Tuesday, August 14, 2018

You’re Not Really….

I had an interesting discussion with someone last week. We were talking about statements like these: 
“You’re a volunteer, you’re not a real firefighter.” “You have a job so you can’t be in ministry.” “You’re at the bottom of the seniority list you can’t be a leader.” Take a minute to come up with the list of statements like these that you have heard over the years. If you are the one making comments like these, please read the whole blog in context before passing judgment. 

What’s intriguing about comments like these is where and when they are made. Typically these comments are made in the context of an occupation, whether someone is paid for the activity or not. Secondly, these comments are made within the confines of a organizational chart. Another thing about these comments is where they pop up and where they don’t. I have never heard someone say, “you’re not a fishermen because you only fish weekends.” “You’re not a high school football player, you only play 8 games a year.” “You can’t be a wood worker, you don’t own a business.” But when it come to areas of life involving leadership and life safety, these statements come out of the woodwork…sorry couldn't help the pun. 

Let’s take a look at a couple of principles before we look at the statements above. My son Andrew asked me a question the other day after attending his drivers ed class. “Dad there was an ad for a first aid kit that said I am a first responder. Is that right?” I responded “yes”.  Regardless of who you are, if you are the first person on a scene you are a first responder. What makes the difference is what level of training and experience you have. I know life guards who have never had to make a save. I know people that just as part of life, have a half dozen or more. Whether you are paid or just in the right place at the right time, you are the one who saved a life, if you took appropriate action. It’s all about being available and then acting when a need is evident. The second thing to look at is leadership. It’s tough for many people to handle, but here it is. Leaders are people that others follow, not a position on an org chart. Someone may have all the titles they want before and after their name, if they are not a leader, no one’s going to follow them. Leaders are people that have many different qualities and styles but through their actions, compel people to follow them anywhere, through anything.

To start summing this all up, it boils down to this. You are what you are made for, what you step up to do when it’s needed and what you specialize in. There are many kinds of firefighters and they are all firefighters. The kid digging line, the logistics unit leader, the finance team, the runners, the radio dispatchers and all the other positions on the team are firefighters. Regardless if their job at home is biologist, business owner, full time, part time, volunteer, retired or housewife. They are all still firefighters regardless of anyone’s opinion or expectations. 

The same is true when it come to spiritual things. It doesn’t matter if you are a pastor, church worker, new Christian or lifer. Your availability to meet the needs at hand have more to do with your ability to minister than any title or pay grade. Here is another hard pill for many to swallow. If you are not willing to live life with people, you are incapable of carrying out the Great Commission. Let that soak in a little bit. Remember, you are what you are made for, what you step up to do when it’s needed and what you specialize in. Whether you are paid or not, it’s about being available and taking the appropriate action that saves lives. 

Over the years, I have found one other similarity in pretty much every person I have heard who the beginning statements are made about. They are almost always servant leaders. They don’t care about accolades, position, or power. They care about being available to do what God made them to do. They care about meeting the needs of those who have needs. They put others first because it’s the right thing to do. I heard an EMT tell a reporter one time, “I just do what I hope someone would do for my family if they were in need.” 

These beginning statements are made in ignorance, with uninformed expectations and non-practical standards. If you hear someone make them, put them in their place. If you make these statements, think about what you are saying. Realize that your understanding does not determine other’s understanding and most importantly their willingness to be available when needs arise.

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Fix It

So here are a few comments that I keep hearing about the church. “It’s our church so we go.” “It’s full of sinners, you just have to accept that’s the way it’s going to be.” “It’s not perfect, but you still need to go.” “That’s just the way they are, we need to show grace.” “Every church is good at some things, you need to find the one that’s right for you.” I have spent years trying to figure out how to answer these false statements but seem to struggle at every turn. For those of you reading this that like to jump to conclusions, this is not an anti-church blog. On the contrary, it is a pro-Biblical church blog and a call to many to look in the mirror; to see what they are justifying instead of fixing. 

