the falling back and the rebounding to center.

Trees are content to share the stage with the wind’s choice of companions. Rarely is its song a solo act.

Trees sing regardless of the wind. Each and every spring they burst onto the scene, budded for new life. Each and every fall, they take to their hiddenness with the barren embrace of a winter’s calling. In season and out, trees are steadfast and true. They do not worry about a spring’s budding or a fall’s stripping. They simply are. They trust God for the song.

Trees have longevity, despite the wind. They’ve been around for a long time. They were the pronounced goodness of a Father’s third day extravaganza. They will follow us all the way to heaven.

Trees submit to the wind. Not begrudgingly, but with the bending and blending of voices that sing in perfect song to the God who made them for his renown because…

Trees understand that their voice sings because of the wind. Left in stillness, their song remains as silent.

Trees and wind. A sometimes unwelcomed coupling.

To the novice—to those untrained in the melodies of creation—a tree’s rustling sounds like little more than the approach of an oncoming storm. But to me, a lover of creation and one in search of the sacred song, the rhythm of the trees sounds like the chorus of heaven.

And in the pause of a yesterday’s shower, I was reminded that there is song that exists apart from me. A song that is sung, sometimes, in spite of me. A song that will continue to sing, not because of me, but because of the One who commissioned its voice for such adoration.

Trees do not sing for man’s approval. They simply sing because our Father has given them the voice to praise. And on the eve of a vacation’s ending, I stepped away from my usual—my crazy and my chaos—to participate in the chorus of the unusual.

It is a song that never grows old. A song that always sings pure. A song that fully and most assuredly breathes grace. And even though I’m home now, if I listen closely…close my eyes and focus tightly…

I can hear the rustled melody of my Father’s kingdom chorus as I walk my way to sleep.

What a perfectly, satisfying way to pack up my vacation and to punctuate my week. And so I pray…

Thank you, Father, for the chorus of your creation that bursts onto my scene everyday and begs for my notice. Open my eyes to see the beauty of your handiwork. Open my ears to hear the chorus of you melody. Open my mouth to taste of your goodness. Open my senses to feel and to smell the splendor of your creative genius, and open my heart to receive the fullness your presence. And when I forget to sing your praises, Lord, stir your trees in my absence. Let all creation voice the truth of who you are. You, alone, are worthy of all my praise. Amen.

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Chasing a Dream (part two): The Towel and the Basin

Chasing a Dream (part two): The Towel and the Basin

“After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’

Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’” (John 13:5-8).

I am uncomfortable with my feet. Always have been. They are functional, not pretty. I am more content with their hiding rather than their exposure. I am also not a big fan of other people’s feet. I don’t mind them if they are well groomed, but rarely do I find a pair of feet that I love.

There is one exception. I love my children’s feet. I could wash them, trim them and doctor them without hesitation. Perhaps, in part, because I was responsible for making them. My children are an extension of me, and my love for them far exceeds any other earthly loves I have known. I come close to loving them unconditionally—the way that my heavenly Father loves me and commands me to do the same for others.

But loving with agapao has always been a difficult embrace for me. It is a requiring love. A demanding love. A selfless, best-interest kind of love that leaves little room for compromise. Agapao treads hard upon the soil of my flesh and necessitates a bending of this heart that is almost always prone to standing.

And when hearts remain unbendable…remain standing and in control…loving always remains conditional and falls short of a basin and a towel.

Jesus understands our bent toward control. This is why he wrapped a towel around his outer garment, took to his knees, and began to wash away the dirty pride that framed his disciples’ steps. Their requirement in the matter?

To pause for the sacred necessary.
To yield their feet for the cleansing.
To expose their ugly and vulnerable to the Beautiful.
To understand his touch and then to go and do likewise.

That is a lot of teaching for a single meal, but in one simple act of service by Jesus, and in one simple act of submission by his followers, a model for kingdom service was birthed into the hearts of men and scripted upon the pages of holy writ for our remembrance and our modeling. And just this past weekend, I met a group of women who remembered and who rose to the task of their bending.

Their mission?

