Write God In: Journal Your Way to a Deeper Faith

My newest devotional book came out this week. It’s called Write God In: Journal Your Way to a Deeper Faith. Each chapter is written in order to help you develop certain characteristic in your life. These are things like joy, faith, peace, among others. And within each chapter there are nine journal pages and prompts that help help you develop that particular fruit. You can get a copy of it here for a discount!

https://www.christianbook.com/write-journal-your-way-deeper-faith/9781683220848/pd/220841

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Let God Use Your Scars

My latest article published on FamilyLife.com

Let God Use Your Scars

After His Resurrection, Jesus displayed his scars with confidence, not disgrace. He understood that God often leaves the scars of our past wounds as evidence of His power:

http://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/holidays/featured/easter-and-lent/let-god-use-your-scars?spMailingID=10788416&spUserID=MTI1Nzk3MDcwMjA4S0&spJobID=1140695324&spReportId=MTE0MDY5NTMyNAS2

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Easter Devotional on YouVersion

I just published an Easter devotional for women on the YouVersion Bible app. It’s only seven days long, perfect to start on Palm Sunday and meditate over the week leading up to Easter. 

Check it out:

http://bible.com/r/107

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A Time to Grieve During Stepfamily Holidays 

A new article I wrote for Ever Thine Home blog:

http://everthinehome.com/a-time-to-grieve-during-stepfamily-holidays/

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Keeping Your Family Stable in an Unstable World

I just had another story published on FamilyLife’s website. I hope it encourages you in these crazy times!

http://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/parenting/foundations/spiritual-development/Keeping-Your-Family-Stable-in-an-Unstable-World?spMailingID=9694791&spUserID=MTI1Nzk3MDcwMjA4S0&spJobID=1021128525&spReportId=MTAyMTEyODUyNQS2

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Living is About Dying

This is an article I wrote several years ago, originally published at http://www.familylife.com but I feel like it needs a fresh reading.

By Sabrina McDonald

Somewhere along the way my Christian walk became complicated.  There were so many questions about living that weighed on my mind.  What do I do with my money?  How do I get along with my family members?  What does God want me to do with my life?  It seemed the questions concerning life were endless.

But on September 24, 2010, tragedy struck my family, making the resolve to those questions quite clear. All the difficulties that nagged me in life had one very simple answer: the Gospel.

It was on that day that my first husband, whom I deeply loved, was killed instantly in a car accident.  We had a wonderful marriage, served God together, loved our children.  David was a man of character and grace, loved by all who knew him.  But in a blink his life was over.

I struggled for a while with the whys—Why would God take such a good man away from his innocent babies? Why would He break up a beautiful marriage that reflected His love?  Why not take someone else, a man who deserved to die?

But somewhere in the midst of my grief the Holy Spirit reminded me that we all deserve to die, even a guy as great as David.  God didn’t create man to die.  He created us to have fellowship with him, but the moment Adam and Eve chose to sin, they brought death upon themselves, and therefore the rest of their offspring.  They were warned of the consequences, yet they willingly chose to disobey (see Genesis 3).

The fact that David had to suffer death wasn’t because God was “picking” on my husband.  David died because he was a sinner who brought mortality upon himself when he first chose to sin, just like his predecessor Adam (Romans 5:11-15).

All of us will die.  Not one will escape it.  If it isn’t a car accident that takes our lives, it will be disease or simply “old age.” A mortal body can’t live forever.  Whether we are age 17, 37, or 107, life is short, especially in light of the fact that we were originally created to live forever.

Sheltered from death

In our modern society, death is not something we want to talk about or even admit.  We have been sheltered from idea mortality.  Not many generations ago, we lived in a world where death was just part of life.  Medicine wasn’t as advanced; certain common illnesses had no sure cure.  People didn’t live as long as they do now.  In those days, even the death of animals was commonplace.  People had to raise animals and then kill them with their own hands to provide food.

Now, the subject of death is avoided.  No one even wants to accept the fact that he or she is growing older.  The markets for anti-aging crèmes and Botox injections are booming.  The media is saturated with education about foods that will help you live longer, look younger, and avoid killers like cancer and heart disease.  We don’t even have to face the killing of animals for food because our meat is prepared and processed for us.

