Saturday, July 29, 2023

 Laws


We have rules in our home. Despite that many of these laws are unwritten, (all are, in fact, unwritten), they still hold within their parameters the power of behavioral change.  As an example my wife and I spent many years quarrelling about making the bed.  She seemed to think that it was necessary to make the bed daily, whereas I viewed things from another angle. 

“What is so hard about making the bed?” She would tersely ask.

“I don’t know…it is just so dumb!”

“Are you saying that I am dumb for wanting to have the bed made?”

“No! I never said that!”

“Then why don’t you make the bed?”

“I don’t know!”

“Make the bed!” She demanded.

“Ok…how about this…we can make the bed EVERY day…ONLY IF…we DON’T ‘unmake’ it each night.”

“That’s insane!”

“Are you calling me insane?”

Her silent stare screamed, “Do you really want me to answer that?”

After a great deal of responsible communication we were finally able to agree upon a solution that has been found satisfactorily acceptable by both parties. The official unwritten Law now states, “He or She who is last out of bed shall there upon make the bed.”

Interestingly, upon the ratification of this law, I suddenly became a staunch morning person.  So much so, that if I even hear her stir in the morning I dash out of bed in attempt to shed the consequent responsibility.  There may or may not have been several mornings that could have required an “instant replay” to determine whose feet actually hit the floor first.  They were mine…end of story.   

We have other laws in the home as well.  These laws include our children’s beds being made, dishes being loaded and unloaded from the dishwasher as well as laundry responsibilities.  There is also the law that if you are the one that plugs the toilet then you are the one that plunges the toilet.  It is astounding to me that no one ever seems to be the one who actually plugged it.

The laws in our home help to keep some semblance of order, but I must admit…that with my wife being gone to Ecuador for 10 days, our home seems to have the tendency to default from a place of pristine order into a state of lawlessness.  It appears that the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which insists that everything goes from a state of organization toward a state of chaos, has been fully implemented in the Olson home over the last 10 days.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul reveals a coming lawlessness as well, though in a spiritual sense.  In this challenging portion of scripture we get a glimpse of a future degradation of the world into lawlessness.  Though there are many details that are omitted from Paul’s description, what we can see, is what appears to be a direct attack against everything that God is.  This lawlessness will be a full assault on God’s goodness, His kindness and His love.  Everything that God is, will be attacked and attempted to be countered by Satan and his “man of lawlessness.”

This may seem to be so far into the distant future that it doesn’t feel real.  Yet I am convinced that if we just pause and reflect on our society we will quickly see the increasing lawlessness growing in the world. 

As hard as these realities will be to swallow and perhaps challenging for us to understand, we must question what is a believer’s role in the face of this lawless world.  I think we know. We…by the power of the Spirit in us…must LOVE.  Jesus himself said that all of the law and the prophets come down to this…to love God and love your neighbor.

May we come to love well in the midst of a lawless world, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

 I can’t help it

 


My daughter had some college friends over this weekend.  Watching them interact with one another brought back many memories from my own days in college…some of them good…some of them not so good. 

Armed with one “master key,” I remember my good friend Geoff and me sneaking out late at night and taking the college security vehicle, The Cushman, for a joyride all over campus.  We secretly snuck into the library after hours and watched movies, (we were not allowed TV’s and “streaming video” was only known on Star Trek).  We found our way onto the college roof and had a picnic, into the elevator shaft and drank Coca Cola’s.  On one late night we pulled my friend’s 1976 Cadillac Hearse into the school auto shop and replaced the intake gasket using the college mechanic’s tools.  During our test drive that followed we used the funeral procession light to pull over one of our college classmates.  We let him off with a warning.

At one time I took an old fiberglass fireplace from the college basement and put it into my room.  I saw the fireplace and thought… “That will look great in my room!”…and so I took it.  I figured that it would be better to be used than just to sit in the school basement.  To add to the look, I brought in an old upholstered high backed chair with one broken leg that I found left on a curbside for free…at least I think it was supposed to be free.  I repaired the leg with a Minneapolis phone book, threw a pipe into my mouth and sat down to read.  It was great…until I remembered that I really didn’t read much.  So, I gave up the book and just left the chair and fireplace set up to keep up the d├ęcor. 