It’s kind of funny, really, when you step back and look at it. If every time you took your car to a mechanic where it never got fixed and sometimes got worse, would you still go to that mechanic…nope. What would you do if you took your clothes to the dry cleaner and when you went to pick them up they were mostly clean, except for one new stain that wasn't there before. When you inquire about the stains the answer is, “That’s just the way it is.” My bet is you’re never going back. 

For the sake of space, I am going to break the building blocks of the church down into a few simple points (this is because there is not room to quote all 66 books of the Bible here). The Church is where we are to learn and grow in Christ together. The Church is where we are to eat, pray and worship together. The Church brings people together who, outside of Christ, would never hang out together. The Church meets peoples’ needs.  Finally, the Church lives life together praising God in all that they do. When the Church does all of these things it grows and is healthy.

Now, the comment I hear all over the place is, “but people are sinners, it doesn’t work that way.” One of my mentors in ministry puts it this way, “the Church is God’s perfect institution entrusted to sinful people.” The Church will never be perfect and we do need to operate with grace. What we can’t do is ignore mistakes, ignorance and sins in the name of grace. We need to repent of our mistakes, ignorance and sins, seek reconciliation and make the necessary changes to prevent it from happening again. When we justify mistakes, ignorance and sins in our churches, we hurt people and lose track of the foundation of the church.

Here is the painful reality many in churches are unwilling to accept. Church is not an excuse. Regardless if it’s a mistake, something done in ignorance or a sin, it is something that needs to be identified, repented of and not repeated. When these things are ignored and justified they are rewarded and they replace the Biblical building blocks of the church. Churches with these weaker foundations still do some good but are like an engine running on five of it’s eight cylinders. They have all sorts of great stories that sound good about things happening in their church but are leaving a wake of spiritually and emotionally hurt people. 

What is sad about this problem is it has a simple fix. If your car needs oil, you add oil, you don’t say, “that’s the way it is.” If we make a mistake, we need to say we are sorry and work hard to not repeat the mistake. If we don’t, then we are now justifying our actions and are guilty of sinning. We need to listen to others and the Holy Spirit so we can recognize when we have done something wrong and instead of justifying it we need to make amends, repent and take actions to keep it from ever happening again. The goal is not to be perfect, it is to help people, not to hurt them. Because what is rewarded is repeated, what isn’t corrected is assumed to be correct. It kills me to hear church leaders sit around asking why their church isn’t growing, while refusing to look in the mirror or the wake they are leaving. If they did, they would see what building blocks they need to attend to. We can only fix that which we are willing to look at. So don’t be afraid to identify what’s wrong in your church and fix it. 

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Catching Fish

I had someone ask the other day, “why is it that you catch so many fish and we can’t seem to catch a fish at all.” Before I could answer I had to get more information. They preceded to tell me about all the things they had tried and went into great detail about all the work they put into planning every trip. After they were done filling me in on everything they had to say, I saw the problem. Every decision that they made was based on something they wanted. Their trip was scheduled on what worked for them. They went to the part of the lake that they had success before, even though the lake has changed a lot since then. Finally, they were fishing with the latest lure they saw on tv. What I told them was not revolutionary or even a secret. It’s the way people have successfully fished for countless generations.

First, you need to go to where the fish are. Fish can change location at any time and for many reasons. If you are fishing where they are not, you’re going to get skunked. To figure out where the fish are, you need to understand the fish: how they see, what they eat and what conditions they are most comfortable in. To understand what make a fish tic takes time on the water. Time observing and learning. Fishermen that catch fish understand that they have to go to where the fish are.

Timing is everything when your fishing. Knowing how to predict where and when fish will be is the second step to catching them. You see, if you plan a fishing trip on your schedule it almost always leads to a boring trip without fish. But when you plan your trip around the fish, it’s amazing how exciting that trip can be. And when you are willing to drop everything and go fishing when you get word that they are biting, those are the days that you will never forget. It really stinks when you hear, “man you should have been here yesterday.”

Once you have found the fish, if you want to catch them, you need to give them what they want. This can change day-by-day and hour-by-hour. Sometimes they are active and they will chase your presentation and other times you need to give them something right in front of their face before they will bite. Color can make all the difference in the world. Red can be the hot color one day and other days you have to cycle through gold, black, green, blue and white to trigger a strike. It is also important to understand what they are hungry for. If it is a worm bite and you are using minnows, color may not matter, you’re not going to catch anything.

