Monday, October 27, 2014

Waiting...

I'm waiting. There have been other times in my life when the Lord has called me to wait, but this is different. In fact, this is the very hardest thing the Lord has ever asked me to do. Wait. Because I don't want the details of my personal situation to detract from this message, I'll spare you the blow-by-blow. But, my guess is that most of you who know me well will know what the "wait" is all about. To say this is hard is really an understatement. There are times when I find myself bursting into tears for what seems to those watching like no reason at all. Only a few who are very close to me really know the extent of this and that is okay.

When I was a small child I felt extremely drawn to a certain thing. When I was in college, I knew the Lord was calling me to it. To put the time into perspective, I graduated almost 13 years ago. It's already been a long wait and the fact is, the wait will likely be even longer. It's a sanctifying process for sure and the emotions surrounding this waiting have recently reached a bit of a high. But, God is faithful. He is. He is faithful, He is sovereign, and He knows. He knows timelines. He knows boundaries. He knows situations. More importantly though, He knows hearts. He knows how to change hearts. He is trustworthy. He knows the appointed time. (Psalm 75:2)

I recently read a most amazing article that I encourage all of you to read. (Read the article here.) The Lord has continually reminded me that waiting time is never wasted time in His economy and He is always working. The author of the TGC article articulated 2 points that came around me like a firm embrace. 1- Waiting instills in us that we are completely dependent on the Lord. At this point, there is absolutely nothing I can personally do put an end to the wait. 2- The doctrine of God's sovereignty is not just a platitude, it is what I am living in a practical way. I am learning to lean completely on Him and not my own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5) This is hard. Everything within my flesh wants to make something happen. And so, as Robinson says, my prayer has become, "Lord, sanctify my waiting." Knowing that God is fully at work gives me such hope, such excitement about this. But, I sure would like to know the end of this story NOW.

Yesterday in church we sang the popular tune, In Christ Alone. When we came to the line, "...from life's first cry, to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny" I was nearly overcome. Yes, yes He does! Not only does He command my destiny, He commands the destiny of all who are involved and all who will be involved in this wait and so I have much, much hope in Him. But, I still might burst into tears every so often. :) My guess is that many of you may also be in a season of waiting. May you be sanctified in your wait. May you be greatly encouraged and strengthened as you wait. May the Lord make you strong and courageous through His word and through His sovereignty.


Wait for the Lord; be strong and courageous. Wait for the Lord.
Psalm 27:14


Sunday, September 21, 2014

To Draw An Analogy

Some of you are too young to remember the analogy section on the SAT. It's a real shame that the College Board decided to drop that part of the test. Certainly I'm not the only one who actually liked that section, right? It was actually really fun- Crumb:Bread::Splinter:____. Wasn't that fun? (The answer is wood.) It was my favorite part of the SAT.

"The power of the analogy is that it can persuade people to transfer the feeling of certainty they have about one subject to another subject about which they may not have formed an opinion." 
-Adam Cohen


Some of you may have also seen an analogy that has been floating around social media for a few weeks. Set up in SAT analogy terms, it looks like this- ISIS:Islam::Westboro:Christianity. To be sure, this is a well-meaning analogy that is certainly meant to draw a distinction between extremists and moderates. But this analogy has some serious flaws that greatly diminish the danger ISIS poses as well as the suffering ISIS causes. It's a very weak analogy at best and a dangerous one at worst. Based on the Cohen quote, this analogy has the potential power to persuade people. Persuade them of what? Perhaps persuade them that ISIS isn't so bad. Or that Westboro is really dangerous. But that doesn't really make a lot of sense, does it? Hence, it's a bad analogy.

Westboro is a group I have spoken against many times. They wrongly represent Christianity. However, as far as I know, they have not murdered anyone. They've not crucified children, beheaded children, gang raped women and girls, buried people alive, committed mass murder, etc. They are a group of about 40 people who hold up poster-board signs that, though they are mean-spirited, are not bringing about the death of thousands. On the other hand, ISIS is a group of 50,000 and growing. They have been very clear in communicating their mission to kill and destroy. Do they wrongly represent moderate Islam? Sure. But that is where the analogy ends and because this situation is far more complex than a crumbs:splinters analogy, the ISIS:Westboro analogy is weak and dangerous.

