Essays on Faith – Abel

The word faith conjures up so many different pictures in today’s culture. But what does it mean in regards to God? Hebrews 11 walks us through both definitions and depictions of faith and sends us back to the Old Testament for more context.

“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” (Heb 11:4).

What made Abel stand out? Why does his faith still speak, though he is dead? Both brothers gave God an offering. What made Abel’s better? Abel gave God the best and first results of his labor. That is the only context in which his actions are even mentioned in the Bible. So, what does it mean to give God the first and best offering of my life?

My conditioned response is to first think about money and wonder if I have given enough. But money is one of the easier things to give. Compared to most cultures, it’s a renewable resource for us Americans and takes little time to give away. Although tithing challenges me on big items (like proceeds from the sale of my house) and small (like the first trickle of my new business income) it’s become such a normal part of my life that I don’t even think about it anymore. So, if the discipline of tithing is there, what resonates in my heart this week as an offering to God?

These questions circle through my mind as I struggle to take the time early in my schedule to write. It would be so much easier to cross a few things off my to do list so I can feel more accomplished and less stressed before tackling this blog. But that would result in just some of the fruit of my labor, like Cain’s offering.

This deliberate wrestling with these questions at the beginning of my week shows my struggle with priorities. My fledgling business is clamoring for my attention. My body, tired from recent stress and travel, just wants to turn everything off and turn in early. But my heart know that this is my offering to God. This fight to meditate and process and apply costs me something that I can’t replace. This is my first and my best this week. The remainder, though still important, fades into routine marching orders.

But what does this have to do with faith? Why is this story first in the Faith Hall of Fame of Hebrews? Why is Abel’s offering a significant example of faith? What does that word mean?

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” By faith, I offer God something that costs me, something that I cannot replace. By faith, I accept the validity of grace I cannot see.

It takes faith to offer anything. It’s leaning in and leaning on. It’s taking a chance. If I give out of my bounty, I’m simply sharing out of my abundance. But when I offer my best, it costs me dearly. I’m vulnerable. I cannot replace my best and first.

What I offer God reveals my level of faith in God. When I offer him my first and best, I trust that He will make the rest enough, whether time, money, or some other resource. With offering my best and first to God, I’m placing my faith and the full weight of my life in his promises. And this is not on the grounds of merit, hoping to earn his approval with my doing. This is out of gratitude and humility. He is both my source and my goal. I stop and acknowledge that. And I offer back both first and best.

Writer Bio:

Amber Sperlich attends Mitchell Wesleyan Church where she is a part of the communications team. She writes to process her personal thoughts and meditations on the MWC messages and the text preached each week, and we thought we’d share some of them with you.

White Noise

Last week I felt like I had an abundance of time. I didn’t have the motivation to tackle any new projects. I ended up spending a lot of time missing my former life in Orlando. Yeah, the one where all I wished for was just a little more time each day. I got exactly what I prayed for and now I don’t know how to handle it.

I remembered how I got to the point where my life was the constant whirl of a hamster wheel at top speed. When I’m busy, I don’t have to allow myself the time to feel discontented or lonely. Breathlessly running a couple of minutes late from appointment to appointment gave me a sense of purpose and inclusion. If I never spent time at home it didn’t matter that home was silent and empty. I filled my time with good things until even the good things reached the volume of excess, giving me an excuse to dismiss any tension underneath the surface.  

The stillness of my current schedule is uncomfortable. The white noise of busyness is gone. There is nothing there to mask the emotions that boil up and clamor for my attention, my processing. I don’t like dealing with emotions. They don’t follow logic. Oftentimes, they reveal deeper layers of work, understanding, pulling up lies, and relaying the foundation of truth in Christ. In a word, emotions are hard.

And it seems like whatever victories and blessings I delight in, old lies sit like landmines, just waiting to blow my progress to pieces. I’m still a broken soul living in a broken world, tripping over my same insecurities and imploding into my own graspings for quick fixes and patches.

Rather than call my dear friends that are now a thousand miles away or drive across town to visit my family and remind myself of the community that God has created us in, I turned on Netflix and grabbed a tub of ice cream to while away the time. That only resulted in delaying heartache and inducing a stomachache.

Today, I sit and sift through the feelings that are surging. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt 5:8) Stripping down to silence ushers in clarity. One by one, I hand each sensation over to God. I ask for his wisdom and his truth in them. And in this surrender, this unmasking, I start to see the things of God.