All of us in today’s society, even Christians, have become accustomed to trying to make our current life on earth last longer and lived better. We work hard to manipulate money for our happiness, raise perfect children, train our spouses to love more or work more or care more. But life on this earth will never be the “best” life.  It’s riveted with death and evil.

The only real life is the one that we will have after we die.

It was when I came to that final realization that I began to see how complicated I had made my theology.  The Gospel is not about making life on this earth better.  It’s about the life afterward—the real life.  If the fate of all men is death, why do we spend our time focusing on the here and now?  The hope that we have is not living longer or being happy while we are here on earth.  Our hope is that when we die, our souls are free from these bodies of sin and we can live eternally with Christ!  And it’s our job to tell as many people about that hope as we can because death is coming to all of us.

The Apostle Paul looked forward to death, knowing that he would be with Christ in his eternal dwelling.  He only desired to continue living so that he might do the will of God and spread the gospel to others.  He wrote, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1:23-24).

Paul also said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20). In other words, life on this earth is to live as Christ lived—a sacrifice for others.   But to die is where we find our true release from slavery to these mortal bodies riddled with death.

The Gospel solves it all

It may sound too simplistic to say that life is about dying.  We still must live on this earth and contend with the issues of difficult family members and financial problems.  But when we look at all these issues through the lens of death, everything lines up in order. The spread of the Gospel becomes the ultimate goal of our lives, and we begin to address each one of the questions of life within that framework.

Let’s take some of those questions for example:

– Question: How do you react to difficult family members?

Answer: In a way that reflects God’s love and points them to the Gospel.

– Question: What do you do with your money?

Answer: You manage it wisely so that you may use it to help spread the Gospel.

– Question: How do you treat your spouse?

Answer: You love your spouse in a way that reflects the merciful and gracious love of God so that they will come to know Christ through your love and so others may see an example of how Christ loves the Church (see Ephesians 5).

Yes, life takes living.  We can’t just curl up in a corner and wait for death to come upon us.  But like the Apostle Paul, we must realize that this life is only temporary and use it to point everyone we know to Christ.  I don’t mean that we all need to pack our bags and move to a third world country.  (Although, I’m certainly not discouraging that decision, if that is what God is calling you to do.)  But the spread of the Gospel is something we can do throughout everyday life.

There is coming a day when each one of us will have to face death, and it may be sooner than later.  My husband was killed at age 37 taking a normal route during a workday.  A friend’s husband died at 33 from a heart attack in his sleep.  Another friend was diagnosed with cancer in his early forties and died within a year.  As Christians, we don’t have to fear death because we have hope for the real life afterward, but let us not take our time for granted.

As for me, brushing this closely with death has awakened me spiritually.  I can see how short my time on this earth is.  And I praise God knowing that it won’t be so very long before I see the Lord face to face, but for the sake of the dear lost souls who walk hopelessly around me, I have resolved to do everything I can to spread the Good News for as long as I am alive.  I pray that every action I take and every duty I hold, whether it be wife, mother, sister, or friend, is characterized by the reflection of our Lord and the grace that He has given us.

I beg you, don’t let the worries of this life distract you from the real life to come.  Keep your eyes on the light of heaven, and let your life’s goal be to leave a road map on this earth that points everyone you meet Home.  The cares of this earth will be gone before you know it, but the spread of the Gospel is the only treasure that will last forever.  Heaven is the prize.

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Living Abundantly in the Life You Never Wanted

by Sabrina McDonald

My husband, Robbie, and I are in the process of building a house, and we are considering naming it “Havilah,” which is a Hebrew word that has two meanings: “writhing in pain” and “to bring forth.”  You see, both of us were widowed when we met, and the suffering is what brought us on the path to each other.  So even though we carry lifelong pain of love lost, the very same suffering has brought forth a new life and new love together.

Perhaps you are reading this article because you also have been given a life you never wanted.  Bad things happen under the sovereignty of God.  But Jesus said, “I came that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  No matter how much you hurt, if you are born of the Spirit and covered by the blood of Jesus, then there is joy, peace, love, and mercy to be found even within the anguish.

