Saturday, December 7, 2019


Replace


We arrived early, while there was still plenty of daylight left.  I opened the back of the silver minivan and removed the radio flyer wagon, at which time, three of my four children removed their fold-able camping chairs…placed them in the wagon…and then climbed into the wagon.  My wife picked up the youngest child and carried her while I strapped two camping chairs to my back and shoulders and pulled the loaded radio flyer up the hill.  The next three blocks must have been torture for my poor children…because all I heard were their complaints about the bumps…the crowdedness…how slow I was going and each other’s bad breath. 

“Do you want to walk and pull this wagon up this hill?”

“No…but can you go faster?  I am tired of riding…”

Ok…that didn’t seem to quite sink in.  We arrived at the top of the grassy knoll…no not that grassy knoll…and set up our chairs.  We all sat down and waited.  As the sky grew darker and darker, my eager children kept begging for the event to start.

“It will start when it’s dark.”

“Is it dark yet?.”

“Does it look dark?”

“Yes.”

“No, it is not dark yet…at least…not dark enough.”

“How about now?”

“Soon.”

“Now?”

“Yes…it should start soon.”

BOOOOOM!!!!

The sky lit up and the sound resonated with the echoing resonating noise.  My two youngest children both began to cry…”I’m scared.”

“Scared!?  This is what we came for…this is why we are here!”

“I don’t like it…can we go home?”

“NO!!! Absolutely not!”

The fireworks continued for the next 20 minutes or more, ending in a ruckus of chaotic sparks, lights and bangs.

When the fireworks finished, we made our way back to the silver minivan…loaded up the chairs and the wagon…and started the engine.

“Hmmm…that’s curious…the dash lights aren’t working.”

“Just go! The headlights are on…we can go!...Go go go! Before we get stuck in all of this July 4th traffic!”

“Ok! Ok! We are going.”

We swiftly made our way out of the city and pointed ourselves south onto the highway.
I used the dome light to see the speedometer and then set the cruise, and on we went.
Everyone who was passing us…was honking and curiously seemed angry.  Perhaps they were the ones sitting behind our squirly crying children during the fireworks.  People flashed their lights at us on their way by. Some stuck their faces out their windows like a young beagle to shout things at us as puttered along.  After about 25 miles I decided that I had better check it out.  I pulled the vehicle to the side of the road and walked to the back and saw that there were absolutely no lights working on the rear of the vehicle.  “Oh!” I thought, “That is why the dash lights weren’t working…that makes sense.”

Apparently, somewhere along the journey a fuse had been blown and now we had no lights to reveal the backside of our vehicle or dash lights to tell us how fast we were going.  There is only one way to repair this issue…replace the fuse.  The problem was, that I was out on the highway and I did not have any extra fuses.  We did the only thing any sensible American male with a van load of kids could do…we drove on.

When a fuse breaks, whether it is in your home or in your vehicle, there is always only one solution.  The fuse must be replaced.  Every year as Christmas approaches I remember an amazing story of replacement that never gets old for me.  In fact, it continues to resonate stronger and stronger, it seems, every year.  It is more than a Christmas story, it is a Gospel story. You might think that I am referring to the story of the birth of Christ…which is only partially accurate.  The story that I remember is the story of Abraham and Isaac…where a picture is painted of a coming sacrifice…a story that promises a “replacement.” As Abraham is about to sacrifice his son Isaac…God says “stop!” and then provides a replacement.  God provides a ram instead of his son.  Then we come to the Christmas story…where God provides His Son…as a replacement for us.  Like a blown fuse that has left us in the dark…unless something is replaced…we are out of luck.  When I think of how Jesus to our place…I am out of words.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Opponent


He and I sat opposite each other…staring one another down.  I had faced larger opponents, but perhaps none as mentally strong as this one. I could tell I was wearing him down. Yet, he was resilient, he fought on.  He had already had several near breakdowns, but ultimately, my opponent held resolute.  His face was red with exertion…and I am certain that the veins in my neck were enlarged and protruding above my crew collared shirt. 

I have spent my entire life facing difficult opponents, whether on the wrestling mat from age 5, or a difficult college professor, or the 3 year boy who opposed me that day.  It had started simple enough…a question…”Do you want your pizza cut into triangles or squares.”

