Saturday, May 21, 2022

 Fire in the Hole

 


They say that the male brain does not fully develop until well after a man’s teenage years.  In fact, recent studies have suggested that perhaps this development even extends into a man’s late 40’s…looks like I might still be in the process of “growing up.”

The prefrontal cortex is known to be the personality control center of the brain. This is the area of the brain that helps individuals decide on what the possible effects of certain actions may be.  An example of a young man without a fully developed prefrontal cortex could be that of a young college student, who intentionally slams the front bumper of his 1980 Plymouth Grand Fury into the huge, slushy, wet snow bank.  If his prefrontal cortex had been developed further, he may have taken the time to observe that the temperature was forecasted to plummet from 40 degrees to -60 degrees overnight.  Since his brain had not yet developed, he did not become aware of his error in judgment until it was time for him to head to work the next day, where he found his car is literally frozen into the snow bank becoming its own rusty ice sculpture.  Perhaps, this young college student thought, “Woo Hoo! I don’t have to go to work! I get the night off, now I can take my girlfriend out on a date.”  What he had not yet realized is that his car was still frozen into a snow bank…and…he had no way of getting money for the desired night on the town. 

For many males, this think-less pattern continues until they get married, at which time, (If they happen to get lucky and choose a good wife), their newly acquired spouse will beat this undeveloped brain into development.  Those who choose poorly will find themselves living in a perpetual circle of brainless in-activities.

Even if that previous example hadn’t been about  me…I would still be a victim of an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex.  One college afternoon, following a nice lunch of 2 pounds of bacon and a slice of pie, I studiously sat in the classroom of Christian Counseling 301 waiting for the humble professor to arrive.  Just as the respectable, Mrs. Dirks, walked through the door, I, along with a friend to my left and to my right, (also both males), grabbed the edge of the table and overturned it while screaming, “Fire in the Hole! Take Cover.”

The respectable Mrs. Dirks calmly replied, “Mr. Olson, could I see you in my office after class.”  I obliged, only to have her calmly diagnose me with ADHD.  Hmm…I wonder where she came up with that.

Looking back on my life and decisions, I find myself stupefied by my choices.  If I were ever to come came face to face with the respectable Professor Dirks I am certain that I would blush from shame and humiliation at my actions. Those actions were indeed shameful.

How much more am I overwhelmed with the shame of my sin.  When I consider coming face to face with God Almighty, I am convinced that I will be able to do nothing but slam my face to the ground in shame…even face planted in the dirt is too respectable of a position for me. 

Incredibly, Jesus, who had never performed a single shameful act…was shamed and mocked, beaten and crucified.  He was abused for shameful sins that he NEVER committed.  In fact, I have come to see that Jesus even willingly walked into shameful humility at his own baptism.  In Matthew 3:1-17 we find John the Baptist was calling for people to repent…to admit their sin and turn from it.  John was challenging people to publicly declare that they are shameful people.  It is at this time that Jesus approached John and asked to be baptized.  John’s jaw probably hit the water and he said, “No way! I am the one who should be baptized by you!”

Jesus replies that it needs to be this way. Why? 

I have become convinced that Jesus sets for us an example.  He exemplifies that we too should be baptized. He shows us that we too should be humble.  But even more so, I think Jesus wants for us to know…that he is offering grace…he is taking our shame.  He wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that though He had no sin…he was willing to become sin…for our sakes, because he loved us and gave his life for us.  We certainly see this in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, but I think that we also see it in his baptism.

If I have ever had a reason to believe, repent and be baptized…this is it.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

 Known


Tomorrow is Mother’s day and you know what that means…it’s time for men to scramble to the local Wal-Mart and pick up a last minute Mother’s Day card from the scant remnants from the greeting card display.  It is, in fact, mildly possible that the only remaining cards are the “singing cards” which are as expensive as they are annoying.  So instead of buying an overwhelmingly costly card that exceeds the expense of the $5 Caribou card that most men were planning on putting inside, they will decide to have the kids whip together a “homemade card,” with white computer paper and crayons that were pilfered from the local Perkins. 

I am happy to say that this is not the case with me…this year.  I have finished my Mother’s Day gift shopping hours ago. 

