Category Archives: Public Speaking

His Love Never Fails

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“Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said:
‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?’”
Job 38:1-7

Most of us are familiar with poor, righteous Job, whom God allowed to be tested. Tested far beyond what most humans could suffer. We also know Job’s faithfulness in God won out and, eventually, after losing all of his belongings, his family, even his health, he was restored. The Lord blessed him with twice as much as he had before and he lived, as our children might say, “happily ever after.”

This story is often hung over our heads and our hearts when we face trials of many kinds. Whether in our own lives or in the world beyond us, we are never far from suffering. So we are reminded that, though Job suffered near to the point of death, he did not lose sight of God. He was faithful to the end, as an example to us.

But do you know the whole story? Have you read the book of Job? I usually stop with the suffering because it’s just too painful, but I explored it a bit more recently in preparation for a preaching opportunity at church: including an ugly little part in the middle when Job questioned God, when he demanded an audience, demanded an opportunity to speak up and ask God whyyyyyyy? And who can blame him? Haven’t we all faced a low time in life when we finally broke down to say “Where are you, God?” or “How could God let this happen?” or “Please tell me, God, that you are still in this because it feels so far from what You would create.”

This past summer, I was in one of those low places. Although I had not lost hold of my faith, I questioned God. I had definitely lost hope. And I told Him that, point blank. “God, I have such faith in You, in the truth that I sit in the palm of Your Hand.” I had faith that He would be there all along, but I had lost my hope He would pull me through. I had let go of my ability to believe my prayers would be answered for the good. And let me tell you, this was a hard place to be. I was questioning God, the One who has held me and my family through trials and celebrations, through the worst and the best. But my finite human mind could no longer grasp His goodness. I empathized with Job. I needed to speak to God and I needed God to respond to me.

Hope is such an elusive sensation, isn’t it? When we have it, we love it. Makes me think of the song by the Carpenters “I’m on top of the world, looking down on creation…” But when we lack it, we feel desperate, desolate, despondent. Yet we crave hope, we keep searching for it. Why? Because it is the promise of goodness. We crave what our hearts were created for – God’s goodness, His promises for our lives, His promise of life itself.

God’s response to Job’s demands sounded almost harsh, as we would expect of a great judge. “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” Does this remind you of the “Great and Terrible Oz”? But perhaps this wasn’t God’s intent, to berate a mere mortal; perhaps God’s reply was more gentle, more loving. God took the opportunity to express to Job, to express to all of us, His great works. Job’s encounter with God continues after verses 1-7 above. For 4 long chapters, God responds to Job with an account of all He has created, all He is capable of doing, far beyond the works or imagination of man. He reminds Job who created the world and all the functioning of it.

38:16-17 – “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?”

38:34, 40:9 – “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?” “Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like His?”

39:1 – “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they will give birth?”

39:19-20 – “Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting?

God shares with Job not only what He has created, but His continued Hand in all of it. He is present in the stars, He knows the weather better than Jim Cantore, He even pays close attention to the animals, when they will give birth, where they eat, where they will build their homes. He knows it all. And He knows us.

He offered to Job … hope. When Job finally gave up, God reminding him, gently chided His child. “I have done all these things. You don’t need to question me. I’ve got this.”

This summer, as I sat on the deck of our beach house, I cried out to my heavenly Father. I begged Him to show Himself to me, to show up and prove my questions were fruitless, that He was/is still in control. As I struggled with my remaining faith and my dried up hope, I Corinthians 13:13 kept repeating in my heart, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” That threw me for a loop. I had a thin grasp on my faith, I admitted I had lost hope, and trust me, there was precious little love in my lamentations that evening. I wasn’t coming from a place of patience, kindness, or trust. I was perhaps being a tad rude with the God of the universe, certainly self-seeking and angry. Have you been there, too?

Yet, there was that still small voice, “But the greatest of these is love.”

As evening closed around me and my prayers, I knew that God’s answer to my “prayer request” wasn’t as important as His response to me. My prayer, my needs were honestly rather insignificant in light of what so many people face, certainly in light of the troubles of this world. I was not facing a health concern or family breakdown. Everyone I know was safe and sound, our homes and nation were not under attack. But yet I felt desolation, the absence of hope, and I needed the hole to be filled.