I realize that some questions can overwhelm indecisive people like myself…but this young boy had already developed strong opinions.  For example, he hated potatoes, uncomfortable shirts and loose athletic shoes.  He would send his potatoes flying…his uncomfortable shirts would be thrown off…and he would pull the laces of his shoes up to his knees in efforts to keep them snug around his feet. 

The eternal struggle of triangles or squares was the most difficult decision that this 3 year old had yet faced.  He had said, “Squares.”  Thus, I cut the pizza into squares.  Once the slicing was finished, the toe jam extracting scream let loose and he cried out, “No! I wanted it cut into triangles!”

“You said squares!”

“Ahhh!...Triangles!”

“Tough! You said squares…you got squares…now eat it!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

Sweat began to collect on my brow as I mentally wrestled with the child.  He was a tough one…a formidable foe.  We found ourselves now at a standoff, neither of us wanting to give in.

“Are you feeling hungry?”

“Yes.”

“Then eat your pizza.”

“No!”

“You are not getting anything else to eat.”

“I don’t want it!”

“Then you are going to be hungry.”

“I want to eat!”

“Then eat”

The battle may have lasted 20 minutes or more…before…as I pretended to be unaware…he snuck a bite…and then another…and another.  “There, finally” I sighed silently to myself.

“Now that you have eaten your pizza…would you like a cookie?”

“Yes!”

“Circle…or square?”

We face opposition all throughout our lives.  Some of these opposing moments are mere superficial issues with food or the foolish man driving slowly in the fast lane on the highway.  Yet, there are times in our lives when we will face opposition that is powerful…and how we respond to these oppositions are critical.  When it comes to spiritual matters and the church…we can be guaranteed that there WILL be opposition.  The early New Testament church encountered opposition regularly.  We find an event recorded  in  Acts chapter 4, Peter and John had just healed a crippled beggar at the Temple in the name of Jesus.  Though the deed that they had done was very kind and beneficial…they are arrested and told…”You are not allowed to preach the name any more…that name of Jesus…”

When faced with the opposition…Peter and John must make a decision.  What do they do?  Obey God or obey man? In the face of opposition…they do the only thing that they can do…they obey God…yet, they do it with such grace.

May we come to see that as followers of Christ we WILL face opposition…and may we choose to do that which is difficult and obey God…with grace.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Alarm


It is the second morning of the 2019 deer hunting season.  I am laying awake in bed.  I have been awake for several minutes now.  I don't really know how long.  There are no lights on.  It is still dark....it is obvious that no one else is awake in the cabin either.  I don’t want to look at the clock because 4:30 a.m. always comes too quickly and if I look at the clock and it is close to 4:30 I can kiss any further sleep goodbye.  So I lay there awake, wondering what time it is.  I had already been up once during the night to use the little boys room.  At that point it was only 3:30, giving me one more FULL hour to sleep.  I have already dozed off at least once since then.  As I lie awake, I am a little bit surprised that my alarm has not gone off yet.

Finally, I concede to the reality that I need to check the time.  I lean over and press the button on my iphone.  The display reads, “Alarm” “5:43 a.m.” “snooze?” It takes me a moment for the reality to sink in.  Alarm?  5:43?  Hmmm…I didn’t set the alarm for 5:43…I set it for 4:30…why would it say...???  “Oh great Scott!...the alarm has been going off for an hour and 13 minutes!  It is way beyond time to wake up!"

Apparently…I had muted my phone while in the woods the previous day so as not to scare away any deer while in the woods.  It appears that I have not only succeeded in avoiding the scaring away of any deer, but of any humans as well.

This isn’t the first time that we have overslept for a deer hunt.  I remember one such morning in college, my Dad and I along with one of my friends from college, got up early, (4:30 a.m.) drove to the woods to arrive well before dawn, while it was still quite dark.  My dad turned off the truck engine…then all three of us leaned our heads back and fell asleep in the truck until 9:30 a.m. Weird how we didn’t see any deer that morning.

Every day we face the reality of wake up time.  For some of us it is very early.  For others it might be quite later…like after our Western Civilizations 101 college course.  (Note: sleeping could take place in or out of class in the previously given example).

