Closer Than a Brother

Ross Gullo

Let me start by saying I’ve known Ross over 25 years. Which is pretty amazing because when I first met him, I didn’t like him. Didn’t like him at all. He was too edgy. Too angry. Too impatient. Too serious. And before knowing these things about him, you should have seen the judgments I had in my head!

I was hanging out with my friend Dan Fitzpatrick. We both liked to play golf as well as other sports. And one day, Dan thought we should invite his friend Ross Gullo to join us playing golf. Reluctantly, I said okay. But the reality is I didn’t want him around. I was having fun with Dan. Why I mess things up?

The first round of golf went okay. But Ross was still Dan’s friend, not mine.

Then Dan decided to move to Atlanta. Suddenly, being with my friend Dan- and tolerating his angry little friend Ross- changed abruptly.

I remember the last time we played golf together with Dan before he moved. At the end of the round, Ross looked at me and said, “I’m free next Friday, think you might be interested in golfing together?” In my head I said no, but what came out of my mouth was “okay”.

I’ll never forget completing the first round of golf and spending an afternoon together, just me and Ross … and being surprised. I went home and told my wife, that it went okay. It was actually… kinda fun.

What developed from there was a series of pleasant surprises. Because on the outside Ross and I were very different. We oftentimes commented that if we knew each other 20 years earlier we would have avoided each other. We would have actually mocked and ridiculed each other. Surprisingly, what I discovered was that we had a lot in common.

While our wives had some evening work function, we enjoyed the company and someone to play with- for many years. What we had in common was surprising even to us.

  • We liked the same movies… though we arguing about them.
  • We like the same music… though we argued about it.
  • We enjoyed concerts that we knew neither of our wives would want to go to.
  • We both loved the game of hockey and have the pleasure of going to dozens of hockey games over the years… And we definitely argued about them.
  • We enjoyed the same kind of restaurants… we argued about them.
  • We shared books that stirred us and challenged us… I’m sure we argued about a few of those.
  • Most importantly both of us going to the same church, sharing the same faith in Christ, we had a lot of God talks over the years… but we never argued about that.
  • We we’re so similar, that we would meet up somewhere and look at each other dumbfounded, that we were wearing the same color and type of clothes. And this happened a lot. We just shook our heads in disbelief and chuckled. We even showed up one day at church, sat next to each other, crossed our legs only to find we were wearing the identical shoes. Our wives thought we were weird, or twins from different mothers.
  • On several occasions that we know of (I’m sure there were more), we were assumed to be a couple. This brought great amusement to our wives, I thought was quite funny, but this made Ross quite nervous. I mean, I don’t know why people thought we were a couple?!? Is it wrong for two men to share a charcuterie plate, and a fine bottle of wine? Sharing samples with each other? On a Friday night? After shopping? Alone?

What grew for me was a friend closer than a brother. The kind of friend you only have one or two of those like it in your life… if you’re that fortunate.

  • He was the first person I texted with good news or a fun fact.
  • He was the first person I sent pictures to when we were on vacation.
  • He was the first person I thought of who might really like this …whatever I was doing or looking at.
  • He trusted me and I trusted him. The kind of trust that allowed us to share hopes, fears, joys, and pain.
  • It was the kind of trust that allowed me to challenge him and he would hear it. And he could challenge me.
  • It was a kind of trust that allowed me to drag him to this men’s ministry called Iron Men many years ago. Convincing him that we needed to do something for ourselves in our spiritual growth. Within 2 months, our small group table leader was ready to hand on leadership of our table. So I immediately voted Ross as our leader and encouraged everyone at the table to agree. So, I dragged Ross to a Saturday morning commitment at 7 a.m. and he wound up being a table leader- with no choice but to go every week. Every now and then he’d give me a hard time for it, I thought it was hilarious, but he committed to it and he continued in that role to the very end.
  • It was the kind of trust allowed me to fix his phone for him whenever he couldn’t figure out how it worked… and no one touched his phone.
  • The kind of trust that made me the only logical choice to make that painful trip to New York to collect little Ross’s belongings with him, to be the only other one with Gretchen in the recovery right after his heart surgery, or to spend the day with him getting treatment or transfusion for cancer.

