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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Radical Obedience

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from The Green Beanery

Today’s Scripture: By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family. By faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. – Hebrews 11:7

Lately my kids have been asking me to watch “that Noah movie” again. They’re referring to Evan Almighty. While I wouldn’t encourage you to form any theological beliefs based on a fictional interpretation of an event, the movie actually does a pretty good job for today’s generation of recreating the kind of radical obedience Noah embraced.

Think about it: You’re told to undertake an immense building project with nothing to prove the “why” will actually happen. You’re building based on blind faith and an assurance from God himself who could, in reality, do whatever He wanted. He doesn’t have to use you, right? Your desperation to serve a greater purpose issued by the One who changed your life catapults you forward, however, while everyone around you mocks and questions what you are doing.

Despite the challenges, you get to experience amazing miracles. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be floating around in a huge boat with a bunch of animals and desperate for at least some earplugs. Then, just when all hope seems gone, dry land is found. Life is released into the earth once again. (The whole, compelling story… minus the earplugs… is found in Genesis 6-8 in the Bible.)

This past weekend I was privileged to see some amazing women get down on their knees and commit to follow God no matter what the cost. In today’s world, the kind of radical committment all of us made at Billy Graham’s training center, The Cove, can be kind of scary. You can get labeled, ridiculed, judged by others who may even believe the same things you do, and face obstacles you never dreamed would happen. It’s all worth it, though. There is nothing like the abundant life found in Christ! There is rest, joy, peace, and unconditional love in His presence.

When we left The Cove, we all went back to different places and different roles. One thing was the same: We each committed to be God’s girl no matter how big the mountain in front of us or how difficult the task. Some of us, myself included, were challenged to give up something quite significant to move forward in our journey. While I’m not the kind to make a big decision on a whim, I’m confident that God was present in the midst of the direction I received. Sometimes, as in the case of Noah, we find rest and instruction on the top of the mountains that are a part of our journey.

Has God been gently nudging your heart to let go of something you’ve clung to for too long? Has he been calling you to step out in faith and do something others may ridicule you for? What would you give up for Him? Comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you, and I’d love to pray for you.

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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!

Blogroll Book Mania (and a Giveaway)

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Sheetz Iced Mocha

Today’s Scripture: Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. – Hebrews 11:1

It’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned the amazing blogs on my blogroll. It’s also been a long time since I’ve done a giveaway.Today I’m going to list some of the wonderful books authored by the writers who have caught my attention in the past couple of years, and all you have to do is comment to earn a chance to win one! In your comment, please tell me what the above Scripture means to you.

Click on Lysa’s book to learn more about a free online study of it beginning on July 28th!

The (in)courage blog features the faith-filled writing of many individuals including New York Times bestselling authors Ann Voskamp and Lysa TerKeurst. Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces and TerKeurst’s What Happens When Women Say Yes to God are both books you have a chance to win if you comment.

Michael Hyatt’s blog is always full of amazing advice for leaders, writers, and social media fanatics. His book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World is in the prize pool for those of you attempting to wade through marketing your brand in today’s short-attention-span society.

Renee Swope’s blog is full of insight and encouragement for the busy woman. Last year, I led a Bible study of her book A Confident Heart and watched God work miracles in the lives of those committed to digging deep in faith with me. Her book is a great resource if you’ve ever struggled with insecurity or depression.

Tricia Goyer is someone whose writing career I highly respect. I also love her personal story of victory. Available in the giveaway is her book, Night Song, a work of WWII fiction based on the real-life liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Night Song is in the top ten of my favorite novels ever written. (My top five are: Les Misérables, Anna Karenina, A Wrinkle in Time, Ben-Hur, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Watch for a giveaway of these sometime in the fall!)

Rounding out the prize pool is Wendy Blight’s book Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner: The Transforming Power of God’s Story. I’ve given Wendy’s book away on my blog before, but I also wanted to include it in this giveaway in case you’ve connected with me since then.

If you comment on this blog, you will have a chance to win one of these books. It’s up to you which one! Please click on the links I have provided to read the book’s description and then include your choice with your comment. Thanks for stopping by, and may God bless you as you reflect on Hebrews 11:1. (Comments will be closed for this giveaway one week from today at midnight on July 22nd.)