However, beyond our physical wakefulness, there lies a deeper call to awaken.  I  believe that we are all being called to awaken to spiritual realities that we may otherwise be unaware of.  I believe that we are called to awaken to the call to salvation.  I believe we are being called to awaken to what God is doing around the world.

It is time for God’s people…each one of us to wake up to the Kingdom Realities, that God is placing in front of us.  It is time to stop laying in bed, ignoring the silent alarm and to arise and embrace the Kingdom of the Lord.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Defrost



My wife says we need new appliances. I told her, “We just got new appliances.”

She replied, “The refrigerator is 17 years old.”

“See what I mean?” I said. “Do you remember how you felt at seventeen, so young and vibrant? It is so much different than being 40. Keep in mind…you still look seventeen.  In fact, you look 13…no wait…is that too young?  You don’t look a day over…whatever age you want to be considered to be.”

“Have you looked at the ‘young and vibrant’ refrigerator?” she asked. “The freezer looks like the desolate tundra of Hoth.” (See Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back for reference).

Broken things…including appliances are one of my many nemeses. It seems that repairs are a never ending reality in the Olson home.  Recently, I have had to repair two drive axles on the vehicle, trailer lights, more trailer lights, broken window, two flat tires, garage door and the furnace. 

When it came to the furnace…I had entered a region beyond my familiarity.  Just because the furnace was beyond my regions of expertise…I was not about to back down.  However, I was going to be smart about it.  I was going to wait until my wife was gone. I usually attack jobs like this when my wife is not home.  If she were home, she would insist on challenging my knowledge with questions like, “Do you know what you are doing?” Which I reply, “What’s to know…what could go wrong?”

“Are you sure you shouldn’t just call someone?” she asks.

“They would just get in the way.”

I am pleased to say that I was able to go where no man…or woman…living in my household had previously gone…and I successfully repaired the furnace!

“Honey, I repaired the furnace!”

“Oh great!...How about the freezer?”

“Ugh”

This is a time when I must recruit help.  I have come to realize that I will never be able to do all of these jobs on my own.  I must humble myself and “make the call.” 

“ISAAC, my son, it is time for you to learn to “go beyond” your current skill set and fix the freezer!”

“I don’t know how!”

“Exactly…today is the day you go beyond and learn!”

The Scriptures are filled with people going beyond their own capacities and abilities to do things that are way beyond themselves…people choosing to let God take them beyond what they can do…and people choosing to stay…and not go beyond.  The Gospel of Luke, reveals both.  First, you find a rich young ruler in chapter 18 who is challenged to “go beyond,” yet he stays.  Shortly thereafter, in chapter 19, we find another rich man, Zacchaeus, who does “go beyond,” and chooses to do that which the first rich man wouldn’t.

May we come to see that we are all called to go beyond.  We are called to go beyond our comforts.  We are called to go beyond our abilities.  We are called to go beyond what we currently know.  We are called to be transformed…and to spread the life transforming Gospel to all…even regions beyond.

“Hey Isaac…How is it going in there?  This is good for you…it helps you go beyond.  When you are done, maybe you can thaw yourself out and then fix the light switch.”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Saber Saw



Just out of High School, I got a job with a local construction company, Mark Stone Construction.  My first day on the job was the first Monday after graduation.  As a senior in High School, I had spent much of my class time in the woodshop, taking such classes as Small Building Construction, Advanced Woods, Independent Woodworking, even taking an Applied Sociology in Woodworking.  It was through this vast experience that my woodworking teacher recommended me to my soon to be new boss…Mark Stone. 

As I pulled up to the job site, I noticed the big sign posted in front of the skeletal framing of a very large unfinished home.  The four foot by eight foot sign read in big red letters on a white background Mark Stone Construction.  There were trucks parked around the site. Each truck, again, stated the name, Mark Stone Construction.  There was a very large lock box that held a variety of tools that could be locked up and left on site that read, Mark Stone Construction.  I was pretty sure, I had found the right place.

I got out of my car and looked around for my new boss.  When I found him he asked, “Where are your tools?”

“Tools?” I thought…“I am 18 years old…I can’t afford tools.” But rather than confess my current state of financial unrest I said…“I left them at home.”

“Ha ha…showing up to your first day without tools…ha ha!...Well, you will have to borrow some from the truck…where is your tool belt?”