There is a common assumption among many that if God is good, He will protect us from all suffering and only shower us with what we consider ideal circumstances.  But the Bible is clear that times of travail actually bring forth the good that we long for.  In order for a tree to grow and bear fruit, a seed must first die.  Only then can life begin, which also brings forth thousands more seeds.

In Matthew 4:7, Jesus calls those who mourn “blessed” because “they will be comforted.”  And in Romans 5:3-5, the apostle Paul tells us to rejoice in our sufferings, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

After my first husband, David, died I was so devastated because we had such a wonderful beautiful marriage, and I couldn’t understand why God would give him to me and then take him away in one brief moment.  “I know I don’t deserve to know why,” I said to God in a silent moment.  “You are the God of the universe and you are justified to do whatever you want to do.  But if you would be so gracious to show me why, I could bear it easier.”

God’s mercy is so great.  Not only did he show me many reasons why, but he went overboard.  There was a letter that David had written about the importance of the covenant of marriage that I posted on the Internet, and that little letter and the message of David’s character and the love he had for his wife went all across the country, to the point where four years later I was still getting stories from total strangers of how David’s story had changed their lives.  I know God doesn’t always reveal why, and I will never know all the reasons.  But I believe that God loves to bless His children, and what He chose to reveal to me was more than enough to bring healing to my bleeding heart.

A.W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”  There is a reason why you have lost your spouse or suffered major health problems or dealt with a prodigal child.  Nothing that happens in life is wasted, and God works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). It’s not just for the sake of the common good, but for our individual enrichment and eternity.  Bill Bright said, “Affliction is the messenger of God’s deepest truths.” The pain actually brings us to the place where we can experience spiritual fruit, even while being grieved at the same time.  Some of the fruits that come to mind are:

  • Compassion for others. It’s amazing how grace and love grow when you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes. Second Corinthians 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Just imagine—we actually get to experience the comfort of God himself. There is no greater peace! And then we get the privilege of sharing that comfort with others who are struggling.
  • Greater appreciation of God’s love and mercy. It becomes so clear how much we need a savior to rescue us from the harsh reality of a world riddled with sin and death. How can we know healing without first sickness? How can we know peace without first turmoil?
  • Most importantly, focus on heaven—the perfection we long for. A painless life can tempt us to be satisfied with our trouble-free circumstances. When life is undisturbed, what reason is there to step out and work for Christ where we might be persecuted or offend someone? But when we have a clear reality check that this life is full of troubles and the only real hope is life in Christ, then there is more of an urgency to spread the gospel to others.

A new life after intense suffering offers great gifts!  I have told many people that I would not wish anyone to go through the pain of losing a spouse, but at the same time I wish everyone could experience it.  My new life is very different from the old one—some losses will be with me forever, yes.  Losing a loved one is like losing an arm—you will never hear an amputee say, “I’m so glad I don’t have my arm anymore!”  But you can learn to have a happy productive life despite your loss.

I’m reminded of a story I heard about a woman in her eighties.  As a young woman, she was married to a wonderful man and had two beautiful children.  While they were still young, her husband died.  She remarried, and she and her new husband enjoyed refurbishing houses together.  Eventually, he also died, and she turned their antique Victorian home into a boarding house for girls.  Eventually, she closed the house and volunteered at a local ministry.  One day, a young woman approached her and said, “Ms. Anne, you’ve had a wonderful life, haven’t you?” To which she replied, “Honey, I’ve had five wonderful lives!”  One of the keys to living abundantly is to understand that you’re suffering hasn’t ended your life; it has brought you to a new one.  Yes, we must take the time to grieve our losses, but we can cling to the hope that this is just another part of the journey to heaven.

Practical Tips to Living Abundantly

So the question becomes, how do we find the abundance in this new life?  Nothing in the world is going to make the pain go away immediately.  Nothing is going to make that arm grow back.  Remember, it’s through the suffering that brings about the blessing, not going around it.  But there are some very practical things you can do to find healing.