But in the midst of my sadness I stand here today mostly grateful.

  • Grateful I said yes to that first round of golf years ago.
  • Grateful that I got to argue with him. And we were still friends.
  • Grateful to have such a relational friend, who under a crusty outside cared for people and pursued relationships more than most people I know.
  • Grateful that I was the one to walk through painful times with my friend.
  • Grateful that God brought Ross into my life.
  • Grateful that we remained trusting friends to the end.
  • And most grateful that I will be with Ross again one day I believe, as our shared faith in Christ informs us.

I will miss the arguing, as well as the laughter. But mostly, I will miss my friend, as he always told me I would!

Ross Gullo/August 13th, 1953 – April 13th, 2019


by brad olson, psy.d.,m.div.

One day, towards the end of my graduate work, the phone rings and it’s Bill. “Hey BO! (one of many variations of my name I heard from his mouth) How about you move to Chicago?”

“Sure Bill… but I need a job.”

“OK, what if I get you a job? Would you move to Chicago?”

“Sure Bill… but I need a place to live.”

“Ok, what if I get you a job and a place to live? Would you move to Chicago?”

“Sure Bill… “

Not an ounce of me believed that would happen. But 3 months later, Bill and Tami welcomed us at our new apartment a mile from their home, for me to start my new job 15 minutes away.  Typical Bill. We still live in that town 30 years later.

We lived life together.

So how do you say good-bye to a lifetime together? No friend has known me as long. Our parents knew each other since childhood and lived their lives together. So, I am not sure exactly when we met, but I am guessing that our mothers made sure we met within the first month of my life. He would have been 3.

So, in honoring and cherishing my life together with Bill, I wrote my “Top 10” list…   The Top 10 Reasons I Loved Bill.

10. Bill loved me. He knew me. He got me. I always felt accepted, encouraged, and loved by him. Well, except for that time on the racquetball court. He knew the time. But the rest of the time… well, except for that time he dragged me to Chicago then abandoned me. He knew the time. But the rest of the time I felt his love. Well… except for…

9. He looked like Art. Really. Uncle Art was always a fixture in my life, a safe person. Someone I wanted to see when we came home for Christmas. Someone with funny short legs and a funny walk. Someone who loved golf, but couldn’t golf so well… sheesh, he was a lot like him!

8. I always looked up to him. Which is pretty amazing, since I looked down at him all his life. But did you know, misguided as I was, I looked up to him as a kid (Bill made some poor choices as a kid growing up)? And better yet, I still look up to him now.

7. His hairy legs. I mean, for a guy with little hair anywhere else, it’s was really quite amazing. It’s just one of the ways he made me laugh!

6. His rose colored glasses. Oh, we may given him a hard time for ignoring stuff and seeing only the positive in things…. But ain’t that crazy of us?

One day after Bill turned his life over to Christ in high school, he told me he felt convicted about a few things he did and wanted to make it right. So, on a Sunday night, he knocked on the door of the home of the local Sheriff. When the officer answered, he confessed his wrongs and led him to the back of his car in the driveway. I would have loved to see the face of that Sheriff when Bill opened his trunk to give back a trunk load of street signs he had stolen over the year! To that Sherriff’s credit, he graciously welcomed a high school kid with new found faith, trying to make right some wrongs. Which leads me to #5 in the list…

5. His consistent faith. I never saw him waiver. Once Jesus grabbed his heart, he never let go- and Bill was happy for it. From the day he returned those street signs– ‘til the day he went home to Jesus- he never doubted his faith. I could give him crap for not going to church or wanting to be Episcopalian, but I never saw him run from his faith or struggle with God that way.

