Lesley (Dahlseng) Rieland

Children's Book Author and Christian Blogger

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Lesley’s Review of “The Third Gift”

The Third GiftFor the Joy of Literacy!

Author:  Linda Sue Park
Illustrator:  Bagram Ibatoulline

Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park has found her way onto my list of must-have children’s Christmas books for every Christian home, bringing the Christmas Story to life from a perspective I’ve never before heard.  It precedes the wise men’s entrance onto the Christmas scene and showcases those who made the magi’s third gift possible, meanwhile answering the question that so many children and adults alike may have . . . what exactly is “myrrh” anyway?

Park leads the reader into the desert alongside a boy who carefully shadows his father in order to learn his trade, the harvesting of “tears”.  It is a careful process that requires much attention to detail, finding the perfect trees, cutting in just the right place with just the right depth.  It’s an art of patience and skill, all to collect the droplets of sap that each tree cries and that eventually harden enough to be removed intact. 

We’re not only drawn into Park’s creative depiction of this delicate harvesting process and the perfectly matched illustrations, we’re also taken on an educational journey concerning the various uses of myrrh, an especially significant detail foreshadowing the Christ-child’s fateful purpose – sacrifice.  It is a beautiful tale coupled with both solemnity and celebration.

After harvesting the tear of all tears, the boy and his father are invited to present it for sale to three peculiar individuals who had obviously travelled from afar and whose destination especially interested this young tear-harvester.  A gift of myrrh for . . . a baby? 

We are left with these final thoughts from the curious child.  “I watch the three men mount their camels.  I watch them leave the marketplace.  I watch as they ride into the desert.  And I wonder about the baby.”  May we, like this young boy, keep watch over the true significance of Christmas and may we always watch in wonder at His goodness.

For Ages 5+

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8024708_s (stopwatch)I am a runner.  Well, I run . . . occasionally.  At one point I decided to enter a Hard Charge event for a new and “fun” experience.  It was a little over four miles with 30+ obstacles and lots of mud, mud, mud.  To ensure that I survived this experience, I figured I should train a bit more regularly than I had been doing for quite some time.  During this particular season, I came across a Facebook post from a lady claiming that she “craves exercise like some people crave chocolate.”  As much as I wanted to click the “Like” button, it would not have been genuine.  In actuality, the post elicited more of a sarcastic “good for you – grumble, grumble” attitude.

This is not to say that I never enjoy exercise.  And I can testify that I always feel better about choosing to do so.  After one particular workout, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment as I looked down at my stopwatch.  I basked for a moment in the feeling that my work was complete . . . until I realized something:  It’s time to hit the ‘Reset’ button.  Today’s time doesn’t translate into tomorrow.   Tomorrow’s time read 0:00:00.   

It seems there is a “Reset” button for nearly everything in life.  I can strive for a spotless home, but my children possess a not-so-rare skill of clutter and contamination.  My kitchen sink seems to breed dirty dishes.  Keeping my checkbook register up-to-date is a continual effort.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics is always at play in my life, as much as I’d like our play-dates to cease.  The truth is that all things tend toward disorder. Relationships are not immune to this reality.  The familiar joke about a man claiming he no longer needs to say “I love you” since he already did so on his wedding day is actually detrimental to a marriage.  A person’s love-tank empties itself over time and needs constant refilling.  This reality is just as true spiritually. 

I once heard the wise counsel that “if you are not moving forward in your relationship with God, then you are moving backward.”  It was a difficult concept to accept at first, until I had time to experience it myself.  Today’s prayer time does not translate into tomorrow’s, nor does meditation on His word, nor our reliance on Him for all things.  This can be a daunting realization, especially if your theology is one based in religion as opposed to relationship.  Diligence is not a natural human quality in this world and weariness can easily set in.  This is why the Bible is full of passages like that of Galatians 6:9 which encourages us to “not become weary in doing good,” and Hebrews 10:36  which reminds us that we “need to persevere.”  There is always a Reset. “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should” (1 Corinthians 9:27).  Reset.   “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).  Press forward!  Press Reset!

It dawned on me, however, that a “Reset” button is actually my greatest blessing. The instruction to “pray continually” must mean that God actually desires to hear me that often (1 Thessalonians 5:17)!  He does not “feed” me once and leave me hungry.  Rather, He offers me bread on a daily basis (Matthew 6:11, Luke 11:3).  His forgiveness does not stop at seven times, but extends to “seventy times seven” and beyond (Matthew 18:22).  How thankful I can be that God’s steadfast love never ceases, that His “mercies are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23).  Though my sins were as scarlet, He reset them to be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).  Though my heart was as hard as stone, He chose to reset and give me one of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).   He offers a Reset for each and every one of us.  While we were yet an enemy of God, He envisioned a Reset . . . And now that we are “reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life” (Romans 5:10).

