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Faith Imagined: March 2010

Faith Imagined

Alisa Hope Wagner: Christian Writer

March 28, 2010


I've seen movies and heard descriptions of Jesus' crucifixion. The physical torture that Jesus experienced is explained in detail, and we see each lash ripping His flesh, the excruciating walk to Golgotha, and the nails hammered into His hands and feet. Many times the pain is our sole focus, and we assume that the fear of this pain explains why Jesus petitioned God at Gethsemane to "take this cup from me." However, the physical sacrifice is only one aspect of Jesus' death on the cross. There is so much more that we many times forget to examine and meditate on.

The crucifixion is made up of three components, and physical pain is only one of them. Yes, Jesus is human, so the pain was a big part of why He said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Mark 14.34 NIV). But I do not believe that it was fear of pain that made Jesus sweat drops of blood (Luke 22.44 NIV). I know that Jesus loves me more than I can comprehend, and He would boldly confront physical persecution for my sake. I think He had a greater reason to feel anguish -- a reason that our culture has trouble even understanding.

The second aspect of the crucifixion that would cause Jesus to be overwhelmed with sorrow is that He became sin for us: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5.21 NIV). Please note that Jesus became sin. He was sin for us. What is sin? Sin is the absence of God. Sin is the absence of light, love, beauty, glory, etc. The best way I can illustrate this concept is to take the innocence of a newborn baby and force that innocence to experience every disgusting, revolting, hideous sin you can think of. Try to imagine the innocence of those you love (especially your own children) and your mind will shut down. Your heart can not process the anguish.

The third aspect of the crucifixion ties directly into the second. This was the "more" that I was looking for. It took a while for me to comprehend, which demonstrates just how much I do not know about love. Several months ago, I was reading through the New Testament, and I was struck by the relationship between God and Jesus. They are so deeply rooted together, and I wanted to know how it felt. I prayed and asked God, "Show me how much Jesus loves You."

After I prayed that prayer, I read about Jesus praying to God in Gethsemane. His soul was in anguish, and God sent Jesus an angel to comfort Him. As I read about Jesus just minutes before He would be betrayed, I remembered how I had always been dissatisfied with explanations of the crucifixion. Yes, the physical pain Jesus endured was incomprehensible, but I know that there was another pain that I wasn't understanding. Finally, it hit me. If Jesus became sin, and God can have no part of sin, then God would have to disconnect from Jesus for a time.

Jesus loved God so much, and His entire existence was solely dependent on God; therefore, Jesus' biggest fear was to be forsaken by God. I believe Jesus feared this more than the physical pain and more than becoming sin. When Jesus cried out on the cross with His only complaint, He did not cry out, "My God, My God, this pain hurts so bad" or "My God, My God this sin is so revolting." No, Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" (Mark 15.34 NIV).

Nothing else mattered more to Jesus than the presence of God. That is how much Jesus loved God, and this showed me how much I do not. As I meditated on this, I became overwhelmed with anguish. God has been a sidenote, a ball I juggle in my busy schedule. Yes, He has also been a Father, a Friend, a Savior, a Healer, a Teacher, a Guide, an Encourager, yet He has never been my core. How do I know this? Because I constantly struggle with forsaking Him.

I forsake God for sleep, for my own desires, for my spouse, for my children, for my career, for the opinions of others, for security, for money, for prestige, for acclaim, for comfort, for pleasures, etc. I daily struggle with forsaking God, and I have no fear of it. Yes, I feel guilty and I repent when I know I've purposely walked away from His will, but do I fear? No.

I know that God loves me no matter what, and I'm happy to say that I have forgiveness of my sins through Jesus. However, I want God to be my core. I want Him to be my everything. I think that is why Jesus says, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14.26 NIV).

Jesus does not actually want us hating people or ourselves. Research the Scriptures, and you'll see that Jesus tells us over and over again to love others. However, our love for God should be so immense and so deep that our love for anything else should be comparatively weak. Would we be willing to give up all that we have for God? Jesus did.