There is a time and a season to everything under heaven. My capacity to love God and others is directly related to my ability and commitment to deal and heal.

Fear of the future fades to faith that God is still in control – regardless of circumstances. My imagining the possible outcomes of my current path is foolish and fruitless. I could have never predicted my current situation ten years ago no more than I can control what the next ten months hold.

Inadequacy surrenders to finding my identity in Christ. When I lift my eyes to things above and look at all these little, daily moments in the light of eternity, I am filled with hope and peace. By grace, through faith, in Christ. My own standards of success and perfection mean nothing. I am in Christ. He is enough.

Grief gives way to gratitude for the depths of friendships I forged and still hold dear over thousands of miles. And the vastness of my grief at the now physical absence of these friends in my daily life shows me just how beautiful community is. I cradle the grief turned gratitude and allow it to touch all the edges of my heart. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4)

In this moment, the white noise of distraction and self-medication is cut off and I feel the full gamut. I let it all wash over me and into the hands of a compassionate God. It is both poignant and painful. Bittersweet and beautiful. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Phil 4:8)

Writer Bio:

Amber Sperlich attends Mitchell Wesleyan Church where she is a part of the communications team. She writes to process her personal thoughts and meditations on the MWC messages and the text preached each week, and we thought we’d share some of them with you.

When Dreams Can’t Come True

My favorite books and movies aren’t necessarily the ones with happy endings. They are the ones that make you feel the most intense emotions. This story of David’s has all the right drama. He’s secure and stable time at a in his life. God has blessed him as king and taught him many deep lessons. He should be in his glory days, enjoying the fruit of his labor and his walk with God. Instead, one of his sons lets bitterness and resentment boil up into ambition and betrayal. Absalom claims the throne in Hebron. If David fights this new army and wins, he loses his son. If David fights and loses, he loses everything.

I don’t want to write this blog this week. I don’t want to wrestle with my response when my dreams can’t come true. I don’t want to feel all the feelings of my own life and circumstances. I want to be able to just close the book or turn off the TV. I want to nod, sigh, and move on. I wish it were that simple. But that brokenness in this world that surrounds me also threatens from within.  

If I’m honest, my life has turned out nothing like I imagined or planned fifteen or twenty years ago. In some regards, the pain of unfulfilled expectations still sears hot and deep. There are moments when I’m caught off guard by the intensity of a longing for a life I don’t have. There are hours when the wounds I thought healed long ago still take my breath away. Someone out there has what I thought I should by this time in my life.

And if we are all honest, we all feel the same. Someone else’s reality is our unreachable dream. Our electronic connectedness seems to only exacerbate our comparison paranoia.

But I can’t base God’s goodness on whether my dreams and plans come true. Hasn’t he already done the impossible? Hasn’t He already saved me? And come what may, isn’t that enough?

Even here in the place where I am right now, I can see his faithfulness and feel his mercy. I’m overwhelmed with the beauty of the small things that my heart could not have bent to notice had it not been broken. There is abundant grace in even being able to see my need of Him now – a grace that only seems to dance and grow with each passing day.

David inquires of the Lord. He flees the city to try and avoid war. He sends the ark back into Jerusalem as he leans into God’s sovereignty. He refuses to bargain with and manipulate God as he clings fast to God’s goodness. “If I find favor… he will bring me back…” But if not, I am ready. “…let him do to me what seems good to him.” (II Sam 15:25-26)

But if not. Those words vibrate clear to the core of my being and I am undone. Can I mean that? If this earthly longing for a family is never fulfilled… If this business never gets off the ground… If these new dreams and visions never come true… If I never see anything but failure and tribulation from this point on… Am I ready? Do I trust God to do what seems good to Him even when I cannot see the good?

I’ve gone my own way before. I’ve wrenched my plans from God’s hands and willed what I thought best. It ended in disaster. So, not my will, Lord, but yours be done. Be my vision and my one desire. Help me to trust in You and lean not on my own reasoning. Let me always remember and say, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:22-23)

Writer Bio:

Amber Sperlich attends Mitchell Wesleyan Church where she is a part of the communications team. She writes to process her personal thoughts and meditations on the MWC messages and the text preached each week, and we thought we’d share some of them with you.

When You Face Roadblocks

Like David, I feel God’s call on my life. I know he has created me for a purpose and has given me dreams to pursue in the way of both life and business. But several things have come up this week that look like roadblocks and game changers for my plans. Now, the long way, the hard way, the way that looks like it goes the opposite direction from where initially thought, causes me to panic and question.