4. His discipline. He always said he wasn’t, but he was…. very disciplined. For many years I saw a book on top of his Bible, laying out, not for show, but because he read them. It’s the same discipline I saw in his exercise over the years. I have always been struck by this. I have told many people over the years that I wish I had the discipline he had. In his last update about his chemo treatment he reminded us, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthew 6:34- The Message

3. His love for Tami. Many years of marriage, and he never expressed anything but love for her to me. Even when he was ticked at her. Even walking across the golf course on an evening walk- arguing about chairs while I took pictures of them arguing about chairs… The commitment he made to remain faithful to his marriage was honorable and admirable. The relationship he had with Tam looked like a partnership. I loved that.

2. His openness and truth. I loved the questions we asked each other over the years. The kind you don’t ask just anyone. He challenged me, and more than once, asked what I was learning, or reading, struggling with, what God was teaching me, or what I was praying about. No one asked me those questions but him. It wasn’t strange for us to pray together over the phone, or cry together when our parents died or over any other pain that came our way.

A few years ago I got another one of those calls. “Hey BO! How about if I come down to Florida this weekend too? I’ll do business in Orlando on Friday, then drive to Tampa early Saturday morning. We can play together during the day, and I’ll go to the hockey game with you and Lori at night. Then Take off Sunday morning back to Orlando?!”

“That sounds great Bill”.

“Hey, can I stay in your room Saturday on a roll-away bed so I don’t have to get a room for a short night?”

So there I am, a grown man with his wife in Florida on weekend get-a-way, and my friend is sound asleep at the foot of our bed. Who does that?!


I chuckle fondly whenever I recall that night.

1. His spontaneity and impulsive nature. Yeh, it drove some people nuts, but the things we did on a whim… sports junkie days, golf in the snow, photography adventures at midnight, pond hockey at any time of the day, sneaking into the U2 concert, singing hymns at the top of our lungs from the roof of townhomes we were painting – and at midnight on Gull Lake to hear our voices echo across the lake (Mom scolded us for that one)- and in the living room at Telemark- and- well- we sang a lot of hymns- and we had a lot of adventures. I think I was the one most likely to say “yes” to his adventures- maybe that’s why he liked me. But, I have done things I would have never done because of him, and I’m glad for it.

Lastly, for extra credit… He has always been in my life. I loved that there was never a time in my life when he was not there. There are very few people I have known since the day I was born. I’m glad I knew Bill since then. I feel grateful for him in my life. I thank God for the friend he was. I loved him more than a brother.

I am overwhelmed with grief and gratitude for you- my brother-  Oz. I love you. Thanks for loving me so well.

Brother Brad. 5-5-172014-05-10 09.26.00

William Mark Ostlund

April 28th, 1957-April 30th, 2017

What If?

by brad olson, psy.d., m.div.

What If?_BWO7796-2

What if it never happened?

What if it wasn’t real?

What if he never walked the earth?

What if he wasn’t who he said he was?

What if he never died on a cross?

What if he never rose from the dead?

What IF?


What would it mean?

What would my neighborhood look like?

Who would my friends be?

What would my family be like?

What would I be like?


What if my world was up-side-down?

Would I care about my neighbor?

Would I have the same friends?

Would I have the same marriage?

Would I spend my money the same way?

How would I spend my time?

What would I talk about?

What would I treasure?

What would I fear?

What would my funeral be like… if Jesus never rose from the dead?

What IF?


I would have no church

I would not read my Bible or pray

I would have different friends

I would spend my money differently

I would be more selfish

I would be divorced…

I would value different things

I would continue to search for something meaningful

I would cry more at a funeral

I would live in more fear… with more confusion… with more pain

I would have no God

I would fear death

I would live without hope of a future beyond this world


The resurrection … changes everything.

Thank God.


“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men”      I. Cor. 15:17-19

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory”

“Where, O death, is your victory?

    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”      I Cor. 15:54-57

Ending Well

by brad olson, psy.d., m.div.

I didn’t really know my grandpa. Even though we went fishing, dad brought him with us, and he never talked much. Even though he came to the ballgame with us, he didn’t say too much. It’s not like I was afraid of him. He was the grandpa who came over and played ping-pong, followed by intense Scrabble games with dad. He liked to tease the cat. But mostly, he was the grandpa who smelled like cigarettes and coffee.