If you want to catch fish you have to learn to ignore what you want and like and start understanding what the fish is looking for and what they are reacting to. You see, fish react to their environment. They make decisions based on the environment they live in, not based on what we think or even want. Productive fishermen have figured this out and that is why they catch fish. They are not lucky, they are purposeful in their pursuit of fish. 

The question we need to ask is, do we want to fish our way or God’s way?  Here are a few resources to look up to help you answer the question. Matthew 4:18-22, Matthew 28:16-20, John 13, 1 Corinthians 9:21-23 & Philippians 2. These are just a place to get started on learning how to catch fish the way Jesus called us to.

Tight lines.

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Well one down and three to go. Yep, my oldest graduated from high school and has ventured out on his own. To say that this was an interesting experience would be an understatement. Not because of Dan leaving home, but all of the crazy comments my wife and I have heard about having a graduate. You know the comments. “He’ll be back”, “Get your wallet ready’, “You need to constantly check up on them so they don’t screw up”, “You have to be so sad that he is leaving” and way more. These comments are not anywhere close to accurate.  I will miss having him around, but missing him doesn't come close to how proud I am of the man he has grown into and the future he has. 

Disclaimer: this is not a blog about what we did right as parents, it’s a blog about confidence in God’s direction. Way too often I hear parents say they hope that their kids grow up to do the right thing. Hope is important in life but it can’t be the goal to parenting. The reason I have confidence in my kids’ future is because of the deliberate purpose that we are raising them with. I am not talking about guarantees here; like I said, I am talking about following God’s direction. 

The Bible tells us to raise our kids up in the way they are to be. This means in the way that He made them. So if we have a gifted athlete, it is our responsibility to raise an athlete that loves and serves God. If we have a gifted artist, it is our responsibility to raise an artist that loves and serves God. To do this we are responsible to raise our kids to know all the attributes of who God is. This means showing and teaching grace and judgment,  love and anger, hope and brokenness, joy and sadness, friend and ruler, and a whole lot more. Just like God knows everything about us, it is for us to understand who our kids are, what makes them tick, why they make the decisions they do, what are their dreams, their gifts and limitations. Then set your expectations on what they are capable of and NOT what we as parents want. Finally, as parents we need to realize our kids are entrusted to us by God and He is still in control. 

When it come to Dan heading out on his own, I have confidence in what God has done in his life over the last 18 years. This confidence comes from knowing that we don't have unrealistic expectations for him, but have brought him up in the way God made him. As parents, we always had a purpose, and not hope, in the decisions we made while raising him. We took the time to know him and understand who he was and made the sometimes tough and sometimes absolutely hilarious decisions that would help him be the man that God made him to be. One of the things that every parent struggles with at some point, and will overwhelm you if you don't keep it in check, is taking it personally what your kids do. Part of growing up is testing limits. Sometimes the limits they test are gravity and sometimes they are the limits we as parents set. As parents, we need to understand and remember to be objective and just, when these limits are tested and not take it personally. This is one of the core causes of parent-child frustration. We need to make sure our limits are Biblical and appropriate to each kids’ level of responsibility. Holding a kid back is just as destructive as not having limits at all.

Kirsten and I set out to raise our kids to be adults that will serve God and serve those who God puts in their life. Every decision we have made and are making comes back to this purpose and what each individual kid needs to get to where God wants them. It seems wrong to most people, but to do this we have less rules and not more. The four rules we have for our kids are: If the Bible says its wrong, it’s wrong. Don’t lie. Don’t be defiant. And put other before yourself. Yep that’s it. These are the only things that were punishable offenses. Everything else is a lesson of life that we lived and worked through together. Just like God does with each of us. This includes letting each kid live with the decisions they make. Yes, again, sometimes it’s hard to watch and sometime it is hilarious to watch. Here is the hard fact about raising kids. You can’t give them what they need to grow up. You can supply tools, vision and motivation, but they need to experience all of life, both the ups and downs to grow up. They can’t learn responsibility without the ability to fail. They can’t learn to have faith without the ability to go through trials. As parents we are called to protect our kids but not to shelter them. As Dan ventures out on his own I know he will have successes and he will have trials, and he can’t have one without the other. 
Like I said, I will miss him, but not nearly as much as I will have fun watching what God’s does with him. Kirsten and I have confidence because we taught him to follow God’s direction and we did so with purpose as our goal not hoping that he does the right thing. 

