Monthly Archives: June 2009

A Pulpit on the Pamlico River

A Pulpit on the Pamlico River

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

I spent last evening on the Pamlico River, sharing my heart with a group of women about Moses’ “walkabout” of faith. It was a night of pleasure for me—a time of fellowship with friends, both old and new, all the while in the company of our Father who spoke to us through his Word.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fact that God has allowed me any type of platform for sharing his truth. Like the apostle Paul, I bring little eloquence and even less knowledge than him to the table. Like Paul, I feel unworthy of the calling; still and yet, God bestows the privilege upon me—upon us all as partakers in the kingdom that is now and is to come.

Today I called my dad to talk about my experience; we talked about preaching—about his experience behind the pulpit, his nerves regarding the pulpit, and his preparation for the pulpit. He told me something important as it pertains to the “handling” of God’s Word. He’s been a professor of preaching for nearly forty years. I think, perhaps, he holds some wisdom in the matter.

“I tell my students, Elaine, that they should write their sermon outlines, write out their entire thoughts word for word if they like, early in the week. They should get their sermons down on paper by Thursday noontime and then spend the rest of the weekend reading them, pondering them, praying over them. And then, when Sunday morning comes, they should walk away from their notes (not needing them) and preach the story with all the confidence of heaven to back them up.”

A sermon well-preached is a story well-lived. My dad’s been preaching that story for fifty years now … living it a bit longer. This past Sunday marked his golden anniversary in the pulpit. It is my privilege to share with you a few words he shared with his readers regarding this treasured milestone.

A seasoned minister, upon hearing that I was going into pastoral work, asked me this question, “Chuck, when you get up to preach, where will you be standing?” My first thought was “What a strange question.” Was there no better question to ask than that—the geography of where sermons will be preached?

I responded, “Behind the pulpit, of course.” He paused and, slightly shaking his head, replied, “No, no, they tell me when one stands to preach, they do so between heaven and hell.”

That was a stopper! Karl Barth, noted theologian said to the preaching students in his class, “Upon what grounds do you assume the role of mediator between heaven and earth? You will be standing between God’s grace and human need.” I have to admit, this business of ‘standing’ in that location has haunted me every step of the way. On the other hand, I have discovered inexorable delight and joy, knowing full well that I would have been missing ‘the mark’ had I done otherwise. My only boast was that I stood on “a Rock that was higher than I.” That made the difference!

This past Sunday, I preached at the ACTS United Methodist Church, which marked the anniversary of a fifty-year journey that started off at a little country church in Darke County, Ohio. It was during my senior year at Marion College (now Indiana Wesleyan), that I commuted to that unincorporated little village called Longtown. My congregation was African American, and those people loved, supported, and challenged me to stand up and “do it.”

My ministry has been ‘bookended’ by Longtown Wesleyan Church and ACTS United Methodist. The in-between years, all fifty of them, have fled swiftly by, like a weaver’s shuttle. And on this Golden Anniversary I can say without exaggeration or embarrassment, that it has been a ‘good stand’. And for the rest of the trip, I have several more corners to turn until I get home.


I suppose the “fruit” of my father’s “good stand” is the living witness of the countless lives he’s touched along the way. He’s touched mine. He’s taught me what it is to stand between heaven and hell as a mouthpiece for the truth of Jesus Christ. I stood there last evening, and by God’s grace and only his grace, I’ll stand there again.

So for you, dad, here are a few words of living witness to let you know just how wide and long and high and deep your reach has extended for the kingdom of God. It reached to the Pamlico River last night; I imagine there are several more corners it will turn before we all get home. This I do know … we’ll get there together. I love you.

(This portion of my talk last evening came at the end. It is a bit blurry and the sound not high quality. Please forgive. Remember…we’re a low budget operation over here.) Copyright © June 2009 – Elaine Olsen

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Paz para el viaje (peace for the journey)…

Paz para el viaje (peace for the journey)…

Hey Blogland! Instead of getting Elaine’s daily dose of “Peace for the Journey,” I’m afraid today’s entry comes from her 20-year-old son, Nick. I know, I know…in no way can I match my mom’s conciseness, clarity, and writing panache, but I’ll give it my best shot (And I won’t hold it against you if you stop reading now and check out someone else’s blog…)

I recently returned from a 10-day mission trip to the South American nation of Bolivia. Twelve of us went through an organization named Curamericas and were led by a bilingual 22-year-old volunteer named Andrew Herrera. A majority of our time in Bolivia was spent in the village of Tacachia, nestled cozily in the Andes Mountains about 35 miles from the capital city of La Paz. We worked at the Kory Wawanaca Children’s Home, an orphanage with 18 children and several staff members. I had the unique privilege of having this be a “return” trip to Bolivia, as I went last year with a group from our church.

