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Faith Imagined: August 2010

Faith Imagined

Alisa Hope Wagner: Christian Writer

August 29, 2010

Where's the Sugar?

I made a sugar free apple cobbler for my kids. Even the whipped cream on top was sugar free. I was so excited because it looked beautiful, and it tasted pretty good. My three year old sugar connoisseur son was so excited. I put the dessert in front of him, and his eyes bulged. He took his spoon and started taking big bites. After a few mouthfuls, he put the spoon down and looked up at me.

“What’s wrong?” I said. “You don’t like it?”

He pushed the bowl away and said, “It needs sugar.”

I couldn’t believe it. I looked at my husband, and he shrugged. How did he know there was no sugar?

The same concept goes with ministry. A ministry leader can make sure that everything is perfect and looks great, but there is only one way to ensure that God’s sweetness (Holy Spirit) is present. Unless the leadership is sensitive and broken to the will of God, the Holy Spirit cannot freely move through the ministry like it should.

Before we had kids, God moved my husband and me to Dallas. I saw a commercial for a local Christian school, and I knew that God wanted me to teach there. The position paid very little, so I taught college at night. The year was challenging for me, and I couldn’t wait until summer so I could get outside the classroom.

I started applying to other positions, but I had an uneasy feeling that I was supposed to teach one more year. I got offered an amazing job located downtown Dallas, creating English software to help kids with standardized testing. I was ecstatic because this job paid twice the amount of my two current positions combined, and I could sit behind a computer and analyze grammar and syntax all day.

For five days, I wrestled with God. I knew He didn’t want me to take the job. I remember jogging on my treadmill, and I jumped so hard out of anger that I broke it. I stomped around my living room and finally fell against the wall crying. I cried until there was nothing left. My family and friends didn’t understand. Why would I not go for such an amazing opportunity? All I could say was, "God says so."

During the last day of school, I finally resolved to be obedient, but I still felt very abandoned by God. I went to my desk and opened the Bible. I read Jeremiah 29.11: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’” (NLT). I decided that I would learn everything God wanted to teach me the following year, so, hopefully, he would allow me to leave the classroom.

My last year teaching, I taught seven subjects, including seventh and eighth grade Physical Education. For one of the six weeks, I felt God wanted me to teach them a Christian song in sign language. I didn’t know anything about music, but two of my students were daughters of the choir teacher. I didn’t have a plan, so we just worked each day at putting together a performance. I taught the girls some “choreography” and the sisters helped with the chorus. We finally finished it, and the girls had created something special.

I saw the principal in the hall, and I asked if she wouldn’t mind just taking a quick look at what the girls had created. She said sure, and sat down in an empty auditorium. After the principal saw it, she demanded that they perform in front of the school at the next pep rally. The girls were thrilled, and I was happy that they were able to show the school how hard they worked.

The girls performed in front of the entire school, and the teachers and students were amazed. People were crying, and I didn’t understand what was going on. The choir director came up to me with tears in her eyes and said, “Now that's what it's all about.” Till this day I value the fact that she didn’t thank me. It was obvious that I did nothing except allow myself to be broken by God and stay obedient to His will.

God’s spirit is unleashed through the brokenness of the ministry leader. Leaders are called into dry areas, so Living Water can flow through them, saturating everything with God’s presence. However, the ministry leaders must be broken so that the Holy Spirit in them can move freely. Leaders are responsible for having a broken self-nature and an obedient heart; the rest is up to God.

God’s glory comes in all shapes and forms and through all types of ministries, but it is obvious when the Holy Spirit is present….you can taste His sweetness. God needs our brokenness, so the Holy Spirit in us has free reign. How is God breaking you today? Do you receive it or become callus? How would your ministry (family, marriage, career, relationships, etc.) be different if God's Spirit was in control?

"Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies" (1 Corinthians 15.43-44 NLT).

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August 25, 2010

Striving Laundry: Guest Post for Writer's Manna

I'm doing a guest post over at Writer's Manna, authored by Heather Spiva! I hope it encourages you today!

I have been anxiously striving to finish edits on my first book. My mind has been consumed with writing, and I’m constantly telling myself to get to work. I feel the pressure of a deadline, and I told God one afternoon, “I can’t wait until I’m done.”

I could sense God smile and say, “Then you’ll start your second book.”

I stopped in my tracks. I realized that I will never be finished. When I’m done climbing this mountain, God will have another one for me in the distance. While I’m alive on this earth, God will always place promises for my life in the horizon.

God places promises beyond each of us; and as we move closer to them, God is able to mold us into the likeness of His son. Promises are in the core of Jesus; they pull us toward Him like gravity and slowly perfect us into our original design.

At that moment, I had a reality check. Obviously my perspective was wrong because God would not want me to be anxious about anything (Philippians 4.6).

How do we strive towards God’s promises without becoming overwhelmed? How do we find balance and joy in a life that will always be pulled toward higher goals and greater accomplishments?

I would like to answer this profound question with one simple word: Laundry.