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker

Monday, May 21, 2018

Real Answers

It has been just over 13 years ago now that I was injured as a volunteer firefighter while engaging a wildfire near my hometown at the time. As I laid in my hospital bed asking what happened, many people gave their opinions, quick anecdotal answers, and life experience. Without fail, they always justified their comments by saying, “there was nothing you could have done” or “it’s fire, it just happens.” I knew in my heart and mind that they were trying to make me feel better, but the reality was clear they didn't have any more answers than I did to why I got hurt that hot April day. Instead of feeling better, I struggled. Struggled with what I had done wrong, what I should have done different, why I did everything right and still got hurt.

On the third week of my hospital stay a young man pushed in a pastor friend of mine who was recovering from a stroke. The pastor induced him as Dave, a wildland firefighter, and that we might have some stuff to talk about. Dave and I started talking and without either of us knowing, the pastor snuck out of the room leaving Dave and I to talk. Turns out, Dave was more than a wildland firefighter, he was a fire behavior analyst. As we talked I was able to ask questions and he was able to give me the straight forward and sometimes hard to hear answers. In the weeks after we met, he sat down with me and helped me go through the computer modeling so I could see exactly why I got hurt and what I did right and what I did wrong. Without what Dave did for me I would still be asking those questions. I was able to get closure on that part of my injuries.

Fast forward 11 years and questions were still coming up. Questions I did not anticipate or quiet frankly know how to handle. So I did what everyone does, I started asking around wondering if someone had some answers. The trouble with these questions is that they were dealing with the emotional injuries I was either still recovering from, or in some cases, was still finding. Just like after I got hurt, people gave their opinions, quick anecdotal answers, and life experience. But this time, without fail, they ended their thoughts with statements to  my questions like, “you just need to get over it or that’s in the past you need to move on.” Needless to say, this only made things worse.

It wasn't until one day at a local bait shop that I ran into a guide named Chuck who takes  wounded veterans out fishing, that again life began to change for the better. Chuck had some of the answers to my questions and found me someone who had even more answers. Chuck did two things that the others didn’t. First, he listened before I started talking. He knew I was struggling before I ever opened my mouth or asked a question. Second, he didn't make up answers and found someone who had the answers. This gave me the hope I needed to keep working through the emotional struggles I have daily. 

Last week I had the opportunity to go fishing with a group of guys who made a huge impact on my life. Healing Patriots is a group of guys who have been there, asked a lot of the same questions I have and found the resources they needed and I that have desperately been looking for. What they did for me emotionally on this fishing trip was no different than what Dave did for me while I was in the hospital. They answered my questions honestly and started giving me the tools to work through the struggles I am having. They did this without placing blame on me for struggling, unlike many others I have asked for help from. 

I am writing this for two reasons: first, if you have struggles in life there is hope. It’s discouraging and even seems hopeless when you ask questions and you are blown off or condemned for even asking the questions you are struggling with. The answers are out there and there is hope. Secondly, when people come to you with life questions don’t make up answers, give anecdotes and tell them to get over it; that only makes it worse. Give them the truth and if you don't know what it is, help them find the people that do know the truth. The real answers are powerful and life changing. Here is just one example: since the day I got hurt I have asked why people would call me a hero if I was the guy who fell off a fire truck and had to get rescued? Last week I got to ask a combat veteran that question. First thing he did is give me a hug and then he said, “Geremy, you are a hero because you got on the truck in the first place.”  This is just one of the answers that changed my life and gave me a new perspective and hope. There is power in having the questions in our life answered regardless if those answers are good or bad because not knowing the answers is one of the most difficult things for people to handle. 

