Archives For God

Our Prayers Count

Jeff Olson —  July 18, 2013 — 1 Comment

One of the many encouraging stories about prayer in the Bible is found tucked near the end of the New Testament book of James. As the half-brother of Jesus wrapped up his letter, he encouraged his readers to pray in their time of need (James 5:13).

Being familiar with the Old Testament, James pulled an example out of the life of the Jewish prophet Elijah to illustrate prayer.

James reminded his audience of the time Elijah earnestly prayed for God to withhold rain for three and a half years—and not a single drop fell on the land (5:17). After that time passed, he began praying for rain to return, and God opened up the heavens (verse 18).

Two things encourage me about James’ use of Elijah’s dramatic story. First, he starts out by saying that Elijah “was a man just like us” (James 5:17). In other words, he was an ordinary guy—just as human as we are.

It’s only a few words—“just like us”—but it carries a truth that counters a familiar lie that can diminish our prayers. The lie can come at us in this way:

Alright, those kinds of prayer may have worked for one of those Bible guys, but not for an ordinary person like me today.

James would beg to differ. He wrote that Elijah is no different than any of us. It doesn’t matter when or where we live, our prayers matter and can be just as effective as any follower of God—even as effective as someone whose prayers held back rain for three plus years.

A second thing that lifts up my heart about Elijah’s story is that our prayers play a significant role in what God is up to. Sure, the God who made this world didn’t need Elijah’s prayers to stop the rain that triggered a severe famine that brought a wicked ruler to his knees. And God could have started the rain again without Elijah’s prayers, but He invited Elijah to be a part of what He was up to, to partner with Him in what He’s doing in the world.

Sometimes we may be tempted to think that our prayers make little difference, if any at all.

Don’t believe it!

Our prayers do count for God’s kingdom agenda!

Several years ago, I remember how I first reacted after learning the controversial news that there was a possible link between the overexposure to aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease.

As it turns out, further studies have not been able to confirm this link.

At the time, however, the news grabbed my attention. My doc had told me that I was already at risk for this disease (because I suffered a severe concussion as a young child). So once I understood the potential risks, it was relatively easy to cut out aluminum.

I didn’t care how well it kept my body odor from stinking up the joint, there would be no more deodorant containing aluminum for me.

Oh, that it would be that easy when it comes to stopping an addiction! But anyone who has ever battled an addiction knows that it’s never that easy.

One of the maddening things I’ve noticed about addictions is that we can’t seem to resist them, even when we know that they threaten to ruin us (and others). And it’s one reason why we absolutely need Divine help.

Over the years, I’ve noticed something else. Most of us start seeking God’s help for an addiction by asking Him to take away the urges. But what if that’s not the best place to start?

When the urges come, what if it’s best to start with the simple, yet profound, recognition that we can’t resist them without Him (John 15:5)?

Humbly surrendering to God and admitting our own powerlessness as a starting point keeps us from going down the well-worn path of trying to resist our addictions in our own strength. Ironically, the more we struggle to break free on our own, the more entangled we become. But as we stop trying so hard and accept that, in and of ourselves, we lack the power to resist—well, that is when we start to tap into God’s power to resist.

Perhaps this is what Paul was getting at in his own life when he wrote: “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway” (Romans 7:19).

When we come to this point of appropriate helplessness, that’s when we see how much we really need Jesus’ help (Romans 7:25). Or, as Paul would put it in another place, it is when we acknowledge our weaknesses that Jesus is strongest in our lives (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

There is much more involved in walking away from an addiction, but we won’t get very far until we first surrender.

October Baby

Jeff Olson —  January 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

Over the weekend I watched the film October Baby. It tells the story of a college-aged girl named Hannah whose world is turned upside down after she discovers she is the adopted survivor of a failed abortion.

This story about a girl whose life almost wasn’t is a powerful film on forgiveness. Hannah had to wrestle through strong bitter feelings and forgive several people before she could move on with her life.

The film’s grace-filled, non-condemning treatment of Hannah’s biological mother, who had attempted to abort her, was also a surprising breath of fresh air. Women who suffer the heartache of having had an abortion may find watching this film to be a very healing experience.