My feet and the feet of five hundred other women. The Proverbs 31 staff and volunteers came to Concord, NC, in order to serve. To wrap the towel of God’s agapao around their waists and to tenderly and gently ask for my feet and my vulnerabilities. My wants and my worries. My fears and my tears.

I gave them up willingly, for I understood the need for their washing.

They graciously received me, just as I was, and began to do what Jesus asked them to do. They loved me without conditions. They offered their support to me at every turn and encouraged me toward the equipping of God’s calling upon my life. I am forever moved by their service to me. To name them all would take too long, but there are a few women who quickly made their way into my heart because of their time and gentle care toward my many needs.

Lindsey Kane came to serve. She is one of the first women I met upon my arrival. I didn’t know her. She didn’t know me, but within minutes I knew that I liked her. A lot. In fact, she is the kind of woman that any mother would love for a daughter-in-law. I told her so. Lindsey has a passion for God and exhibits that passion through her music. She is a gifted artist and musician and a true worshipper of Jesus Christ.

Jeannie Burlowski came to serve. I sat in her seminar to learn about the in’s and out’s of publisher proposal meetings. As the seminar ended, I realized that I had some tweaking to do on my proposal “pitch” that was about to be served up to a first publisher in one hour. Jeannie found me at the couches and asked about my book. She loved the idea and helped me reformulate a few things that I would say while in my meetings. I am forever indebted to her time and to her gracious acceptance of me.

Renee Swope came to serve. I’ve known Renee only a short time, but when she saw me, she was quick to hug and to encourage. Renee models compassion. She is tender and soft spoken, but her service to humanity packs a punch like no other. She is a Godly lioness ready to take a bite out of anyone who threatens the Father’s flock. Thank you, Renee, for showing up at all the right times on more than one occasion. You offered me courage when I had little.

Susanne Scheppmann came to serve. I’d never met Susanne prior to this weekend. She led a fabulous seminar on The Pathway to Publication. Her raw and unedited truth, her humor and wit, and her grasp of the material endeared her to me for always. In a particular vulnerable moment on Saturday evening, Susanne stepped out of the service with me so that I could share my heart with her. She’s a published author who serves the body of Christ with the basin and towel…in Las Vegas no less! After meeting Susanne, I think Vegas and her are a good fit!

Lisa Whittle came to serve. I am a fan of Lisa’s blog. I have only recently come across her work, but she writes with a depth of insight that forces me to a deep pondering of the things of God. I ran into Lisa in the hallway on Saturday afternoon. I shouted out her name and introduced myself. She was a kindred spirit from the get go. Lisa has just published a book entitled, Behind those Eyes: What’s Really Going on Inside the Souls of Women. Her overriding passion in this book is to see women live authentic lives before God and with one another. What she modeled to me in our brief encounter was as authentic and genuine as Christian relationship comes. I feel so privileged to have met her and to have had my feet washed by her in a moment of great exposure.

Last, but certainly not the least of these (and not a member on the panel of speakers) my friend Joy came to serve. Her writings on her blog drew me to her, but her friendship with me in Concord is the thread that will keep me coming back for more. Joy is a quiet, yet strong woman of God. She laughed at almost everything I said; not because she had to, but because she was willing to give me the stage, and I am prone to an audience. The perceptions you have of her from reading her blog are accurate. She’s genuine through and through and even more so once you put that name with her pretty, adorable face. Indeed, she is Joy to me, and I’ll love her for life.

These few, along with many others, washed my feet this weekend. In their pretty and in their poise, they bent low to embrace God’s calling upon their lives to serve. They understand better than me, the theology of a basin and a towel. And through their grasp of my ugly, my vulnerable and my needy, I have learned a great deal about Jesus and his love.

No wonder a teaching over a last supper! Jesus knew that we needed it. And where I have lacked in its understanding, I now more fully comprehend because of the witness and bending of some new friends who have learned to love the most excellent way.

