Choosing to Suffer

Today’s Hot Drink of Choice: Starbucks Breakfast Blend

Today’s Scripture: By faith, after Moses was born, he was hidden by his parents for three months, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they didn’t fear the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the short-lived pleasure of sin. For he considered the reproach because of the Messiah to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, since his attention was on the reward. – Hebrews 11:23-26

If you’re like me, the title to today’s blog makes you cringe. All of us have different levels of pain tolerance, and most people don’t want to choose to suffer. Some consider a remodel or addition to their home excruciating, while others endure unspeakable horrors at the hands of monsters and wonder if they have the right to admit to how much they hurt. It’s true that some people can’t help the suffering they endure because of circumstances beyond their control. Despite this, within Scripture we see examples of people who chose to leave riches and comfort behind while taking the harder, but higher, road.

Moses is one of these people. He was adopted into royalty and had all the riches and power of ancient Egypt at his disposal. He chose, however, to pursue the harder road of helping those of his biological heritage escape the desperate trap of slavery. He gave up everything he ever knew to follow God’s specific will for his life: To be a voice and a vessel of deliverance and direction for the nation of Israel.

Throughout the Bible we see amazing examples of those who consciously chose suffering for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ is the most powerful example of this. Imagine having all of the resources of Heaven at your disposal and choosing a humble existence and brutal death instead of living it up! I’m pretty sure I could never make that choice.

So how do we live out this often misunderstood, but essential, aspect of commitment to God in today’s distracted world? I believe there are three key ideas that can help:

1. Focus on the FACT that God will never leave you or forsake you.

I cannot tell you how many times my confidence in God has pulled me through situations that seemed impossible. God and I have a solid track record. He has saved me from some really nasty stuff, and I know I can count on Him. However, my confidence in his faithfulness would be easily shaken if I didn’t practice number two….

2. Make prayer and study of Scripture a daily priority.

We live in a crazy world. There are people saying and doing all kinds of things in the name of religion. To know the true perspective of the God of the universe who sent His son to die for all of humanity it is necessary to invest one of the most precious gifts we are given in this world: Time. Being committed to prayer and reading the book God penned through amazing people throughout Christian history is vital to staying on track in this lifetime.

3. Surround yourself with Godly people who live the kind of life you desire while emphasizing holiness and self-control.

Not everyone is who they say they are. It often takes effort to discern sincere people versus those who are great communicators yet low on morality. It is wise to surround yourself with those who have proven they are sincere in their faith and are more experienced than you are. If their Christian walk looks like you want yours to look in a few years, then it’s good to examine the positive aspects of how they’re living.

For more on the topic of suffering and Christianity, check out this great book with some thoughts from some of modern Christianity’s examples of spiritual giants:

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Looking for a City

Today’s Coffee of ChoiceVanilla Caramel from Newman’s Own Organics

Today’s Scripture: Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that–heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them. – Hebrews 11:13-16 from The Message

This week, I’m going to do something different and look at the sermonette in Hebrews 11:13-16 through music. I’m dedicating the songs in this post to some lesser known heroes of faith who have already gone home. I’ve been inspired by all of them in many ways, and I’m so glad they were a part of my life… if only for a time.

In honor of Irene, whose example and words of encouragement spurred my life forward.

I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me (Watch it on GodTube.com.)

In honor of Mavis, whose joy and sense of humor I hope to one day attain a sliver of.

You Hold Me Now by Hillsong United (Watch it on GodTube.com.)

In honor of Dad, who gave me a love of music and pointed me toward Heaven with his life. I’ll always remember the way he sounded when he sang this song.

Looking for a City by The Gaithers (Watch it on GodTube.com.)

In honor of Aunt Louise, Aunt Doris, and Grandma P. Their love and life stories are proof to me of the truths in this song.

Revelation Song by Kari Jobe (Watch it on GodTube.com.)

The following link is for all those I know who have overcome adversity and are celebrating both here on earth and in heaven: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/mandisas-overcomer-music-video-world-premiere-20163459. (A special shout-out in honor of Heidi, who, like Dad, Aunt Doris, and Grandma P., lost her battle to cancer WAY too soon.)

