Lesley (Dahlseng) Rieland

Children's Book Author and Christian Blogger

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Wanted: Followers, Not Leaders!


“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse!  The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.   And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him ” (Revelations 19:11-14).

I will never forget it.  It was New Year’s Day of 2014.   I had traveled to the cities to visit friends and then spent the night in a hotel.  I spent the next morning sipping on hotel coffee in my room, praying and journaling a bit before checkout time.  It may sound spiritual, but in truth I was mulling over and bemoaning my lot in life and praying for a change.  My justification for these feelings was that I wasn’t “doing” much for God.  A holy desire, right?  That’s when I heard His reply:  “I’m not looking for leaders.  I’m looking for followers.”  There are few times that I’ve heard something so clearly.  

I was wanting God to follow my plan instead of me following His, and He knocked me right off my horse.  The above passage in Revelations serves to remind me of who the true leader is.  God is not looking for leaders, He is looking for followers.  Christ leads the battle.  Christ wins the battle.  It is only by Christ.  The same is true in every current struggle we face or goal that we set.  If we remain paralyzed by fear or complacency in our lives, we have made ourselves the leader.  On the other hand, if our efforts to move forward and further God’s kingdom are not done in the spirit of humility – in surrender to Him – in the end, we have mostly furthered our own kingdom.  

Number 9:15-23 is perhaps one of the most repetitive passages in Scripture.  If God found it important enough to repeat over and over again, then it is worth our meditation.  I dare say that if this was the only Scripture I knew, I would still be well equipped.

“On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it.  From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire.  That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire.  Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped.  At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped.  As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp.  When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out.  Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out.  Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out.  Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out.  Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.  At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out.  They obeyed the Lord’s order . . .”

Again, God is not looking for leaders.  He is looking for followers.  Jesus’ invitation was not simply, “Let’s go together!” though that seems to be the new trend in preaching today.  Rather, His call was to “Come, follow Me.” (Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17).  Even the Apostle Paul was a follower before he was a leader.  He emphasized the importance of this in his letter to the Corinthians by this correction: “For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?  What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task” (1 Corinthians 3:4-5).  Paul’s invitation to “Follow me” was with a condition.  His condition was “as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

So whether the temptation is to charge ahead in life or to remain as is, check to see whether that cloud of God’s Spirit is staying or going.  It may not fit our plan.  It may not feel comfortable.  It may stretch us further than we can imagine stretching.  Some of our pride may even get hurt . . . let it!   Our victory is only found in the humble obedience of one call: “Follow me.”

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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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Lesley’s Review of “Mother, Mother, I Want Another”

Mother Mother I Want AnotherFor the Joy of Literacy!

Author:  Maria Polushkin Robbins
Illustrator:  Jon Goodell
Publisher:  Dragonfly Books

As the bedtime ritual comes to a close, Mrs. Mouse gives her son a bedtime kiss. Everything has gone smoothly thus far, until Mrs. Mouse turns to leave the room. Baby mouse then begins to cry: “I want another, Mother!” Desperate to appease baby mouse’s cries, Mrs. Mouse runs to fetch Mrs. Duck who attempts to calm baby mouse with a very ducky lullaby. When this doesn’t work, they call on Mrs. Frog. After five mothers fail at consoling him, baby finally explains: “No more mothers! . . . I want another KISS!” Each mother kisses baby mouse goodbye. Then he is tucked cozy into bed and finally receives ANOTHER kiss from his mother.

Text Review: What a cleverly sweet twist! There is never a boring page. Each mother’s lullaby is a nice addition, interspersing well-written rhyme while giving our young readers insight into each animal’s characteristics. The ending creates every feeling that a great bedtime picture book should.

Illustration Review: I give it 5+ stars.

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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
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Lesley’s Review of “A Lullaby for Little One”

A lullaby for little oneFor the Joy of Literacy!

Author:  Dawn Casey
Illustrator:  Charles Fuge
Publisher:  Nosy Crow

Dawn Casey and Charles Fuge join forces in this tale of father-child bonding.  It is evening and Big Daddy Rabbit invites his Little One along for some purely sweet frolicking – chasing each other though the woods, playing hide-and-seek, dancing and splashing.  They are joined throughout the story by an owl, a mouse, and a very friendly bear.  Each page-turn is a delight, filled with bright and beautiful color.  There is no shortage of character cuteness.   