First, seek the face of God and relying on what you know to be true about him.  The Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  It’s not hypocritical to believe even when you can’t see or don’t feel like it.  It’s faith! But how do you have faith when it seems to be gone?  Romans 10:17 says, “faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”  The short answer—read your Bible and pray!  Your mind will tell you it’s too much work.  Your feelings will tell you it’s hopeless and hypocritical because you are so mad at God.  Read anyway, and you will experience a washing of grace and mercy.  You will feel warm with its light.  For me, the best books were:

– the Gospel of John (emphasizes life)

– Philippians (emphasizes joy, purpose, and hope)

– Psalms (identifies with grief and sorrow)

– Job (the story of a man who endured great suffering and ultimately great blessing)

– the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis (another sufferer with a happy ending)

When I was reading and praying, I couldn’t always hear God or see him.  But looking back I see now how far he carried me through the darkness.  And I have learned so much from what he whispered to me when I thought I couldn’t hear him!

Second, wait for God.  We always want to get the answers from God right now, before it is time to reveal them.  But God is pleased when we wait for Him.  Lamentations 3:25 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” I wish there was space to provide all the scriptures that call God’s people to wait for Him.  I have wondered why God so desires our patience, and I think it has to do with faith and dependence—trusting God to fulfill his promises, no matter the circumstances.

The waiting certainly makes things sweeter.  Waiting on God is like digging a well.  You dig and dig, reading the scripture and crying out in prayer, not knowing how far down the spring is, but you keep digging until you reach the water.  Then suddenly it bursts forth and pours all over you, flowing streams of living water!  Sometimes it takes a long time, but the payoff is worth it.

Third, try new things.  I once read about a 114-year-old woman. Her 85-year-old son gave her an iPad for Christmas, and she created a FaceBook account to keep up with all her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Her son said, “She’s been curious about everything her whole life and continues to be curious about it.” I think of all the losses that someone 114 years old has endured in life, but she continues to press forward.  She has every excuse to let these new trends pass her by.  But instead, she tackles them for her present life.

Fourth, focus on serving others.  There are countless ministries and non-profit organizations born out of tragedy.  The now famous Chris Kyle of American Sniper fame started working with soldiers who had PTSD because of his own personal struggle.  Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Church ministers to thousands on the topic of grief after losing his son in a car accident.  A dear friend, Teresa Coelho, has a ministry called The Power of Modesty, that teaches young girls about their worth in Christ, a life changing lesson born from her tragic past of abuse and her journey through the modeling industry to find value.

It doesn’t matter how damaged you are.  It’s the brokenness that actually makes you useable.  Nothing, even tragedy, is ever wasted with God.  He uses it all for his purposes.  One of the verses that comforted me was Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Whatever has happened in your life, it did not come as a shock to God.  He knew about the valley, and there’s a mountain on the other side.

Fifth, remember that this life is all about the life after.  Everything on this earth must be examined in light of eternity.  We have hope and a promise that all the work and pain and suffering have a payoff of eternal significance.  Our job here is not to get comfortable and mind our own business.  No! We have a clear directive to build the kingdom and to take as many with us to that wonderful place as possible.  This life is not the end.  Why do we keep living that way?

I Still Get Sad Sometimes

Getting through the new life is hard, even when you use these five guidelines.  I still get sad sometimes knowing that my “normal” life is over.  It will never be the way it was.  But the life of Jesus’ mother, Mary, has been an inspiration to me.  When she was with her baby at the manger, shepherds and angels   worshipping, the Bible says she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).  And when she took the baby to the temple for dedication, Simeon prophesized to her, “a sword will pierce even your own soul.”  That prophesy was fulfilled at the cross when her old life with her son was over. It would never be the same.

But she treasured all those things in her heart.

I will always treasure in my heart the memory of my life with David.  But my new life with Robbie is precious to me, too.  And my three years as a single mom hold many of the most hope-saturated and faith-filled moments of my life.  It was so hard at the time, but I look back at the grace, the deepened friendships, and the utter dependence upon God.  I see how every stage of my life has made me who I am, and how God has used it to draw me and many others closer to Him.

There are so many treasures in the dark caves of sorrow.  Let the pain push you toward the pickaxe of God’s word, prayer, and seeking purpose and dig out those gems.  You will not be disappointed as you begin to experience the peace that surpasses understanding, leading you to live abundantly in the life you never wanted.

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