Examining a Sacrifice of Radical Faith at Christmastime

Today’s Hot Drink of Choice: Starbucks’ Christmas Blend

Today’s Scripture: By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. - Hebrews 11:17-19

I’ve been on an extended hiatus from blog writing. It’s now Christmastime, and I’m back!

Before the break, I was examining Hebrews 11. I left off with the above passage. This week I’ve again been thinking about what it means to have the kind of faith that leads to incredible sacrifice. We see this kind of faith in Abraham and Isaac’s story. We can also draw some easy parallels between it and the story of a baby king.

Many Christians are in the midst of celebrating the season of advent. Christmas Day is just around the corner. We’re in the midst of a time of year when hearts and minds are focused on the joy associated with the birth of Christ. The more I live my life as a Christian, however, the more I’m convinced there is a certain measure of personal sacrifice required to help recognize the reality of the true joy we celebrate this season. As I’ve been reminded again this Christmas, receiving a gift means something, somewhere was spent to make it happen. Abraham was prepared to spend the life of his own son. God made sure he didn’t have to by giving the gift of a ram instead. Years later, God would make the ultimate sacrifice of a heavenly son so that all of creation could be reconciled back to himself.

The way God writes His love story to humanity has always amazed me. Nowhere else can you find so many unexpected twists and turns as a mere boy defeats all odds to walk the earth and become one of the most intriguing and celebrated individuals of all time. Christ’s story of crazy love for those who then killed him by one of the most horrific methods to ever exist speaks of supernatural perseverance and unconditional passion. It speaks of deep humility that could only have been born in a manger. We have many examples throughout Scripture, such as Abraham laying his son on an altar, of what it means to have sacrificial, radical faith. However, I have discovered only one perfect plot to emulate… and it began to the tune of donkey brays and angelic hallelujahs. The life ushered into this world by such an unusual musical score would look and sound even odder as it matured. Jesus Christ of Nazareth would walk this world embracing rejection and sacrifice at an inhuman level; his love for those around Him unwavering in its purpose.

As we enter into this holiday season, let’s look toward the awesome example of a God willing to be made into flesh to inspire our faith. It is my prayer this Christmas that the reality of Christ’s example would deepen your faith and that you would have a peaceful, joyful time of celebration with those God has placed in your life. May you be inspired by the baby boy born so long ago to enter into the new year braver, bolder, and more committed to knowing God on a personal level.

Christmas Blessings,

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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

Girl Interrupted

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Dunkin’ Donuts Cinnamon Spice (because when you’re a tired mama, the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through is a Godsend)

Today’s Scripture: “And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” – Hebrews 11:11-12

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been digging into the first part of Abraham’s section in the “The Hall of Faith” of Scripture. Before we get into the sermonette the writer of Hebrews divides Abraham’s accomplishments with (next week), I want to reflect a bit on the first of two women mentioned in Chapter 11: Sarah.

According to some scholars, Sarah was her early 90s when she and Abraham conceived a son. Talk about a rude interruption to normal life as a senior citizen! When we dig into Abraham and Sarah’s story in Genesis, we learn that she laughed while eavesdropping in on the reveal of the miraculous interruption. This occurred during a conversation her husband had with some angels. Talk about brazen! Not only did she laugh, but she then lied about it when Abraham called her disruptive behavior out. (Please see Genesis 18:9-15 for all of this.)

For whatever reason, I find myself smiling when reading the reaction Sarah had. I also smile when I think about the little argument that took place between her and Abraham afterward.

“I did not laugh.”

I can just picture Abraham as he leaned in on a staff while his eyebrows dropped into a stern gaze.

“No, you did laugh!”

My imagination takes over, and they go back and forth like I used to with my siblings.

“Did not.”

“Did too!”

“Did NOT!”

“DID TOO!”

Sarah’s life was about to get rocked in a big way. I can’t help but think she might have been a little nervous at this point. Imagine reflecting on all the challenges ahead. I think the realization of having a teen around after already putting in a century’s worth of time on this earth would be enough to send me into shock! No wonder she was a bit of a mess.

My mom was 42 when she gave birth to me. She dealt with my tumultuous teen drama (and it was) beginning in her mid-fifties. I remember being about fifteen, looking at the stoic woman in my life one day, and thinking: “Man, Mom’s getting gray!” She stuck it out, however, and was there to welcome me when my own story was interrupted by God’s plan for new life.

God met me in a major way in the summer of 1999 when I was eighteen. He reached down into one of the lowest points I’ve ever been and pulled me up out of a big ol’ pit. “Some of God’s greatest gifts are wrapped in unlikely packages,” and mine came in the hot auditorium of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania where I was finally brought to a breaking point at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ sports camp. In the year prior, I had turned to a lot of other things to deal with pain no one except God knew anything about, and I had made a bit of a mess of who I was meant to be. God interrupted my life and welcomed my desperate cry for help with open arms, and it hasn’t been the same since.

Sarah had a destiny. A big part of that meant she was supposed to be Issac’s mom and partner with Abraham in parenting the beginning of a nation. She almost laughed it away, but, when God’s plans moved forward in grace, her disbelieving laughter was turned to what I believe was joyous laughter. (See the beginning of Genesis 21.) I can only imagine how her faith was catapulted to a whole other level when she gave birth after physically being beyond childbearing years.

Whether a girl’s life gets interrupted later on like Sarah’s or in the teen years like mine, God takes the impossible parts of personal situations and often allows the miraculous to happen. Have you had a heavenly interruption happen before? I always love reading or hearing about those, so please share in a comment! God bless you!

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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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