He was an orphan. Adopted as a child. Spent his life in Minneapolis and married a nice Christian girl he met at Bethel Academy. They met at a Christian college, so It’s not like Grampa didn’t know who Jesus was. But they had their struggles.  His jobs reflected his discontent. He spent all night in the pool halls in South Minneapolis. That continued after marriage, kids, and even grandkids. It’s not like he was getting in trouble with the law or getting arrested. It’s just that he was absent, like he was running away from something.

There were the years that Grandma took the kids to live on the farm in northern Minnesota. We were told it was because of finances. But there was suspicion that it had as much to do with a marriage in distress, as it did with money.  Maybe she had enough of him being irresponsible and disconnected. Maybe he simply needed to earn money. He did what he could to earn a living. They always had a place to live, but he never had much of a career. He had jobs. He drove a street car, and sold insurance among a couple of them. He lived this way much of his life.

When Grandpa was older, he got in a small fender-bender one day with his car. That day he walked up to my dad and handed him the car keys. He said he was done driving. He knew it. He accepted it. He never drove again. But he didn’t quit.

I remember asking my aunt one day why grandpa worked as janitor of the church when he was old? She told me those seem to be the happiest days of his life. He started working as a janitor there after he re-committed his life to Christ. I imagine him waking each day, glad to go to work cleaning the church his children grew up in. He quit smoking. He went to church every day. He found some peace and contentment sweeping floors.

Maybe my ability to accept my limitations as I age, helps me to finish well. If I can’t accept that I am no longer a safe driver and hand over my keys, how will I end well?

Sadly, an aggressive growing brain tumor took his life quickly, just weeks after Christmas. I was in 8th grade, and he was 76. He died shortly after his life had just begun. But, he didn’t sit in a chair and watch TV because he couldn’t drive a car anymore. He didn’t give up. He seemed to finish well.

Apart from the cross of Christ, I’ve never met anyone who has managed to beat death. But we keep trying. We fight it. We assume that our bodies never age, and what I did at 20, I can do at 40. What I did at 40, I can do at 65. But death is real. Our bodies are human. But this doesn’t mean I give up and quit. It doesn’t mean I become obsolete.  It means I can choose to live with integrity, purpose, and meaning at every stage of life.

May I accept changes and my own limitations at every stage of life, and find God’s purpose, kingdom focus, and personal meaning that keeps me running the race, even when my feet can only shuffle.


Who’s My Neighbor?

by brad olson, psy.d., m.div.

The new neighbors moved in not long after we did. They were much younger than the previous neighbors. That’s the way it goes I suppose. I was hesitant to talk much with them other than a friendly hello. I’m just not that social at first, afraid I’ll open the door to strange people, or worse, they’ll think I’m just too strange. Besides, I wasn’t looking for a new neighbor.

But the over-the-fence “Hello” grew into friendly banter, which grew into familiar over-the-fence conversation.

So, one day Judy grabbed the bottle of wine and walked around the houses to our back yard. When I lifted my head from whatever woodworking creation I was focused on, Judy and Lori were sipping wine on the deck on a sunny summer day. How could I not join them? It turned out, they weren’t strange people at all. We talked. We laughed. And we smiled when Sammy pushed his little plastic lawn mower along the fence imitating Mr. Brad, or asked to come over to see what was Mr. Brad was making in the garage. I wasn’t looking for a little man in my life, but there he was. A three year-old blond haired little boy with wide eyes, gazing at the tools hanging in my garage. How can you not smile at that?

I remember staring at that old fence, wondering how I would keep it from falling over into Jim and Judy’s yard. I finally faced the inevitable, and on another warm summer Saturday, with about 10 feet left to finish the new fence, Judy says “Wouldn’t it be great to leave an opening here?” I paused, and thought… why not? So, I made a gate.


I stood and stared at my fence last week. I am wondering how I am going to keep it from falling into my neighbor’s yard. That old gate has worn out. Sammy is now in college. Jim and Judy moved down the road years ago, and now spend months at their home in Carolina.

