Lesley (Dahlseng) Rieland

Children's Book Author and Christian Blogger


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Intentional Optimism

Optimism


Children usually offer a fresh perspective. I had been brushing my youngest daughter’s teeth when out of the blue she asked me: “Mommy, do we have an easy life?”

Life doesn’t always feel easy, but I didn’t want to answer negatively and squash her preciously childlike sense of comfort. On the other hand, I also didn’t want to give her a false impression that life never has its challenges. Sometimes it’s appropriate to just get down to the basics:

“What do you think?” I asked. “Do you ever have to worry whether you have enough food?”
“No.” she answered.
“Do you ever have to sleep out in the cold?”
This question seemed to strike a chord.
“No. I have a nice warm bed . . .”
She wrapped her arms around herself in a warm self-squeeze sort of way, then continued with dreamy appreciation:
” . . . it protects me from frostbite . . . and from tarantulas . . . and from being run over!”

Now, Frostbite I can understand since we are Minnesotans . . . but tarantulas? Being run over? Though these never would have occurred to me, they were obviously an important matter to my then six-year-old daughter, and I could only conclude that she was better off because of it – after all, she had two extra items on her list of thanksgivings than I had considered. She bounced off with renewed joy and contentment in this newfound revelation. Life really is a matter of perspective.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8

Life isn’t always easy. Whether it be in our health, our careers, or our relationships, we will have seasons in which joy seems far-off. These are not the times to retreat into our own self-pity, as fun as that may be. And if you’re not dead, then these are not the times to roll over and play as though you are. Rather, these are times for battle. As the enemy tries to gain territory in our thought-life, our choice weapon should be thanksgiving.

Thankfully, God is an optimist. Though He is not ignorant of our shortcomings, His focus is on both our current progress and our potential. Likewise, we need to rein in any negative thoughts and direct them toward anything and everything for which we can give thanks.  Optimism identifies both the present and the potential blessings in our lives.  Optimism is a choice.

I realize that others’ circumstances can be far more trying than most.  And I do not mean to whitewash every situation with a wrong Christian idea that we should remain in a harmful situation, buck up, and give thanks.  If your situation is destructive then please ask God if, when, and how to remove yourself from it.   The prescription does not change even in this, however.  Finding something to be thankful for will give you the strength you need to move forward by nurturing and supporting HOPE.  

1 Thessalonians 5:18 states, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”  Similarly, Ephesians 5:20 states, ” . . . always [give] thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Again, this is not to say that we should be thankful for everything in and of itself. Gratitude is not intended for anything outside of God’s will. While we may not be thankful for each circumstance, we can choose to be thankful within each circumstance.

After all, sometimes it’s appropriate to just get down to the basics! My daughter was thankful that she had a warm bed which protected her not only from frostbite but also supposedly from tarantulas and being run over. I can be thankful for that and so much more!  Even if all else fails, I still know One who loves me. I know One who listens to me, One who leads me and never leaves me, and One whose joy is for eternity – Jesus Christ.  That’s enough to fill my jar more than half full!

” . . . my cup runneth over . . .” 
(Psalm 23:5)

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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)


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Everlasting Joy is Never Out of Season

The third chapter of Ecclesiastes begins with this wisdom, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”

Growing up in North Dakota, I know my fair share of seasons.  As a farmer’s daughter, I experienced season changes with even greater meaning.  There was the labor of seed-time in which the fields  swallowed up what we offered and the only immediate fruit was the dirt and grease covering from head to toe.  The fields would then change faces to reveal bright, new life – an encouragement that the labor was not in vain.  Next, waiting and maturing.  Then eventually knowing their time has passed, these fields offered up their life.  Their stripped appearance revealed their sacrifice; they had fulfilled their God-given purpose.  Then, winter slumber never failed to call and a they would be hidden in blankets of white.

It is one thing to admire the seasons on display in nature.  The real challenge is facing the seasons in our lives personally and recognizing their beauty.  Solomon understood this when he wrote later in the same chapter, “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time” (v. 10-11).

As Solomon described, our own lives vary from seasons of mourning and weeping to times of laughter and dance, peace and war, love and hate.  Not that everything in our lives can be attributed to the will of God.  Let’s face it, God does not will for us to sin, and sin is ultimately the cause of our mourning, weeping, war, and hate in this world.  Nonetheless, we can rest in the assurance that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  We will go in and out of seasons of mourning and seasons of war.  Amongst all these, however, there is one constant in which God intends for us to remain . . . JOY.  May our JOY never go out of season.