When Jesus asked God to "take this cup from me," I do not believe He was talking about the physical pain or even becoming sin. Jesus' prayer before His crucifixion is the only time I see that Jesus took a step of obedience that He did not willingly want to take. God asked Jesus to give up the one thing that Jesus loved the most so that humankind could have everlasting life with Him: Jesus gave up God. Jesus became sin, and God can not have any part of sin. If this weren't true, then our sins are not really forgiven. If Jesus did not take our sins upon Himself, they are still on us. If they are still on us, God can not allow us into His glory.

If I could just understand Jesus' step of obedience, His sacrifice for me, I think I could have a glimpse of how much Jesus loved God. I love Jesus so much because He took this step of faith for God, even if He didn't want to. I love God so much because He "so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3.16 NIV). That God chose to weave me into this Divine Romance between Father and Son boggles my mind. I want to love them both back with a love deserving of their love for me. I know that my love will pale in comparison, but God beautifully makes up the difference with His grace!

Jesus is my hero because of His complete obedience to God. Many times God asks me to do things that I don't want to do, but I do them out of obedience. However, I can trust that God will never ask me to do it alone -- God will never forsake me (Hebrews 13.5) and Jesus is always praying on my behalf (Romans 8.34). The words that Jesus whispered before becoming my Living Sacrifice have become my new life's prayer: "yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22.42 NIV).

"For a brief moment I forsook you,
But with great compassion I will gather you" (Isaiah 54.7 NASB).

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March 26, 2010

Sanctified Together Publication

Here is the article that I published in the Sanctified Together Email & Online Publication -- Issue: Belt of Truth. Sign up to receive the free publication via email by clicking here.

We are wrapping up the next issue: Life as a Vapor. It will be published the beginning of April. We have the publications available online or you can print out the PDF file. We would love for you to submit your writing for the summer issue: Measure of a Woman. Visit our Get Involved Page for information on how to submit.

To download and/or print

Drinking from an Empty Carton

Have you ever watched a character in a milk commercial drink from a carton? The character lifts the milk to his lips, and the carton appears virtually weightless. After the character takes his drink, you wait for the swallow, but it never comes. The character offers an indulgent smile, yet there is not a drop of milk on his lips. Commercials try to creatively make the carton appear full, yet there is nothing in it. The effort used to put on this charade begs the question, "Why not just drink from a carton that is full?"

The sad truth is that we Christians do the same thing in our walks of faith. We tend to embrace the performance of our faith rather than embrace the Maker of our faith. We are diligent about managing our ministries, serving others and gaining biblical knowledge, yet we slack on knowing our God more intimately. We don't do it on purpose. Our intentions are never to take our focus off of God and place it on our performance for God, but we do. We are so busy serving Him that we don't have time to spend with Him. We fall into the performance-based spirituality, and our relationship with God takes a back seat.

Performance-based spirituality is one of the main plugs stopping the flow of the Holy Spirit. We forget that God is infinitely creative and has a plethora of resources at His disposal. We can never assume that we know how our steps of obedience are going to play out: "A man's steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?" (Proverbs 20.24 NIV). Yet, without consulting God we get a spiritual performance (ministry, service, tradition, etc.) in our mind, and we work hard to achieve it - even if it costs us our time with God.

In this culture today we are very busy, and we complain to God that there isn't enough time to spend with Him. However, our time is God's number one desire. If we don't give God our time, how are we expected to cultivate a relationship with Him? God would never ask us to serve Him in a way that prevented us from spending time with Him. In the book of Mark, a religious leader asked Jesus which commandment was the most important, and Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (12.30). If loving God is the highest commandment, why would God put us in a circumstance that conflicts with spending time with Him?

Today we have so many choices which force us to daily make hundreds of decisions. What should we watch, read, eat and wear? What ministry should we support? What online social network should we join? What ideology (way of thinking) should we commit to? What social cause should we embrace? What life purpose should we focus on? If we are not carefully walking in the Spirit, we're going to be overwhelmed with choices and begin to second guess ourselves. We will become bogged down in a swamp of choice, and our purpose of reaching our full potential in Christ will be jeopardized.