Last month we spent a weekend in Carolina, enjoying relaxation, food and fun. At dinner, we laughed about the gate, and it made me wonder. If I didn’t make that gate, would we have had that conversation years ago, about who Jesus is? Or when we talked about what the Bible says? Or when we discussed a book about God. Would Jim have ever talked to me about the 6th grade Sunday School class he was teaching? Or would Judy be talking to me now about finding a church in the south that she might like?

It’s not an earth-shattering story. There is no tragedy. There are no tears. There is no miracle.

These weren’t planned, meaningful conversations, they were just conversations friends have when they talk about their lives.

Then I thought, maybe that’s what it means to be a neighbor? Maybe this is what it means to love my neighbor? Maybe this is the way God wants me to be? Maybe I am called to simply be open to who is around me- responding to what comes my way- putting myself in a position to be able to see God work. Maybe it is as simple as that. Because… I wasn’t looking for a neighbor. I wasn’t looking for a friend. I wasn’t looking for a ministry. I wasn’t looking for a conversation about God. I just built a gate.

Romans 13:8-10 (NLT)

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.


Selling More Than a Product

by brad olson, psy.d.,m.div.


Maybe something like this has happened to you?

By the time I was 20 years old, my painting business had grown to 25 employees with commercial jobs around the city. I was a little surprised, but pleasantly so, When a man from church was impressed with my business accomplishments as a young Christian, and wanted to talk to me about it. So accepted the invitation and arrived at his house for a meeting after work. A sense of pride came over me as I realized somebody noticed my work. I paused before knocking on the door and wondered… what could I possibly offer this man?

When I showed up, the Bob graciously asked me in, and invited me to a seat at the kitchen table. He offered me some lemonade which I gladly accepted after a long hot day in the sun. Bob started by asking me about my work and how I got started. We talked for a few minutes, and it soon became unclear where this was going.

Then came the big question… “How would you like to earn extra money by being your own businessman?”

I paused in a moment of confusion. “But… I already have my own business”, I said.

Bob responded, “But this is the kind of business you can grow on the side that will become bigger than what you’re doing now. And it will only take five extra hours a week”.

Bob then pulled out the catalog of products that would make me so much money I could stop working… “Because the products sell themselves”… And when I enlist more distributors to sell under me, the money really starts flowing.

I had been duped. Bob wasn’t interested in my business knowledge, Bob was interested in Bob. He wasn’t interested in me, he was interested in making money off of me.

It took a few minutes to regain some clarity after being stunned by the deception. Then it took about 10 seconds to become enraged. I interrupted Bob’s sales pitch, calmly but sternly looked at him and said, “You’re a liar. You said you wanted to learn from me, but you just want to enlist me to make money for yourself. You wasted my time, you wasted my evening. And, I wouldn’t sell or buy your products if they cured cancer and saved my soul!” With that, I abruptly stood up, walked out the door and never looked back.  To this day, I have never purchased one of those products… and never will.

Sadly, there have been multi-level marketing companies who have trained their distributors on this very technique. Lure someone in with the enticing idea that they have something to offer. Once you get him in the door, present the deal to them as if it the best thing that could ever happen in their lives. They will become rich, without hardly any work. Who can turn that down? Instead of hearing the message, the person feels like a victim who has been duped.

Even more sad, is that we have done the same thing over the years to Evangelism. Some of us have been taught that evangelism Is like an evangelical mugging mission, where we go into to a phone booth, come out with a big red “S” on our chest and charge out into a neighborhood, seldom our own, to win it for Christ.

Or maybe you were trained to lead an Evangelical ambush where you lure the honest, unsuspecting victim to some type of an event, lock the doors, and sing 20 verses of “just as I am”.

Maybe you were trained to think of Evangelism as a bombing mission where, from a protective cloud cover at 30,000 feet, we fill backyards with gospel bombs.

Or maybe you have been told that Evangelism Is herding fish into the stained glass aquarium of church, where the “Big Fisherman” throws the lure out from the pulpit.

Lord, what have we done to your Gospel?

In an effort to follow the Great Commandment with greater efficiency, we’ve turned Good News into bad.

