Category Archives: kingdom

from doing to breathing and the grace in between

“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}

my playdate with God (and book give-away) …

I watched her as she read to me a chapter from her book. It was her “tucking in time” and she closed the day with words softly spoken in her sweet, Amelia voice. I just listened – the holiest response I could give to the moment.

This was the highlight of my week. Really. After listening to the voices of fifteen others drown out my own, hers was a welcome refrain. She didn’t whine or whimper or demand her due. Instead, she just gave me words from her purest place, and I was transported to wonder and awe. All I could do was receive them and thank God for this close proximity to the sacred. That time with my daughter smelled and felt like heaven on earth – a moment that slowed down long enough for me to capture God’s kingdom come, coming down and tapping me on the shoulder.

Qualitative time vs. quantitative time. My friend, Laura Boggess, speaks to this kingdom pause in her new book, Playdates with God (Leafwood Publishers, 2014):

“There are two kinds of time talked about in the Bible. Chronos time, which is calendar time—the gradual ticking away of the minutes—and kairos time, which can be thought of as the appointed time—the right time. Kairos time cannot be measured; it is qualitative rather than quantitative; it is the perfect moment—for such a time as this. … When we speak of the kingdom of God being here—right now—we are talking about kairos time. …

Haven’t I felt the kairos? My eyes are open to the knowledge that each moment passing is unlike any other, and so I grab each one by the beard . . . slow it down and look it in the face. Those are the moments when time stands still, when beauty seems to speak in ways that make my heart weep, when I feel the presence of God like a second skin ….” (p.134-135)

Like a second skin. Yes, this is the beauty I felt while listening to my daughter read her words to me. In that moment, nothing meant more to me. Nothing. It was peace on earth; a life could finish well on a note like that, all wrapped up in tranquility and perfect perspective.

These are the moments when the kingdom is most real to me – when I see God in flesh, spirit, and truth. This is how I know he’s real and that he is very much touch with what’s going on in my life.

I want more of them – more playdates with God. More times of noticing with him. More times of wondering with him. More times of celebrating with him . . . his peace on earth. I imagine we all want that, don’t we? And I imagine we all have that from time to time – kairos moments reminding us that there is but a thin veil between our now and our next and that, every now and again, God isn’t reluctant to lift the veil so that our hearts and souls might see beyond the temporal to take hold of the eternal.

Laura’s book is a field guide to this journey of discovery. Certainly, we don’t need to read a book to schedule a playdate with God. But I wonder … how many of us are really taking the time to pencil him into our busy schedules? Playdates with God is a generous, grace-filled invitation to do just that, to find God’s kingdom in the here-and-now, right where we are. In reading Laura’s thoughts and in hearing about her adventures with the Father, my heart is inclined toward the same. My hunger is not unlike hers – to seek, to find, and to hold holy moments that lead me straight into the arms of Jesus.

And when that happens, friends, the veil is lifted. What is unseen is seen and what is yet to come, comes.

The kingdom of God is near. It’s here. So, go ahead. Schedule your playdate with God and find rest for your souls. His holy playground awaits your presence. His presence is already there. As always …

Peace for the journey,


PS: Leave a comment to enter a give-away for Laura’s book. I’ll pick a winner with my next post. The winner of Peace for the Journey is Beth Herring.

lift them up

“ … lift them up.”

Chambers’ words have shadowed my heart today. They’ve stepped all around and into my thoughts, throwing down the gauntlet for obedience. I warm to them, slowly melt into them knowing that they are the remedy for this stretched-out submission to this certain calling. I need to remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. Simply and, yet, profoundly to …

lift them up.

Where?

To a higher place, a kingdom that includes them. A kingdom that some of them have yet to see, but a kingdom that I know, from time to time, shakes the soil of their souls and softens their heart-ground to receive the Father’s heart-seeds.

There are days when I forget to lift. Some days, there is less lifting and more maintaining … less holding up and more holding on for dear life. Some days, I think I’ll crumble beneath the weight of this load. These are heavy souls, freight far too weighty for my weakened resolve. Still and yet, I choose to try because there is a lot to lose by not doing so—another year of lateral living, seeing only at eye level instead of seeing from a higher perspective.

I will not cripple the view from the top. Instead, I will do my best to take them there – to give them that better vantage point. One by one, heart to heart, hand in hand, and crawling on all fours if need be. I will carry them forward and upward. Jesus Christ has done the same for me. Should I do any less?

I don’t often think of myself as a saint. I’m just doing my part on this little parcel of ground, this tiny speck of earth that lies beneath my feet and within reach of my heart. Are you doing the same? Doing your part in your little corner of the world? Are you …

lifting them up?

Lift them up, friends. Show them life from up above. Extend your heart and extend your reach so that others might be elevated into the kingdom sphere and might begin to experience a little bit of heaven on earth. There is no greater joy than participating in the King’s work. This is the highest privilege of a saint, the gift of sacred participation – when you and I link arms with the Father to lift the veil, revealing eternity.

Warm words, indeed. May they melt into your heart and surround your witness with the strength of our King. Lift often. Lift willingly. Lift always in the mighty name of Jesus. Somebody needs to see the kingdom today. As always …

Peace for the journey,

Do you or someone you know need a lift today? I’m giving away two copies of Peace for the Journey. I pray it will be an encouragement to weary souls. Leave a comment today indicating your interest. Share about the give-away on your social media sites, and you’ll receive an additional entry for this give-away (indicate your participation in the comment section below).