“Ummm….I left it in my locker at school.” This was true…don’t ask why…but it was.

“Ha ha!...no tools!…no belt!…Ha ha!...Well you better go and get it…you can take one of the trucks.  While you are out I want you to pick up a router from the shop and some donuts from the Super Value.”

“Yes sir!”

I ran and hopped into the truck and quickly sped off.  I had no idea that a saber saw was sitting on top of the side mounted tool cabinet of the truck.  I bounced along the road, heading to the high school to pick up my tool belt.  From there, I went to the shop and picked up the router, and then on to get the donuts.  As I was backing out of the parking space, I bumped into the bumper of a car behind me….this was not going well…the owner of the other vehicle saw no damage and bid me good day.  Yet, as I was pulling away I hear the man yell at me…“Hey wait you have a saber…”  I never heard the rest of his sentence as I took off again trying to make up for the embarrassment of lost time. Bedsides…I knew full well I didn’t have a sword of any kind in my possession.

I arrived back to the worksite to a crew of men, who stood in a group, awaiting my arrival. I hopped out of the vehicle ready to receive their praise for bringing the donuts…and maybe a financial reimbursement for my expenses…which I never received.  However, instead of cheers for bismarks and fritters…I hear them utter words like…“Unbelievable”…“Wow!”…”I can’t believe it is still there!”

The boss walked up to me.  I expected him to relieve me of the box of pastries…but instead he walked to the truck…pulled the saber saw from the top tool cabinet and said…“When you leave in a company truck…you will take the time to close up the truck…and remove any tools that may be sitting in precarious positions of potential destruction.  Whose name is on the side of that truck?”

“Your name, sir.”

“That is right…it is my name.  When you drive my trucks you represent me.  If a tool falls from one of my trucks it reflects on me.  If a tool falls from the truck and damages another vehicle, (I did not at this time bring up the bumper bump incident), it is my name that is affected. Whose name do you see on that sign in front of this house?”

“Yours, sir.”

“The work that we do…reflects on my name…Do you understand?”

“Yes sir…the donuts cost $7.32”

“Thank you…let’s take a break and eat.”

“But…what about the…never mind...”

In Acts chapter 3, we find a powerful story, where Peter and John are walking into the temple courts and come upon a crippled man who is begging the gate.  Peter, looks down at the man sitting there and says, “I don’t have any money,” (my 18 year old self could relate), “but what I do have, I will give you…be healed in the Name of Jesus…get up and walk.” Immediately the man is healed!

Sometimes we have taken this phase, “in the Name of Jesus,” as some kind of magic spell that empowers us to do miraculous things just by saying the phrase.  I think we miss the beauty of this phrase if our understanding stops there.  Certainly there is power in the Name of Jesus, but the power is NEVER ours…it is ALWAYS His.  When Peter heals this beggar, he is giving him a gift.  I think if there was a label on that gift it would read…To: Crippled Beggar Man.  From: Jesus. 

That is the Name.  The gift was given…in Jesus’ Name.  Peter was a mere messenger…but the gift…was a gift that Jesus gave…through his messenger.

May we come to understand that there is power in the Name of Jesus…and we are invited to represent the Name of Christ in all we do.

Saturday, October 19, 2019


Community


As a 4th grade boy I made my way up the sidewalk toward the elementary school doors.  Overall I didn’t mind school, despite the fact that I was not the coolest kid in school.  I was the second coolest. The ranking system was rudimentary…and created by myself.  My ranking system for coolness included a mathematical equation of, bus # + height in inches divided by the number of missing teeth.  In my case that put me at a score of 131, (Bus #76 plus 55 inches…and one missing tooth). The coolest kid at the time was Mike…with a bus number of 105 and a height of 62 inches in 4th grade was unheard of! Whenever his “cool” score suffered a blow…like losing a tooth…he would simply knock out other people’s teeth…just to ensure that he would retain his high score.
I never told anyone my scoring system…so rather than them knowing I was the second coolest kid…I was seen as an “easy target.” My ears were big and easy targets for flicking…even from the most inaccurate of flickers. My legs were long…again easy targets for trippers.  They were such easy targets that I would in fact sometimes trip over my own two feet without the help of others…though I would usually blame the painted lines on the sidewalks.

