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Faith Imagined: September 2009

Faith Imagined

Alisa Hope Wagner: Christian Writer

September 26, 2009

Proud to be a Slug


"Comparing different slug groups arises quickly the question, how those shell-less snails could survive, without the protection of a shell."


"The external protection of a slug mainly happens by its mucus or slime" (reference).

I've been telling God lately that being obedient to Him is making me feel like a snail without a shell. A shell-less snail is called a slug, so I guess I feel like a slug. I've been on my slug-journey for about four years now. My self-esteem used to be connected to a lot of things (beauty, education, accomplishments, money, family, etc.), but God has slowly cut everything until all I have left is Him.

This doesn't mean He has actually taken everything from me, but He has taken my dependency on everything. I can survive if I lose everything, but I cannot survive if I lose God. Without God there is absolute nothingness - no beauty, no education, no accomplishments, no money, no family, no anything! Without God I wouldn't be typing this in my laptop at the coffee house, and you wouldn't be reading this from your computer at work or home. We wouldn't exist.

If we live the slug-life by putting God first, we gain everything in the process (Matthew 6:33). But, putting God first is not easy. Putting God first means allowing God to take our snail shells (our sinful flesh and imperfect humanity) off. Without our snail shells we are vulnerable and exposed to the world, which is exactly what God wants. It is only when our snail shells are off that Jesus' light that He planted in each of us can shine in this dark world (John 8:12 NIV).

But what does the slug life look like? You can see it when you examine Jesus' life.

If you read Isaiah's foreshadowing of Jesus, you get an image of a very ordinary man (Isaiah 53:2-5). Jesus was God in the flesh, yet the scriptures describe Him in very humble terms: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering" (2b-3). This was Jesus' humanity. Not so very pretty (I hate saying that, but it is a biblical fact).

However, if you read Daniel's description of Jesus, you get an entirely different image (Daniel 10:4-610). This description of Jesus boast a super-natural and awe-inspiring image: "His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude" (6). This is an image of the Son of God, the King of the Jews! When Daniel saw this Jesus, he said, "I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless" (8).

Jesus took off His snail shell and humbled Himself to all the world. He allowed us to mock Him, persecute Him and kill Him. At any moment He could put on His snail shell ( His sinless flesh and perfect humanity), but He didn't. Why Did Jesus allow Himself to be despised and not worshiped? God had a plan: "Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many 'righteous ones,' as he himself carries the burden of their sins" (Isaiah 53:11). Jesus humbled Himself so that we may gain righteousness (right-standing with God) through His sacrifice for our sins.

Okay, so what does that mean for you and me? It means this: If Jesus took off His snail shell which was perfect, why do we have such a hard time taking ours off which is flawed by sin? Instead of humbling ourselves to this world, we pump-up our snail shells. We decorate our shells with degrees, clothes, cars, houses, achievements, beauty and pride. We lug around our bulging shells and knock over anyone in our way. How can we serve and love others if we are too busy bowling them over with our pride?

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with these things. But when we base our self-esteem on things of this world, we will be severely disappointed in the end. We can only find our self-esteem in the fact that we are created by the Most High, and He loves us and has great plans for us. Once we fully understand that privilege, it won't be so difficult to take off our snail shells and humble ourselves.

But . . .

You say, People constantly hurt me, and I need to defend myself!

God says, I was oppressed and afflicted, yet I did not defend myself.

You say, People look down on me; they think I am nothing!

God says, I was despised and rejected; people hid their faces from me.

You say, People accuse me of wrongs that I did not do!

God says, I was oppressed and judged, though, I never sinned (Isaiah 53).

How do we willingly humble ourselves to a world that will hurt us? If we take off our snail shells and become slugs, we'll be surrounded by a bunch of tough snails. Mostly everyone else is wearing their shells, and we're going to get bumped on and rolled over. How do we protect ourselves?

The answer is in the slime! The Holy Spirit is often symbolized as oil. King David was anointed with oil to represent that the Holy Spirit would be flowing through him. If we take our snail shells off and humbled ourselves, we will be protected by an oily slime -- the Holy Spirit!