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker

Monday, April 2, 2018

That will never work

A hundred years ago when I was in high school I had an opportunity to go on a skiing trip. Now I thought this was a completely awesome opportunity, due to the fact that it was one week after MY spring break. Meaning,  I would get two spring breaks. Not a bad idea at all. There was one thing getting in the way, money-that’s right money. I needed some. Every year I worked all summer and had plenty of spending money all through the fall, but by March, cash was not necessarily readily available. The youth group I was attending, saw this very similar problem with more kids than just me and came up with a fundraiser. They planned a bowl-a-thon. You know, go out and get pledges for each pin I could knock down to raise money to go skiing. For me this was a bigger problem than the money. The fact that I bowled so badly that I would have never raised enough money to go, was the least of my worries. I just couldn't get over the fact that I would be asking people for money, so I could go have fun skiing. I needed a better option. While I was considering my options, everyone, youth leaders, parents and friends were asking/telling me to either go bowling or take my name off the list. Then I figured out the way I was going to pay for the trip. It was perfect. I could do what I was good at, earn my own way and have extra spending money. I was so excited to have finally figured it out. But when I told my youth leader that I was going to fish an ice fishing tournament to pay for my trip, I heard it for the first time, “That will never work”. “You gotta be kidding me, what’s he know?”, I thought. 

These four words cut to the heart when used in the wrong context. I see so many people wandering through life empty because of the way these words have been directed to them as they grew up by the people they love and look up to. Now, because I know someone is reading this with a hyper-critical, pessimistic world-view, thinking to them self, “What if it won’t work, what if they could get hurt, what if they have unreal expectations,  what if                        ”. To you I am saying, “take a deep breath and quit taking things out of context.” In fact, you may be the very example I am talking about. The person whose vision and ability to explore was robbed from them because of these four words and others that have the same damaging results. There are times to use these words. Like the time a college roommate was going to mix some cleaning supplies that would have ended us all. Or when someone is hooking up a vehicle wrong to pull it out of the ditch. What I am talking about is when these words are used to condemn creativity and the pursuit of someone’s identity. This happens when parents, coaches, teachers, guidance counselors, pastors and others are shortsighted, only looking at their own history and not the capabilities and opportunities of the person in front of them. 

I was frustrated but not defeated. I did however keep my mouth shut and not share my plan with anyone else, including my parents. The night before the tournament and the bowl-a-thon, I asked my mom to borrow $20 for the entry fee and bait for the next day. She gave me a crisp, new $20 bill and she asked me if I really wanted to go fishing instead of bowling (she knew how badly I wanted to go on this ski trip).  I confidently told her it was taken care of and I could fish and go skiing…no bowling required.

The irony to this story is when I was on the lake and all set up, I had multiple friends and other guys I knew stop and ask why I was fishing where I was because “there’s no fish here”. I remember thinking to myself, “really, is everyone narrow minded and pessimistic?”  

I went home that night with enough money to pay my mom back, go on the trip and have plenty of spending money. That’s right, I won…in two categories. Not only that year, but through the rest of high school. I fished to go skiing each year.

This isn’t a fishing and skiing story. It’s not even a story about me. 

I could tell you countless stories of these words - “THAT WILL NEVER WORK”. In my life I heard these words in: how I chose to go to college, how I got my first job, how we raise our kids, and more. I hear these 4 words all the time and witness their misuse and destruction almost everywhere I go.  

We are called to build each other up. We are called to raise kids the way God made them. To do this we need to stay away from these four words, learn who people are and focus on learning together instead. We need to work with the people and opportunities that are in front of us, not the history and heartache that is behind us. I make sure everyone I work with knows that, “the key to success is failure and not repeating our failures.” 

We all have a choice: look at what won’t work or take the time to learn who somebody is and figure out what support they need to reach their potential. You might just be surprised at how well it does work. 

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker

Friday, November 24, 2017

Stop Being Thankful?