Forgetting God’s faithfulness in my past has brought me exactly to this point, my immediate reaction is to run and hide. Conflict is hard. Crucial conversations are agonizingly difficult. Identifying poor mechanics and calling lack of strength to light is excruciatingly embarrassing. Even just stepping back to reevaluate and reroute feels like failure. When I forget how he uses everything for good, I doubt how this new circumstance can turn out in anything other than adversity.

Forgetting God’s provision for the present, I start grasping in panic for everything I can do to change and control what happens next, just like David eating the representation of God’s faithfulness to his people as a common, daily meal. I run through a mental inventory of everything around me that can help. In that, I find myself reacting out of fear instead of trust in God. God’s provision and presence are here with me right now. I partake of it daily. Everything around me is a testament to his faithfulness – even when I’m desperately looking for a place to hide.

Forgetting God’s control of the future, I beg for the instant fix – or at least the relatively soon fix. I want to put in that good day’s work, or maybe even a hard week of intentionality. And then I want the results. I don’t want to work and wait for six months or six years. I don’t want the answer to my latest question or prayer to be “keep praying and keep working”. I want immediate answers and immediate resolutions. I want God to change and grow me, but I want it to be one and done and moving on.

What it all comes down to is the fundamental sin of not esteeming God as God. God’s ‘no’ or even silence translates in my head to he can’t (not omnipotent) or he won’t (not perfect and good). In both these reactions, I place my own intellect, ability to reason, and foresight above his omniscience. And that is a truly terrifying place to find myself. My track record of perfection is nonexistent while God’s stretches into eternity.

What is the solution then? What is the next little step? It’s the deliberate, daily progression of submission and growth and the building of routine and discipline. It’s the long lean into God’s constant faithfulness and provision. I must spill my circumstances out of my tightly clutched and anxious arms and inquire of the Lord. Looking back, I see how He has unerringly corrects my character and my path compassionately and slowly through each circumstance as I submit to Him.

This week is just another reminder that I’ve never been in control – even with my best-laid plans. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

His Word is living and active and in inquiring of Him it speaks just to where I find myself. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (1 Cor 4:16-18) And as simply as that, I feel the peace that transcends all understanding flood over me. In Christ, I live and move and have my being. In Christ, I am secure. As I submit, he guides my way.

 

Writer Bio:

Amber Sperlich attends Mitchell Wesleyan Church where she is a part of the communications team. She writes to process her personal thoughts and meditations on the MWC messages and the text preached each week, and we thought we’d share some of them with you.

What Holds My Gaze

Hold fast. Fix my eyes. Stay the course.

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” (Prov. 4:25-27)

How often do I consciously pause and take stock of my next move, the next box on my to do list? Or weigh each little decision with eternity? How often do I deliberately ponder my course through the rapids of daily life?

It’s all too easy to slide into the mind-numbing distractions so readily available at my fingertips. Scroll, click. Ah, a brief reprieve from my own struggle. I can bury emotions as fast as I can scroll past them. But soon, I find myself immersed in comparison – green with envy – reminded of all I lack. I veer towards jealously, entitlement, and greed. And the longer I scroll and the more I watch the less my own life measures up to social media and advertising standards, no matter how deep the things God is doing in me.

Sometimes the matters that entangle my focus are just day to day worries. The endless to-do list. The overwhelming responsibilities of adulting. The simple, yet, somehow unattainable dream of having groceries on hand and in the fridge when I need them. These keep me in a washing machine spin cycle of busyness, anxiety, and not quite measuring up.

Other times, the thoughts that capture my attention so wholly and completely comprise of all my doubts and insecurities. Things that shout viciously of my past mistakes. Things that whisper insidiously that God is holding out on me. They start me on a rabbit trail of shame and bitterness.

See how the outward world shapes us year by year, generation by generation? What I constantly observe becomes my obsession and fixation. See what we value based on what’s popular? I soak it up. I turn towards.

Why? Because what I constantly behold becomes my goal. What holds my gaze directs my heart. What goes in comes back out. The place my mind occupies, my life trajectory follows.

Waiting for motivation with good intentions is a dangerous game. There are simply too many duties and pleasures clamoring for my attention. While I wait, all goals of devotion, discipline, and health fade to white noise and guilty reminders of where I failed to even start. Intentions differ from intentionality. I must choose the things of God. Purposely. Deliberately.