Something Hannah’s adoptive dad shared with her near the end of the movie also stuck with me. Hannah’s discovery and search for her birth mother caused a lot of tension between the two of them, which he often didn’t handle well. As they stood next to each other at the graveside of the twin brother Hannah never knew she had, her dad confessed,

“It’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s that I’m trying honestly to learn to trust God again.”

Leaving things we care about in God’s capable and loving hands is a most important lesson for us all to learn.

My Mom

Jeff Olson —  May 11, 2012 — 6 Comments

This Sunday I will celebrate my first Mother’s Day without a mother. After a year-long illness, my dear mom recently passed on to be with Jesus.

Mom was eighty.

Not only will I miss mom terribly, I found myself feeling sad over all the things she was never able to enjoy in this vast and amazing world. There were so many activities mom was never able to do, places she was never able to see, and experiences she did not have—partly because she willingly sacrificed so much for the seven of us kids and our families; partly because she simply ran out time.

As I felt sad for all that mom has missed out on, the hope of a renewed earth brought me great comfort. While I am fully convinced that Jesus died on a cross to save us from our sins, I do not see in the Bible that Jesus came to save us from the earth.

Instead, I read that Jesus also came to liberate, restore and reclaim this world that we have so fouled up (Romans 8:21).

I read that when God finally comes back to dwell with us forever and death will be no more, He will bring heaven to earth (Revelation 21:2-4).

I read that it has been God’s plan all along to “bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth” (Ephesians 1:10).

The Bible reassures me that someday mom (and anyone who has died in the Lord) is coming back to this earth to reign with Jesus (Revelation 5:9-10). When Jesus returns, mom’s going to be a co-steward of God’s new creation as He originally meant His image bearers to be (Genesis 1:28). And she, having been redeemed by Jesus, will have the rest of eternity to experience all the things she missed out on (and so much more) in the new heaven and earth.

As I celebrate my first Mother’s Day without mom, I am so grateful for the Jesus legacy she passed on to her children. And I can only imagine all that she has to look forward to in Him.

Emotions–Good or Bad?

Jeff Olson —  February 23, 2012 — 6 Comments

In his book Beautiful Outlaw, John Eldredge points out that it was “God who gave us a sense of humor.” He goes on to ask, “Do you really think Jesus came to take it away?”

Of course, the answer is no way! Jesus was hardly dry and humorless. But Eldredge’s question got me to thinking about emotions in general – are they good or are they bad.

Emotions often get a bad rap, but the fact that Jesus was deeply moved by a close friend’s death show that He didn’t come to take them away (John 11:33-36). Emotions are a legitimate part of being made in the image of a God who feels emotions –“The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” –Genesis 6:6.

As God’s image bearers, it is good and right for us to feel the full range of emotions. In fact, it is a mistake to bottle up one’s emotions. This is a form of denial that can keep us from learning important things about ourselves from what we feel.

Strong emotions can be a signal that something inside of us needs serious attention—maybe a need for love and comfort or something unholy in us that must be owned and confessed.

So pay attention to your feelings.

God might be using them to show you something important!

Slow down and talk it through

Jeff Olson —  December 8, 2011 — 3 Comments

Today I came across a story about Kevin Sorbo—the muscle bound actor who played Hercules from the television show with the same name. Playing the mythic Greek hero, Kevin fought epic battles against evil forces and rescued damsels in distress. Yet ironically, while filming Hercules, this seemingly robust actor suffered three debilitating strokes at the age of 38.

Kevin, who recently received high praise for his heroic role in the Jesus-centered film Soul Surfer, had the following to say about recovering from his illness:

“‘Before my illness I was fully preoccupied with the material side of life. Moving at the speed of light, I ignored the spiritual side, the unseen. But being sidelined with time to spare, I had a lot of conversations with God and told him my problems.

Kevin’s reflections are a good reminder to us all. It’s important to talk to God about the problems in our lives. Invite Him into what’s going on, share what’s on our hearts, and listen for His Spirit to minister to our hearts.

We can’t “see” God, but if we slow down enough we can discover He’s there to talk it through.

“In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free.” –Psalm 118:5 NLT

More than just a good book

Jeff Olson —  November 10, 2011 — 2 Comments

“Is that a good book?” the lady asked the young boy sitting near her on the bus.

“This,” the boy replied holding up the book on his lap , “It’s more than just a good book.”

The young boy is, Henry, a main character from the new, popular television series Once Upon a Time. The book he was referring to was a large book of fairy tales that the series is based on.