If my friend and I thought of anything to do…we did it.  There was no reason not to.  It just came to us.  It was like we couldn’t help it…it was who we were.  A couple of years later I discovered why this was the case.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently I was “impulsive.”  I learned this when my now wife and I were attending premarital counseling.  My bible professor…and premarital counselor informed me that according to the Taylor Johnson Temperament Analysis, I tested off the scale in regards to impulsive behavior. 

“That’s crazy! There is no way that I am impulsive!” I stated as I took his sport coat down from his coat rack and slid it onto my torso. 

“Ryan…that is my coat.”

“Yeah, I know…but it looks good on me right!? Can I have it? You have others right? I should be able to have this one…you won’t miss it!”

“No…you cannot have it.”

To this day, I still find that I can be a bit impulsive.  After giving Sarah a full 15 minutes to decide what she wanted for a new dishwasher, since our last one went belly up, I pulled the trigger and ordered one myself having become weary of waiting for her answer. That may or may not have gone over as well as I had hoped.

We all have parts of our character that defines who we are and what we are like.  I am naturally a bit impulsive, although as I have aged that has changed.  Many parts of our character ebbs and flows and changes over the years, but the Bible says that God does not change.  In fact, I have come to believe that in a very unique way…God can’t help the way that he is.  He is God.  His character does not change.  He is who he is.  He is good.  He is kind.  He is just…and he can’t help it.  God can ONLY operate within his character.  What does that mean?  It means that God can only act in kindness, and goodness, and justice, because that is WHO He is!

Everything that God does, will ALWAYS be in accordance with who he is.  He does not have to wonder, “What is the right thing to do here…I better weigh my decision carefully…”  God can ONLY act in justice and that act of justice will be right and kind and good.  That is who God is…he can’t help it.

Understanding this helps me to navigate what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-12 a little easier.  Many people struggle with the thought of God and His justice.  People cannot understand how God can be called just and allow good people to suffer and sinful people to thrive.  What Paul does reveal here however is that EVERY decision that God makes is RIGHT…every decision is JUST…because God IS JUST.  He can’t help it!

May we come to see that God is just…and that God is right…and that everything that He does…is exactly what needs to be done!

Saturday, July 15, 2023

 Baseball


I have a love/hate relationship with baseball.  I love the sport, but hate the fact that I cannot play it well. MLB looks for “5 tools” when identifying top baseball prospects: speed, power, contact hitting, fielding and arm strength.  If I’d been asked at the age of 10, how many of these tools I possessed I would have answered, “All Five!”  It soon became apparent however, that the convictions of my talents may have been greatly exaggerated...having none.

Despite my lack of talent, I would practice baseball for hours with my brothers between our obligatory chores, on our 3 acre “hobby farm.”  I believe that my dad considered it a hobby farm.  I, however, considered it a perpetual form of constant consequence.  Just like my own children today, I was overworked as a child.  You can ask my brothers they will certainly agree with me.  I would ask that you do not ask my father, he seems to believe that we were still underworked and did nothing but complain about our chores. Our chores included, running away from the geese, weeding the acre of potatoes by hand, weeding one million onions with a hoe and tending the pigs.  Have you ever tried watering pigs in -20 degree weather in an unheated barn?  It is a lot like creating an ice sculpture at the bottom of a frozen waterfall. 

During our rare moments of baseball practice, we would take turns batting, fielding and throwing.  When batting, the batter would throw the ball high into the air and wait for it to come back down before smashing it with a 32 inch Kirby Puckett Louisville Slugger that was too large for our small frames. While one was batting, others were fielding.  While fielding, I would dive at the balls, intentionally sliding in the grass trying to imitate the great Greg Gagne.  When I batted, the goal was to crush the ball as hard as I could over the imaginary fence, which inevitably left the ball lost in the tall weeds.  We would then spend countless hours feeding wood ticks while looking for the lost baseballs.

We also practiced our throwing and our pitching.  It quickly became evident that though I had a strong arm…accuracy was a tool that was left in the toolbox...or better yet...the store shelf.  I began throwing the ball at cans after beaning each of my siblings with bad pitches.  Unfortunately, the only “can” I ever did hit in practice was the Ameri“can”, that I called dad.

Playing baseball in school gym class was no better.  I played hard…but poorly.  I would run up to a fly ball only to have it sail over my head.  I would then turn and chase the missed ball down and throw the ball hard back into the field of play, only to either…sail it way over my target’s head, or 30 yards to the right…or both.  When batting, I would try and stretch a would-be single into a double…then a triple…then an in the park home run, not realizing that I had already been thrown out at first base. 