Just imagine that when you are allowing the Holy Spirit to have complete control of your life, you're allowing your slug to be smothered with glistening slime. This slime will help whenever the other snail shells hit you. They'll try to take you out, but their efforts will just slide right off (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

On the other hand, when you come into contact with other slugs, you'll have a holy slime swap! Their Holy Spirit will mix with your Holy Spirit, and your understanding of how wonderful God is will deepen. Our points of view are so limited, and that is why it is so important we surround ourselves with other Spirit-led people. If we can see God through the eyes of many righteous, how awesome would our image of God be? But you got to take off your shell!

You say, I'm a slug, God!

God says, I chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; I chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27 NIV).

Tell the world that you are proud to be a slug, and God will shine through you. Take off your snail shells, and the Holy Spirit will protect you.

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September 22, 2009

Internet Cafe: Disobedient Driver

I was driving in the car with my oldest son who is five years old. He and I were going grocery shopping together. As I drove, he was telling me all about what he learned at Sunday school. I stopped at a stop sign then continued driving down the street, and my son said from the back seat, “Mommy, you are so obedient.”

This made me smile. My husband and I have been trying to teach our son about obedience. We tell him that we’re teaching him to obey us so that one day he’ll know how to obey God. God will be able to bless his life only when he is obedient to God’s direction.

I wondered what obedience my son saw in me. Did he notice how I try to always keep the house clean so my family can have a peaceful home? Did he see me volunteer for our church and understand the sacrifice I made? Or did he watch me take time out of my busy schedule to read the Bible and talk with God?

What my son said took me by surprise. He said, “You are obedient when you drive. You don’t break the rules so that the police officers don’t pull you over.”

After he said that, I had to take my foot off of the gas. I was driving faster than the speed limit and, thereby, breaking the law.

My son’s perceptions of my obedience even in the smallest of circumstances made me realize how important it is to obey the laws — God’s laws and man’s laws. My son notices every little thing I do, and he can sniff out a double standard anywhere.

How can I teach my son the importance of obedience when I’m disregarding laws that I don’t really care for? I’m sure my son doesn’t care for a dozen of rules that I enforce (brushing his teeth, washing his hands, picking up his toys), but he still has to do them for his own good.

I want to model to my son how to obey the rules out of love. I don’t want him to see me obeying the laws because of some guilt-trip or out of legalistic duty. I want to obey the laws out of respect and love for my God. I want my son to see my obedience in every facet of my life – not because I have to obey but because I want to obey. As long as the laws correspond with the Bible and are for “my own good,” I should strive for obedience.

If I want my son to obey and brush his teeth when I ask him to, I better take my foot off the gas and slow down!

“The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb” (Psalm 19.9-10 NIV).

Are there any small laws, like the speed limit, that you have not been taking seriously? How can you strive to obey the laws with an attitude that would be pleasing to God? Will you try meditating on those laws, imagining them to be “sweeter than honey”? Ask God to give you a compliant heart and change you from the inside out!

You can also read this at the Internet Cafe!

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September 16, 2009

What's Your Glory-Color?

I've been thinking a lot about how God designed me . . . well, actually, I've been complaining. I trust that God has designed me in a specific way, so I can fulfill a specific purpose in life. I love to write, and I know that writing is a big part of my design and plan. However, as I look over each of my posts and read what I have written, I can't help but think, "Dang it, Alisa! You are always so serious!"

I remember one time I got so sick of my melancholy writing that I wrote a brilliantly funny post (at least in my mind). I always enjoy women who write funny blogs, and I so appreciate their gift-offering of a smile and a laugh. So, on my funny post I wrote about boobs and my boys peeing off the deck. I couldn't wait to read the comments.

That night when I tried to sleep, I felt Holy Spirit tell me to take the post off my blog. I tried ignoring the Holy Spirit and later rationalizing His words. Finally, though, I flung the covers off me, stumbled to the computer room and deleted my wonderfully witty post. And God sat me down and told me, "You write for me alone."

"Yes, God," I whispered and crawled back into bed.