We’ve reduced people to souls on a scorecard.

We’ve made life changing power… impotent.

We’ve disguised a message of hope as a pronouncement of judgement.

Would you buy a product from someone who tricks you?

Maybe it’s time to let His story, God’s story, speak for itself. Maybe it’s time I get out of the way and tell his story to ears that are ready to hear.

Mark 16:15 (NLT)

15 And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.

I Hate Evangelism

by brad Olson, psy.d.,m.div.DSC_0290

I hate evangelism.

I’m told that it’s my job to evangelize, and I’ve been on every guilt trip my Evangelical upbringing provided me. Since I’ve been so blessed by the saving grace of Jesus, all my inhibitions and hesitations should be wiped away. Who have you witnessed to today? How many souls have you ushered into the kingdom? How come you’re so afraid to speak up? If you’re a good Christian, you’ll speak up anytime, anyplace, and bravely tell anyone how they are going to Hell If they don’t accept Jesus into their heart as a personal Savior.

I should go on the missions trip, so I can tell others about Jesus. I should go on that Spring Break trip to Florida, so I can tell all those lost souls about Jesus, on the beach, while they’re half-naked and drunk, even give them the “Four Spiritual Laws”. I should be willing to go anywhere, anytime, to live in a mud hut somewhere, and tell the lost about Jesus. And if I don’t, I must not really appreciate what Jesus has done for me. Or maybe I’m just a bad Christian.

I hate evangelism.

Then I feel all judgmental, & I question myself. Am I wrong? I wonder to sometimes, is the guy on the street corner holding up the sign and shouting through a microphone really making a difference? Maybe God is honoring him because he’s honoring God? When the old man leaves a Bible tract on the table, is that reaching someone with Good News? I don’t know, maybe God honors that too?

If evangelism is so core to who we are as believers, then why is it so painful for us to do?

I can’t evangelize, what will I say? What if I get it wrong? I mean, this is a person’s soul and eternity at stake here. I don’t know enough about the Bible to be able to evangelize. I don’t have the gift of evangelism. I was relieved to eventually discover that I had the gift of teaching. That was a lot easier to swallow.

Oh lord, what have we done to your message? How has good news become so dreadful to deliver?

Terry grew up with me. I had known him since the 5th grade. We enjoyed sports together. We played on the same teams over the years. One day, In the middle of a tennis match, In the middle of his serve, He asks from the other end of the court, “If I was going to read the Bible, what Bible should I read?”  I casually answered with a modern translation. After the game, I asked him why he would ask that question. He said, “You and Lori seem so different. You’re not like all the rest. I can’t explain it, but that’s what I want.”

I was blown away. I never mentioned a word about Jesus to him. Never quoted a scripture verse, or asked him if he were to die tonight, was he sure he knew where he was going? I never made sure he understood the four spiritual laws. Terry lives for Christ today.

Years later, Dan moved in upstairs with his girlfriend. One day he asked us to go to dinner and a play together.  I wondered what his intentions were. Was he another Amway salesman? And even more than that, what would I have in common with a non-Christian? We obliged. We laughed, we had a beer, we talked, and we had fun. I enjoyed the time… and to my pleasant surprise, I discovered a friend.

We both loved racquetball. So we played. 2, maybe 3 times a week. We liked to talk after the game. No big agenda, just talk. It took about 3 months for the conversation to turn towards God stuff, not because I had an agenda, but because Dan wanted to talk about it.  One day, in what seemed to be God’s great sense of humor, I heard a familiar question. “Brad, I’m thinking about reading the Bible, and there so many versions out there, what kind should I get?”  I could almost hear “The Twilight Zone” music playing in the background.

