Producers of Praise, Wanderers of Wonder

"The chief aim of worship is that we be caught up in love, in wonder, and praise of God and finally for a moment forget about ourselves and our trials and our worries and focus on God himself." Ben Witherington III (via leslieannjones.com)

One of the best parts of seminary is sitting under the teaching of world-renowned biblical scholars. It's what I miss the most about my days at Beeson. As a busy mom, I'm incredibly thankful for churches and ministries that provide sermons and lectures online. I spend a lot of time in the car, shuttling the girls around town, and in an effort to redeem some of that time, I've started listening to podcasts while I drive. 

Last week, I planned to run some errands after preschool dropoff, so before I left the school, I pulled up a 30-minute chapel sermon to listen to along the way. It was a sermon about worship from New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III. He shared a story about a little old lady in his home church who could hardly see or hear but persisted in coming to worship anyway. When someone asked her why she continued to come, despite her physical limitations, she had a ready answer.

Y'all.

Her words had tears welling up in my eyes. I sat in the parking lot of Home Depot watching people load up with mulch and gardening tools, and I was completely transfixed by the message coming out of my speakers.

"I'm not here for what I can get out of the service, but what I came to give: my worship to my Lord...I come to worship prepared to give worship though I don't get as much as I used to in that hour."

Witherington goes on to say that when we come to worship looking to get something rather than give something, we're missing the point. We are not consumers of worship. We're producers of it. 

"The chief aim of worship," Witherington says, "is that we be caught up in love, in wonder, and praise of God and finally for a moment forget about ourselves and our trials and our worries and focus on God himself."

I need that. Do you?

I've written before about why we should go to church even when don't feel like it, and this sermon gets right to the heart of it. Church is not about us. It's about God. When I come to church, I come to give time, attention, honor, and glory to the one who has rescued and redeemed me.

When I turn my eyes to him and gaze full on at his glory, everything else seems a bit less urgent and pressing. It's relief. It's surrender. It's getting so lost in him that everything else fades away.

At least for a little while.

People are always looking for an escape from the reality of life. Some find it in music, art, and books. Others find it in travel and adventure. Still others find it in more profane activities like drinking or sex. I've pursued some of those remedies myself, and though they can be quite enjoyable, none of them give me what I actually need. 

What I actually need is to get outside of myself and seek refuge in the Rock that's higher than I. To wander in the wonder of his majesty. I've found nothing more restorative for my weary soul than glorying in the splendor of my Lord, and therein lies the astounding truth. When we give our whole selves to God and honor him in worship, he honors us by giving us the respite that our souls require. 

God demands our adoration and praise. Don't you think it's interesting that the very thing he requires of us is the only thing that fulfills the deepest longings of our restless hearts? 

I've included the video of the sermon below. If you have about 30 minutes, you really should listen to the whole thing, but if you only have a few, fast forward to about the 12:35 mark and start from there. 

Until next time, grace and peace.


Introducing Known: A Study on John

I've spent the past several weeks in a new Bible study with a wonderfully beautiful and diverse group of women here in Brandon. Known is a chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse study on the Gospel of John, and it's been so sweet to open up the Word with these women each week.

John (along with Matthew, Mark, and Luke) is all about the person and work of Jesus Christ, so there's really no better way to prepare our hearts and minds for Easter than to spend the weeks leading up to it meditating on his life and studying his words.

We're about halfway through the study, and a beautifully honest picture of Jesus is emerging. He works wonders and wields words with the power and authority that belongs to God alone. He is unapologetically truthful, using truth both as a sword to cut through false assumptions and as a balm to soothe weary souls. For those who would look past his human exterior and behold the glory peeking through, he offers grace, truth, and a wellspring of eternal life.

My prayer for this study is that God would make himself known to us—that by gazing upon the Word that became flesh, we would see his glory with wonder anew. That is, after all, why he came. That we may know him, and that we may spend our lives making him known.

If that sounds like something you're interested in, you don't have to be local to take part. That's the beauty of the internet, friends! You can find everything you need to get started, including the learner workbook and weekly podcasts, on the Known Bible study page.

I hope you'll join us! We'd love to have you. Until next time, grace and peace.


Creating Margin When Life Overwhelms

Creating Margin When Life Overwhelms // by Leslie Ann Jones

Life has been busy lately. So. Busy.

Between teaching two Bible studies at church, helping plan the annual preschool fundraiser, battling strep throat in the house, washing (but not folding) the laundry, selling and delivering Girl Scout cookies, doing all. the. things. for Dr. Seuss' birthday week, sorting old clothes for consignment, acquiring new clothes in the appropriate sizes, and juggling soccer practice, softball practice, birthday parties, church, and school, all while keeping us fed and alive, I'm spent. 

There's just not much of me left to go around these days.

I'm telling you all of this so you'll know why things have been quiet around here lately. There's so much I want to share with you about what God is teaching me, but I simply haven't had time to sit down and let it all spill out.

There was a time when I would have run myself into the ground posting new content here each week while also trying to do everything else, but I've learned that I create my best work when there's a bit of margin in my life. I need time and space to breathe freely and listen closely before I can write words that convict and compel. I'm currently overwhelmed by life, and, at this moment in time, margin is hard to find. So, I've created some by giving myself permission to take a little blogging break. 

I think sometimes we women like to act like we have everything together, but behind the scenes we're falling apart. God forbid anyone find out that we're imperfect people. I don't want to be like that. I want you to know that I'm a real person with real struggles. My life isn't insta-perfect all the time—it's messy and rough around the edges and more than a little crazy.

I know I'm not alone in this. Nearly every mama I talk to struggles with The Overwhelm from time to time. It's normal and even necessary every now and then, but I think it's important to fight for the things that your soul needs. Even during busy seasons. For me, it's margin—empty space in my planner and quiet moments alone to simply be. No striving, no doing. Just me and God and a bit of stillness...and maybe a cup of coffee too.

What is it that your soul needs? What do you crave when life overwhelms? How do you create margin when things get crazy? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

And in case you were wondering, I'll be spending the time I usually spend writing preparing my heart and mind for teaching Known, an in-depth Bible study on the gospel of John to a group of local women.

Both the workbook and our weekly sessions are available online, and we would love for you to join us. You can access the Known workbook and weekly podcast at leslieannjones.com/known.

Thanks for bearing with me during this busy season! Hopefully I'll be back to posting regularly again soon...just not yet.

Until next time, grace and peace.


Yet I Will Praise Him: On Grief, Church, and God

Yet I Will Praise Him. Thoughts on grief, the church, and God. via leslieannjones.com

The past week has been a hard one in the life of our church.

Over the past several days, we watched and prayed as one of our youth faced insurmountable complications from a heart valve replacement surgery. We prayed for a miracle. We wept. We begged for healing. And we waited. 

As we gathered together to worship yesterday morning, we got the news that we didn't want to hear. We stood and sang songs of God's faithfulness with tears streaming down our faces, all the while grieving for the life that had been taken from us.

The ties that bind a church together are sometimes hard to see. Like any family, we have more than our fair share of squabbles, but the thing that I love about the church is the way we take care of our own when it counts. When one part of the body of Christ hurts, we all hurt. We all feel the pain. We all feel the loss.

Yesterday was hard. But it was so, so good to be together while we grieved. To kneel together at the altar and pray for peace and comfort. To stand together and proclaim God's goodness in the midst of heart-shattering grief. To bow together as the tears overflowed.

There's a long road ahead for Cole's family. The days will be long, and the nights longer, but I pray that God would use us, the people of their church, to walk beside them on the road to healing. This is what it means, I think, to bear one another's burdens.

The promise of the gospel is not that we would never know sorrow or pain but that we would never face it alone. The gospel promises that God is not only with us in our suffering, but also that he shelters us in the darkest parts of the storm. I'm convinced that he sometimes uses the church to do just that. It's one of the ordinary means through which God gives us extraordinary grace. 

To say that I'm close to the family would be a lie. I know some of them better than others, but I knew Cole only in passing. What I knew of him made me smile. He was a funny kid with a quick wit who wasn't afraid to use it. Although I don't know them well, I do know what it is to be a mom, and imagining the total devastation of losing a child took my breath away, drove me to my knees, and forced me to cry out on their behalf.

I wept yesterday, not just for the loss of such a bright light, but also because we live in a world where things like this happen. Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that death could no longer have victory over us. But sometimes, as we live and breathe in the space between his resurrection and the time when he will finally make all things new, that promise seems so very far away.

And yet, it's the promise to which we must hold on tight. Without it, we are lost.

The book of Job tells the story of a man who lost everything. In one crushing disaster after another, he goes from being the man who has it all to the man who has nothing left. Somehow, though, he manages to maintain hope. I want to have hope like that. Shane & Shane sing a beautiful song about it. I've included it here so you can listen.

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Though he slays meyet I will hope in him. (Job 1:21 and 13:15, paraphrased).

Our hearts are broken today, but thanks be to God that brokenness doesn't get the final word. He does. And he has promised to bind up all our broken hearts, to mend the places that are torn, to wipe away every tear from every eye, and to make everything right in the end.

Today, and every day, until that day, I will praise him. What else can I do?

Until next time, grace and peace.