Our team of twelve set out on a Tuesday at 3 p.m. with plans calling for us to arrive in La Paz the next day at 6:00 a.m. It seems that nothing ever goes according to plan, though. We missed a connection flight in Miami and then had to change our plans on the fly in Miami. As an occasionally hotheaded 20-year-old, I grew frustrated and impatient very quickly, and worried a lot about our new travel plans. Long story short, we did some South American globetrotting the next day and went through Venezuela, Peru, and finally reached La Paz at 12:45 a.m. on Thursday morning after 35 straight hours of travel (that’s the southern tip of the U.S., the northern tip of South America, the western tip of South America, and the highest capital city in the world for those of you keeping track…not too bad, eh?).

Already God had taught me a basic lesson in Christian living: I had to trust Him, and realize that everything was in His hands.

Exodus 33: 12-18
Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.
The Lord replied, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Then Moses said to him, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

In the days leading up to our trip, this passage from Exodus was a daily prayer and inspiration for me. Countless times during our trip, it would come to mind as a source of comfort. I always ended my prayers by echoing Moses, “Now show me your glory.”

There were two definitive moments when I witnessed the glory of God in Tacachia—two “passing-by” moments. Sure, the entire experience was glorious, but two were the kind of glory that I’m sure Moses witnessed there on Sinai with the Lord. These two have seared themselves into my memory and will not soon be forgotten.

The first came during a Sunday lunch at the orphanage. 10-year-old Roy, who was an avid chess player, had brought his set out and was looking for an American to play against. He had already done battle with Frank Ferrell, an adult on our team, earlier in the week; Frank had been victorious, but not without some difficulty. By the grace of God, I knew enough Spanish to help set up the first contest between the two; neither was very knowledgeable of the other’s language.

I was able to then witness the rematch on Sunday, sitting next to Roy and being able to translate somewhat for both parties. The match was a tight and silent one, with both players extremely focused on the task at hand. With a pair of brilliant moves, however, Roy was able to checkmate Frank and claim victory. Here were two people (completely polar opposities) from different age groups, neither speaking the other’s language who were bound only by a common knowledge and love for the game. Sensing Roy’s excitement, I leaned over to Frank and said, “tell him ‘buen hecho’” (Good job, well done…). Frank tapped Roy, who was walking away, on the shoulder and said, “Roy…Buen hecho.”

And as he walked away, the grin that exploded across Roy’s face was, without a doubt, the most vivid and radiant smile I have ever seen.

The second “passing-by” moment came at our departure from the orphanage, a morning that was one of the most difficult mornings I have ever experienced. My week of getting to know the 18 kids at the orphanage was over; I bonded with all of them, but to a higher degree with some. I enjoyed a special bond with 13-year-old Miguel, in part because I saw so much of myself in him. He, like me, was the oldest of four siblings, had an avid interest in athletics, and a penchant for sarcasm at times. We talked one night about how much I enjoyed being at the orphanage and getting to know Miguel and his family. The most enduring image I will take from Tacachia, and the one that tells me that God worked through us in this trip occurred during our tearful goodbyes (there were some tears, and some floods).

My last goodbyes were Miguel and Roy, who were standing around the monkeybars. I told them I really enjoyed meeting them and would miss them. Roy asked if I was going to return with such a pleading look on his face, and I said I hoped that I would. Miguel was silent as his and Roy’s eyes began to fill with tears. I looked in Miguel’s eyes and said, “Somos hermanos. Dios te bendiga” (We are brothers. God bless you.). We got in the cars and pulled out, but not without me taking one last glance at Miguel and Roy, still standing next to the monkeybars with their heads down; spasms of heartache at telling these kids goodbye have bothered me ever since.