Inspired by Their Obedience and the Proverbs 31 Online Bible Study Blog Hop,
Suzanne
#FreshVision

Wholly Committed… Even When it Means Total Destruction

Today’s Hot Drink of Choice: Orange Passionfruit Jasmine Green Tea (because it’s a hot drink my husband will sip right along with me)

Today’s Scripture: “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” – Hebrews 11:9-10

Tents today look much different from Noah’s time.

New York Skyline

Sometimes I wonder what the heroes of the Christian faith would do if they were plopped right down in the middle of one of today’s larger cities. I think they would be overwhelmed, but I don’t think they would be phased. Noah floated around for days on the most horrific natural disaster ever recorded. He put his faith in God and found dry land. Despite the destruction, he was, as those of us with an athletic background say, “all in.” Moses interceded on behalf of his family in front of the most powerful man in the world at the time. He put his faith in God for deliverance and watched amazing events take place, including an entire sea parting before his eyes so he could reach safe ground. David stepped up to challenge something that struck fear into everyone else around him. He put his faith in God and brought down a giant of a man with one small stone.

I don’t think our Bible heroes would be phased by a little steel. When difficult terrain has already been faced and victory already won, faith does not easily give way to fear when the next challenge occurs.

The picture above was taken on a recent trip to New York City I made with my husband of almost ten years. Both of us will tell you our relationship is founded on very strong faith. We started out the “right” way and did everything by the Christian book, if you will. When we got married, we put our individual pasts on God’s altar and vowed to love each other as God loved us while we moved forward together. In fact, one of the most tangible demonstrations I have of God’s grace comes from my husband’s acceptance of me despite my past. As often happens with many marriages, however, trial came our way. Huge obstacles presented themselves. Our foundation was rocked. Some things crumbled. In fact, in 2007, our marriage was almost destroyed completely. But God reached in and reconstructed what was damaged.

Most Americans can still vividly remember where they were when planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centers. Our country bounced back, however. The result is more powerful than the prior buildings. In the picture above, the Freedom Tower (the building with the tall spire) is hard to miss. It is the most complete of the construction projects built to replace the two buildings destroyed in the attacks on American on 9/11 of 2001. It towers above the rest of the New York City landscape. To me, the Freedom Tower is also a direct representation of what has happened in my marriage.

At this time, details of the destruction are the wrong place to focus in either case. What is important, however, is what has been rebuilt in its place. The monument in memory of those who lost their lives in the 2001 attacks is powerful and poignant. The same is true in a different way in my marriage. Personally, I was called to stick around despite my own heartache, remember God’s promises, pursue healing, and watch the new creation (overseen by the Master Architect) happen. I’d be lying if I said everything was perfect today. It’s not. It is, however, stronger and more beautiful than it was before. I was reminded of that even earlier today in a conversation with a friend.

Yes, my trust in God, marriage, and my husband were rocked because of the events that occurred some years ago. No, I didn’t handle everything absent of fear. I did, however, listen to the deeper level of commitment God called me to as a result of weathering a huge terror attack on my marriage. It’s a committment of putting God and his plans first instead of operating out of hurt or distrust. It’s an awareness of my surroundings and confidence in God’s deliverance when the going gets crazy. It’s shrugging off the temptation to glance backwards and instead gaze forward to the gorgeous landscape He’s already allowed to spring up in front of me. It’s remaining wholly committed despite what some have suggested as an alternative. It’s praying for my husband when I feel like retreating into the hole left by the devastation. It’s looking up when I feel like I might get dragged down again. Freedom Tower

My committment in my marriage is all of these things and more, and to me it’s a living, breathing picture of Christ and the church because of the heartache, because of the pain, and because of the new creation that’s happened.

