Lesley (Dahlseng) Rieland

Children's Book Author and Christian Blogger


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Grace to Be Gracious (Part 3) – Audio Message

grace[1] To conclude my recent postings concerning our need to truly receive and understand God’s grace for ourselves in order to extend grace toward others, I felt it appropriate to use an audio of a message I shared with House of Prayer Church under Pastor Lynndene Way.  I shared this message in 2012 and still find it important to remind myself of its details years later. 

The message is divided into two tracks totaling approximately 34 minutes.    The first part dives into several of Jesus’ parables which give us an understanding of grace.  The second part incorporates personal application as I share a little about how it has translated into my own life.  Hope you will be blessed!

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
(Ephesians 4:32) 

To view Lesley’s article on Grace to Be Gracious Part 1, please click here.
To view Lesley’s article on Grace to Be Gracious Part 2, please click here.


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Grace to be Gracious (Part 2)

grace[1]Why did God use Peter, the disciple who (other than Judas) had committed the most grievous offense against Jesus in denying Him?  Why did God use him to be one of the leading apostles in spreading the gospel of Christ?  He had been given the intimacy of being within Jesus’ innermost circle and yet it was he that, despite being forewarned, verbally denied Christ . . . not just once, not just twice, but three times.

Of course, it was Peter who spoke by revelation from the Father and answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) and because of such revelation he was no longer called Simon, but Peter, meaning “rock”.  I believe it is more than this revelation that made Peter a leading apostle, however.  Knowing that Jesus is the Christ does not necessarily indicate that Christ is known or understood.  As hinted at throughout the gospels, the Messiah – or Christ – meant something different for many Jews who, weary of being under the oppression of the Romans, sought a vindicator of sorts, often perceived in the form of a political activist who would rescue them and only them.

Knowing Christ needs to be more than putting the right name in the slot.  To truly preach Christ, we must first experience Christ.  And our experience is through faith and, even more foundationally, by grace (Ephesians 2:8).  Peter understood grace more fully upon hearing the evidence of his own inadequacy roll off his tongue three separate times.  He then understood his need for grace and he was later to experience God’s extension of grace.

God’s preference is often what we would consider an unlikely match.  As it states in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to confound the strong.”  Furthermore, we find in 2 Corinthians 12:8 that God’s grace is always sufficient and it is displayed most fully through our weaknesses, for God’s “strength is made perfect in weakness.”

The above verses were penned by a man not at all foreign to God’s grace.  If Peter seemed an unlikely match for carrying the gospel after his three strikes, Paul would have been the unlikeliest.  A passionate persecutor of the early church, Paul had personally seen to the imprisonment and execution of many Christians.  It was he that stood by in approval of Stephan’s stoning.  And it was during one of his pursuits to fulfill his “murderous threats” that God demonstrated the extent of His grace (Acts 9).  Paul would never be the same.

The unlikeliest man became the chosen man to deliver God’s grace to the unlikeliest people – the gentiles.   To say that Paul was a leading apostle would not do it justice, considering that at least 13 of the New Testament’s 27 books are attributed to him.  Yet, as Paul admits throughout his writings, he did not deserve his position: ” For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9).  This is repeated again in Ephesians 3:9:  “Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ.”   Paul understood grace.

Paul’s message was grace, grace, and grace again.  What of our sins?  “Grace,” Paul would answer.  What about our works?  “Grace,” he would echo.  But how can I . . . ?  “Grace and more grace” he would again declare.  And here comes the challenge:  What of our relationships with others?  “Grace – make your conversations full of it (Colossians 4:6) and extend it generously, being kind and compassionate and forgiving to others just as God has been to us (Ephesians 4:32 & Colossians 3:13).

Grace both necessitates and enables graciousness toward others.  The realization of our own undeservedness and the revelation of God’s love despite this fact must also carry into our perception of others.  There is nothing like grace to defeat our prejudices.  Our own reception of grace should inspire within us the truth that no one is beyond God’s reach.  And if God wants to reach them, why shouldn’t we?

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
(Romans 5:8)


To view “Grace to be Gracious (Part 1)”, please click here.
To view “Grace to be Gracious (Part 3) Audio Message”, please click here.
To view a list of articles written by Lesley, simply Click Here!


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Grace to Be Gracious (Part 1)

grace[1]“A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” ( John 13:34-35).