When I consider the refugees pouring from their homes in Syria, or children trapped by gang warfare and human trafficking, or lives ripped apart by addictions to drugs, alcohol, abuse, my ears ring with the cries of anguish, of desolation, of desperate need for hope. How much more are others crying out for something, just grasping for an answer, a promise that there is more. There is someone who can save them, someone who cares. That’s what we hold on to, right? Just the idea of it. Hope.

I fell asleep with the windows open so we could enjoy the sound of the wind and the ocean. Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke and was, frankly, a little irritated at the sound of the surf hitting the sand, over and over. As a mother of little kids, sometimes I just need a break in the noise. But this didn’t stop. It was more pervasive than “Why, Mommy, whyyyy?” Crash, crash, crash. The waves hit again and again. God spoke to me then as directly as He spoke to Job: This is my love. As relentlessly as the waves hit the shore, My love for you never stops. Nothing can stop my love. Not your waining faith, not your lost hope. The greatest of these is love because My love never, ever ends.

I questioned Him. I sought Him. He came to me and answered. In my desperation, in Job’s desperation, in your own desperation, we seek Him and He promises we will find Him. And that’s why we have hope. Somewhere in the pit, our souls that were created to be with our Creator are always reaching and searching for Him. In the darkest of days, no matter what our world can throw at us, we have hope that when we seek we will find. The very lack of hope, faith, and love are reminders of their existence, that we were made to crave them. When you feel that desperation, and the craving, as we all are wont to do, allow your heart to cry out. God will answer you.

Job sought an answer to his suffering and was met with a God who was willing to answer, to remind his child of what He had created. We seek answers and God meets us where we are, not necessarily with the answers we want. And just as He reminded Job, allow His creation to be a connection to His love. They are intertwined to daily remind us of all He has given.

Allow your Father to breathe His truth into you, My love, my love, my love never fails. It never stops. It never gives up. My love is for you.

 

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In the Line of Greatness

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We are often told God uses unlikely people to do His greatest work. Abraham was an old man married to an old barren woman, yet God used him to become the father of many nations.

I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Genesis 22:17-18

How honored Abraham must have felt to hear God tell him of his pending greatness. A bit overwhelmed and humbled, sure, but the human condition must have left him feeling at least a little pleased.

Moses, an orphan with a speech impediment, was used by God as one of the greatest leaders in history. Sure, he missed out on the final moments of his life’s mission to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land, but with God’s help, he had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, across the raging Red Sea, and through years of wandering in the desert wilderness. That takes great leadership, stutter or no.

Then there was David, an adulterer and murderer, who became a great king, lyricist, and poet. Paul, a persecutor of Christians… Unlikelies used for greatness. The list goes on.

When we hear of those who are not so great, it’s easier to discount them. The lowly, the bad parents, the drains on society. One such not-so-great was Rahab, a prostitute living in the sin-ridden city of Jericho. Her story in Joshua 2:1-14 reads like a great action flick.

Rahab was a bit of a mess. She was in the lowliest profession, she lied to the king of Jericho, and she committed treason by hiding spies in her home. And why? Somewhere in her soul there was a seed of faith. A tiny seed planted when she witnessed miracles by God and actions by His obedient followers. She trusted God’s workers, the spies, at their word and did what she thought best to save her family.

James 2:25 asks, “In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?”

The story of Rahab is fascinating. The Bible is our guidebook for laws, grace, and love, yet it tells us of a sinful woman who lied, committed treason, and caused others to sin through her very profession, but then later to refers to her as “righteous.” It’s nothing short of a mystery begging to be unraveled.

Sure enough, her story gets even better when we skip ahead to Matthew 1: the genealogy of Jesus.

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, …
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David.

Rahab, the great-great grandmother of King David, listed in the genealogy of Jesus. This liar, traitor, prostitute, was a person by all human accounts who should be discarded by society, but when she was offered a tiny seed, she believed. God took the crumpled mess of a woman and He allowed her to be used, not for greatness itself, but in the line of greatness.

I consider Rahab a sister, of sorts. It is only through the seeming randomness of birth – time and place – that I have not suffered a fate as lowly as hers. That any of us haven’t. But I am no less a sinner. My past and daily life are full of poor choices and outward acts of disobedience. Treason against God, so to speak. But if God could use Rahab, He certainly can use me!