On this given day…I was attacked from behind…by the coolest kid…Mike.  I didn’t even see it coming. One moment I held my books…piled high in my hands…the next moment…they had been struck and scattered across the sidewalk.  My homework papers were blowing all over the school grounds…some into the sewers…some onto the roof…I am pretty sure a dog picked up my math worksheet and carried it home to eat it.

Don’t feel sorry for me.  I know bullying is wrong…and that sympathies can grow in difficult times like this.  But at this moment one of the most special things that could ever happen to a 4th grade boy occurred. Crystal…the prettiest girl in 4th grade, stopped and helped me pick up my books and home work.  My prettiest girl rankings are not so complicated.  The prettiest girl is usually the one who looks at me.  At this moment…it was Crystal.  I am pretty sure she even chased down the dog and wrestled the papers out of its mouth.

There are times in our lives when we can feel utterly alone.  Being bullied can be one of them, and so can losing a friend.  We can feel lonely when a loved one passes.  In fact, there are many reasons that we may feel and struggle with loneliness.  It is a challenging part of life.  It is no wonder then…that God has created the church and called us into community with him and with one another.

Acts 2:42-47, gives us an amazing picture of the Church.  Every day the church celebrated together, they worshiped together, they ate together, the devoted themselves to the disciples teaching, they shared what they had with each other...they had true, transparent, authentic, community together.  The Church came together regularly to Worship, Connect and Serve.

I will tell you this…that day on the sidewalk…I celebrated the presence of the prettiest girl in school who had just helped carry my burdens…and in the midst of that…I think our hands touched.  I count that has hand holding! This may not have been true community...but I believe that true community exists...and it is driven by the Holy Spirit.

My hope is that you can find true community…I believe that it is His Church that He has chosen as the vessel to bring about His True Community.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Why?



“Hannah get your coat on, we need to go shopping.”

“Why?” asks the 3 year old version of our eldest daughter.

“Because it is cold outside.”

“Why?”

“Because, it is -20°F”

“Why?”

“Because God, has a sense of humor.”

“Why?”

“Because he created your father.”

“Why?”

“That is a good question...now get let’s go shopping.”

“Why?”

“Because we need to get food.”

“Why?”

“Because your dad wants to eat cookies…and we don’t have any cookies.”

“Why?”

“Because your dad ate all of the cookies.”

“Why?”

“Another good question…I guess because he has no off button.”

“Why?”

“Again…God has a sense of humor.”

My children…like all children, I suppose…are naturally curious. I am not always sure if it is their desire to learn that makes them ask why, or if it is just a habit that they form to express God’s sense of humor to their parents, or perhaps to test the patience of their parents.

In many ways, I continue to ask the question, “Why?”…and in doing so, I drive my wife and perhaps my parents crazy.  It wasn’t long ago I was asking my wife about music.  She is a gifted musician…and I am a gifted questioner.  I remember sitting next to her on the piano bench as she was playing, “Anne’s Theme,” I asked her…”Why do they use these notes?”

“Because that is what is written.”

“But why did they choose those notes?”

“Because that is how the song goes.”

“But why that way?”

“What?...What do you mean? What kind of question is that?”

“I mean each note…why?  Why do certain notes go ok together…and other notes don’t?”

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“Here I will show you...” I began to play the most ear blistering combination of keys any man has ever laid his fingers to…“There…like that…why did that sound so bad?”

“Because you are a terrible piano player.”…those were not her exact words…but her expression and tears running down her cheeks said it all.

I continue to wonder what it is that makes certain notes sound good with others…why specific chords fit with other chords…etc.

I am left to wonder…to me it may always be a great mystery.

In Acts 2, we find an incredible event take place. We read of the astounding power of God manifested by a violent wind and fire that proclaimed the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  People all over were asking questions…”What just happened?” “What is going on?” “Why am I encountering these people speaking in all of these different language?.” “What does this all mean?”

This is the moment when Peter stood up and encouraged all those who were present…to trust in the forgiveness of sins that Jesus has made available.  This is the beginning of the established Church.  Why did God choose the church to be his vessel of the Gospel? I guess I don’t know why…but he did…and I get to be a part of it…and so do you...if we will choose to follow Him.