I want to be a foot washer. I want to readily embrace the towel around my waist and begin to wash the ugly away from this world, and so I pray…

Thank you, Father, for those you sent to wash my feet this past weekend. I am moved by their witness. I am changed by their love. Teach me to love this most excellent way. Let not control remain as my issue; instead, let me bend and submit my life for the washing and for the washing of others whom you place at my basin. Left to myself, Lord, I cannot adequately love, but with your promised Spirit living within, I can love to the uttermost. To limits unfathomed and to grace unmerited. Humbly I bow to the sacred privilege. Amen.

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One of my favorite pasttimes in Gatlinburg…beading with Kevin at the Smokey Mountain Bead Bar!

Yes, girls…a prize is on its way!

Chasing a Dream

Chasing a Dream

She Speaks, 2008

“But Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’

‘Come,’ he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”
(Matthew 14:27-29).

I chased a dream this past weekend.

It’s been chasing me for a long season.

Instead of lurking in its shadow any longer, I turned around to embrace its linger. A faith not yet required became my requirement because long-seasoned, God-ordained dreams will only be birthed…

through an obedience that walks hard.
through a trust that roots deep.
through a faith that looks forward.

Dreams birthed in the easy and in the shallow and in the rearview mirror are never really meant to breathe. But dreams birthed in the recesses of a timeless creation are always meant to find their voice. God dreamed them first on our behalf. He planted their seeds within our souls. He tends them with his time. Not ours.

And when his time comes…when the arrival of fruition begins its advance on the horizon…God intends for us to move forward.


The language of invitation.


The word of possibility.


The breath of culmination.


The one obedience that separates a dream from its realization.

Four months ago, God whispered his words of invitation for me to come…to simply leave the comfort of my current and to embrace the tumultuous of an unchartered sea. With hard steps and loosely rooted trust, I fixed my gaze on the horizon, and I began the pilgrimage toward my dream.

I’m so glad that I did. Now, less than twenty-four hours on the other side of this boat ride, I ponder the mystery of God’s design. I think about all that I would have missed I had forgone my Father’s summons. I would have missed a holy lot. Things like…

True worship.
Moments at the cross.
Communion at the table of grace.
Sacred intimacy.
Tender tears.
Answered prayers.


Dreams renewed, freshly rooted in my now.

Yes, I would have missed a great deal if I had knelt to my natural, and in the natural, this flesh is prone to the safety of a boat rather than the wild of a wave.

The apostle Peter understood the pull between known things and unknown embraces. Like me, he carried a few dreams in his pocket—dreams that exceeded his current and dreams that challenged his faith. If he would have stayed as he was—content on the shores of faithless fishing—he would have missed a holy lot. He would have missed Jesus. He would have missed everything. But Peter knew something that all true dreamers know.

Dreams that sing real are dreams that breathe faith.

The same is true for us. Our dreams may voice different, look different and read different, but every dream worth dreaming is always rooted in Jesus Christ. At the end of the day…at the end of a life, if our dreams aren’t scripted in the annals of heaven and through the pen of our Father, they perish as dust.

But those penned by the Almighty will remain. They will find their voice, and they will sing as eternal. And my friends, I want to sing. I want you to sing alongside. God created us for the song; thus, the chase becomes our requirement. We must press on to take hold of all of that for which our Savior has taken hold of us.

He stands on the horizon of our water’s edge. Some of us are currently sailing the calm. Some of us are living the ravages of a storm’s embrace. No matter. His word of invitation cannot be hushed by the water’s divide.

Come. Simply come.

Dreams are birthed when we step out in faith, and so I pray…

Thank you Father, for your invitation to come and to participate in your plan for my life this past weekend. Thank you for showing me your presence through your servants at every turn. Forgive me for the times when my faith is weak, and my doubt is strong. Keep my eyes fixed on your horizon, and keep my feet planted upon your waters. And when the storms rage hard and the waves beat fierce, remind me of what awaits me on the other side of my obedience. You, God, are my reward, and this heart is ready for the chase. Amen.

My new best friend, Joy, from Canada. Love u sister!

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I’ve traveled far and wide in Gatlinburg to find a place to link up tonight! We’re on vacation this week; thus, my communications will be limited. Shalom!

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