There are thousands of great ministries, media venues, compassion campaigns and people doing a good work for God's kingdom. However, if our spiritual walks are performance-based, we may find ourselves lost in a market full of good work vendors and no guide to lead us in the right direction. These vendors line our path and call out our names, trying to persuade us that their good work is an absolute must for our walk of faith. There is nothing wrong with these good works, but the Holy Spirit has to daily show us which ones we should carry and which ones we should let go. If we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to direct us, we'll carry the same good works forever and pile on more until our views become blocked and our arms become heavy.

Moreover, if all of our time and energy is spent on spiritual-based performance and not on God, those good works become idols. God specifically says that He hates it when we cling to idols instead of trusting Him (Psalm 31.6 NIV). When we desire a relationship with God and strive to know Him more, our good works will be an outflow of the Holy Spirit working in us. We won't have to worry about doing the wrong good works or doing too many good works because God promises that if we put Him first, He'll take care of everything: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6.33). Our purpose in life is to have an intimate relationship with our Creator; everything else is merely the icing on the cake!

If you are feeling overwhelmed and stretched thin, take a few moments to have an honest discourse with God. Ask Him if there are any areas of your life that you have been "drinking from an empty carton." He will show you. Give those areas over to God and let go of your idea of what your spiritual walk should look like. Choose to put knowing God intimately as your highest priority, and He will free you from performance-based spirituality. Make sure that in everything you do that the carton is filled with God's spirit. In this way, you will ensure that you don't waste your time and energy on an empty performance that leaves you feeling unfilled, tired and malnourished.

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March 21, 2010

Wrestling with God

I wrestle with God a lot. Like Jacob, God leads me to a place of transition, and the core of who I am is exposed. God points out a deep rooted sin, and He waits on me to make a choice: Will I allow Him to uproot the ugliness or will I run and hide from His hand? If I let God do spiritual surgery on my heart, I will have spiritual health to carry the weight of His blessings. If I run and hide from this divine appointment, I will be filled with my own ugliness and unable to bear His fullness in my life.

Out of obedience, Jacob moved forward with God until he was stuck in a place of transition. He couldn't run back to Laban (his father-in-law), yet he feared going forward to Esau (his brother). Jacob's deceitful past was catching up to him, and he ran out of hiding places. With no where to turn, he had to confront the facts -- he was a deceiver (Genesis 32).

God had been blessing Jacob even though he had this character flaw. God provided Jacob with children, servants, riches, authority, etc. However, God wanted to bless Jacob at a new level, but Jacob needed some excess baggage cut off. Jacob couldn't move forward into God's abundance because he was tied down by his sin.

Finally, Jacob confronted God face to face and had an all-out wrestling match. The interesting thing about wrestling with God is that God never moves or changes. God is perfect and unchanging. If we decide to take Him on, we will be the ones who move and change.

When we wrestle with God, we become meek. Meekness means that we allow God complete control over our lives, so that we can have the fullness of His glory, power and strength displayed through our lives. If you want the power of God, wrestle with Him whenever He calls you into the ring. Allow God complete control, and He will use you to shine His glory.

I used to try to avoid wrestling with God. I thought that if I could just pray hard enough and keep my ears focused on the Holy Spirit, that I would be good enough to bypass this painful encounter with Him. I thought I could change myself without feeling the pruning of His hand. But I've learned to embrace it! I want to be blessed by God; and if I have to wrestle with Him and allow my sinful nature to be cut, then so be it! I want His blessings more than I want a painless, carefree life.

How do you know that God is inviting you to a wrestling match? Just remember M.E.E.K.

Moving: You feel a movement of God and obediently follow His lead.
Exposing: You feel stuck because you can't go back to who you were and are unable to move into God's fullness for you.
Extracting: You feel God cutting away hidden sin and endure for the promised blessings.
Kneeling: You feel changed in Christ and are more aware of His majesty and glory.