I remember one day as we’re sitting on the floor dripping with sweat from a hard fought game, Dan had to leave quickly to pick up his daughters, but thanked me first for the times we have had talking about God. I sat there and reflected for a few minutes after he left. I thought, “I didn’t plan on evangelizing Dan or Terry… Wow, maybe God’s using me to tell His story?” How cool is that? And I don’t even have to be an evangelist… ‘cuz… I hate evangelism…

About 6 months later, after a round of golf on a warm summer day, just the two of us sat down at a table in the clubhouse bar to add our scores and relax. Dan came walking back to the table with a pitcher of beer. He sat down, and poured 2 glasses. Without saying anything else, he raised his glass and looked at me, with a little tear in his eye, and said, “Brad, I can’t tell you how meaningful my life has become since I found Jesus. I am so grateful. Thank you.”

Not only was Jesus messing with my view of evangelism, he was messing with my legalistic Baptist upbringing. You can’t raise a beer AND be grateful to Jesus… can you?

I hate evangelism.  But I love sharing the story of Jesus in my life with friends who care to listen.

Luke 10:27 (NLT)

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Valuing Marriage

by brad olson, psy.d.,m.div.

Do you remember the anticipation of your wedding day? It started before you ever made the formal announcement. It may have started as a young girl. Time was spent dreaming in anticipation… hours and hours… for weeks and weeks. What will the colors be? What kind of dress? What about the bridesmaids and groomsmen? The venue? The food? All that time and energy spent with one “simple” goal…  have the perfect time, the perfect setting, with perfect people, in perfect clothing, eating perfect food, listening to the perfect music while enjoying the perfect First Dance.14

So we spend our time, energy and money on what is important to us. Recent surveys have highlighted that we believe the marriage celebration is very important to us (2013 statistics from  What is the cost of the wedding?

  • Average Wedding Dress: $1281
  • Average Length of Engagement: 14 Months
  • Average Number of Guests: 138
  • Average Cost of Flowers: $2069
  • Average Cost of Cake: $546
  • Average Cost of Venue: $13,385
  • Average Overall Cost of a Wedding: $29,858

And the Honeymoon… oh, we love the Honeymoon. On average, 1.4 million couples per year in the U.S. book their Honeymoon 4 months in advance, staying at some place exotic for 8 days, and spend $4,466.

So, what’s wrong with this picture?  The average divorce rate in America is somewhere between 40%-50%. The average married couple spends just 30 minutes of quality time with each other per day, which contributes to most divorces occurring by the 8th year of marriage. And, 73% of couples who divorced said a lack of commitment was the main reason their marriage didn’t work.

We spend a lot of time and money on the wedding, but the marriage itself gets a fraction of the attention. All the time and energy invested in the “big day”, becomes less and less time and commitment spent on the very person I committed to spending life with.  Does that make sense? Shouldn’t we be investing more in the relationship that we hope will last a lifetime, instead of one day?

How important is our marriage to us? What is the level of commitment we have to our marriages? How much time, energy and money do we invest in the relationship that means so much to us? Maybe our time, energy and money could be better spent investing in our marriage… making sure it becomes the relationship of our lives… worthy of $29,858 party.

(Data derived from:,,, “A Diamond is Forever and Other Myths”- by Randal Olson,,, and The National Fatherhood Initiative)

Words… More Words…

By Brad Olson, Psy.D., M.Div.

It had been a stressful week- just as chaotic but with a few doses of added stress. When Monday came and the dust had settled, Kirsten reflected on the week. The busy kid’s schedules were complicated by an emergency room visit with Tommy, overdue laundry, the quarterly meeting at church, a possible job change for Chad, a fender bender for Casey, and the basketball tournament that went longer than anyone thought the team could win. She and Chad shared the duties as usual. They had settled into a routine that seemed to work for them.  She couldn’t imagine managing four kids without a partner. She was grateful for his steady presence and support. She read somewhere that women speak 20,000 words a day and men speak only 7,000. Chad was a good listener, but she chuckled as she recalled their conversation over the weekend that ended with “More words Chad. I would like to hear more words.

Then it happened…

The phone rang about 10am that Monday. She answered. It was Chad.Stressed woman on phone with child in background

“Kirsten?”  He said.

She knew instantly that something was up. She paused and felt her heart pound just a little more. “Yes… What’s going on?”

“Well, do you have a minute?”

“Yes” she responded.