Indeed, it seems quite strange to announce that we are to have joy even within seasons of pain.  Yet, never is it more vital than during those very times.  As it states in Nehemiah 8:10, it is the joy of the Lord that is our strength.  Not just any joy – the joy of the Lord.  So how are we to navigate the more trying seasons?  How can we be strengthened with the joy of the Lord?

Ultimately, the Psalmist knew it well, that joy comes from being in the presence of God.  Psalm 16:11 sings out, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” and Psalm 21:6 says that we are made glad “by the joy of Your presence”.  Joy, after all, is a fruit of God’s presence – His Spirit – in us (Galatians 5:22).  And when God’s presence invades our space, Eternity invades our time.  Again the Psalmist:   “you lovers of the Eternal . . . Light is sown in the just; as it grows, it brings joy to the pure of heart.  Celebrate the Eternal God” (Psalm 97:10-12).  Abiding in God’s eternal presence and perspective . . . this is the key to joy.

The New Testament apostles lived in such a way that far outshined our romanticized “carpe diem” ambitions.  They not only lived in the moment, they lived for Eternity.  How else could James exhort us to “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).  It is the reason Peter encourages us to “be happy that you are sharing in Christ’s sufferings so that you will be happy and full of joy when Christ comes again in glory” (1 Peter 4:13).  As Paul states in Romans 8:18, “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.”  And again in 2 Corinthians 4:17, Paul directs us unto the Eternal: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

I am slowly learning to view my present with the eyes of the Eternal.  Remember the burden Solomon spoke of?  “I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11).  Within that very same verse 11 is this interesting bit of wisdom: “He has set eternity in the heart of man.”

An eternity mindset is not one of escapism.  We are here for a purpose.  Our purpose cannot be wholly fulfilled on the earth, however, if we grasp for things of the earth.  Yes, I believe in a God who works all things for good and I believe it for the here and now, but my ultimate hope is for a good that endures.  I believe in a God whose desire is to prosper us in all things (3 John 1:2).  However, in our prosperity, let us not chase after the world (1 John 2:15, Colossians 3:2).  In Christ we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37), but let it be for His kingdom and not our own.  Overcomers?  Yes, just like Christ!  Just remember that it’s the world we are to overcome (John 16:33, 1 John 5:4).  I praise God that He heals me now, yet I will praise Him all the more that death itself has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55).  Hallelujah, I believe God is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).  I will press toward that prize!  And may God Himself be my exceedingly great reward (Genesis 15:1)!  May our crowns be ones of everlasting joy (Isaiah 51:11)!

I’ve long ago discovered that God can say things far better than I, so I will end with this encouragement from His Word. . .

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-3).


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Honoring Christ and His Martyrs

HeavenLast Wednesday my husband was attending a morning Bible study when it was interrupted by an urgent prayer request.  A member of a local church had a connection to missionaries in the Middle East.  Two separate messages were given.  The following are portions of these messages:

“ISIS has taken over the town . . . systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the children to denounce Jesus . . . so far not one child has.  And so far all have consequently been killed.  But not the parents.”
“We lost the city . . . they are beheading children systematically . . . within 10 minutes of where our team is working.  Thousands more fled last night . . .  Our team is unmoved and will stay.”

Where can I begin . . .

Chapter 11 of Hebrews pays honor to those who lived their lives by faith.  The list is long and it brings to remembrance those who dared to declare the word of the Lord, who stepped out in whole-hearted obedience, those who experienced miraculous deliverances, God-glorifying victories and more . . . then there were others.

“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—  the world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11:35-38).

I sense an urgent nudging to wake up.  The nudge is for the American church.  My ears are burning with the latest message from one of our nation’s largest churches.  Supposedly Christianity isn’t really about Christ after all.  It has become about us, because we need to know that “God only wants us to be happy.” When did we limit our perspective to this world?  When did we reduce His riches to earthen handiworks?  Many have taken His promises and used them as reasons for promiscuity, desiring ever more of this world and calling it His favor.  Much of our Christianity is about gaining the world, when the world should not be worthy of us.

Oh, America, what god have you worshipped?  Could it be that our god has too often been ourselves?  Let’s quickly wake up!  I will worship the One who sweat drops of blood in a garden, preparing to plant His very life and make the Way for fruits of a righteous church.  No more can we afford to belittle His grace with licentiousness.

While we as His bride should have had our eyes uplifted and our voices raised in unison with that of Revelations 22:17 – “Come, Lord Jesus, Come!” – we now find a very different visitor at our doorstep.  The threats are already here.  What kind of church has our enemy come to see?