What about you? What is one area you have persevered in and seen something unexpected and beautiful emerge? Please share. I’m here to pray for and encourage you. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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Faith Like a Child

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Dunkin’ Donuts Cinnamon Spice (because when I sip it, I have an easier time sharing the stories in my life)

Today’s Scripture: By faith Enoch was taken away so he did not experience death, and he was not to be found because God took him away. For prior to his removal he was approved, since he had pleased God. Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. – Hebrews 11:5-6

I think we’ve all had one of those days when we just want to go somewhere different from where we are. Yesterday fell into that category for me. I had a large share of stress coming at me from several different angles, and my natural response to stress tends to be to run like my life depends on it. Though I know fleeing is not the answer, I can’t help but feel a bit envious of Enoch in times like that. I’ve learned a trick to help me combat the frustration meant to distract me from my daily purpose on this earth when these days happen, however. I’ve learned to remember those times when God has proved His existence and love to me beyond a shadow of a doubt.

His name was Devon. Or Darren. Or Dominic. It’s been so long ago, and I’m horrible at recalling names. Anyway, after I was threatened during an outreach in inner-city D.C., he was one of the kids plopped right into my path. I was still in the same part of D.C. where the threat occurred. I had continued to say “yes” to what God wanted of me that day, despite what had just happened. My purpose in the group I was with was to reach out to the kids in a volatile part of the city and encourage them to a safer place and healthier alternative to spending their free time.

D was off by himself looking like his dog had just died. I’ve always been a sucker for kids who have the weight of the world’s sadness on their shoulders. I walked over.

“Hey there.”

That was all it took. D wanted to talk. We went back and forth. He shared about his life, and I shared about the new one in Christ I had recently found.

“That sounds great!” he said. “I want that. I need that.” His adolescent eyes were beginning to show some hope.

Some people have a formula when this type of thing happens. I don’t. I just share the truth of Christ’s intervention in my own life and encourage people to talk to God about having the same type of friendship I’ve found with him on their own. Sometimes I’m even privileged enough to see them converse with the creator of the universe– like this day.

Have you ever seen someone’s face go from carrying all the stress and weight in the world to shining with a joy you know can only be from Heaven? I have. It’s a gift when I’ve seen it. That day, D’s face radiated.

I have to do something more, I thought. He has so much chaos around him. I then quietly prayed in my mind: Lord, what else would you have me do? I want to help this boy more.

In the quietness of my heart I felt a whisper: Give him your Bible.

In my backpack that day, I was carrying the Bible I had devoured after becoming a Christian. It was like a security blanket to me at the time, providing me with something to hold on to when afraid or sad. It meant a lot to me.

Are you sure, Lord?

I must confess I haven’t thought about this moment in years. Lately, I’ve been leading a group of women through Lysa TerKeurst’s book What Happens When Women Say Yes to God, and in the first chapter of the book Lysa shares about a time when she gave her Bible away to reap a tremendous reward. After reading about her experience, the memory of this circumstance came flooding back to me.

I’m sure.

I only hesitated a moment, and then I gave my very first real Bible away while pointing out the highlighted verses and sharing a few of the reasons why I highlighted them. I told the boy this was his sword–that he could slay dragons with the words and truths found in it. And then I left.

I trusted God would take care of D. I trusted God would get him plugged in with a safe group of people, just like he had with me when I came running into His arms.

I don’t know what happened to D. I don’t know what my “yes” in that moment led to. It’s okay. I have the memory of seeing a life changed, and I have the reassurance that a God who has the power to evade death, whether through the story of Enoch found in Genesis 5:21-24 or the testimony of Christ’s sacrifice, took care of this young life. I have the faith that my yes helped change the course of a young man’s life, and I have the confidence that someday I’ll learn what kind of impact his life on this earth had.

Until then, I’ll keep saying yes.

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When Abel Said Yes to God

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Ebenezer’s House Coffee (Washington D.C.)

Today’s Scripture: By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith. – Hebrews 11:4

“What if I shot you?! Right here. Right now.”

The words flew out of his mouth at me with sudden, unexpected force. I was back in D.C. after a recent and very powerful conversion experience to Christianity. One of my Christian friends had contacted me about going and sharing my newfound freedom at a place in the inner city nicknamed “Needle Park.” It was a popular hangout for those who used, and wanted to score more, drugs.