Jesus’ words form the backdrop to a lesson His disciple Peter is soon to learn.  Certainly the last three years had been the most revelatory of any Peter had experienced, though none were as pivotal as what was yet to come.

Jesus continued, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’  Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now?  I will lay down my life for you.’  Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me?  I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!'” (John 13:36-37).

And so it went.  Three years of loyal discipleship appear to reach a bitter end.  Three times Peter disowns Jesus and for three days he is left with the grief over his master in a tomb.

It’s so easy to brood over the remorse of our last moments with loved ones.  Did we say ‘I love you’?  Was our last goodbye with an embrace?  Did we fully express our appreciation like we should have?  At times our last moments are in strife.  Perhaps there was a disagreement.  Perhaps we needed to ask forgiveness and didn’t get the chance.  This is the torment Peter no doubt faced. His last memories were of Jesus’ eyes locked on his . . . just as the rooster crowed.  Jesus knew, and there was no time for apologies.

Thankfully, we serve a God who can raise up even something that’s dead.  After three days, Christ was raised, and within His third appearance to His disciples, He was about to raise up a broken Simon Peter.  The three betrayals were met with three questions from Jesus.

First:     “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
Second: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
Third:   “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Three times Peter was given the opportunity to replace each rejection with an affirmation of his love for Jesus.  My NIV Bible offers the heading “Jesus Reinstates Peter” to this passage.  It is a powerful illustration of second chances.  It is a powerful demonstration of GRACE.  

It is interesting that the disciple whose actions should have caused the greatest offense against Jesus went on to become the one whom most scholars agree was the head apostle.  Peter was also the first to receive the revelation concerning the acceptance of the gentiles.  Within his vision, the Lord revealed to him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10: 15).  This would have been a major challenge to their prejudicial mindsets during that time – but Peter understood grace.

It is difficult to be gracious to others if you can’t receive grace for yourself.  Pride is at the crux of this dilemma.  After all, how can God’s blessings be recognized as an act of grace if we feel we deserve them?  Grace can only be received in humility.  Likewise, true graciousness can only be offered out of humility.  True graciousness is an extension from the understanding of the grace God has given. 

Jesus points out this principle as his feet were being wet with the tears of a sinful woman, washed by her hair, and anointed with her perfume.  This woman had been extended grace, and Jesus references her actions as a window into the nature of love – and, I believe, grace as well.  After all, grace is the extension of God’s love.  Jesus stated, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much.  But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47).  Similarly, Peter had been forgiven much, and he would soon be called to love much.  Grace would call him to be gracious. 

Remember the backdrop to Peter’s pivotal lesson?  Jesus had just finished commanding His disciples to love one another to such an extent that others would recognize they were disciples of Christ.   He then told Peter that where He was about to go, Peter couldn’t follow . . . “but you will follow later.”  This is likely in regards to Christ’s death, resurrection and heavenly ascension.  Nonetheless, there seems to be great symbolism within this statement as well, given the lesson Peter was soon to undergo.  At that time, Peter was incapable of following Jesus’ command to love just as He had loved.  Peter had yet to fully comprehend his own need for grace.  He was still convinced of his own abilities. Until . . .

Until his betrayal and reinstatement. It is interesting that after each opportunity Peter had to replace his betrayals with affirmations, Jesus gave these commands:

First:    “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
               “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
               “Feed my lambs.”

Second: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
                 “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
                 “Take care of my sheep.”

Third:   “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
               “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
               “Feed my sheep.”

These commands can be easily romanticized on our super-spiritual highs. However, there will be lows. The “sheep” and “lambs” are not always so cute and cuddly. Sometimes they seem downright baaa-d. (Sorry, I had to – I’m a children’s author after all!)  Personally, in these times I’ve learned that I will not be able to extend grace if I don’t bring to remembrance the grace given to me!

” . . . to you who are listening I say:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . .

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.
And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? . . .
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.
Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High,
because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
(Luke 6:27-36)


To view Grace to Be Gracious (Part 2), click here.
To view Grace to Be Gracious (Part 3) – Audio Message, click here.
To view more articles written by Lesley, simply
Click Here!


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A Lesson in Childlike Faith with Paul the “Opossum”

Copyright: <a href="http://www.123rf.com/profile_dreamerve">dreamerve / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

One of the nightly routines before our daughters’ bedtime is to read from their children’s Bible.  At one point, it struck me that our Bible version neglected to include anything that occurred after the gospels.  So off I marched to retrieve my own Bible.