To compare ISIS to Westboro greatly diminishes the very serious threat ISIS poses. I mean really, does anyone fear for their life in the presence of Westboro? Further, this analogy seriously diminishes the extraordinary pain and suffering that so many have experienced at the hands of ISIS. Though I don't discount the emotional pain suffered because of the actions of Westboro, I don't know as though mean epithets on poster-board can really be compared to the suffering of one who has endured unspeakable things because of ISIS.

I would argue that just because 2 things are similar in some respects doesn't mean they are similar in all, or even some other, respects. The logical problem with the ISIS:Westboro analogy is that it ignores analysis, and that is a problem. Perhaps this situation is one where the vastly overused Nazi analogy might actually work. It would look like this- Nazis:Average German citizen::ISIS:Average Muslim. But even that analogy has several problems. So, maybe we could all agree that no analogy should be attempted.




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In Pleasant Places

We have a little phrase in our house that is oft repeated, especially with little Olson boy #2. It goes like this, "Obedience keeps you safe. If you don't obey my voice, I cannot keep you safe." We don't tell our boys to not run across the parking lot because we want to spoil their fun. We don't tell our boys to keep a distance from the hot oven because we want to crush their sense of exploration. We don't tell our boys to not color on the walls because we want to quench their creativity. We have these boundaries and rules to keep our boys safe. We love them more than life and want nothing more than to keep our boys physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe. We recognize that the Lord has given us a mandate to set boundaries for our children for their good and for His glory. This is why we set boundaries.

Many years ago I heard someone call Christianity the religion of "no." I can see how that could be a perception of Christianity. No drugs. No sleeping around. No cursing. No drunkenness. No sex before marriage. No, no, no... But oh how misunderstood this is! I'm quite certain my children sometimes think I am the Mommy of No. Yet my "no" is never to cause frustration or pain. My "no" is to keep my children from frustration and pain. I love Psalm 16. The psalmist recognized that God's boundaries are good. Very good.

"The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places..."

Oh that my children would see that the boundaries we have set around them are pleasant! Oh that I would see that the boundaries the Lord has set for me are pleasant. In meditating on the entirety of this Psalm, I realize there is some work that must happen before the boundaries can be seen as pleasant. A correct fear of the Lord and a correct recognition of Who God is must be firmly planted in my heart and mind. A recognition of the fact that following another god, whether that god be wealth, relationships, jobs, [fill in the blank], will only result in sorrow. Not just temporary or isolated sorrow either, but multiplied sorrow. What hope and joy we have in Christ when we see that the boundaries are set in pleasant places. We are promised a great inheritance in Christ! We are given assurance that we cannot be shaken, that the Lord will be continually before us. We will not be alone within those sweet boundaries. Even as we act on convictions that often open the door for ridicule and other unkindnesses, our hearts are glad because we know we are secure in Christ. The boundary lines are in pleasant places and guide us in a path of hope, joy, and peace.

Being a Christ-follower is not a religion of "no." On the contrary, it full of "yes." Yes to hope, yes to joy, yes to love, yes to security. The boundaries are good and pleasant.

"You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever." Psalm 16:11

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Illegal Children

Illegal children. If you are completely unaware of this phrase and the awful situation with the thousands upon thousands of children who have crossed our borders, you're really off the grid. What, exactly, is an "illegal child" anyway? As with many of you, I've been following this story as it becomes increasingly complex. My mother's heart just aches for these children. Yes, I realize there are some very bad gang members among these kids, but many of these kids were following the instructions of their parents who were likely told some very devastating lies. The consensus of what I have read is that many of these families have been told that unaccompanied minors (UAC's) will be granted access to the US and their families will be able to reunite with them at some point. I've read many opinions about this crisis. Sadly, I've read many that are downright cruel toward these children. But I have yet to read an opinion that addresses the proper Biblical response to this crisis. I read one that made an attempt, but it fell short.

In my view, this is a problem that our nation's immigration policy, or lack thereof, has created. To an extent, we are culpable. Many of these children are sick, many are in physical danger, and we know that many of the girls have been sexually abused and attacked. My guess would be that there are boys who have been attacked as well. These children have left one bad situation and come to one that is a far worse nightmare. Quite obviously, this situation puts many people in danger- children, border agents, other Americans, the list goes on...