Later, as I was thinking over these things, my identical twin sister called me with a spiritual breakthrough God had given her. My sister and I look a lot a like, but the core of who we are, how we view life and how we interact with God are completely different. Our perspectives are so unique that we have to discuss everything to pieces just to ensure that there is no misunderstandings that would translate into hurt feelings.

She admitted that reading my blog and reading other Christian writers' blogs made her feel that she was spiritually lagging -- that maybe her relationship with Christ wasn't as strong. But what she realized is that her purpose is very different than mine and the writers she has been reading, so her interactions with God and her understanding of spirituality will also be different. She decided that there is nothing wrong with not always being so serious, and I wanted to yell out, "Thank God! I can barely handle my own seriousness."

My sister is positive and funny. She makes people laugh and feel comfortable. She goes out of her way to ensure harmony, and she does it all to the glory of God!

I truly think that when God created people, He fitted each of us with a tiny and unique slice of His glory. I imagine God's glory as a giant ball of a million-billions colors -- colors that we can't even comprehend on this earth. And He placed an individual hue of His multi-colored beauty into each of His children. Yes, some of the hues may look very similar from a distance; but on closer inspection, they are each very distinct.

Our mission is to shine that tiny color of God's glory and fight the urge to blend it with the other colors around us. My twin sister's glory-color may be a golden-pink and my glory-color may be a silvery-blue, and our lens of life will be tinted by our colors. That is why it is so important for us not to judge and compare. God gave us each a unique design and purpose. We will all express love differently, reveal God's glory differently, relate to spiritual truths differently and interact with Jesus differently. But if we are seeking to know God more, there is no wrong answer - just wonderful variety.

I can imagine God in His million-billion color grandeur gathering up His children in His arms; and once we are resting against the pulsating of His being, we each simultaneously shoot out our own glory-color, creating a miniature replica of His majesty. We are each created in the image of God, and we daily become more Christlike and beautiful by letting go of sin. Maybe we should stop trying to change people and stop trying to change ourselves and start allowing God's glory to shine through the design He intended us to be.

No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God
destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age
understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has
conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"— but God has revealed it
to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of
God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit
within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit
of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from
God, that we may understand what God has freely given us (1 Corinthians 2.7-12).

"Father, show me how to shine the glory-color that You have placed in me. I do not want to complain anymore about how You designed me and about the purpose You have for me. Help me not to compare myself with others. I want us each to shine Your glory in our own unique way. Thank You, God, for creating each of us so beautifully. For it is in Jesus' name I pray, Amen."

This post is dedicated to my twin. Thank you for always being so beautifully different.

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September 1, 2009

Gathering Empty Pitchers

Women are constantly serving the needs of others. Almost every night we fall into our beds depleted of energy and devoid of passion. We are completely empty, and we wonder how we’ll find the strength to make it through another day.

I’ve had many nights like this. Out of obedience, I pour into the lives of family and friends, and I fulfill the many obligations that come with life. Hands continuously grope at the fleeting seconds of my day, and I desperately search for the scraps. When there are no leftovers to be found, I hold my empty hands up to God and cry out, “Lord, there is nothing left for me!”

As I contemplated more ways to hoard my little scraps, God taught me a beautiful lesson that has forever changed my life. He taught me how to Gather Empty Pitchers!

I read the story about Elisha and the widow found in 2 Kings: 4.1-7.

A prophet died and left his wife and sons with a considerable debt. The debtor was going to come and take the widow’s sons away to pay for the debt. The widow came to Elisha and asked for his help. Elisha asked the woman if she had anything of value, and at first the woman said no; but then she admitted to having a little oil. Elisha told the woman to gather all the pitchers she could find and take the oil and fill each of them. The oil poured out until there were no more empty pitchers. The woman was able to sell the oil and keep her sons.

When I read this story, I imagined the woman carefully pouring her oil into each pitcher. As she held one of the pitchers and poured oil to its rim, she cried out, “Another pitcher, please.” But there were no more. I could see the desperation on the woman’s face as she realized how very few pitchers she had filled.