I’m reminded of the exhilarating, hypnotic rhythm of open water swimming. When racing, any drift to the left or to the right costs precious seconds. There are no lines under water to show the course. Lifting my head out of the water every few strokes to sight the buoy becomes essential. I must train until it becomes as natural as the rhythm of breathing. Any pause to find my bearings causes me sink slightly, loosing momentum, creating more drag and resistance.

Similarly, I need constant sighting of God’s Word – his ever-present markers – in my life. I need to stop focusing on the murky depths and lift my eyes to look to Him. I need to shut out the panic that tries to rise when I remember I’m surrounded by deep water and focus on the goal – the joy of what lies beyond the finish line. I need the rhythm of Word in, breathe out, eyes up, steady forward.

I’ve also noticed that the relationships in my life flourish when I stop and pay attention to details and step intentionally in the direction of others’ needs and communication styles instead of the decay that ensues with complacency. It costs me something – time, effort, vulnerability to start – but to pay attention is worth the price of intimacy. How much more this plays out with God!

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Heb. 2:1) “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things…” Be thou my vision, Lord. “…and give me life in your ways.” (Ps. 119:37) Draw me ever deeper. Intentionally. Deliberately.

Writer Bio:

Amber Sperlich attends Mitchell Wesleyan Church where she is a part of the communications team. She writes to process her personal thoughts and meditations on the MWC messages and the text preached each week, and we thought we’d share some of them with you.

Lean Not

This is exactly one of those weeks where I want God to teach me the deeper lesson and I genuinely want to learn it, but I have little desire to endure the harsh reality and stretching that ensues. Search my heart and know my anxious ways. Turns out I have quite a lot of them. Trust in the Lord, with all my heart. Seems impossible. Lean not on my own understanding. Trusting in my own reasoning is the only thing that feels normal. I use the excuse of my genetic make-up, personality type, and natural tendencies.

I know that God can. My problem is trusting Him when he doesn’t. I see only my own tiny tile in the mosaic of our existence. I’m just a chip, a fragment, a speck of reflective material. I start thinking about all the things that I need to do to make my will happen instead of submitting to His. At least every other prayer of mine used to be show me Your way. Despite my good intentions, I wanted to know each step of His will before I had made up my mind to follow it. I would trust in Him, but only if it lined up with what I deemed best.

I find myself asking this week what my trust in God means right now. Do I trust that He is sovereign? Do I trust that he is present? More importantly, do I trust that He is good? Do I trust Him with my daily decisions instead of just the big ones? Do I trust that He isn’t too busy to care? What does that trust mean the day after my prayer goes unanswered in a big way? What does it mean when it comes to more than reciting words?

Trust is an action. So many times, I lazily file it away with my intentions, right next to acknowledgement. And when I do act on my trust in God, I still tend to direct my own paths and pretend I can drag God along with me, as needed, like a cane or a crutch to lean on when I’m tired or in need.

I find it interesting that Proverbs 3:5-6 tells me to trust in God with all my heart and to lean not on my own understanding; a concept so important it needs to be stated twice. Lean away from myself and into God. Stop seeking my own solutions and filter the day in front of me through the Word.

Lean in. An action resulting from both expectation and necessity. We lean into the wind to keep our balance, trusting that it will not relent. We lean back into a chair with a release of tension, certain of its embrace. We lean into a kiss, sure that we will be met with vulnerability and desire on the other side. We lean on the shoulders of others, knowing they will support the weight that our injured limbs no longer can.

Leaning ends in submission. And submission is the first action. He promises the rest will follow. Verse after verse throughout his Word, He promises this. He makes my path straight. He makes the way clear. How much heartache could have I saved myself if I had not stubbornly continued at some right angle onto my own paths and suffered for it? Lord, help me to take refuge in You and your Word, under the shadow of your Spirit. Help me to lean it each moment of each day.

Today matters. Right now matters. Today sets my options and my trajectory for tomorrow. “Destiny is not a mystery. For better or worse, your destiny is the result of your daily decisions and defining decisions.” (Mark Batterson: The Circle Maker).  Direction, not intention determines my destination. And my submission precedes my direction.

 

Writer Bio:

Amber Sperlich attends Mitchell Wesleyan Church where she is a part of the communications team. She writes to process her personal thoughts and meditations on the MWC messages and the text preached each week, and we thought we’d share some of them with you.