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A Seed Well Sown

Copyright: jessmine / 123RF Stock PhotoThere is a path I often walk whenever I visit my husband’s parents.  There are fields on either side, and wildflowers grow amongst the tall grasses.  On one particular day, I was walking with my oldest daughter and my sister-in-law.  We hadn’t covered much distance, since my daughter’s passion for bugs meant frequent stops to inspect milkweed and any other thing that moved.  My sister-in-law bent down to pick an exceptionally large dandelion that had reached its maturity.  “Make a wish!” she smiled, and handed my daughter the massive gossamer ball.  The expected wish from my then-five-year-old was a new toy, a game, or a treat.  Instead, my daughter paused . . . “I wish I would love God more and more and more.”  Then she blew.

The wind carried the wispy-plumed seeds away, but the words hung with me.  I kept the stem – though the dandelion itself had no significance, the seeds it spread were now a symbol of the words spoken by my daughter.  I believe in the power of those words.  I believe God heard them and will honor them.

Much can be learned from simply thinking about a seed.  Jesus compares the Word of God, the Kingdom of God and faith to a seed.  He compares our actions to the sowing of a seed of which we will reap according to its kind.  He compares our spiritual regeneration to an implantation of imperishable seed.  Among many other comparisons, Jesus Himself is a kind of “Seed.”

One can apply the same biblical principle to other areas of our lives.  The talents God has placed within you . . . it begins as a seed.  A dream you have for your life, your prayers, your purposes, your preparations . . . all can be woven into a parable of a seed.  A simple, yet foundational, understanding of a seed is that it reproduces, it grows, and it performs both of these after its own kind.  Before any of this can occur, however, it must be sown.

How many people are living to the fullness of their purpose and their giftings?  It is all too common that an inner longing is disregarded simply due to underestimating the resources to accomplish it.  If a talent or an understanding is yet a small seed, it is easy to look upon its minuteness, compare it to the maturity of another’s, and become immobilized by the feeling of inadequacy.  If this happens to be you, then I urge you to cast off fear’s restraint and to sow that seed into your garden of life.  After all, a seed is meant to grow.

I’ve experienced it myself (and I doubt I’m alone), that I’ve broken free of immobilization, sown my seed toward a particular endeavor . . . and seen . . . nothing.  For many people, this can happen concerning prayers for a person or a situation in which there is no noticeable change.  It may be a ministry venture that seems to have little effect.  Whatever it may concern, discouragement is one of the greatest weapons used to undermine our growth, and it is prayer’s major impediment.  Like a knowledgeable and patient gardener, it is important to identify discouragement for what it is and to actively weed it out of your life and guard against its return.

Galatians 6:7 states, “Do not be deceived.  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.”  This can be taken as either a warning or a promise.  Either way, it should direct our decisions and our actions.  This verse can be a great source of encouragement whenever the “fruit” of our sown desires seems long in coming.  Ultimately, the fruit which God wants most in our lives is not of external accomplishment, it is of inward character.  I look back on all the different wishes my daughter could have chosen.  She chose the greatest of all, to “love God more and more and more.”

I kept that dandelion stem from my daughter’s wish.  It wasn’t much to look at.  No longer did it have its yellow radiance, nor its wispy white allure.  The stem became dried and brittle and its top shown bald and seemingly humbled from the missing seeds.  It struck me, however, that its beauty had never been more grand than as it was.  Beauty is in a life well sown.  When it is sown for God’s glory, there is nothing grander.


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The Desires of Your Heart

Jesus Loves Pizza!Many great memories can happen around a meal.  One of my favorites began while making pizza.  Feeling especially ambitious, I had made everything from scratch.  My two daughters loved patting the puffy dough as it swelled and I had to scold them several times for constantly stealing nibbles from the batch.  The smell of sauce filled the kitchen, and the cheese . . . well, I guess I didn’t make the cheese, nor the pepperoni.  Nonetheless, the three of us proudly gathered around our table and constructed this work of art as a team.

We began enjoying the fruits of our labor after saying a prayer of thanks.  Soon after, a question was asked about whether God hears us when we thank Him.  In turn, this led to a discussion about “Jesus in our hearts.”  Then came the best comment yet.  My younger daughter, Katelyn, exclaimed: “Jesus must sure love pizza!”  “Why do you think that?” I asked.  “Cuz I always want pizza!” she said with gusto.

It was such a sweet association for her age.  She assumed that if Jesus was in her heart, then she must want the things that He wants.  What a revelation!  We are meant to grow in resemblance to Jesus if we have earnestly accepted Him.  The Church is predestined to the purpose of conforming “to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).  There is something about that word “conforming”, however, that is not instantaneous.  I don’t doubt that Jesus appreciates pizza, but we can’t always count on our desires being His desires, nor that our will is always His will.  There’s still a whole lot of “us” to work through.

Romans 12:2 instructs, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I wonder how often I’ve mistaken my will for His will.  I remember as a new Christian, I stumbled upon Psalm 37:4 which states, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  At the time, I assumed that as long as my desire wasn’t blatantly immoral, then God would want to offer it to me.  This was my perception of a good father.