For the days leading up to and during the trip I, like Moses, had been pleading with God in my prayers, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
Only the presence of God can bring out those two images. Only the presence of God can help one overcome language and altitude and attitude barriers to serve Him. Only with the presence of God can we, like Moses, witness the glory of God.
I truly feel at home in Tacachia, and hope to return there again next year to further strengthen the bonds I’ve formed this year, as well as to cultivate new ones. This trip, as is most often the case, stands as proof that yes, God worked THROUGH me. But he worked so much more IN me, and for that I am eternally grateful.
In the days since returning from the orphanage, Relient K’s song “I’m Taking You with Me” has been running through my head. My heartfelt pledge since returning to the United States is found in these lyrics:
“If home is where the heart is then my home is where you are;
But it’s getting oh so hard to spend these days without my heart.
So I’m taking you with me anywhere that I
Could ever wanna be for the rest of my life.
I want you there with me, and If there ever comes a time
When I should have to leave, I hope you know that I,
I’m taking you with me.”

So may you, blog readers, go with the presence of God, may you witness His glory, and may you take Him with you wherever you go.
Paz para el viaje (peace for the journey)
~ Nick
Down the Road

Down the Road

“‘I am the way… ’” (John 14:6).

I had a thought during my devotional time this morning. A quick word for some good friends who, perhaps like me, need a reminder about our “down the road’s.”

We are prone to them, are we not? To our looking down the road, planning our down the road, worrying about our down the road, all the while missing out on the present moments given to us by a gracious God who offers them for our reverent celebration.

We forego the pleasure and peace of a current moment because we allow the heaviness of a down the road future to claim our thoughts, and therefore, shackle our capacity to live in the simplicity of a single pause.

This one. Not in the ones to come somewhere, sometime down the road, but the moment we hold in our hands right now. Do we have enough faith for this kind of living? A faith that is content to live gradually rather than having to see the end before it arrives? How different would our journeys walk if we could take hold of this one truth and embed it into our way of “doing” life?

Not that we don’t plan and prepare with our futures in mind, but rather that we engage each new step with the understanding that our Jesus is our down the road Companion. He goes before us, he comes behind us. He walks beside us. He lives within us. We cannot help but be surrounded by his matchless and unfathomable grace as we go.

We can refuse it. We can close our eyes to his abiding and ever-present comfort and go it alone, trusting in our own feeble attempts at having life make sense. But in doing so, we miss the momentary peace that enables us to live worry-free and in complete trust of a future we cannot see.

I know. My heart writes from a place of understanding. My down the road’s have been all-consuming as of late, denying me the privilege of a moment by moment, peaceful rest.

I can live in a moment, friends. I’m not sure I can handle the holy “rest of them” in a single breath, but I have a down the road Jesus who can. He stands before me this day and asks for my trust. For my complete gaze on his willing sacrifice that enables me to live in a moment and then to move on to the next.

When I place the cross before me, it blocks my vision from the unfolding of events that lie ahead of me. It covers them all and shadows me with a sacred perspective that shouts victory and triumph at every turn.

Jesus is the Way. He is our down the road. He is the pleasure and Peace of our every moment. Live in those moments this day, and let Jesus be your more than enough to see you through to tomorrow. As always,

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PS: One of the pleasures of “momentary” living is embracing the pauses that come to us as we journey down the road. I had one such pleasure last evening in meeting “face to face” another blogging friend, Katie G from Tennessee. I invite you to partake of our moments together via this youtube link. In addition, please keep Katie and her husband, Luke, in your prayers as they are expecting their first child and have some concerns along those lines.

Where the Heart Is…

Where the Heart Is…

I sensed my son’s immediate discomfort with the statement spoken to him by a local parishioner while waiting in the check-out line at Wal-Mart:

“Sure bet you’re glad to be back home.”

Nicholas squirmed for a gracious response.

“Yes, sir. It’s good to be home.”

Even as he spoke it, I felt the painful cut that seared his heart with more clarified precision than that of a sharpened knife. The words weren’t intended to hurt, but they did. They reminded my son of everything he’s been trying to process since returning home from Bolivia.

If home is where the heart is, then my son’s home (at least for the “right now”) resides somewhere in the remote mountainous village of Tacachia, Bolivia. He spent the better part of a week walking its soil and tending to its harvest–a harvest that exceeded the fruit of the land to include the fruit of relationships.

The Kory Wawanaka Children’s Home (an orphanage sustained through the Methodist Church of Bolivia) houses nineteen orphaned children, ranging in ages from three to thirteen. When Nick first visited their community last year, the orphanage had four residents. Newly licensed for operation, the home has experienced strong growth in every way during the past twelve months.