With all of this baseball experience I have learned something important.  Not all baseballs are the same.  We had a couple of good baseballs that were likely a Christmas gift from Santa, because dad would never have paid for them.  When we purchased our own baseballs, we would often buy cheap ones because expensive ones were far more disappointing to lose in the tall grass of the farm…and feeding pigs put very little money in our pockets. 

After a few crushing blows, the cheap baseballs would become deformed.  The covering would tear quickly and the orb of their originate form would begin to take the shape of an egg giving birth to an egg.

I disassembled some of these old worn-down baseballs, both good ones and cheap ones.  There was a notable difference on the inside.  The cheap balls were wound loose with few types of yarn, while the good balls were meticulously wound, tight with many yarns and with great precision.  There was a difference in the core as well.  The good baseballs had a solid cork core covered with layers of rubber, while the cheap balls had a variety of cores from solid rubber to soft rubber, or even plastic.

Despite the differences, it can be difficult to know which baseball is good and which is cheap.  It would take someone who knows a thing or two about baseballs to make that judgment.  A good judge knows which is good and which is not good.  The judge judges both…the good and the bad.  I think that is what Paul is revealing in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-12.  Here we find the promised judgments of God coming into fruition.  God is not only judging…he is sanctifying.  Paul is revealing that the Thessalonian believers are holding their shape, despite being hammered again and again by the persecution of the baseball bat.  Yet, they would NOT be able to hold their shape if God was not doing the work on the inside…the sanctifying work, that He is faithful to do! God judges us on our choices, specifically our choice to put our trust in His Son Jesus.

May we come to see the good work that God is doing in those of us who have put our trust in Him and to trust His judgment for the good and the evil.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Rejected


I have been rejected more than my fair share of times in my life.  Take summer camp for example, each year, there would be a “banquet” in which guys would ask girls if they would “go to the banquet” with them.  During my 7th grade year, our church group consisted of half a dozen guys and 6 girls.  I have always been pretty decent at math so I quickly noticed that the odds of having a “date,” were pretty good…IF…our group stayed together…which they didn’t.

Sadly, due to my own insecurities…and overall un-coolness…and a strong presence of nerdiness…not to mention a lack of personal, middle school hygiene, all 6 of our church group girls already had “dates” before I had gained the courage to ask any of them.  On the bright side…I didn’t have to worry about facing them after they would have, certainly, rejected me anyhow.      

During the week, I had studied the other female options…I mean campers…to see if there was someone…anyone…whom I could ask.  I didn’t want to ask just anyone…I wanted to ask a pretty girl who would be intelligent enough to say no, but dumb enough to say yes.  However, after asking 8 different girls throughout the week…I received 8 solid, “Nos!”  As I stood in line on the final night, waiting to enter the dining center and enjoy the banquet, I put forth one final effort.  I approached one lovely and graceful young lady who I had observed all week long and stammered, “W-w-w=would, y-you like to go to the banquet with me?”

“No.”

So much for that.  I went to the banquet alone…but so did my brother…so I guess we were both losers.

I was regularly rejected in jr. high.

“Hey Tonya! Do you want to go to the dance with me?”

“No.”

I was rejected continually in high school.

“Hey Krista, do you want to go to a movie on Friday night?”

“No.”

I was rejected in college.

“Hey Marcita, do you want to go bowling?”

“No, I don’t like bowling.”

“Sledding?”

“No, I don’t like sledding.”

“Out to eat?”

“No, I don’t like to eat.”

“Anywhere? Anything?”

“No, I don’t like you.”

I have heard excuses that include, “You are not my type. I am not interested. I like someone else. I need to wash my hair. I need to walk the dog.”

“Wait…we are not allowed to have pets at college!”

“That is irrelevant.”

I was even rejected when I first asked the amazing woman who is now my wife out for the first time. “Hey Sarah, do you want to go watch my brother wrestle this weekend at a tournament?”

“I would want to do this because???...”

Perhaps I am stubborn, ignorant, pesky…or all of the above, but I didn’t quit pursuing my, now, wife.  After months of tracking, we enjoyed a few dates. Then after a few years, I gained the courage to propose to this lovely woman.  This time…she said, “YES!”

Sarah united with me in marriage.  She took my name.  She is mine.  She is a part of me. We lived within the same area of college for years, but we were not together.  We were not united.  When she said yes to my invitation, she became a part of my life.