I don't know about you, but I want to wrestle with God. Do not feel guilty when you go through this process. It is not a sign of your lack of faith. It is a sign that you hunger for Him more than you hunger for comfortable and easy. So get into the ring! I promise that you will lose, but you will gain His blessings!

"Then the man said, 'Let me go, for it is daybreak.' But Jacob replied, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me'" (Genesis 32.26 NIV).

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March 14, 2010

Media Meditation: Yoked

Download your free Media Meditation handouts for the Get Revived Online Conference! I will be presenting Wednesday March 17 at 10:00am Central Time. The study is also available for download/print by clicking here! Be on the lookout for the second part of the series, Master Meditation, in a couple months!

There are two voices in the world today: The Voice of God and the Voice of the Enemy. The Voice of God can be compared to a soft whisper (1 Kings 19:12). The Voice of the Enemy can be compared to a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). Humans are merely receivers of these two voices, and we act in accordance to the one we fill ourselves up with most. We were created to be vessels of God's glory; however, we have free choice and we can choose to be vessels of the Enemy's deceit (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Jesus tells us to take His yoke upon us (Matthew 11:29-30). A yoke is a tool used to team two oxen together so that they may work in the same effort. In the book of Job, when Job's wealth is assessed, the animals are individually counted except for his oxen. The oxen are always counted in pairs (Job 42:12).

A yoke signifies room for two -- a pair. If we are not completely yoked to Jesus, then the Enemy is gaining access as well. If we are not 100% sold out to Christ, we will find ourselves at any moment yoked to the kingdom of the Enemy. Sadly, we become lukewarm Christians tossed back and forth by the waves of our culture (Revelations 3:15-16) & (Ephesians 4:14).

How can we have the abundant (overflowing) life that God promises when we our allowing ourselves to be yoked to the Enemy? If we are yoked to the Enemy, we won't be able to fully sow a bountiful harvest because he will assuredly force us to either stop, get distracted or completely mess up the plowing. Our necks will become tired and covered with soars. Our backs will begin hurting, and we'll fall over in exhaustion. Only Jesus' yoke is light and easy to bear.

I think many of us deceive ourselves into thinking that we are just neutral. We are not fully committed to God, yet we think that we are not committed to the Enemy either. Sadly, this is not true. We are either yoked to the Kingdom of God or we are yoked to the Kingdom of the Enemy. There is no middle ground.

God knows that we will make mistakes, and we are given unmerited favor (grace) because of His love for us. But it is my earnest cry to the Lord that I be yoked to Him! I don't want to be a puppet for the Enemy. I don't want to look back to moments in my past and realize that I was used by the kingdom of the Enemy to do his awful bidding. I hate the enemy, and I want to claim victory over his schemes.

How can I do that? I can I make an effort to yoke myself to the Holy Spirit so that the times I'm used by the Enemy become less frequent?

I have to listen for the soft voice of God. Psalm 19 says that the voice of God is everywhere. It is in the heavens and the earth, and all of creation shouts His glory. But we can't hear God's soft whispers when we are consumed by the roars of the Enemy.

The Enemy is loud and his roar echoes through our mainstream culture, especially the different channels of media. I hear his lies shouting through the TV and screaming through the radio. His roar is pulsating through mainstream magazines and yelling through books. The Enemy deafens our ears with the Internet, and we forget what the glory of God looks like.

My desire is that Christians shut the Enemy up! We need to stop listening to him in our homes, in our cars, at our work and with our friends. Our ears are becoming accustomed to his lies and our children are finding comfort in his voice. Ask yourselves these questions:

1) What am I allowing to enter my house through the television? Is it yoked to the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of the Enemy?

2) What music am I listening to? Is it yoked to the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of the Enemy?

3) What magazines am I flipping through? Are they yoked to the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of the Enemy?

4) What books am I reading? Are they yoked to the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of the Enemy?

5) What am I consuming on the Internet? Is it yoked to the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of the Enemy?

Whose voice are we allowing to enter into our hearts, minds, souls? Is it a voice declaring God's the glory or the Enemy's?