I read a lot books, and people sometimes ask me if what I’m reading is good. Usually it is, but not always.

Henry’s response got me to thinking about what I would say if a stranger asked me the same question if they noticed me reading the Bible.

I’ve often heard people refer to the Bible as the “good book,” but after hearing Henry’s response, I would prefer to use his line—“It’s more than just a good book”. But then I would hope to add:

“Actually, it’s really not a book, but a library of books that tell an epic story of God’s love, that if you let it in, it will change your life forever.”

I could say more, but hopefully a short, thoughtful response would stir up enough curiosity in the person to look into reading the Bible for him or herself.

If you only had a sentence or two, what might you tell a stranger if they asked you the same question?

Last weekend I re-watched the film Soul Surfer. It’s tells the inspiring true story about the young surfer girl (Bethany Hamilton) whose arm was bit off by a shark in October of 2003 while surfing off Kauai’s North Shore. Remarkably, only one month after the attack that nearly took her life, Bethany was back in the water–determined to surf again.

As Bethany was re-learning how to surf competitively with one arm, her father explained the difficult challenge before her. To which Bethany replied, “I don’t need easy. I just need possible.”

Wow! What a challenging statement for us all to consider.

As much as we would like there to be, there isn’t an “easy” button to push when were facing the hard challenges of life. But difficult doesn’t equal impossible. While certain parts of life may seem impossible, Jesus offered the hope that “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk. 18:27).

 

 

 

 

What Occupies You?

Jeff Olson —  August 4, 2011 — 1 Comment

To illustrate the truth of Ephesians 5:18, Evangelist DL Moody once held up an empty glass and asked an audience, “Tell me. How can I get the air out of the glass I have in my hand?” One man said, “Suck it out with a pump.” But Moody replied, “That would create a vacuum and shatter it.”

After many other suggestions, Moody picked up a pitcher and filled the glass with water.

“There,” he said, “all the air is now removed.” He then explained that freedom from a sinful habit does not come by working hard to eliminate it, but rather by the allowing the Holy Spirit to take full possession of us.

Is there a sinful habit in your life that you can’t to get rid of, no matter how hard you try? Maybe you should stop striving so hard to eliminate your out of control problem. Generally speaking, we don’t need more self-effort and self-regulation. What we need more of is to humble ourselves before God so that He can fill us with His Spirit.

The more we occupy ourselves with Jesus the less room there is for sin to occupy us.

To read more about freedom from addictions, Check out the Discovery Series Bible Study Released! http://www.dhp.org/Products/Released-Understanding-and-Overcoming-Addiction-%E2%80%94-Study-Guide__Q4066.aspx

 

 

The final movie in the Harry Potter series finally hit the theater this past weekend. I’ll admit, I’m a huge fan.

Although the series is a fantasy, the parallels to real life are stunning, especially the epic battle between good and evil.

Lord Voldemort, the powerful dark lord and Satan figure in the film, is trying to infiltrate and influence young Harry’s heart and mind. After one of Voldemort’s minions kills Harry’s God-father, the dark lord attempts to fill and inflame Harry with thoughts of murder and revenge. It’s part of his devilish plan to tempt Harry to join him in his darkness and ultimately own him.

At one climatic point in the series, near the end of The Order Of The Phoenix , Voldemort nearly has Harry convinced that he is just as dark and evil. He thinks he’s won. He thinks Harry is finished, so he begins to mock him as “weak.” As Harry is struggling, oh so close to giving into the dark lord’s influence, Dumbledore, Harry’s close mentor, says to him,

“Harry, it’s not how you are alike, it’s how you are not!”

Right then, Harry spots his closet friends and recalls the happy times he’s enjoyed with them. Suddenly, the strength to resist returns, and Harry says to Voldemort,

“You’re the weak one. And you’ll never know love, or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.”

It’s one of those fictional moments that illuminates what the battle between good and evil is all about–love and restored friendship with others and God.

At the end of the The Order Of The Phoenix, after Harry has recovered from Voldemort’s vicious attack, Harry says to his friends,

“I’ve been thinking about something Dumbledore said to me. He said, ‘Even though we’ve got a fight ahead of us, we’ve got one thing that Voldemort doesn’t have…something worth fighting for.’”

Jesus declared, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” –John 10:10