I thumbed through the pages and was satisfied to land within the book of Acts.  “Let me introduce you to Paul the Apostle!” I dramatized.  My girls snuggled in on either side, laying their feathery blonde heads on my shoulders.  (Now, let me interrupt this story with an important detail: the ages of my children were around five and two at the time.  Yes, parents, you know what is about to happen!)  I began our Bible story at the road to Damascus with as much zeal as Paul (named Saul before his conversion) himself possessed:

“Acts Chapter 9, ‘Then Saul, still breathing threats . . .’ ”
(I felt a tap-tap on my arm.)
“Mommy, what is a threat?”
(I respond.)
“Then Saul, still breathing threats . . .”
(A less gentle tap-tap.)
“But how do you breathe a threat?”
(Response.)
“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord . . .”
(Tap-tap-Whack.)
“What’s muwdew (murder)?”
“What’s a siple (disciple)?”
(Questions fired from both sides now. Resolve. Move forward.)
“. . . suddenly a light shone around him from heaven . . .”
(Tap.  Smack!  Ouch.)
“Mommy . . . what was the light . . . the light . . . what did the light look like?”
(Attempt answer.  Close Bible.  Rub temple.  Deep breath.)

Nearly every night was the same.  In the end, I felt as though I had taught a master’s course.  Surely, my children could not possibly think of another question!  Some weeks passed and Paul the Apostle seemed to have settled nicely into the foundations of their knowledge base.  I felt confident that my children had an impressive grasp on Paul’s ministry for their ages.  Then one day, my eldest daughter turned to me and asked perhaps the most important question of all, “Mommy, was Paul an apostle or an opossum?”

Let me interrupt once again to identify one of the practical reasons we place pictures in children’s Bibles.  Was Paul an opossum?  The question was shocking and adorable all at once.  I love to write down these little quotes from my children.  Years later, this one always brings a smile to my face.  This time, however, as I thought about my daughter’s question, epiphany hit.  I no longer viewed this question as simply a humorous example of a child’s misunderstanding. I had missed a deeper lesson within this question, one in which I am the student and my daughter the teacher . . . childlike faith.

Childlike faith is often interpreted to mean that we should believe just about anything.  I will never suggest that true faith is not grounded in understanding.  In the case of my daughter, though she misunderstood a particular detail about the person of Paul, she demonstrated greater understanding of the nature of God than most adults do.  The message within the book of Acts is never meant to teach what humans can accomplish.  Rather, the truth and revelation this book offers is what God will accomplish through humans.  To my daughter, it didn’t matter whether Paul was a human apostle or whether he was an opossum, her God was mighty to do anything through whomever He chose.

Be it an opossum, or a donkey as with Balaam (see Numbers 22:28), or a whale with Jonah, God can use them to accomplish His will.  My daughter didn’t seem to mind the impossibilities, inadequacies, or weaknesses.  I have talked to many people who have a desire and a vision to do great things.  The common problem is that their vision falls short when they make themselves the main character.  I am well acquainted with the “I don’t think I can do that” mentality.  From the outside this may be mistaken for humility, but let’s not be deceived.  Humility is something very different.

I am reminded of the story in Exodus 3 when Moses received his calling.  Actually, I want to direct our attention to the moments before this reception, because Moses wasn’t exactly up for the challenge at first.  God revealed his purpose to Moses, saying, So now, go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Ex 3:10).  And Moses responds, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11), and “Pardon your servant, Lord.  I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant.  I am slow of speech and tongue” (Ex 4:10).

Humble responses?  After all, Moses seemed to understand his own human inadequacies.  Yet, God tries to refocus Moses’ mentality.  Something was out of alignment.  “The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths?  Who makes them deaf or mute?  Who gives them sight or makes them blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say’” (Ex 4:11-12).  God did not congratulate Moses on his humility.  Instead, the passage later states that the Lord’s anger burned against him.  Moses was locked in an “I” mentality, focusing only on the “I can’t, I am not good enough.”  All the while, God was trying to tell Moses that it was not really about him in the first place.

Scripture could not be more decisive on this point.  1 Corinthians 1:27 states, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”  Acts 4:13 reveals that “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”  There are many more, but it may be most appropriate to conclude with words from our very own “Opossum” Paul, who wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9-11: “But He [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.”


 

To view other articles written by Lesley, simply Click Here!