Let us cultivate our Media Meditation together. Join me at Get Revived Conference!

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March 8, 2010

Media Meditation: Truth or Lies?

Join me at the Get Revived Conference!

When I was about 12 years old, my family and I went to Denali Park in Alaska. There was a beautiful glacier in the park that was roped off. However, many people were crossing under the ropes and climbing up the icy face of the frozen mountain.

I was excited! I wanted to climb a glacier. I ducked under the rope and began my trek up the slippery ice. As I started climbing, I realized that my t-shirt, jeans and Keds tennis shoes were not helping me. In fact, I kept slipping down the ice, and I almost fell into the deep blue ravines that cut through the glacier like giant bear claws.

I noticed other people were climbing the glacier with ease because they were prepared with climbing gear. They were focused and ready for the trials that they would face in order to experience the blessing of reaching the top.

I gave up trying to climb the glacier because I knew that I would never make it in my current state of helplessness. I missed out because I wasn't ready.

This memory reminds me of the abundant Christian life that God has planned for each of us. So many Christians want the blessings of God, but they are not ready to receive them. Living an abundant Christian life is riddled with trials and tests, and we must allow the Holy Spirit to equip us. Otherwise, we will slip down the ice and possibly fall into a ravine. We will be controlled with fear and frozen by our weaknesses.

God is able to prepare our hearts for an amazing adventure with Him through meditation. Joshua 1.8 (NIV) reads, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." We must mediate on God's truth, so that we can stand firm on His promises. Otherwise, we are doomed to failure.

Meditation is the filling of our hearts with either truth or lies. One of the biggest sources of meditation today is found through media. Christians need to be diligent about weeding out the many lies that pour out of media. Those lies make us vulnerable to the Enemy and keep us fearful, distracted and disinterested in crossing over to the abundant Christian life.

We only have one life. We need to make the best of it. Let us focus our hearts on God's truth and make our way up the glacier to His amazing blessings. It will be difficult, but it will be the thrill of a lifetime. . . guaranteed!

Download my conference worksheets for Media Meditation here.

Download your FREE copy of Sitting with God: A 40 Day Meditation

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March 4, 2010

Internet Cafe: Talking with God

I allow each of my boys to pray at night as they are lying in bed. My youngest boy is three and my oldest is five. The youngest one usually prays and his older brother then follows. At first my youngest boy didn’t want to pray because he was embarrassed. He didn’t pray like his older brother, and I think that made him self-conscious. However, I encouraged him without any pressured expectations, and he started to pray now and then.

One night, my youngest son jumped into praying. He prayed for juice, toys, cookies, popcorn, etc. I could hear my oldest son snickering under his breath. When my youngest son said, “Amen,” I kissed him and went over to my oldest son’s bed.

I whispered in his ear, “You used to pray like that. He will get better and better as he practices. Let’s not make fun of him, okay?”

My oldest son looked grave and shook his head in agreement. He then prayed his prayer with confidence. He asked God to bless our family and protect us while we slept. I kissed him goodnight, turned off the lights and shut the door behind me.

Prayer is often so misunderstood. There are people who can pray all the pretty religious phrases and others who are straightforward. They are all beautiful as long as the motive is right. What is the motive of prayer? To speak to God.

We have an amazing line to God, and it takes time to get the hang of it. We must not beat ourselves up if we feel like we didn’t pray right. God hears the heart, not the words. The only way to get better at talking with God is to practice – practice makes perfect!

Do you feel like your prayers are hitting the ceiling? Be honest with God, and He will meet you where you are at. He wants to communicate with you more than anything. How can you save time for him every day? What could you take out or move in your schedule in order to put praying to God as priority?

And just remember that when there are no words, Jesus prays on your behalf!

“Father, help us to seek You every day. We know that it takes work to forge an intimate relationship with You. Put a passion in us that seeks to know You more. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.”

“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17.9 NIV).

You can also read this at the Internet Cafe!

Download your FREE copy of Sitting with God: A 40 Day Meditation

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