It was especially meaningful for Nick to witness the growth of the past year. The “pulse” behind the work there is strong and evident, stirring his heart for further involvement.

“I want to go back, mom. And not just for a week. I want to stay longer next time.”

Next time.

My heart can barely get around these past “two times.” Still and yet, I listened to him pour his heart out over cheeseburgers and fries during a mother and son outing. I knew it was coming, this unwrapping of his feelings. Even as his emotions welled with the “telling”, mine welled with the listening.

God is moving Nick’s heart in a new direction. The shaping that’s taking place is what I’ve prayed for his entire life. In fact, I’ve prayed that prayer for all of my children over the years.

That they would, each one, know early on in their lives what God would have for them. That they would walk in their calling in their twenties rather than waiting until their forties to figure it all out. That they wouldn’t spend their days wondering about what they were supposed to be doing but rather would spend them knowing that whatever they were doing, they were doing so with an eternal purpose in mind. A kingdom purpose.

That they would find God, sense God, believe God, and know God in the everyday and mundane of a life that doesn’t always make sense but that is content to walk hand in hand with One who possesses perfect sense and understanding for the road ahead.

That they would listen to the promptings of God’s Spirit within and not brush it off as a momentary whim or selfish fancy. That they would, in fact, trust in the truth they’ve been given as children of the Most High God. A truth that tells them God is living and active and moving on their behalf and that because of this “constant working” they shouldn’t be surprised when he shows up on the scene of their lives, prompting them to keep in step with his leading.

God is faithfully answering those prayers for Nick. I heard it in his words and saw it in his eyes as we shared a table and bared our hearts to one another. And while Nick has always imagined his life to be headed in a certain direction, God is asking him to imagine bigger. To dream better; to see beyond his raw capabilities and to, instead, take hold of his sacredly bestowed giftings.

That kind of living, friends, is where it’s at. God has planted his own seeds of promise within our lives. When we begin to see those seeds harvest toward kingdom gain, then our hearts, like my son’s, welcome the growth of a new soil. In fact, our souls can’t help but cry out for it. For the untilled lands of an untouched country that is completely and “holy” surrendered to the idea of God’s unlimited possibilities.

As we connect with that kind of “heart-stirring”—when we begin to see our lives framed within the context of a greater good rather than within the parameters we’ve so carefully and comfortably created for ourselves—then we walk our part in the Great Commission. We walk our callings; no matter the location; no matter our age; no matter if we have the credentials or the education to go alongside.

We simply and profoundly walk our faith with all the confidence of heaven as our guide. We don’t worry about the particulars. The details belong to God. But the steps?

Well, they are ours to journey, whether here or abroad. When walked with the Creator, every step moves us closer to him … to heaven, where the final proclamation of our earthly life will resound in perfect unison with perfect wisdom…

“Yes Sir, it’s good to be home.”

No tears; no pain; no more wondering about our callings. Just rest for our hearts in the place where they were always intended to land.


By the grace of God I’ll get there; by his grace so will Nick, so will my other children. So will you. Thus, I pray…

Thank you, Father, for meeting us in this day. For showing up on foreign soil to till our hearts for kingdom purpose. For allowing us the “wrestling” of some things that further shape our understanding about how you intend for our lives to live. Give us the courage to “work the thing out” before you, with you, depending on you so that because of you, we come to a greater place of obedience to you. Use our pain to teach us Father, even when it hurts and our preferences call out for its burial. Meet us in those deep places; stir us all the more, and keep us to the pilgrimage of a final grace that will walk us home and welcome us fully. Amen.

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PS: I’m in the mountains this week; the picture above stands as my witness. Nick has promised me a post regarding his own thoughts about his trip. I hope to have it by week’s end, along with some pictures. Shalom.

The River’s Edge

“He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’ As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.” (Ezekiel 2:1-2).


The Spirit of the living God lifts us. Raises us. Enables us and strengthens us to receive the sacred words from a Father’s throne.

Without the Spirit, our posture remains prostrate, heads buried beneath the weight of an Almighty glory that exceeds our capacity for receiving. Coming into unified fellowship with the presence of God requires the strength and understanding of his Spirit alongside.

Without him, we lie as limp. Without him, we live the same.

God hasn’t called us to limp living—to shuffling our way through this world with nothing more than the cravings of our sinful nature to guide us. No, God has called us to an extraordinary existence with his Spirit as our guide and with his thoughts at the helm.