He paused a few seconds, then deliberately and with conviction said, “Well, I’ve thought about it long enough, and though it’s hard for me to do, I think it’s the right decision for me… it’s time for me to leave.

Her world was obliterated in less than a minute. Her heart was pounding hard. She stopped breathing. Her eyes welled up with tears. There were only a few words to be found, and they were stuck in her throat.

“Kirsten?” Chad inquired.  “What do you think?”

She couldn’t think. The shock and pain was too much.  She slumped on the floor of the kitchen and managed to gasp enough air to mutter “Umm… I have to go”.

Her silence and obvious pain confused him. He had no idea she would struggle so much with his decision. I mean, after all, they discussed this possibility over the weekend. So, how on earth could she be so blown away by his decision to leave his job for the job offer that came his way last week!?

Words can destroy a person’s character in a few seconds. They can fill someone’s love tank in a sentence. And a few more words can change a conversation…  in a very helpful way.

Words… more words, Chad…

Kirsten hasn’t recovered yet.

Dirty Dishes

by brad olson. psy.d.,m.div.

As I sit here, there are dishes piling up in the kitchen sink. I have been trying to ignore them all weekend. My wife gets home from a weekend of visiting her mother in a few hours, and I keep noticing the dishes. I keep thinking about the dishes. I keep finding other things to do that are more important than the dishes. I better do the dishes. Those stupid dishes.dirty-dishes

I tried convincing my wife that there is sound psychological research that indicates I will die sooner if I have to do dishes. She doesn’t buy it. Maybe it’s a guy thing, I don’t know. You see, I am constitutionally unable to rinse a plate, bend over and move it 27” to the dishwasher tray. I know. I don’t get it either. But it is the only explanation I have for how horribly life-sucking this chore is to me.

Then I thought… This is just like working for God. I hate it.

Over the years, I have been a part of ministry teams that just didn’t fit me. I have been on staff at a para-church youth ministry. I fought to fit in. I have led ministry teams. While enjoying the people I worked with, we were largely ineffective. That felt defeating. I have held babies in a church nursery. I didn’t know what to do with them. I have been a board member for a ministry organization. I was bored to death at every meeting like I was sitting in 7th grade math. You see, the dishwashing experience has been played out many times over the years whenever I have had to serve in ministry because I was supposed to… like I was an employee working for the God-Boss.

One day, my pastor approached me and asked me to prayerfully consider joining a ministry team.

“Brad, we’re putting together a small team to help plan, develop, and create sermons and worship for Sundays. Others are good at other things, and we think you’re good at teaching, story-telling and sermon illustrations. We want to try a team approach to sermon preparation. Will you think and pray about it?”

This felt different. This sounded fun. This seemed like a good fit for me.

After seven years, I’m still not tired. Some team members have come and gone. That’s OK, I’m still a part of it and I still fit in. I sit in a meeting for 2 hours every week, and I’m not bored. It’s not like 7th grade math at all. I like the people I work with, and we are greatly effective. As a team, we are resources for our pastor, making Sunday mornings better. I am not tried, I’m energized. I don’t dread the work between meetings, I look forward to it. AND… I get to write stories, find interesting illustrations, study Scripture, and help make God’s Word come alive on Sunday mornings. I don’t have to do this, I get to do this!

This isn’t like dishes at all… This is like working with God. I love it.

It seems while working for God is a chore, working with God is enjoyable. While working for God is draining, working with God is energizing. While working for God is boring, time flies when I work with God.

Too often we are expected to fill a role serving in a ministry because we are a warm body, not because the role is an opportunity for our gifts to flourish. God calls me to use the gifts he’s given me for service, and when my abilities and passion fit with a need, much greater things happen.  I come alive… His kingdom grows… and God is glorified.

Frederick Buechner said it best: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I want to live my life working with God, using my abilities and passion to serve the way God calls me to. I want to work with God. I don’t ever want to go back to serving because I have to.

But for now, I have some dishes to do.

1 Peter 4:8-11

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

For more about team teaching for sermon preparation, see my pastor’s article at Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal online