Faith

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.


Love Came Down (Advent Week Four)

Love Came Down. An Advent devotion from Leslie Ann Jones.

What a whirlwind this season of Advent has been. It's been wild, y'all. I don't know what went wrong, but despite my intentions to have a calm and collected season, it hasn't happened. I've felt more frazzled than ever. I suppose some years are just like that.

Even now, I feel rushed. In just a few minutes, I need to start getting ready for the Christmas Eve service at church. I still have presents to wrap, and there are still at least 37 things on my to-do list before I can fall into bed tonight.

But I need to stop for a minute to breathe. To consider the magnitude of God's love for us. Jeremiah 31:3 says that God's love is of the everlasting variety. It goes on and on and on into eternity. It has no beginning, and it has no end. It's vaster than our wildest imaginations. 

And it's for us.

Sometimes I look at my children and think my heart can hardly contain all the love I feel for them. Can you imagine how God feels when he considers his children?

He loves us. And because he loves us, he came down. He loved us when we were at our most unlovely, and he loves us still. He didn't wait for us to get our acts together or get our ducks in a row before coming. No. He showed up. He stepped right into the crazy alongside us. He showed us what love looks like.

It looks like God bending down low and tucking in tight to put on the flesh of a tiny human baby. So that we might know that he is not so far above us that he cannot hear our cries for help. So that we may see his love on full display. So that we may know him and experience the fullness of his grace, mercy, and love.

He has loved us with an everlasting love. My prayer for you tonight, sweet friends, on this last day of this last week of Advent, is that you would lean into that love and let it wash over you. Sink into it, feel the comfort of his embrace, and be filled with wonder.

Until next time, grace and peace.

Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

Walk by Faith, Not by Sight. Learn about Melinda and Michael Pierce's ministry in Uganda with Amazima Ministries, which provides food, education, spiritual nourishment, and job support in Jinja, Uganda. Ten percent of proceeds from the LAJ shop go to Amazima.

A couple of months ago, I got an e-mail from a woman who had stumbled across my blog by googling Amazima Ministries. If you didn't know, Amazima is the LAJ Shop cause, and 10 percent of all shop proceeds support their ministry work in Uganda.

Melinda was googling Amazima because she, along with her husband Michael and their five youngest children, will be boarding a plane in December with one-way tickets to Uganda to work with Amazima. They will establish a missionary kids' school for the children of the Amazima School’s in-country staff.

As it turns out, Melinda and I have a lot in common. She's a native Mississippian who also graduated from Mississippi State, and she has several friends who live in Brandon. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I got to join Melinda and her friends at a luncheon to hear all about the Pierce Family's upcoming move to Uganda. 

I asked Melinda if she would share her family's story with you, and she graciously agreed. Today, she's writing about their journey to Uganda and how you can help them along the way. I'm still in awe of the way that God brought us together, and I can't wait to follow and support their ministry in the coming months.

The Pierce Family is gathering support to serve as missionaries in Jinja, Uganda with Amazima Ministries. Find out how you can support them at leslieannjones.com.

The Call to Adopt

As a family, we have done some things that have surprised even us.  

In 2010, with four kids already, we adopted our two youngest from Ethiopia. We prayed and felt God leading us to adopt specifically from there, so we obeyed, even though there were lots of unknowns. Our biggest test of faith came in the area of finances. Paying for an adoption is no joke, and it's not something we could ever do in our own strength or through our own resourcefulness.

But we believed that God had called us, so we also believed that He would pay for it. Even when our faith wavered, we saw time and again that God is always faithful. Not only did he provide every penny that we needed, many times from those whom He knew but we had never met, He provided it all in record time.

We serve a faithful God.

The Call to Go

Fast forward to April of this year when we were unexpectedly contacted and asked to pray about accepting a position with Amazima Ministries and moving our family to Jinja, Uganda.

We prayed, and God said, "Go." So we said, “OK," even though:

  • We are 54 and 46 years old.

  • We have 5 kids (18, 16, 14, 10 & 9) still at home who will be going with us.

  • Only my husband and one son have ever been to Uganda, and none of us have been to Jinja.

  • We are responsible for our own financial support. No salary is provided.

Once again, there are lots of unknowns: Where will we live? Who will we meet? How hard will daily life actually be? Will the kids make new friends there? Which American foods and luxury items will we miss the most?

As if the unknowns aren't bad enough, there are also the scary knowns: Leaving behind our 21-year-old son and daughter-in-law. Moving far away from family and friends. No air conditioning. No washer or dryer.  Spotty internet. Iffy electricity. Weird bugs. Big rats. Snakes.

The whole thing reminds me of Hebrews 11:8. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

So we are stepping out in faith once again, believing that if God is calling, He will provide. But before you think we must have a special kind of faith or give us credit where it’s certainly not due, please read on.

I stress. I doubt. I panic. I have total inner freak-out moments.

Again, the thing that scares me most is the financial side of it all. We will not receive a salary. We must rely on brothers and sisters in Christ to send us. Looking back on the adoption and how God provided, it seems ridiculous that I would ever doubt God’s provision, but I do. I forget Whom I serve.

The Call to Send

The truth is that we are NOT going on this adventure alone. We are NOT solely responsible for raising our own support. We are going in the strong hands of our perfect Heavenly Father who loves us more than we could ever imagine and who owns the entire UNIVERSE. And we can depend on Him!

God is good and He is faithful. And God will provide for us now just He has done in the past—through calling our brothers and sisters in Christ to come alongside us.

God invites us to use the resources He has placed in our care to be part of sharing the Gospel around the world. That’s how He’s been sending out missionaries for the last 2,000 years, and now, the generation He is calling to send and to go is our own. 

As believers, we are all expected to either be goers or senders. There’s no third option. If you genuinely cannot support missionaries financially, you can support them in other ways. Write a note or send an e-mail to encourage them. Just make sure you do whatever you can to be involved in what God is doing around the world. Your faith will grow when you see how God is working through the personal gifts that you have given. There’s nothing like it.

How You Can Help

If you have friends on the mission field, they're trusting God to provide, just like we are. I'm sure they would be honored and excited for your support, financial or otherwise. Just ask them how to do it and they will gladly tell you. And when they say there is no amount too small, they mean it.

If you don't know anyone personally for whom you can be a sender, we would love to have you as one of ours. One of our greatest privileges is praying for our family’s senders. We're preparing a prayer wall for our home in Uganda. It will have pictures of everyone who supports us financially, and our family will pray for our senders each day.

We would love to have you pray for us and consider joining our sending team. You can keep up with our journey to Uganda and our work at the Amazima School on our blog or on facebook. We also have a private facebook group for members of our sending team. If you want to join our sending team, click here to set up your donation. Please feel free to share this information with friends or family who may also be interested.

And finally, please contact us if you have questions or want to know more about the Amazima School! We're looking for teachers who feel called to be goers to work with us in Uganda, and we love hearing from fellow believers to see how God is working through ALL of us. 

Find out more about Melinda's family, follow their adventures in moving to Africa, and learn how you can get involved in supporting them or joining them in Uganda at her blog, We Don't But God Does.