A few moments ago I watched a debate in which one of the participants asked, "So I have a moral obligation to share my earnings and my country with people I've never met because they're suffering?" Maybe Lady Liberty's inscription could answer this. 
Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, 
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

I get it that these people have come to our country illegally. I get that. I really do. But many of these people are little kids, kids who did not intend harm and who did not intend to break laws. Loyalty to Christ and His Word must always supersede loyalty to country. So, what is the Biblical response to this? Not the Republican response. Not the Tea Party response. Not the Democratic response. The Biblical response. Well informed responses are welcomed.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Standing Guard

Ever watched anyone recover from a sinful decision? Maybe the sin wasn't a personal decision. Perhaps it was inflicted upon the person by another- a wayward child, a deceptive boss, an unfaithful spouse. It's a painful process to watch, but one that can certainly result in beauty for ashes. But sometimes the ashes make for more juicy conversations that are all-too enticing. What a grievous thing to hear or witness a Christian relishing in the sin of another or dredging up what the Lord has already forgiven and covered. Perhaps it is our pride that entices us to participate in this type of conversation. As long as I'm pointing to another, no one will notice me and since I've never done {insert sin here}, I'll look really good!

I recently had the privilege of attending The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference with some dear women from my church. Because we knew the speakers would be teaching through Nehemiah, a couple of us studied through the book in the weeks prior to the conference. God reveals so much about His character through this book. I'll freely admit that I had never read through Nehemiah until now. What a loss! In this oft overlooked book, God is working to rebuild His people through rebuilding the physical city of Jerusalem and through gathering the dispersed. Gross sin among the nation of Israel is what led to the dispersion and the destruction of Jerusalem. So now God is working to rebuild the nation in preparation for the eventual birth of Jesus. I want to be very careful to avoid making personal application where none should be made, but it does seem fair to draw an important lesson from the situation described in chapter 4. Because of the very real danger posed by those who did not want to see the nation of Israel rebuilt, many of the Israelites were charged with the task of standing guard over those who were rebuilding.

With all of the background given, let's get to the point. When a brother or sister is doing the hard work of rebuilding his or her life, you stand guard. You guard the work, you help with the work when called and you keep out the enemies.

Now...go read Nehemiah.

Friday, January 17, 2014

In Their Undies

"How do I get over my nerves, Mrs. Olson?  Some people say I should just imagine the audience in their underwear."

It is one of my great honors to be asked to sing for various life events- weddings, funerals, retirement ceremonies, etc. Funerals are certainly the hardest. From a practical standpoint, there is generally only a very short time to practice. From an emotional standpoint, you, as the singer, must be the one to hold it together. Of the many funerals I have been privileged to sing for, 2 stand out as the most difficult. The first was for a young woman at my church who, at 28, succumbed after a very difficult battle with cancer. The second was for a dear friend's infant son. After each of those funerals people asked me how I managed. Quite simply, God is gracious and He supplies strength to us when we are weak. It is also in moments like those that a singer must realize that your ability, your gift, is not for you. Your gift is for other people. In moments like those, your gift can provide comfort, it can even provide joy. You, the giver, must be selfless and so you learn how to control your emotions because it isn't about you.

Music is a gift. Research has repeatedly supported the cognitive importance of music on the brain. I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who could honestly say that music didn't also elicit an emotional response. Armies have known this for eons. Mothers have known this from the dawn of motherhood. Brides know this. Advertising execs definitely know this. But sometimes singers can forget this when we are busy thinking about breathing, diction, notes, phrasing, placement, posture, lyrics and shaping. In the throws of concentrating on the mechanics, it is easy to forget that we are charged with giving something to our listeners. (This is also why practice and preparation are so imperative. Would you give a person a half-finished gift?) It seems that when we shift our thinking to giving to our listeners, the performance becomes an offering, it becomes something that is gracious rather than something that is self-indulgent.

I once saw an interview with the great American soprano, Renee Fleming. In the course of the interview, she addressed the issue of nerves. She was asked to tell of the point in her career that she stopped becoming nervous. Her response was laughter followed by the statement, 'I've never stopped getting nervous. The moment you stop getting nervous is the moment you stop caring.' (paraphrase) And so I say to my students, no, do not imagine them in their underwear. Offer them a gift. Offer them a well prepared,  well cared for, and well crafted gift. Offer a moment of reprieve from the cares of today. Offer your very best. Know that it is okay to be nervous, because that means you care.