We will never live God’s “extraordinary” without our first entreating the witness of his Spirit.

Ruwach. The wind and breath of the triune God. He was there in the beginning, hovering and bending over the waters of the dark and deep. Waiting; contemplating, gathering steam and energizing Father God’s thoughts into action.

As New Testament believers, we often chronicle his beginnings with Pentecost. In doing so, we short change the truth of the Trinity. Just because his mention is seemingly less frequent in the Old Testament doesn’t mean that he wasn’t there.

He’s there. He’s always been here. Even as God IS, he IS. There is no separation between God and his Spirit. We receive him fully when we accept his Son, Jesus Christ, unto ourselves.

God is a package deal. Most days, however, we don’t live with that understanding. Instead, we settle for less because our hearts and minds refuse to believe that the God “up there” is actually the God “in here”—within our hearts. We are the place where he chooses to make his home despite our confusion in keeping him abroad.

So often we are like the Israelites who gathered at the River Kebar in their exile with their stubborn unbelief in tow. Like them, we can trace our royal bloodlines; we live with the truth that we are, in fact, the children of God. Still and yet, we refuse the fullness of just exactly what that means. In doing so, we wear the same labels as that of our spiritual ancestors.

Rebellious. Obstinate. Stiff-necked. Difficult. Unyielding. Hardened, and ultimately, exiled.

We miss the mark when we miss the fullness of the triune God. Before long, we, too, find ourselves stranded at the river’s edge wondering as to what went wrong and how many steps it will take for us to return to the Promised Land of our yesterdays.

This week, I’ve stood at the River Kebar, looking into the distance and searching for the presence of my Almighty God. I’ve longed for the breath of his Spirit to blow across my arid soul and to speak life into my “limp and lame.” And just this morning, when I finally bowed low enough and long enough, I felt the flutter of a gentle breeze blow across my heart.

Faint at first but louder with every moment that I kept my silence and allowed God his voice. As he spoke, his Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, enabling me to hear some truth I’ve been hoping to hear for a long season.

He reminded me that his Spirit is for me. He’s for you too. Without him, we live as limp. friends. With him, we live extraordinary. Why? Because God’s Spirit gives and lives with all the generosity of heaven. He…

Controls us (Romans 8:6).

Enlivens us (Job 33:4, John 6:63, Romans 8:6).

Teaches us (Nehemiah 9:30, Isaiah 50:4, John 16:13, 1 Corinthians 2:13).

Reminds us (John 14:26).

Bears fruit through us (Galatians 5:22-23, Hebrews 2:4).

Intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27).

Transforms us (2 Corinthians 3:17-19).

Completes us (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Frees us (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Raises us (Ezekiel 2:1-2, 3:24).

Corrects us (Nehemiah 9:30).

Follows us (Psalm 139:7).

Remains on us (Isaiah 44:3, 61:1, Luke 1:35, 4:18).

Leads us (Matthew 4:1).

Counsels us (John 14:26).

Strengthens us (Acts 1:8, 1 Corinthians 2:4).

Fills us (Acts 4:31, 9:17, Ephesians 5:13).

Reveals to us (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

Resides in us (1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 1:22, 1 John 3:24).

Defends us (Ephesians 6:17).

Speaks for us (1 Corinthians 2:13, 2 Peter 1:21).

Identifies us (Romans 8:15-16, 2 Corinthians 3:3, 5:5).

Indeed, the Spirit of God raises us up to live at a higher level than what is customary and expected. When allowed—when anticipated and expected—he transforms our everyday lives into his everlasting purpose that exceeds an existence at the river’s edge to engage the roar and pulse of a river’s ride.

That’s where I want to live with God. Riding the river’s wild in sacred trust rather than limping along the river’s edge in temporal doubt. Perhaps, this day, you want to live the same.

If so, I encourage you to further investigate the role of the Holy Spirit in your life by a deeper examination of the list above. Receive the truth and witness of what you’ve been given through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Walk in that truth, knowing that even as he hovered over his waters in the beginning, he hovers over your heart just now…

waiting; contemplating, gathering steam and energizing Father God’s thoughts into action.

May you feel the breath of God’s good Spirit beneath your feet today. Rise and partake of his extraordinary presence. As always,

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PS: The winners DJ Cole’s CD, Your Grace, are Lisa from Sharing Life with Lisa (#9) and Heidi (#22). Congratulations ladies. Please send me your addresses once again.

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