When this particular incident happened, it was not a response to anything I had spoken or done. A stranger I had never seen before walked straight up and threatened me. Fortunately, the group I was working with to reach out in practical ways to the kids roaming in the park through the efforts of an organization called The House was standing right behind me. No one else said a word, but their presence helped as I talked the man in front of me out of his intentions. I don’t mean to make it seem like I was some kind of hero. As I look back on it, I think I was pretty dumb not to put my sprinting skills at that time to good use. However, I did pray for the man silently as I talked. I saw him as someone in tremendous pain and bondage who needed the freedom I had discovered was found in Christ.

The man’s threat on my life was abrupt. It was unexpected. It was shocking. Imagine this type of threat coming from a family member. Imagine having no idea of the murderous thoughts entertained by someone you trusted and loved. This was the situation Abel found himself in.

Abel was the brother of Cain. They both were the sons of Adam and Eve. Their roles in history were important. Abel was a shepherd. Cain tilled the soil. What was reaped of their efforts would have been relevant to everyone’s menu. There was trouble in what was left of paradise, however. Cain became extremely jealous. Abel found favor with God because he gave Him a sincere portion of the first and finest of what he raised. Apparently, Cain’s motives behind his own offerings were not as heartfelt. (Please read and study Genesis 4:4-5 for more on this.) His jealous heart turned murderous, and, after having his motives questioned by God himself (see Genesis 4:6-7), he made a choice that ripped their family apart. He killed his brother.

When Abel said yes to giving his best to God, he didn’t know the choice of someone he loved would prevent his yes from reaching its fullest potential. I like to believe his death was not in vain. Hebrews 11:4 confirms this for me.

Some of the people we find highlighted in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 were in the midst of some pretty crazy circumstances. In the above personal circumstance, the man involved fled before any damage was done to anyone. I never saw him again, and I ended up having some amazing conversations with a lot of young people later that day. (More on that next time.) Though my outcome was different, I have something in common with Abel. I said yes to God.

In the years since this event happened, some of the situations I’ve been in are more unbelievable than it was. Life after saying yes to God has been quite the ride, but I continue to put my faith in him. So did the rest of those we read about in Hebrews 11. If they can trust him with their circumstances, then I can as well. No matter what.

So can you.

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The Hall of Faith

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Starbucks Dark Sumatra

Today’s Scripture: Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For our ancestors won God’s approval by it. By faith we understand that the universe was created by God’s command, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible. – Hebrews 11:1-3

Last week I referenced Hebrews 11:1 as I highlighted some of the books those on my blogroll had, in faith, written. This week I want to briefly expand my perspective through Hebrews 11:3.

From this point on for a few months, I’ll be diving into a passage of Scripture many who have been around Christianity for a long time may have heard called “The Hall of Faith.” I want to start off with a Thursday post to get me in the mindset for a Proverbs 31 Ministries blog hop I will try my best to participate in while helping leading a group through Proverbs’ next online Bible study.

WhenWomenSayYestoGod

Think of it: At one point, there was nothing. And then, BAM! God created stuff. (I can picture my 8th grade English teacher’s eyes rolling at my last couple of sentences.) Okay, so there are varying theories on the initial existence of the universe, but I choose to believe the creationism one. If I ever meet you in person, remind me to explain why. It takes me a long time to spout off all of the proof of God in my life.

Anyway, if you have a moment today, take it to look… really LOOK… at the scenery surrounding you. If you’re like me and are smack in the middle of the mountains, it’s not hard to be in awe. If you’re in the city, you can still marvel at the skill involved in creating the structures around you. Guess what? Those who created city buildings also have a creator. So do you. You are unique and created with specific traits, the combination of which is found only in you. You have a purpose. There is a great plan for your existence on this earth. I hope, dear friend, you know this. If you don’t, leave a comment. I would love to dialogue with you. You can also find me on Facebook if you prefer to send a private message.

I hope this post gets you motivated to pay attention, if only for a moment, to the scenery around you and the amazing qualities contained within you. May God draw you closer to Himself as you reflect. I look forward to digging into Hebrews 11 with you!

SignatureP.S. Congratulations to Keri! You’re the winner of last week’s giveaway!