It’s Black Friday and I am up way too early and waiting around almost like everyone else, wondering if this is worth it. You know, wondering if we really learned anything about being thankful yesterday while gorging on turkey and stuffing, or in my case, ribs. Now, I’m not in a store shopping, I'm up waiting to go back to sleep because at 42 years old, I am getting to learn about how thankful I am for little things like toilet paper at 6AM. Sitting around waiting to get tired enough to get to go back to sleep so I can at least feel like I got to sleep in on a day off, is almost as much fun as waiting around to get something you never knew you needed until it is 75% off at 4AM for one day only. 

We hear a lot about being thankful and learning to be thankful as we grow up. Currently I’m still trying to figure it out as I raise my kids; but maybe that’s the wrong goal. I am not making some big, huge new parenting declaration here, I’m just making an observation and talking it though with you all because my bladder decided I should be up this morning. So here it goes. 

Should we focus on thankfulness or contentment?

I remember growing up having adults tell me and other kids that “you need to learn to be thankful”. I, like every other kid, have gotten the look on a birthday or Christmas that promptly tells you, “you will act thankful for the white socks that are 3 sizes too small that you got from Grandma’s aunt that came to the party this year…don’t say anything but ‘thank you’…do not embarrass me a parent or you may stop breathing…are we clear”. What I have learned is that being thankful gets way harder the older you get if you don't understand contentment. This is partly due to the fact that most adults harp on the act of being polite and call it thankfulness-leaving the heart out. I made this mistake with Peter when he was about 2 1/2 years old. We were all sitting around the table for a meal and he look at Kirsten and boldly said “I want more juice”. Being a good Dad I looked at him firmly and said, “Peter, what do you say to your Mother?” Because after all, you need to be stern with this young misguided kid so they don't grow up not being thankful, right? Peter looked at me, looked at Kirsten and you could see the wheels turning, the gears grinding as he contemplated the next words that would come out of his mouth. With apprehension and a lot of uncertainty he looked at me and the words that come out of his young, innocent 2 year old mouth, “I, I wannn’t morrre juice???” Ding, ding, ding, I needed to learn something that morning…not him. I was so concerned with teaching thankfulness (politeness) that I missed being content with Peter. He had just learned to simply say what he wanted when we asked him. He wasn't being rude, I just didn't meet him where he was at.  

Fast forward a year later, and I am sitting in a wheelchair after I got hurt and the kids are being polite and thankful for all the gifts that people were getting them for Christmas. I, on the other hand, was a mess. The guilt that I couldn't get anything for my kids was overwhelming. I was thankful, but far from content. This emotional dilemma went on for many years, fueled by the mis-teaching that my generation received on politeness over thankfulness. Life sucked. We were never taught about the relationship of contentment, thankfulness, grace and giving. 

I had to learn a few tough lessons in order to even come close to understanding what it meant to be thankful. The first lesson came one day when I was having a conversation with a mentor about not being comfortable receiving anything from anyone else. He looked me in the the eyes and asked, “Geremy, do you take joy in giving to others?” I replied “ Well, yes, what’s that have to do with it?” He answered, “Then why would you take the joy away from someone who wants to give to you?” Yep that stung and took a little time to get over. The next lesson is this: as a culture we are so worried about safety, that we do everything possible to prevent anything bad physically and emotionally from happening to us. The unintended consequence is that we lose the opportunity to overcome, the opportunity to learn faith. It is interesting to see the look on peoples’ faces when I tell them that one of the best things that ever happened to me was getting hurt.The third lesson is this: no matter how hard you work to change your circumstances, life still happens. The difficulties in life aren’t personal, they just happen. When we take them personally, we skew our understanding of grace. We don't deserve anything, grace is getting what we don't deserve.

Contentment is interesting because it changes your view on a whole lot more than you think. It changes how you are thankful. Contentment is being ok with whatever you get. It means you are ok with financial security or wondering where your next pay check is coming from. It means you are thankful for the success of other and the toys they are able to get, while not craving anything more for yourself. It’s not about politeness, it’s about being at peace with what you have and where you are at. 

Yes, life is worth waiting around for, both the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the frustrating and the success. Many years ago a young man said it best, “God will get us through this, but if He doesn't, that’s ok.” So as we go through the holiday season let’s learn contentment and thankfulness. 

I wonder what the chances are that I can fall back to sleep…

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker