A question grabs my soul and refuses to let go: How do we love those who don’t love us? Like hugging a prickly porcupine there’s no easy way to do it. It’s going to hurt. It would be much easier to avoid the barbed beast than embrace its unembraceable self. Who wants to be kind to one who speaks unkindly about us? Who wants to keep no record of wrong doing with one who insists on keeping us in a box? Who wants to stop judging one who judges us unfairly? Not me. But we follow a Lord who has this thing about loving the unlovable. We can ask Peter, the one with foot in mouth disease. Or Mary Magdalene, the one with seven demons . Or Zacchaeus, the one who stole hard- earned wages. Or the Roman soldier who drove nails into His hands. They will all tell us the same thing. “I don’t know why He loves me, but He does. And because He does, I’m different.” That’s why being a Christian isn’t for wimps. It takes guts to grab a pointy porcupine. Our Lord and Savior says to you and me, “Surround the ‘enemy’s’ presence with peace. Refuse to fight spike to spike. When you see them, see Me. I’m there, believe it or not. I created them in my image. Find Me in their face. Keep looking. Don’t give up. Call on Me. I will help you see what I see, and I will help them be who I made them to be.” Lord God, heal our hurt hearts. Free us from attaching strings and expecting things. Give us renewed courage to reengage in the battle to love as You love. We adore You, O Christ, now and forever. Amen.
C-H-A-N-G-E! Boldly in four inch letters I printed the word across the brochure declaring to its readers that the United Methodist charge conferences were going to be different. As Conference Council Director I eagerly placed it in the hands of the bishop for final approval before it was distributed to all Louisiana pastors. His response was immediate. “Consider using a different word, Leslie. Most people don’t like that word.” But God sure does. He loves change. His creation declares it. Our bodies refuse to deny it. Change teaches us flexibility. Through change we learn to let go and trust what is to come. However, If that trust has been violated too many times in our lives we find ourselves resistant to change. We seek comfort in keeping things as they’ve always been. Like a flailing trapeze artist refusing the bar swung her way we hang mid air holding on to what’s familiar unable to go anywhere. So, go for it. If God is nudging you to make a change in your life, do it. Jump! Leap! Resist the temptation to figure it all out . Remember His promise, “I will never leave or forsake you.” You can’t have a better safety net than that! Lord, our “What if” looms large. What if this isn’t you? What if this is the wrong thing to do? Help us Lord to trust you to send signs to point us in the right direction. Turn our panic to peace so that we may see Your signs and hear Your voice. We adore You, O Christ, now and forever. Amen. P.S. I find this fascinating. I thought I was writing this article to tell you I was going to stop Leslie’s Learnings while beginning my next doctoral course. That’s not where He led me. Guess He thinks I can handle what feels impossible to me. Definitely didn’t anticipate that sign! Swinging mid air with you, Leslie
My dad loves food. Like an artist with a pallet of colors he scans the table and decides what belongs on his plate. Before the first bite is taken he carefully parts his potato and lavishly bathes it in butter, salt and pepper. Patiently, diligently he carves succulent steak into delectable bites. Green beans are smothered with butter and seasonings. Broiled bread is rebuttered and topped with mounds of strawberry jam. Finally, the artist is ready to view his work. Bravissimo! The masterpiece is complete. The bite is savored. Contentment spreads across his face. And he begins what we have just finished . . Dinner. That’s the way it is with us and our time. Too often we say, “I know I should do it but I don’t have the time.” I want to pray. But . . . I don’t have the time. I want to read the scriptures. But . . . I don’t have the time. I want to spend time with my family. But, I don’t have the time. But here’s the bottom line . . . We make time for what matters. We scan the options of our day, and we decide what to put on our plate. No one does it for us. We do it. The problem is that often we forget who’s in charge. Absolutely no one but my dad is going to decide what belongs on that palatable plate. And he alone will decide how and when he is going to devour every delicious bite. That’s how much control we have over our time. We decide. We decide what. We decide how. We decide when. But when we forget to decide . . time manages us, because we failed to manage time. As Christians we have an amazing meal planner available to us. The Holy Spirit. Each morning He hopes we’ll sit long enough to talk with Him about what belongs on our plate and what doesn’t. Each morning He hopes we’ll follow His meal plan, not ours. Each morning He hopes we’ll be His Kingdom builders waiting for “Bravissimo! The masterpiece is complete!” Help us, Lord, to hear Your heart as we plan our day. Free us for joyful obedience. We adore You, O Christ, now and forever.
A couple of days ago while riding my bike at a rapid pace I hit a curb, lost control of the bike, and landed with a horrific thud on my head with my bike on top of me. Five staples later in the back of my head I left the emergency room vowing to change my ways and wear a helmet. I don’t like helmets. But bottom line . . Helmets protect. That ‘s their purpose. If they aren’t used, they can’t do what they are supposed to do. It’s the same way with prayer. Repeatedly the scriptures urge us to “Pray for one another. Pray without ceasing. ” Prayer places Perfect Love, Wisdom, and Power in our lives. If we don’t pray, prayer can’t do what it’s supposed to do. When we’re angry, confused, frustrated, hurt, overwhelmed, full of fear God’s provision is prayer. But, like a helmet, we don’t want to stop and use it. It’s inconvenient to put it on. It doesn’t really seem necessary. And it feels weird. Who wants to stop and pray with someone? It’s inconvenient. Why pray for our children relentlessly through the day? It doesn’t seem necessary. Who wants to pray in the midst of an argument? It feels weird. But His answer remains the same. Put on the helmet. Pray. “Pray for your children every night, every morning, every time they come to mind. Pray with each other wherever you are whenever you can. Pray. And prayer will do what it’s supposed to do. It will place perfect love, wisdom, and power in your life.” Lord, help us get low enough to know that we need you every minute of every day. Stir in us an unwillingness to forget about You and a passion to include You in everything we do, think, and say. We adore You, O Christ, now and forever.
God calls us to love our neighbor as ourself. Loving oneself is not as easy as it sounds. Like termites, our insecurities and inadequacies thrive unseen as they destroy our inner foundation. Self doubt hides behind a multitude of masks. Confusion. Pride. Arrogance. Stubbornness. Judgment. Failure. All of which falsely accuse and damage the body of Christ. We need pest control. I received a refreshing spray of Raid yesterday from the Lord. While worshipping in a wonderful church, full of people, programs, and outreach ministries, the too familiar voices of self doubt began taunting my soul. “You aren’t doing this at Luke, Leslie. You should be. You don’t know how to lead. You should quit. You’re just not good enough.” Immediately the Lord spoke to my soul. “Leslie, you are comparing apples with oranges. Stop! This church is an orange. It’s a great orange. Enjoy it for what it is. A delicious, ripe, and juicy orange. I called you to be an apple. You are to lead people in love. Luke is an amazing community of people who refuse to give up on learning how to love. They embrace intimacy, vulnerability, and flexibility. They are a delicious, ripe, and juicy apple. When you sit in another church and think, ‘I’m a terrible orange,’ you miss the joy of being an apple. Enjoy being what I created you to be. So you can enjoy how I created others to be.” The termites died. Comparing ourselves to others is one of the quickest ways to lose our joy and sense of direction. Lord God, free us to love ourselves as You love us. We adore You, O Christ, now and forever. Amen.
Recently I ran across a radical thought. “True community exists when the person you dislike most dies or moves away and someone worse takes that place.” Quaker proverb Many of us work hard at getting those problem people out of our lives. Feelings of anger, resentment, and frustration abound in their presence. We want peace, harmony, and tranquility. So what’s the best solution? We pray for, hope for, and deeply desire distance. But God sees it differently. What a surprise! When those problem people plop themselves into our lives as neighbors, coworkers, family members, or unavoidable acquaintances God’s telling you and me, “Get ready to sweat.” Problem people seem to be God’s exercise of choice for developing community. The grueling reps begin. Serve In love. Forgive them. Understand. Trust in Me. Again. Serve In love. Forgive them. Understand. Trust in Me. Again. Serve In love. Forgive them. Understand. Trust in Me. Hard work. Sweaty. Exhausting. But . . . slowly . . . steadily . . .the community is strengthened. And the Body of Christ becomes healthier. Lord God, forgive us when we become weary and wary of loving. Use us. Make us sweat, Lord. Teach us how to love the way You love. We adore You, O Christ, now and forever.