Sparkle in the Darkness

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Gevalia Chocolate Mocha

Space backgroundToday’s Scripture: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. – Philippians 2:14-16a

“Don’t worry, be shiny!”

It’s the newest phrase you’ll hear me saying to my kids. It stems directly from Philippians 2:15, which was one of the first verses I memorized thanks to required camp reading at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes sports camp I attended over a decade ago. Though the phrase has morphed through a couple of different stages in my household, it has become my personal default mantra when stress levels rise. It’s how I want to approach each day, and the principle behind it is how I want my three sons to learn to live their lives as well. We live in a world where so much goes wrong on a regular basis, and I believe it’s the role of committed Christians to present a hope in the joy and life of Christ so others will be motivated to explore his source of strength.

This past week we were at the beach. Sitting by an ocean is one of my favorite places to be in all the world, especially when I can share it with those I care about. I always make it a point to spend some quiet time alone, letting the first rays of the morning sunrise hit my face. It’s one of the most powerful demonstrations I can find in nature of the hope of Christ I’ve discovered in my own life. As I planted myself in the sand early in the morning on July 4th, the day we celebrate independence in the States, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of God’s presence. I’ve learned to pay attention during these times, and the message He brought forth to me on a personal level that morning was incredible. Afterward, I went for a walk in the light of the rising sun, the tide hitting my toes and teaching me (again) of the cleansing power of Christ.BreakingDawn

On my way back, I happened to see a familiar face parked in almost the same spot I had just been. I smiled because I knew God was up to something big. I went over, we hugged and laughed at the “coincidence,” and then we jumped into an amazing conversation about God’s faithfulness. At that moment in time, this particular individual was in a place where she didn’t know what her future held. She had gone through a tremendous upheaval in recent months and, though being blown away by the little ways God was reaching out to her in her time of need, was concerned. Her story reminded me so much of a painful period I went through in 2007, so, even though I knew I didn’t have the comfort she needed, I knew how to pray for her throughout our conversation. In fact, these days it’s rare for me to talk to another person without quietly praying for them in the midst.

I referenced a book to her I read a few years back called The North Face of God, which compares trials in life with mountain climbing. Though maybe not the easiest metaphor to swallow, the perspective on the Psalms and targeted prayers it offers are amazing for any difficult period. I also shared with her something God has been teaching me  about the miracle of the process. The process often gets a bad rap within Christianity, although I tend to believe victory over the difficult, drawn-out periods in our lives produces more strength than an instantaneous miracle moment. Both are great demonstrations of the power of God, but many who watched Christ perform miracles turned on him to cry “Crucify him!” Whatever novelty they wanted– and gained– from the healing power Christ demonstrated in his ministry was gone. The disciples, on the other hand, were a part of the process of Christ’s journey on earth and, except for the one who betrayed Jesus to the mob, went on to extraordinary feats.

We often have such a limited perspective on the circumstances in our lives. Who knows how God wants to use some of our most painful moments? As I reflected on that point while watching fireworks on the beach later on that evening, I chuckled at the book I had adopted as my beach read, Illusion by Frank Peretti. 2013-06-30 11.35.59So many times we are shocked at the reality of our circumstances. Sometimes our reality seems more like fiction. Sometimes the explosive quality of it is so loud we stumble around hoping we’ll head the right direction only to fall flat on our face.  There is a bigger picture, however, that points to a sovereign God who wants to reach out and direct us to the rays of the sun in the morning and the sparkle of his light in the dead of night.  There is a bigger love story to be told than any of the ones we could ever dream up or experience on our own.

Later on that night, I met a few friends down at the beach to gaze up at the night sky, including the same woman I mentioned earlier. Not only were we blown away by the vast measure of the visible Milky Way, but we also witnessed a rare phenomenon in the water: bioluminescent microorganisms coming in on the nighttime tide. It was so fun to watch the sparkle of these living things colliding at the end of our fingertips and the soles of our feet as we laughed and danced our way to a little bit more freedom. The joy experienced in those moments is something I won’t forget.

It is my prayer for all of you reading this that you experience this same joy and freedom on a personal level today. It is also my desire that you are blessed by the written words of the Scripture passages and books referenced in this blog. May the light of Christ shine into whatever darkness you may encounter. If you already know the reality of his light, may you allow it to sparkle in the night and break forth like the dawn as he leads the dance of your life!