During my mission trip to Honduras, we spent ten days helping at the Heart 2 Heart Children’s Village orphanage and school, playing with the children, and truly being fed through their love and warmth.

My heart was shattered as we drove through Honduras, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where it is commonplace to find children foraging for food among piles of trash, families living in tarp-covered shacks the size of my minivan, and people burning plastic inside their homes to eliminate bugs carrying malaria and dengue fever. It’s not right, how these people live. The kids at the orphanage seem to be the lucky ones. Removed from their abusive, neglectful parents to be raised in a group home, fed three simple meals a day, and given a Christian education. They’ve got it good!

But what do they do after? When is their opportunity for greatness? They’ll grow up, and what?
Go to college? Not likely.
Be adopted? Not from Honduras, a corrupt country with no ties to the Hague Adoption Convention.
Get a job, find a nice home, and start a family? Hopefully, but the statistics are not in their favor.

Greatness in Honduras and in many parts of our world seems as elusive as clean water and decent medical care.

On our second day at the Village, I came face to face with a heartbreak no mother should experience. I watched a woman bring her five children to the orphanage, sign paperwork, and leave them. Esther, Luis, Johanna, Lorraine, and Naomi range in age from 8 to 1 1/2 – the littlest the same age as my little Audrey. And just like my daughter in strange new environments, little Naomi clung to her mother. I saw the vacant look in the mother’s eyes as she tore out her own heart and prepared to walk away, knowing the orphanage is a better home than the one she was providing full of ill health and abuse. No one should be faced with that choice, yet this woman acted so bravely, knowing she did what was best for her family.

She is just one example of many. People around the world and throughout the ages seem to us to lack the potential for doing anything great. But we aren’t called to judge potential. We are called to obey God’s commands, perform miracles in His name, and plant seeds of faith.

A seed of faith is all Rahab had. She observed God’s people following His commands, performing miracles, and proving His omnipotence. This unholy woman from a town of idolatry and false gods proclaimed, “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” She stepped out in faith to protect God’s people and was spared not only her own life but that of her whole family.

As I look back on the people of Honduras and others in similar situations in our world, on the children, on the humble women who tirelessly serve meals to 80 growing children each day, or on the mothers who relinquish their children in that last desperate act of maternal love, I wonder where greatness is happening. Through love and seeds of faith, it is growing. Through people like you and me who are willing to obey God’s call to go or send our resources, God is making a difference. We might never get to see the greatness unfold. But what an honor it is to know everything we do in love – every. little. thing. we do in God’s perfect love – is used to further His kingdom. When we travel to the depths of poverty and oppression, when we collect school supplies or tutor disadvantaged students, when we share the Gospel and our own personal stories of redemption with friends and neighbors, we might never know what seeds are planted or what greatness will unfold, but we have faith God’s kingdom is growing.

So, what do you say? You, me, our questionable pasts, our sin and disobedience, along with the desperate mother, the prostitute, the exhausted missionaries, and everyday seed-planters – Let’s act obediently, in faith, align ourselves with God, and allow His greatness to unfold through us.

Got Talent?

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With a sigh and a quivering voice, my 6-year old plopped down and said, “I’m sad because I don’t have any talent.” Parenting an emotional roller coaster is never dull! My first inclination was to squelch the heck out of that ugly lie trying to take root within my daughter. Then I wanted to show empathy with stories of my own talentless youth, but I held back. I listened and I silently prayed. Impulsive Leslie was terrified of this newfound technique.

When it was time to respond, here’s what God, through me, shared: Sure, there are lots of people who have cool talents they get to show off. Dancing, singing, doing gymnastics and magic tricks, playing instruments – they’re all performing arts. And they’re fun to watch. Everyone has talents, but we can’t see every talent. Some people are good listeners, encouragers, builders, writers, you name it. And many of us have no idea what our talent is. Take Moses for example. He was chosen by God to be one of THE great leaders in Biblical history. If he didn’t do what God needed him to do, God’s people might not have survived and God’s great rescue plan might not have worked. He chose Moses because Moses was a talented leader. Only, Moses was terrified to speak in front of people, something his job required. Did God stop there? No. He chose Aaron to speak for Moses. Aaron was a great public speaker, but he was no leader; Moses was a leader, but he stuttered. Together, their talents complimented one another and God’s work continued. In the same way, we can pray that God will reveal to us our strengths and talents so we can do our best work for Him.

“I still really want to be a gymnast. Maybe gymnastics is my talent?” said my 4-foot-something first grader. As she skipped and tripped downstairs to practice cartwheels, I was left thinking about talents, about our childhood quests to discover our specialties, our wishes to be something greater, and the circumstances that tame the fires until we live to survive instead of striving to succeed in our gifts.

This past week, in preparation for my trip to Honduras, I shared with my daughter pictures of the children I’ll be visiting. I asked her to write letters to a couple of them, to tell about herself and ask questions of them. She loved the idea of encouraging these kids and finding areas of commonality. Then she decided perhaps she could ask a few friends at school to also write letters.

Before I knew it, she had a plan. With her teacher’s permission, she would tell the class about my trip, the school, and the orphans, and ask her whole class to write letters. Her inspired teacher took it one step further and invited me to visit the class, talk about Honduras, and help the students write notes as part of a Social Studies lesson. It was a treat to see the children’s eyes light up at the pictures and read the notes they wrote to kids half a world away. More amazing to me, however, was to see my own daughter, a girl who thinks she is without talent, guiding, inspiring, and delighting her classmates with her vision for spreading love and justice.

She might figure it out tomorrow, or maybe not for dozens of years, but like Moses, Aaron, and each of us, God indeed filled this girl with talent. The question is, what will she do with it? Will the flame continue to burn or will the passion be snubbed out by the lies of “I’m not good enough”? What do any of us do with the talents we were given? Do we spend our lives seeking them, improving them, using them for good, or do we turn our backs for fear of comparison, judgment, or failure? Rather than assume, like Moses did, we aren’t equipped, we should step faithfully toward our talents and let God give us the support needed.

My Sermon

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I preached it, Sister! I brought it! Okay, really, I just shared the message at my church’s services while our pastoral staff was away. This was no fire-and-brimstone, but a responsibility to share with my church family what was on my heart. Given the spirit-filled pastors I have known in my life, this was a big role to fill. What I shared is far more humble. The opportunity was a treat for me, combining two things I love: writing and public speaking. (Kudos to my high school English and Speech teachers for the gift of both.)

Since preparing for the sermons consumed most of my recent blog-writing time, it seems only fair for me to post it here. My sermon notes, if you will. (Heeheehee – I still can’t believe I got to be the preacher.) Although this was initially for my church family, I humbly submit it to you, my blog family…

Sincerity of Faith

Good morning! My name is Leslie Vorndran. I am one of your lay leaders. I’m a mother of two, a wife. I’m currently a stay-at-home-mother. I’m an avid book reader, an art lover, an amateur cook, a dog owner, a terrible gardener, a blogger. Oh yeah … I’m a Christian.

Recently, I was making plans with a friend of many years. We met long ago during college, ended up on beach vacations and at late night parties together. As life moved on, we celebrated at one another’s weddings, baby showers, and housewarmings. But on a recent weekend, she mentioned our plans might be interrupted because she would be at church. Church? All these years, we have been “friends” through life’s biggest events, never suspecting we shared the same faith, the same core values, the same belief in our redeeming Savior. But why didn’t we know this crucial detail about one another? I suspect that’s because neither of us had been brave enough to name-drop the very Name of God. Without realizing, we had not been sincere to our friendship or ourselves.

Looking around, and in the mirror, I see people who are very, very blessed. We live in beautiful homes in close-knit communities. We cheer loudly for our local sports icons, from the Little League to the professional baseball team.
Don’t even get us started on our favored political groups. Left vs. right, red states vs. blue states, the elephant vs. a donkey (?). We love to speak out, argue vehemently, and cast votes for our sides.
We are so passionate about our careers that discussing what we “do” becomes what we talk about, how we introduce ourselves. If someone asks a prodding question, we happily delve deep, talking on and on about the work we do and who we know.
Talk and talk and talk. We create opportunities for talking: get togethers for coffee, girls’ night out, book clubs, conference calls, networking events. When the spoken word fails us, we email, text, tweet, status-update and, in the all too rare case, write letters. We love to communicate, to talk about issues, resolve conflicts, catch up, encourage one another, complain.

I’m right there with you. But what are we talking about? How much of ourselves are we actually sharing with one another?

This blog is just another opportunity to “talk” more if you will, though I started it to get some thoughts out of my head and challenge myself to be more forthright. One of my blog posts ended up touching a chord with a lot of folks. I shared a personal story of a new friend I met at the pool. She and I have spent the past few summers exchanging pleasantries, chatting without ever really talking. This year, when I was stuck in a sling following shoulder surgery, she shared the truth behind some health issues she was facing. It wasn’t until she and I broke down the nice-to-meet-you barrier of our homes, jobs, and children’s activities that we found a deeper connection. A sincerity of friendship.

The response to that posting got me thinking more about it. I have found that what we don’t usually talk about in our community is our faith. The very part of us that brings us hope, that which carries us through the hardest times and binds us together in the good. Like the old children’s song, we hide our little light under a bush. Those who enter our homes, who have a place in our hearts, may get to learn about our spiritual selves, but how many of our neighbors know upon Whom we built our faith? They see us leaving the house Sunday mornings, so we assume they know where we’re headed. We certainly don’t discuss God at work, where we might lose hard-earned respect, position, even the opportunity for upward mobility. Then there’s the social networking. Do we use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the blog-osphere, even Email to promote the Kingdom of God? For me, Facebook is a tool for connecting with others, be it my family, friends from grade school, or even the new friend I met last week. I used it to plan my high school reunion, announce the birth of our daughter, and RSVP to a wedding. I share pictures of my kids via Instagram; my husband filters his news through Twitter. Social networking. More talking. And another place to talk about everything, except our faith.

A couple of years ago, I went out on a limb and mentioned on Facebook something about my faith. This was a big deal to me, since many of my “friends” were work colleagues from whom I hid my faith, connections from a time of my life I had very little faith, and new friends who I knew held very different views from me. I risked ruining a lot of relationships in making myself known. But the opposite happened. Once I shared a little, I was encouraged by others holding the same beliefs, other followers of Christ. With this new confidence, I shared a little more and more over time. Here’s what happened. I didn’t lose out on any relationships, but rather I was given new relationships, deeper relationships. People I had known for years now felt comfortable expressing their faith with me. I have been blessed to watch their faith journeys, to grow along with them, to be challenged by their walks with Christ. Built on the sincerity of our faith, on our unity in Christ, my relationships have grown from acquaintances and social connections to friendships of the heart, a family with whom I pray.

In Galatians 3:23-28, Paul talks about this unity in Christ, calling us “children of God.” We no longer need to identify that which separates us from one another: religious background, social status, or gender. We are one in our faith. We need only to reach out and talk about it. But here’s the cool part. It wasn’t only Paul who spoke of our unity. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus actually prayed for us, for all believers, that we would be unified. And through that unity, that the world would know His Love.

Paraphrasing John 17:20-23 a bit, we are told Jesus said, “My prayer is not for the disciples alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You … so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.”

So, let me ask you a question: How do you define your community? In and around our town, across the country, on social networks, at work, in Honduras or Ethiopia, in your own home, or is your community in this church sanctuary? When you are surrounded by your community, do you catch yourself being reserved, hiding your faith “under a bush,” or do you speak out, share with others what God has done in your life, offer encouragement or prayer, and share His love so that others might see Christ in you? I am the first to say, I do not do this enough. Not even in my own family. I privately pray for extended family members, that they may come to know Christ, that He will soften their hearts to the freedom and joy that comes from knowing Him, but I choke with fear and timidity before I can talk of spiritual matters with them. And these are people I love; imagine how terrified I am of sharing my heart with colleagues or strangers!

But how can we ever be unified if we don’t know one another, truly know one another?

I challenge you, me, all of us in this together. Let’s speak out. Be unified in God’s love, His amazing grace. Let’s call on His strength and boldness to share His love, His name with our community: our town, our mission field (wherever that may be), our families, and one another right here in this church. Let’s pray with one another, encourage each other in Christ, and live our faith so others might see and believe the gift we have already recieved. My guess is that as you – as we – begin to live faith more boldly, more sincerely, we will find our relationships are unified in a Love deeper than we ever imagined.