I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God as long as I have being.
Psalm 104:33

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How Can I Keep From Singing?

For 26 months I had the joy and privilege of serving as the interim choir director at my beloved church. Not only did this season of life bring a new challenge to my life, but it also taught me much.  One of the lessons I learned caught me by surprise.  It wasn't so much the lesson itself, it was the passion the Lord birthed in me regarding the lesson.  Curious?

Before I can share the lesson with you, we've got to get something settled.  If you are a Christian, and I hope you are, attending church and becoming a committed member of a church is not optional.  This isn't my opinion, this is God's standard.  He commands us to be united with other believers.

And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.  Hebrews 10:24-25

A quick word search with my Strong's Concordance revealed that the original wording means "to abandon or desert" not just stay away from corporate worship.  That's pretty direct.  I'd love to go into the importance of belonging to a church and will do just that in a blog yet to come.  For now, let's understand that what is to come is directed at those who agree with God's Word in this area.

Music is a very emotional thing for most people.  People have likes and dislikes and sometimes folks aren't too shy in letting you know if you made them happy with your song choices or song arrangements.  I will admit that I fell into that camp.  In fact I remember a time when I, in the hubris of youth, told my minister of music how I felt about a particular song.  What did I hope to accomplish with that?  I don't know.  But his response was great.  He asked me if there was a theological problem with the text. There wasn't. So, it boiled down to the fact that I just didn't like the song.  He very bluntly told me that corporate worship wasn't about my preferences.  It wasn't even about me.  There are 6 other days of the week to scratch the musical itch.  How very true.  I could probably end this blog with those statements alone, but I won't.

As a trained classical musician I will be the first to admit that there are many legitimate musical reasons to dislike a song.  It seems the vast majority of pop music today (to include much P&W music) is insipid, poorly written and requires little to no skill to play or sing.  Yes, this bothers me.  The Lord calls us to come before Him with acceptable offerings, not whatever we could slap together in a pinch.  He also praises the skilled musician.  (Translation- someone who practices!) A quick survey of the history of Church Music reveals composers like Bach, Palestrina, Mendelssohn and Watts among other musical giants.  I don't exactly picture Bach sitting down and composing a 7-11 P&W chorus.  Can those choruses be worshipful? Absolutely.  But I think the danger with those repetitive songs is that they can also encourage the singer to mentally check out and mindlessly chant.  This isn't what God requires of us.

So, with that said, I will also say that if you are a member of a church and you don't care for the music, you are well within your rights to respectfully and lovingly approach the leadership and voice your concerns.  But I would encourage you to ask yourself a few questions first.
1.  Am I just unhappy because I don't like the style of the second song we sang yesterday?
2. Am I unhappy because we sang a new song and I had a hard time learning it?
3. Am I unhappy because we're not singing my favorite songs the way I want them?
4. Am I unhappy because the theological content of the song is not Biblical?

Clearly if your concern is #4, you must approach the leadership.  Aside from that, I would strongly urge you fellow believers to start to view corporate worship as something that is meant to encourage the church as a whole and be a blessing to the Lord rather than something that is meant to satisfy musical hungers. When we are looking to worship to satisfy a musical hunger, we are worshiping worship, not God. Believers must have personal worship time every single day, not just Sundays.  This is where you have the opportunity to sing all of your favorites in the style and key that you prefer. Corporate worship, and really all worship, is about blessing God. When we keep that fact present in our hearts and minds, suddenly we find ourselves less concerned and/or irritated with song choices because we don't care for the outer trappings of the song.

I love the text of Colossians 3:16-
Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Do you see what I see? I must confess that I didn't see it until recently.  Worship should teach and admonish. We don't use that word very much, do we?  Admonish.  A warning. And so we can glean that singing is both a method of blessing the Lord, but it is also a tool for relating rightly with each other, and for that gift, we should be thankful. And really, our God is so great and mighty, how can we keep from singing His praise?
Brethren, we have met to worship and adore the Lord our God...