I tend to rebel against certain trends…like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.  This has at times generated some tension in the Olson home.  I guess I resist them, because I don’t want Hallmark telling me when to give a gift to the people that I care about…although…sometimes I guess maybe someone should.  Incidentally, I also don’t want Hallmark to make Christmas movies anymore either…but that topic is for a different day. 

I am not always the most aware husband, or son in regards to gift giving, yet I find that I am drawn to give.  One year I was drawn to give my wife a brand new vacuum for Mother’s Day! Despite what you are all thinking…she loved it…and she in fact wanted it.  I knew that she wanted it and thus I knew that it was safe to give.  This kind of knowledge comes only from relationship.

In Galatians 4:8-20, Paul draws our attention to the beauty of a relationship with Jesus. This is an incredible statement that Paul makes in that culture, and it is just as incredible in our culture today.  We CAN have a REAL relationship with God.  Our interactions with God are not just a one sided effort on our part to “appease” Him or somehow earn the right to be “accepted” by Him. 

May we come to know that we can have a real relationship with God… to know God and to be known by God.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

 Inheritance


Throughout our lives we accumulate a great deal of stuff.  Whether we are actively collecting items for collection sake, or simply adding assets out of necessity or want, our homes continually grow cluttered.  Inevitably, when the matriarch and patriarch have ceased with their mortal live, there will be items of interest for the offspring of most families.  Some sons or daughters may desire an antique piece of furniture that has been handed down for generations; others may want a collectible item, such as a Mickey Mantle baseball card or perhaps a worthless Princess Diana Beanie Baby.  The desire for these treasures can, at times, even create conflict within a family. 

I know of one family, with which I may or may not share a bloodline, whose offspring began staking claim on pieces of furniture and collectibles while their dear, old mother was still alive and well.  Imagine her surprise to one day find, as she was cleaning her floors, the names of her children inscribed on many of the family heirlooms throughout the home.  Beneath the antique grand piano, she found Margaret.  Joseph’s name was written on the grip of her husband’s old Colt revolver. Taped across the underside of the curio cabinet was Susan.  She opened the curio cabinet to find that every crystal and porcelain item had been claimed in some way or another by her offspring. 

When Thanksgiving Day arrived, she invited her entire family over for the formal dinner; at which time, she gave a rebuke and an announcement. 

“Alright, listen up! I saw your names written on all my stuff! What is wrong with you!? Well guess what? I have got news for you!...I AM NOT DYING!!!”

There are often historical rules that, though unwritten, continue to hold true in many cultures, including our own.  Rules such as, the oldest child will receive, in some way, the preferred inheritance.  For example, in a case where a man may own an antique firearm that has been passed down for generations, will be obligated to gift that item to his oldest son.  That pattern is continued from firstborn to firstborn perhaps until the end of time.  Being the second born in my family…looks like I might be out of luck.

Here is the crazy thing that I have been astounded by this week.  When I came to believe in Jesus as my one and only Lord and Savior, I became an heir.  I am promised an inheritance.  What has so impacted me this week is that, unlike any inheritance that may come from my parents, which will need to be shared with my siblings; the inheritance that the Lord promises is ALL FOR ME!!!  I GET ALL OF IT! I don’t have to beg for it, I don’t have to share it.  I don’t have to write my name on the items that I want.  It is ALL for me!  

AND…

It is ALL for each and every believer. 

Every believer is promised ALL!

May you come to see the promises of God are for you…IF…you will believe.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

 Two Mighty Hands

 

My mother had four children by the age of 23, three of which were boys.  I couldn’t imagine the stress that she must have faced as such a young mother.  Not that my brothers and I were bad kids, we were just busy…hyperactive…adventurous…dirty…hungry…aggressive…and maybe somewhat mischievous.  My mother is a saint by any measurable standard.  Despite the challenges of four children who regularly swam in the mud, came home bloody, stashed uneaten onions under their plates, secretly fed baked potato pieces to the dog and didn’t stay in bed when we were told, my mother kept us all alive and well fed. She was even able to keep us clad with homemade designer jeans…although as I grew, several classmates may or may not have nearly lost an eye from the button projectile exploding from my expanding waistline.

My young parents created rules for our home as any parents would.  We were required to obey bed time, eat our entire supper if we wanted a cookie, do our chores as asked and never say “no” to your mother.

I recall one day after school, as my mother was preparing her famous boiled elbow macaroni noodles, ground venison burger topped with a can of cream of mushroom soup, aka. “hotdish” for supper, when she told my older brother and I to “Get out of the kitchen and do your home work.”

“No!” I said, “I’m hungry, I want to eat!”

“Supper will be ready when your father gets home, now get!”

“No! I want a snack first!”

“You are not getting a snack, now do as I say!”

“No!” I demanded.  “I am hungry now and I don’t want to wait!”

“Yeah!” My brother said, “Ha Ha Ha…we want a snack first.”

I could see my mother’s face turning red, either from the heat of the boiling noodles…or the heat of rage rising insider her.

I stood watching…wondering, how will she respond to this new shift of power in the home.

It was just at this time that two mighty hands came swooping out of nowhere.  One hand grabbed the front of my shirt, bringing with it a ¼” or more of my baby fatted chest skin, the other hand grabbed my older brother in the same way.  I thought God himself had reached down to crush me for disobeying the 5th commandment.  The next thing I knew I was pinned up against the wall, three and a half feet off of the floor staring at the cold blue eyes of the strongest man I have ever known. 

“What did you say?” the mouth below the steel eyes asked.

“Akk,” is all I could render from my lips.  A similar sound squeaked from a lower orifice.

“You don’t tell your mother no!...Now go do as you mother said…get out of the kitchen and do your homework.”

As soon as our feet hit the floor we ran, but before we were even able to navigate our way through the doorway my mother called, “Kids, come into the kitchen for supper, your father’s home!”

Now here I am, nearly 40 years later and I still remember that moment.  Yet things are different now. As a father and husband of my own family, I no longer fall under the same set of rules that I did when I was a child. 

Whether my mother likes it or not, I have the freedom to tell her no.  I can think of three reasons for this. First, my father can no longer lift me three and a half feet off of the floor.  Second, he likely would not be able to catch me. Third, I am no longer enslaved to that rule. 

For example, if my mother called me up and asked me to come over and take care of the squirrel in her attic, I don’t have to say “Yes, Mother.”

I have the freedom to say, “No Mom, just call the exterminator or have Dad take care of it.”

Yet, here is the beautiful part.  Despite the truth that I am no longer obligated to say “Yes,” I find myself actually wanting to say “Yes.”

This is a picture of the Law and Christ.  Before we have Christ we are enslaved to a Law that we cannot keep, and then when we find our belief in Jesus and faith in Him, we are no longer enslaved to the Law…yet we desire to obey him. 

Before Christ, we obey the law for ourselves and our own self preservation, but now with Christ we obey the law for His sake because we love him.

May you come to find the freedom from the law and the desire for it.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

 Golf


My golf game has become somewhat legendary, at least with those who have personally observed my skills on the course.  My golfing companions will often speak astonishing words of affirmation of my skills with phrases such as; “Great Scott! I have never actually watched someone hit a ball like that before!”,  “Wow! I did not think a ball could actually fly that far to the right!”, “Whoa! Are you really going to use your driver on the green?”, “Wait! Were you joking about having played this game before?”, along with many other compliments.  On one occasion, I actually decided to play my ball off of the back of a rogue sheep walking across the fairway and onto the green for an easy 5 putt. 

“Wow! I didn’t expect that to happen!” stated my dumbfounded partner for the day.

“Yeah, I know…most guys would try and play around the sheep, but I figured I might as well use the stray animal to my advantage.”

“What…you are saying you meant to do that?”

“Sure…it is all about the timing…I’ve done it before.”

“Really!? How many times have you had a sheep walk across the fairway in front of the green while golfing.”

“This was the first time.”

“…Huh…Wait…that doesn’t…never mind…”

On another occasion, I decided to impress my foursome by making a “trick shot” while teeing off on the first hole.  I swung as hard as I could…allowing my feet to slip, just as I hit the ball and landed flat on my back, staring at the sky.

“Whoa!...Ha…ha…ha…are you ok?” asked my 3 brothers in law, (my 3 companions for the day).

“Yeah…why do you ask? That was my ‘slip on my back side while hitting the ball’ trick shot.”

“Are you saying that you meant to do that?”

“Yeah…I do that all the time!”

Additionally, my golf legacy has been observed in various golf tournaments that I have participated in, most of which were “best ball golf scrambles.”  These tournaments suit me well as they give me the freedom to be creative with my shots, without the pressures of actually having to conform to the normal golfing routines and etiquette.

The premise behind “best ball” tournaments, is that each team member will play their ball from the exact same spot…and then the team collectively uses the ball that was the best shot.   The team will then continue this means of play until the ball lands in the hold.  Despite my creative golf game, my shots are rarely used in these tournaments.  In fact, my shots are ONLY used when the team is forced to use them because of the rules that require a minimum number of shots to be used from each team member.

Inevitably what this means is that my team is actually worse for having me as a part of the team.  Time and time again, anything that I had to offer…was actually a detriment to the score and to our team.  Ironically I have not been invited to participate in a golf tournament for nearly 10 years now…I guess the game of golf has not caught up to my extravagant play as of yet.

This reminds me of the Gospel. Just as I can add nothing to make my golf teams score any better, I cannot add anything to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ any better either.  The Gospel is perfect! It is amazing! It is grace! Yet, I often find myself trying to add to the Gospel by working to somehow earn it. 

Imagine, if you will, Jesus swinging a golf club. His game would be perfect.  Jesus gets an “ace” on every hole.  Will he ever need to use one of my shots? Will he ever need to use one of your shots? NO!! Yet…he WANTS us on his team!  He actually wants us, not because we make the Gospel better, but because the Gospel makes us justified, righteous, accepted.   We are made “right” before the Lord, not because we add anything to the Gospel, but because the Gospel adds grace to us! 

When I think of what Jesus has done for us at Easter, how he suffered, died, was buried, and rose again, I realize that I am undeserving.  Not only am I undeserving, but there is nothing that I can add to the Gospel that would make His work any better or any greater!

He is Jesus and HE is enough! The work of the Cross IS ENOUGH!

Saturday, April 9, 2022

 The Curse


I remember as a child my parents told me that they had put a curse on me. “That’s doesn’t seem very nice," I thought. So I said, “That doesn't seem very nice.” Then I asked, “Why would you do that?”

“Because, we want you to know what it is like to have a child just like you.”

“That seems more like a blessing than I curse,” I replied.

At this point I continued to live my life just as I always had.  Each day I would wake just to torment my three siblings.  I would trick my older brother into doing my chores. I would push my little brother into a closet and hold the door closed until I grew tired of his screaming and kicking. I would continuously dunk my sister’s head underwater while she was trying to enjoy the swimming pool.  I came to believe that the family would not only be bored without me…they may not even be able to function. At this point in our childhood experience my three siblings only knew to say two phrases. “Ryan, stop! Ryan, stop!” or “Moaaoom! Make Ryan stop!”  How monotonous. What would they do without me?

I couldn’t wait to have children of my own.  I would often spend time envisioning how I would enslave them as I had been enslaved as a child.  Yet, I could also imagine the blessing that children that were just like me would bring not only into my family, but into the world.  My children could teach the world to laugh again, smile again and live again.”

The other night I was leading my family, including my four children, in the after supper clean up.  As we worked to do the dishes, clean the floors, wipe the surfaces, empty trash cans and take out the recycling, I began to hear faint frustrated cries.  It sounded almost like a ghostly chant coming from the basement.  “Issssaaaaccc! Stop!”

“Isaac Stop, Isaac Stop, Isaac, Stop!”  Three female voices continued the rebukes, buzzing like a hive of angry hornets.

“DAAAAADD! Make Isaac stop!”

“Isaac, get up here!” I bellowed.

“Yes father?” Isaac respectfully bequeathed.

“I hope you have a child just like you!” I insisted.

“Why thank you for such a blessing father!”

“It wasn’t a blessing…it was a curse.”

In Galatians 3:10-18, Paul begins to talk about a promise and a curse.  In fact, he begins to talk about the Law…the rules that GOD had given the Jews to live by...and he says that anyone who “lives by the Law us under a curse.” This seems crazy! How can this be? It just doesn’t seem to make sense! Doesn’t God want us to obey the Law?