The story rides a light-hearted high until it is interrupted by a sudden whimper.  As with most little ones, the excitement can quickly end when all energy is spent and bedtime calls.  “Are you all worn out from that hullaballo?” asks the father.  “Maybe it’s time for a lullaballoo.”  A rose and yellow watercolor sunset spreads atop the page as Big Rabbit carries his Little One away and their friends wave goodnight.  We are left with a sense of completion and comfort seeing these two furry creatures snuggle together for some sweet dreams, making it a wonderful bedtime book for us to settle into a snuggle with our own little ones. 

These illustrations are fantastic, and I believe a child of any age would enjoy looking through this book.  Fuge brings great expression and feeling to the story.  The text, also, has the potential for added dramatic expression, using words that may tickle the ears of young children – whooped and swooped, splashed and sploshed, and snuffled and snuggled.  The storyline is short and in a very simple rhyme, setting the ideal audience target to a younger crowd of around two to five years old. 

I post my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as well.
If you found this recommendation helpful, I’d love to know!
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Patiently Press Toward Your Destiny

HourglassTo the faithful followers of Christ, those who have said “yes” to God. 

Perhaps the “yes” was within your first prayer of repentance, or perhaps it was concerning a specific endeavor.  Regardless of the agreement, I extend these words to you . . . keep going!  If the time for this needed encouragement has yet to transpire, then may it echo into your future need.  KEEP GOING!

An understanding follower of Christ will possess the foreknowledge that with every call will come at some point a test of patient endurance.  On the other hand, what is evasive to our understanding is this test’s longevity.  A test of this kind necessitates such evasion of understanding, for no test of patience can be effective if it ends sooner than we expect, nor even within our expectancy.  No, by nature it must extend beyond our own limits in order to pull us into the limitless grace of God, whose works within us are counted just as much treasures as the works He will do through us – even more so.  For our destiny is not comprised merely of our earthly accomplishments, it is to radiate the image in which we were made in the beginning, that being the image of God.  More specifically, our destiny is to be conformed to the image of the Christ who did nothing of Himself, but only what His Father showed Him (Romans 8:29 and John 8:28).

Here are two truths for us to cling to during any test of endurance.  First, that your “yes” was to God and God alone . . . not to a career, not to a ministry, not to any person or pursuit, and no matter how worthy the cause.  Second, that your destiny will automatically follow if you can hold tight to the first.

Should we be surprised when doubt’s voice shouts louder than that of our original hope, when discouragement becomes an all-too-frequent solicitor?  Do not be ignorant.  The moment we set our course towards our destiny, there is also destined to be an opposition, a plan masterfully wrought to play upon our weaknesses and pervert our strengths.

Above all, its strategy is to confuse our goal.  The moment we say “yes” to God, it works tirelessly to redirect our measurement of success.  If our goal can become earthly, then not only can success be stolen from us, the labels of success and failure are apt to be misapplied as well. But if ours is a goal beyond this world, it is also beyond the reach of even our craftiest opposition.

Had the prophets of old measured their success by the world’s reaction, discouragement would likely have risen victorious.  Like Ezekiel, whose call was regardless of “whether they listen or fail to listen” (Ezekiel 2:5), the fulfilling of our destiny also is dependent not upon anything in or of this world but rather in our fulfillment of each and every “yes, God”.

It is of no surprise that Ezekiel was first shown the peculiar heavenly creatures, whose striking behavior was that “each one went straight ahead, and wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went” (Ezekiel 1:12).  Likewise, we are to set our compass toward God Himself and wherever the Spirit goes, so too shall we.  We mustn’t turn.

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).  Therefore, keep going!  We cannot risk any turn, not a turning to look back as Lot’s wife did – who, seduced by the past, stands to this day as a warning concerning such a seduction’s entrapment.  Pay heed to the mistake of Israel, who “did not consider her destiny; therefore her collapse was awesome” (Lamentations 1:9).  Remember, also, God’s words to the Israelites before the Red Sea:  “Why do you cry to Me?  Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15).

Do not be confused if even within your “yes” to God, your worldly fulfillment of it seems far-off.  Our God is never complacent, so be assured that even while our earthly positioning or situation seems to be at a standstill, He is continually at work to position us in higher spiritual standing – from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).  The design of patience is not to generate inactivity but rather to actively and continually confirm a “yes” to the will of God over your own.  Patience is not lost ground nor is it lost time.  Thus, in whatever form the Lord designs – keep going!  Continue enduring!  Your destiny awaits, if you do not turn from the One who first predestined it.   Press on . . .

 ” . . . press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [you] heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 3:14)

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