I see similarities when I consider the Kingdom of God.  God rules and is sovereign over EVERYTHING, yet, not everyone belongs to him.  He loves everyone, but not everyone loves him.  It is not until we say YES to the invitation of Jesus that we become united with him and His Kingdom. 

In 2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, Paul encourages the Thessalonians in their faith…and then He encourages them to be “worthy of the Kingdom of God.” Only God can make us worthy and only God can allow us into the Kingdom.  Jesus is inviting us…all we need to do…is say, “Yes!”

May you come to say yes to Jesus in His invitation to be a part of His Kingdom.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

 The Speck

 

“Ryan! Supper is ready!” My wife called to me over the high pitched whine of the grinding wheel throwing sparks across the metal surface of the steel tube of which I was cutting through.

“What!”

“Supper!...It!... Is!...Ready!”

“Oh! Ok, I just want to finish this cut!”

“Shouldn’t you be wearing safety glasses while grinding metal?”

“I am!”

“No you are not! What you are wearing is your prescription eyeglasses.”

“So! They work the same!”

“They would if they were not perched on the end of your nose like an old crooked-nosed college professor.  Why don’t you go get bifocals like the rest of the people your age?”

“I don’t need bifocals…I just can’t see what I am doing with my glasses on.”

“Exactly! Your glasses are not doing you any good that way.”

“I’ll be fine! I’ll be in as soon as I am done.”

I finished my cut with the sparks and metal fillings rebounding off of my face, neck and hands.  When I looked up from my work I could feel my eyes grinding behind my eyelids and I rubbed them trying to free the tiny fragments.

 “Ugh,” I grunted to the empty garage.

I entered the house, ate supper, and went about the rest of the evening, rubbing my right eye and feeling the increasing agitation grow.  Finally, at 10:00 p.m. that night, I could stand it no longer.

“Ugh! I have something in my eye! I need to go and try and wash it out!” I barked and jumped to my feet, leaving the rest my family in the room and entering the bathroom blindly. 

After 10 minutes of eyewashes, eye drops, and a shower, I found the irritation was still present.  I looked into the mirror.  There it was…I could see it…a little tiny speck of metal sitting on the cornea just inside the iris area of my right eye. 

I used a wet wash rag and wiped my eye trying to shift it to the side. I slid the rag left and right and up and down but it would not move.  Finally, I went into my garage and found the strongest magnet that I owned and began to press it as close to my eye as possible hoping beyond hope that the tool would extract the little metal speck.  Despite the brilliance of my idea with the magnet…it did not work.

Frustrated and deflated, I gave up my efforts and tried to go to sleep hoping that my eye would generate some miracle gunk that could…would…self extract the speck from my eye during the night.

When I woke in the morning…by morning I mean 12:15 a.m., I found that the speck was still there.  It was still there at 1:30, 2:20, 3:42 and 5:25 a.m. The hot, metal fragment had apparently embedded itself into my cornea and was not going to relinquish its hold no matter what I did. 

I needed help.

Finally, I went to the doctor.  The doctor took a long Q-tip and said, “Look right here,” then proceeded to jab me in the eye.

“Ouch!” I exclaimed.

“Try and hold still,” as jab number two commenced.  “There. I got it,” he exclaimed.

“Thanks…I think…”

There is a metaphor that Jesus uses in the Bible.  He says that before we tend to the “speck” in our brother’s eye, we are to first remove the “board” in our own eye.  This is a good teaching from Jesus and it points to the dealing with sin in our lives.  Certainly, Jesus is challenging us to deal with our own sinful nature before engaging the sinful nature of others.  He is clear that we are not to judge others and their sin without first calling sin for what it is in our own lives.  What I think that we often miss…what I miss…is that in both cases…the “board” AND the “speck,” are NEEDING to be dealt with.

I will be the first to say that the speck in my eye needed to come out and I needed help to do it.  I fear that too often we justify both our boards and our specks and choose to live with them as opposed to allowing the Holy Spirit to deal with them.

I think that this is, perhaps, what Paul is driving at when he says to “not quench the Spirit and to not discredit prophecy,” in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22.  When we justify our sins…we are quenching the Spirit and the conviction that He brings.  When we treat prophecy with contempt we shun the Word of God and those who are preaching the Word of God, especially if the Word is calling us to turn from our sinful behaviors.

May we come to invite the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and follow the Word of God as we learn to truly follow the Spirit of Truth.