I was overlooking at least two very important aspects of this concept.  First, I assumed that my desires weren’t tainted.  Scripture tells us otherwise. Even as “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17), we have a lot of shedding of the old self to go through.  Among the many Scriptural references, Titus 2:11-12 indicates that we still need to be taught to abstain from worldly desires and 2 Peter 2:10,18 very clearly reminds us that our own fleshly desires are corrupt.  My second misconception of God as a good father is that this requires Him to be both earthly-minded as well as my quick-fixer-upper.  I had obviously glossed over a certain fruit of the Spirit called “patience” (otherwise translated, “long-suffering”) and forgotten about Isaiah 55:9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Accepting Christ offers righteousness in terms of right-standing with God. However, this does not automatically perpetuate right-desires. So what can I learn from Psalm 37’s promise to give me the desires of my heart? I can pray that God first implants His desires within my heart, which He will in turn fulfill. And since His will is what is good, pleasing, and perfect, can I really hope for something better? Ultimately, the greatest desire He wants to place in our heart is for Him. If we delight in Him, as Psalm 37:4 presented, then He Himself will be our desire . . . and what could be more valuable than to hear Him promise to offer Himself to us?

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
– Luke 11:13

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The Spirit of Freedom

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_viperagp'>viperagp / 123RF Stock Photo</a>This weekend was a time of celebration.  Independence Day meant a short trip to visit family.  Meanwhile, I thought I’d pass the travel time with a bit of “light” reading in the book of Galatians.

Galatians 1:3,Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age . . .

The present time didn’t seem evil.  After all, we were headed to see loved ones, filled with the expectations of great food and fun activities.  Freedom was the word for the day.  I listened to the squeals of joy from my daughters playing tag and hot potato. I later watched their faces alight with wonder as their sparklers painted the night air.

. . . Galatians 3:22, “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner to sin . . .”

Yes, I admit that my choice of reading wasn’t exactly fitting in to the Independence Day spirit.  At least not yet.  As I reflected on these passages of Scripture, there intruded a memory of my daughter which stood in sharp contrast to the image of her sparkler-lit expression.  The memory begins with the sound of crying. I heard it in passing by my daughter’s room.  When I stepped in to ask her what was wrong, the floodgates opened.  What she said next, I could not distinguish.  No interpreter would be of any help.  The only information I could decipher through the sobs was something about school . . . school lunch?  Did she feel sick?  Did someone bully her?  Finally I could distinguish that she had done something wrong.

My daughter was only six at the time.  How bad could it be?  After much comforting and coaxing, she finally confessed to something she had said at the lunch table.  She was trying to be funny. At the same time, she had a “funny” feeling that what she said was wrong.  The wrong-doing would fit into the category of coarse joking.  Though she didn’t understand the full meaning behind it, what her head didn’t entirely comprehend, her heart did and it had apparently been haunting her.  It hadn’t just happened that day, not even that week.  For weeks this wrong-doing had been stealing her peace.  “Have you ever done something that bad?” she asked through tears.  “Oh, honey, Mommy has done much, much worse.”

Unfortunately, this present age is one of sin.  We have been born into it since the moment Eve misunderstood freedom.  In a sense, Eve wanted the freedom to choose her own path.  What she misunderstood is that she was already granted that freedom, and what she chose was a prison.

. . . Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction . . .”

We’ve all done it in some form or another – acting on what we know isn’t right.  Whether it be chasing after the wild life with the expectations of fun and excitement, or simply caving in to the temptation of that third or fourth treat to top off the “Independence” Day festivities.  Harvest time does not often happen instantaneously upon sowing.  I wonder what the forbidden fruit tasted like to Eve. Had it tasted horribly, I doubt that she would have passed it on to Adam.  It must have seemed harmless at first.  The end result, however, was their retreat from freedom and into hiding.  Like Adam and Eve, at some point we all experience hiding out of shame.  Our idea of freedom is often misguided.

. . . Galatians 3:19,23-24: “What, then, was the purpose of the law?  It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come . . . Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.  So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

There is a time for conviction of sin, there is a time for confession of sin, and thank God that there is a time for freedom from sin.  How would Christ have reacted to my daughter in her distress?  Actually, Christ didn’t react, He pre-acted, for He was foreordained as a ransom and slain before the foundations of the world (1 Peter 1:20, Revelations 13:8).  It was not Adam and Eve that approached God for forgiveness, it was God who sought them out and covered their shame.  God continues to seek us out, though He now offers something much greater.  He offers Himself, not only covering our shame, but removing it.

. . . Galatians 4:4-7, “But when the time had fully come, God sent His son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’  So you are no longer a slave, but a son . . .”

Political freedom is a blessing.  I’m thankful for the nation in which I live.  Nonetheless, my greatest Independence Day is ultimately the day the Spirit of God set me free.  2 Corinthians 3:17 states that “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.”  Unlike Adam and Eve who hid from the very Spirit who brings liberty . . .

    There’s no need to hide when He is within.
 He’ll break from you every shackle of sin.
He’ll rescue you from the spirit of shame,
Crown you with glory and call you by name.
No longer a slave, He’s made you a son.
So let freedom reign; the battle’s been won!
Lesley Dahlseng

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