Space is a rare commodity. Especially in relationships. Something of great value. Full of grace. Space allows others to be who they are . Space says, “I take you as you are. Not as I want you to be. I want you to be kinder. More thoughtful. Drink less. Weigh less. Pray more. Do more . . . But I refuse to restrict you with my expectations. I love you as you are. Warts and all.” Space requires tenacity, trust and self love. It refuses to give up, insists on trusting God to fix what feels unfixable, and focuses on accepting oneself – warts and all. Once one knows how to give space serenity happens. I’m watching serenity happen as I write. And it is glorious. Frank and I are spending three days with Frank’s best friend of seventy years and his family. We are nineteen people living in one large home on the beach. I am fascinated, enthralled, awed at their capacity to let one another be. Control, manipulation, and judgment are non existent! It is beautiful, easy, sweet. It is serenity. Their dad, Vic, would be the first to tell you that he is a recovering alcoholic of twenty seven years. And his wife has become a sought after mentor and teacher for Al Anon. As they celebrate fifty years of marriage today they are surrounded with the fruit of space . . .serenity. And it is a magnificent work of art to behold. May we all pray the prayer of St. Francis as we live into a brand new day: Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. We adore you, O Christ, now and forever. Amen.
Have you read Psalm 19 lately? It’s a magnificent message about God revealing Himself to His creation. This morning, when my heart was overflowing with gratitude to the Lord for our softball team, I didn’t understand why I kept hearing Psalm 19. So I read it. And immediately I understood. David, the author of the psalm, is about to burst with wisdom and insight. He gets how God makes Himself known to humanity and it practically undoes him. With arms wide open he shouts, “You go God. I love how You use the mind boggling splendor of the stars and sun to expose Your excellence. I totally get how You make Your nature known through Your law. You are awesome . . . amazing!” And then suddenly without any warning a painful awareness silences the praise. An incredulous thought crosses his mind. “Humanity knows You because of Your heavens, because of Your law . . . and because of me?! You want to use me to reveal Yourself to Your creation?!” Weak knees wobble. Holy hands tremble. An outstretched body bends. And a humbled soul confesses. “Help me, Lord. I am a sinner.” And, the praiser pleads to the One he loves. “Please, Lord, help me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to You, my strength and my Redeemer.” My heart felt “strangely warmed”. Three thousand years collapsed into one moment with a realization. God delights in revealing Himself to His creation through ten men and women on a softball field. With their favorite scripture shouting from their backs and words of encouragement pouring from their mouths the Apostles softball team declare the reality of the One they love. It’s what God wants to do with each of us. He yearns to use our words and our actions to make Himself known to His creation. Love. Grace. Mercy. They are ours to give that others may live. Please, Lord, help us. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to You, our strength and our Redeemer.” We adore You, O Christ, now and forever. Amen.
My precious Frank and I were frustrated with each other. Deep down I knew my pathology of control was in full swing. But, when you’re ticked off with someone, self-reflection is the last activity in which you want to engage. Blame and judgment are far more enjoyable companions. So, I thoroughly enjoyed their company. As I confessed the error of my ways during my sermon the following morning my eight-year-old grandson’s hand shot like an arrow into the air. Knowing that he was within hearing distance of our disagreement I trembled at the thought of what he might say. So, I chose to ignore the waving request with “We’ll talk about it later, Walker, okay bud?” The congregation chuckled, and we moved on. Quickly. Shortly following our worship service I received a phone call. “Leslie, I was sitting in front of Walker and I thought you might want to know what I heard him say.” My mind raced fearfully. “When you didn’t call on him he turned to his buddy next to him and said, ‘I wanted to tell Laelae that I want to be baptized.’” I couldn’t speak. The lump in my throat was too big. We think we know what someone else is thinking. I was certain Walker wanted to bear witness to my mistakes. He just wanted to bear witness to God’s grace. Amazing. Lord, save us from ourselves. Save us from thinking that we know what others are thinking. Have mercy on us, most merciful Savior. Have mercy.
When someone hurts us we want to hurt back. It’s a natural instinct. Animalistic actually. A dog is bitten. A dog bites back. A dog is beaten. A dog fights back. But when a dog is beaten until it’s broken, the dog cowers in fear hurting itself more than the assailant. Naturally we humans view this behavior as normal. People hurt us. We hurt them. With our words. Our actions. We want them to hurt. And we want it now. But we have an amazing God who is asking us to fight, not others, but our own natural instincts. To let love become our natural response to hate. To separate ourselves in the animal kingdom. Behave differently. Refuse to attack. Refuse to cower. Remain constant in patience and kindness. Trash the records of others’ wrong doings. He knows it’s against our nature. And He knows we need Him – the One whose name is Love – to help us fight right. We are His wounded warriors. We reject revenge. We relinquish it to our Captain. (Romans 12:19) We bend low in love. And hold on valiantly to the hope for His Kingdom. So, onward Lord!!! Lead us into a land where love lives triumphantly! We are Yours now and forever! So be it!