Before John the Baptist’s beheading, he sent a question to Jesus:  “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”   Within Jesus’ reply was this declaration, that “blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”  He then addressed the crowd concerning John, “What did you go out into the desert to see?  A reed swayed by the wind?  If not, what did you go out to see?  A man dressed in fine clothes?  No, those who wear fine clothes are in king’s palaces.  Then what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  This is the one about whom it is written:  ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you'” (see Matthew 11).

Like John, I do not want to be a reed swayed by the winds of persecution.  Like John, I want to be worthy of carrying the message of Christ, acting as His ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20) and preparing the way for His second coming.  And only by His grace, I will not fall away on account of Him.  Lord, help us all!  What will the world see if – or when – that day of trial comes upon us?

Church, let’s wake up to see the worldly entanglements all around us.  We have been too preoccupied with the pleasures of this life that we forget we are only sojourners.  May we finally see this world for what it is – passing away (1 John 2:17 and 1 Corinthians 7:31) and remember where our true citizenship lies (Philippians 3:20).  Our real prize is not of this world and cannot be taken from us.  Only then can we face trials and be about His work with not only boldness, but with great joy.  It is this joy that will be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).   

In doing this we may finally honor Christ. We will honor those who risked their lives forwarding the message of our salvation. We will honor the martyrs of our own generation, those who join their father in the faith, Abraham, who looked “forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God . . . They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth . . . Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:10,16).


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Pressed, Not Crushed!

Life is full of challenges.  I’ve faced many, and I wish I could testify that I stood up to each one with full confidence, free of any doubt, discouragement, or self-pity. There’s always next time, right?  As it says in 1 Corinthians 3:18, we are changed “from glory to glory” into the same image of the glory of the Lord.  With each new challenge comes new revelation – IF your heart is open to it!

When I first began teaching in the children’s ministry over a decade ago, one of our favorite songs had a verse which paraphrased 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”  I sang it with an off-pitch yet triumphant voice, though I didn’t know fully how much that verse would mean to me until a few years of experience.  Twelve years as a Christian and I have not been immune to trials: health battles, financial pressures, miscarriage, marital struggles, personal offenses, and the various disappointments we all face.  These all have the potential to serve as dark clouds amidst my memories.  They are not.  As my mind scans through my life, some of these events are my most cherished.

Romans 8:28 tells us that “all things work out to the good of them that love God.”  I’m not saying that these struggles were all the will of God; I’m saying that the will of God is to make beauty of the ashes (Isaiah 61:3).  I’ve been pressed, not crushed.  The real beauty is that each time I find myself pressed, I come through with more of my “self” repealed and more of Him revealed.  I need not fear abandoning my own false securities, because He does not abandon me.  He never leaves us, nor does He forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).  When I admit that my own strength is not enough, then I can join the praises of the psalmists, declaring “the Lord is my strength.”

How could I know Him as Healer if I never had to trust Him for healing?  Would my life be any richer had there been no opportunity for Him to provide?  If I only faced things I could accomplish myself, would that encourage me to face something greater than myself?  Had I never felt alone, would I ever discover that His presence is enough and loose myself from the fear of rejection?  I would not know His unconditional love had I always managed to meet others’ conditions.  Let me promise you, there is a freedom in coming to the end of yourself – so long as you come to Him.

This last Sunday I heard again the story of Exodus, though one detail came to light which I’d passed over until now.  So many times I’ve heard the story set up: a Red Sea on one side and an Egyptian army on the other.  Imagine the pressure!  Then God parts the Red Sea and leads them safely upon dry land . . . This is true, in part.  However, had the Red Sea opening been their only aid, they would likely have been overcome.  The army behind may not have only pressed them, it would have crushed them.  What kept the Egyptians from attacking from behind?  “The angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them.  The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20).

I’m slowly learning to direct my attention away from the “enemy” and instead to Him who stands between me and the enemy.  Countless times, God has called out to us to not be afraid nor discouraged.  This is nearly always coupled with one promise: that He is with us.  “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged . . . the Lord will be with you'” (2 Chronicles 20:17).  “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10).  “Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you” (1 Chronicles 28:20).  “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).  “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid” (Psalm 118:6).

This is a truth I thought I’d learned many trials ago.  Yet, it was not long ago that I found myself asking Him, “where are You?”  I should have known better!  Nonetheless, His reply to me was not harsh.  Instead, His word to me was even greater:  “I am not only with you, I am within you.”  Praise God, I will overcome all trials from glory to glory!  After all, He is “Christ IN me, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).


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