I felt the woman’s anguish over not having more pitchers. I wished that she would have been more prepared. If she would have taken Elisha’s words more seriously, she would have spent weeks or even months gathering empty pitchers. That’s when I felt God say to me, “You are gathering empty pitchers.”

I didn’t quite understand what God meant, but I knew He was about to give me hope in my obedient emptiness.

I meditated on the story for several days, discussing it with God and friends. Finally, I felt the last puzzle piece fall into place and an amazing image of empty pitchers appeared in my mind. I figured out how I could gather empty pitchers! At long last, I understood how I could find my “true self” by sacrificing myself!

Jesus said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat—I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” (Luke 9.23 Message).

How could “Self-sacrifice” be beneficial to finding my “true self”?

If God is my Creator and the Creator of all things, wouldn’t it stand to reason that He knows me better than I know myself? And if He designed me for a specific purpose, wouldn’t it be to my benefit that I surrender to His will completely?

But why does it seem that God would have us continuously pour ourselves into those around us? So many times we want to be like the widow. She didn’t want to let Elisha know that she had a small jar of oil at home. We do the same thing. We don’t want to let go of the little time, resources and energy we have because we’re scared there will be nothing left for us.

But this is not the case. Every time we pour our lives out for God’s glory, we leave an empty pitcher for God to fill. Every time we serve the needs of our children, we leave an empty pitcher. Every time we sacrifice our bodies for our husbands, we leave an empty pitcher. Every time we pour into the lives of our friends, we leave an empty pitcher. Every time we give resources to the poor and disadvantaged, we leave an empty pitcher. And every time we surrender our desires to the Holy Spirit, we leave an empty pitcher.

Sometimes God fills those empty pitchers immediately, and we are instantly blessed for our sacrifice. However, most of the time, the empty pitchers gather. God allows them to gather because He knows that He is about to open the heavens and pour down the blessings. He wants you to be ready with a bunch of empty pitchers, so you do not cry out, “Another pitcher, please!”

This revelation has helped me because now I look forward to leaving empty pitchers. Every time I serve those around me, I open myself to be blessed by God. And the most awesome part about pouring myself out to others is that God loves my emptiness! He can complete His divine work only in my emptiness! The “real me” shows up when I have nothing left to hoard!

Be constantly mindful, though, that you do not try to get others to fill your pitchers. Wait on God's hand! If we expect others to give us something in return, God will not bless our actions. He only fills empty pitchers (Matthew 6.1).

Sometimes we forget that God is the everlasting Creator. He specializes in creating something out of nothing. In the Old Testament God created life out of emptiness: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1.2 NIV). And in the New Testament God created new life from an Empty Tomb (John 20).

If we are constantly pouring ourselves into the lives others, God is able to create something beautiful within our emptiness. So many times we think we could do a better job than God can at molding us. We pray to God to make us more like Him; then, we scold Him for not doing things our way (Isaiah 29.16). God created life! How could we possibly top that? Whenever we try to take control, we just create chaos and heartache.

God in His infinite wisdom knows that we want to meddle with His creation, so He ensures our humbleness by keeping us continually poured out to others. Our brokenness allows the Holy Spirit to easily pour through us, and it makes us more malleable so that God can complete the good work He started in us (Philippians 1.6).

God is so awesome because He made our self-sacrifice doubly good. God blesses us when we sacrifice for others because we are able to leave empty pitchers for Him to fill and He blesses us when we sacrifice for others because He is able to create us into His image. It’s the best two-for-one-deal in the entire universe! This is why Jesus said that the only way to find your “true self” is to sacrifice yourself. Only God knows our “true self” and only He can complete His design.

So the next time you feel exhausted and your lift your empty hands up to God, cry out to Him, “God, create life in me!” And if you feel like you’ve messed up the life He has already given you, lift up your hands to Him and cry out, “God, create new life in me!”

If you can stay broken by continually pouring yourself into the lives of others, God will be able to bless you and create your emptiness into a thing of beauty. Don’t hold anything back! Trust God with all you have and start gathering empty pitchers!

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