I think what Paul is showing us is that the Law, CANNOT SAVE US! BUT! The PROMISE that God has given to us, is that when we believe in the Savior…in Jesus…like Abraham believed, we receive the amazing promise of salvation.  The Law cannot give us that promise…yet, God offers the promise to all who believe.

May we live by faith…and not by the curse!

Saturday, April 2, 2022

 Michael

The story that you are about to read is true…the names have been changed to protect the innocent and possibly condemn the guilty.

I have long held to the value of learning people’s names and then calling them by those names. Over the years I have met thousands of people and still remember…some…of their names. Names are important. They not only identify who we are, but they also set in our minds points of reference for memories associated with the owners of these names. For example, I refused to name my son Glen. Glen was the bane of my elementary school years. When I think of totalitarian world leaders of destruction, I can’t help but think of specific names like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Glen. Each day as I stepped onto the bus my eyes would scan the seats keenly for Glen. As it inevitably turned out, the only open seats were always around Glen and thus I was stuck sitting near him. By the end of the bus ride I would have spitballs stuck in my swollen ears reddened from the constant “tweeking” of Glen’s flicking fingers. Glen’s name is impossible to forget.

There are other names I try to remember and have worked hard to learn, including my neighbors. In fact, I have prided myself in the learning the names of all of my neighbor and loving them to the best of my ability. Each Christmas I write them a letter and deliver fresh cookies as an act of friendship and care. As neighbors we work to clear each other’s driveways of snow, help each other with our lawns and even on occasion remove trees from a neighbor’s lawn…sometimes on purpose.

I know my neighbors to the south, Laura and Nellie, and my neighbors to the east, Daryl and Stephanie. I have neighbors to the north, Paul and Leah, and many neighbors across the street to the west, Elizabeth, Tracy, Molly and Michael.  I have known Michael for years.

Each morning as I head out on my bicycle, I often see Michael walking their dog, an Alaskan Husky named Influenza. As I pass by Michael I am always intent on happily greet him by name, “Good morning Michael! Nice to see you!”

He would often reply back, “Good morning to you too Ryan.”

“Enjoy your day!”

“You too!”

It was just last month that I had parked my truck too close to the icy snow bank and found that as I tried to head off to work on a Monday morning I was stuck. The wheels were just spinning on the glare ice. Michael who was out walking Influenza came right over to help push as neighbors on our block often do. With the dog leash in one hand and the other on the rear tailgate he began to push. I rocked the truck back and forth shifting from forward to reverse, forward to reverse, while calling out, “Push Michael! Push! You can do it!”

“It would help if I had both hands.” He insisted.

“Push harder!” I cried, as I did the difficult work of pressing the accelerator and shifting the transmission back and forth. “Don’t quit! Keep pushing!”

“I’m trying!”

Michael pushed and I rocked…and finally we were able to launch the truck forward and as I drove off I called out the open window, “Thanks Michael, have a nice day!”

Just a week ago, I once again crossed paths with Michael. I stopped my bike and stood while he kept Influenza on a tight leash and we talked. Michael began to talk to me about deep things going on in his family’s lives.  It was hard to hear what his family had been with over the winter, but I listened as Michael talked…because that is what neighbors do…neighbors know each other.

After Michael had shared his heart with me, he said, “Ryan…one more thing.”

“Yeah, Michael…what’s that?”

“My name is Robert.”

...”  “….”What!?”…”Michael…are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“How did I come up with Michael?”

“I have no idea.”

That was awkward.

I was struck with three thoughts as I pedaled away from that encounter.

1.     * That was embarrassing.

2.     * How am I going to stop calling Michael…Michael?

3.    *  No matter what name I use with Michael…it doesn’t change his identity…he is still Robert, he always has been and always will be.

Galatians 3:1-14, reveals our true identity.  When we come to believe and accept the true grace of Jesus Christ we are identified by the Holy Spirit, which now lives in those who believe.  No one can take that identity away, yet some may try to convince us that we are identified by another name…like Michael.

May you come to find your true identity in Christ, by His grace and the gift of the Spirit living in you.