Lasting Fruit

I told them to keep working . . . that I needed to take some pictures and not to pay any attention to me. After eight days of getting to know their new teacher, they are beginning to understand that I am a woman who lives for the moments.

Too many of these moments are slipping by without much fanfare – like the “on the fly” relay race I put together for our recess time yesterday. If only I’d had my camera then; if only I could have bottled the laughter readily present in that moment. I’m sure it would have been enough to at least (temporarily) put a smile on the ache of the world.

With each tick of the clock, I’m keenly aware that I will only have this baker’s dozen in my charge and keep for a short season. Eight days down; one hundred and seventy-two remaining. There is so much I want to tell them . . . give them. In most of our moments together, I feel wholly inadequate with the telling and the giving. In most of those moments, I want to sit down and cry because of the overwhelming responsibility that’s now filling up my thoughts day and night and every moment in between.

I am so very past tired. My body aches from head to toe. I crawl into bed each night with tears in my eyes because of the physical pain that is riddling my joints. But there is liquid joy in the pain, because I know that I have done something sacred with my day. I have planted good seed into God’s very good soil. Time will bear out the results. I may or may not be privy to them, but I can and am relinquishing the outcome to God.

The seeds are in my hands and issue forth from my heart. The fruit, however, belongs to God’s hands and his heart. His Spirit will break up the fallow ground beneath our feet and will superintend the harvest with holy watchfulness. God will grow what I cannot.

My job?

Releasing the seed . . . one lesson plan at a time. One conversation at a time. One correction at a time. One getting down on the floor to help a student find his/her homework at a time. One reminder to put a name on a paper at a time. One extra look up on the computer to find out more information about Leif Ericson at a time. One more phone call to a parent at a time. One more inch of me invested into this assignment from God until it is finished.

One more one more, because it’s been that clear to me from the beginning that this isn’t my doing but, rather, it is God’s:

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” –John 15:16

Lasting fruit.

That has a holy ring to it, and one day I will know the fullness of what is being planted in these days. Until then, I’ll keep walking the fields with Jesus and watering his garden with these tears of obedience.

‘Tis a very sweet, sweet fellowship and privilege to journey alongside the King and to sow kingdom seed as we go and along the way. So . . .

Leave me, Lord Jesus, for as long as you will;
In this place of great trust – keep me quiet and still.
To wait for your timing, your words and your heart;
To give to your children the wealth that will start …

New beginnings in them that will push them along,
Forward in your kingdom – make them brave, make them strong.
Keep them safe, keep them tender, keep them willing to learn;
Keep me always at the ready, help my heart to discern.

What is best, what is right;
What is noble and true.
What is good, what is worthy;
What is holy from You.

Plant your rows, sow your seed;
Use my hands, take the lead.
One step at a time, one prayer from the heart;
This is grace, this is fruit,
This is faith, set apart.

Amen. (F. Elaine Olsen, 8-30-14. All rights reserved.)

Peace for the journey,

Faith-stepping

My heart’s been moved again by the story of Philip and the Ethiopian as found in Acts 8:26-40. This encounter unfolds like a series of rapid succession snapshots, sort of like living a narrative through the lens of a view-finder. Remember those? Philip’s story is a faith-stepping one; it has a lot to teach us about the seasonal work of faith in our lives. Imagine with me for a few moments. Perhaps, like me, you’ll find yourself somewhere in the script.

Philip steps forward. “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he started out, …”. (vs. 26-27)

A life of faith is initiated and directed by the hand of God. A saint steps forward (even to a desert road) when God shouts “Go!”.

Philip steps near. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.” (vs. 29-30)

A life of faith is often lived out alongside the questioning soul. A saint steps near the questions and isn’t intimidated by the pace of the chariot.

Philip steps up. “‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (vs. 31)

A life of faith rises to the occasion. A saint steps up into the chariot to tell the truth . . . to give a reason for the hope residing within.

Philip steps down. “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.” (vs. 26-38)

A life of faith understands that life truly begins in the baptismal waters of grace. A saint steps down into the river to pour life into others, even it means getting wet in the process. With God, a little wetness is all the more and then some. How long has it been since you’ve stepped down into those waters of grace?

Philip steps out. “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on rejoicing.” (vs. 39)

A life of faith is characterized by seasons. A saint steps out of the scene when God shouts, “Go!”. Some faith-assignments are lengthier than others, but most always they are limited to a time-period. Wise are those who know when to linger and when to step out of the scene.

Philip steps on. “Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” (vs. 40)

A life of faith keeps moving forward beyond the “stretches and strengthenings” of the soul. A saint steps on to walk the path and do the work of kingdom building. Faith doesn’t end where the last baptism took place. Faith journeys forward to new waters and new chariots in order to dispense the familiar grace from an old, rugged cross.

Thus, faith . . .

  • Steps forward.
  • Steps near.
  • Steps up.
  • Steps down.
  • Steps out.
  • Steps on.

Where are you stepping today, friends?

Step always in the mighty name of Jesus Christ. This road is coming to an end and one day soon, our faith will be our eyes. Until then, keep stepping. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

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