Laundry is never done. Whenever I go from room to room with arms filled with dirty clothes, I like to sing the theme song to the 1984 movie The NeverEnding Story. If that story were written by a woman, I am sure it would have been about laundry.

I’ve learned to do a little bit of laundry every day. I don’t even think about it anymore. When I wake up, I’ll notice that the hamper is getting full, so I’ll grab the clothes and start a load. That afternoon after I put the kids down for a nap, I’ll put the clothes into the dryer and forget about them. While the kids are playing before bed, I’ll take the load out, fold it and put it away. Never once was I anxious.

I used to let the laundry build up, but I noticed that I always became anxious. The lack of clean clothes would begin to affect my life, and my mind would send me distracting signals to “get to work.” Laundry would become a big deal, when, in reality, it is such a small part of my life. If I would simply give laundry a fraction of my attention every day, it would be manageable.

This concept is the same for God’s promises. God doesn’t want His promises to become anxiety builders in our lives. His promises are supposed to draw us closer in relationship with Him. The imbalance comes when we stop daily focusing on God, and we let our relationship with Him build up, unused in the hamper.

If we hungrily seek God everyday and align our lives in His will, He would ensure that we have just enough time every day to work on His promises. As we seek God, He will groom our lives of everything unnecessary, and we will have perfect amount of time to complete His will. Also, when we focus on God, He will fill us with joy and peace that will filter through every aspect of our lives, dispersing our anxiety, worry and procrastination.

The purpose of life is to glorify God. If we are not doing that in our daily life, we probably need to ask God for a healthy dose of perspective. I decided to give up on striving; instead, I’m keeping my eyes on God and allowing His grace to move me toward His best for me.

"Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46.10 NASB).

You can also check out this article here!

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August 22, 2010

Your Part in the Wall

I was reading in my one year Bible about the remnant rebuilding the wall after they returned to Jerusalem. Two very different prophets were called by God to oversee the construction of the wall and to help reestablish the nation. So much insight can be gleaned from this story, but I'm excited about what God made personal to me.

After reading Ezra's and Nehemiah's points-of-view, I felt God ask me, "Which one do you think you are?" I excitedly told God, "Nehemiah!" In my mind's eye, I could see God turn His head toward me, raise His eyebrows and say, "Really?" I read back through the details from both prophets, and I knew I was more like Ezra.

When I was twenty-five years old, I taught college composition. This was the hardest step of obedience I had taken up to that point. For a solid year, I lived on the opposite side of my comfort zone. The emotional, spiritual and physical pressure I felt squashed my appetite, and I became the thinnest I've ever been in my adult life. Although I was a good teacher and the students learned a lot and enjoyed my class, I was on edge all of the time.

I didn't like being in front of a class. I didn't like everyone looking at me for direction and answers. I didn't like having to talk, talk, talk all the time. I was definitely no Nehemiah. I would have preferred to sit among the students, read my books and lead by example. God knew this time would stretch me, so, thankfully, He didn't ask me to teach college for long. He gave me a full year to rest before He put me through another stretching situation (my first baby).

The interesting thing is that if God were to ask me this question several years ago, I would have insisted on the wrong answer. I get so enamored by the action and risk of Nehemiah that I forget about the heart and strength of Ezra. Both these prophets were necessary to the completion of the wall. They both brought God's vision to fruition by each doing his different, yet equal part.

I think the reason that many Christians feel jealous, angry or confused about what other Christians are achieving is because they don't know what they're supposed to be doing. It is hard to know who we are in Christ if we don't know who we are. I used to feel guilty about self-evaluation, like it was egocentric. But God reprimanded me. He said that I needed to have a healthy understanding of my design, my desires and my destiny. We all must find our wall (purpose), that grows His temple (church) and plant our house (life) in the middle of it.

When we find our niche in God's Kingdom here on earth, we will find ourselves in Holy Ease. This doesn't mean everything will be easy or smooth, but our passions should align with our purpose. Nehemiah and Ezra did a lot of work against all odds and showed great amounts of discipline, and they were able to achieve the impossible. Together they built the wall in 52 days and established God's people on His truth. God divided His vision, and everyone did his/her part. How much could the church accomplish today if all Christians would discover their part and do it wholeheartedly?

Have you asked God to give you a healthy understanding of who you are in Him? If you saw some of your personality reflecting from a Bible character, would you recognize yourself? How do you think knowing your design will help you achieve your destiny?

"Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other" (Romans 12.3-5 NIV).

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August 19, 2010

The Obedience Blur

I'm doing a guest post over at Truth and Grace Ministries, founded by Karen Lowe! It's a quick read about the stage of confusion that occurs after a step of obedience but before we find our footing! I hope it encourages you today!

The Obedience Blur

About a year ago, God asked me to stop going to the gym. This was upsetting for me because I have gone to the gym ever since I was a young adult. I love working out, and the gym atmosphere motivates me and ensures that I exercise. I couldn’t understand why God would ask me to take this step of obedience.

Because I no longer had a gym membership, I had to squeeze in my work-outs at home. My four to five times a week exercise routine shortened to two or three days. It became increasingly difficult to find time to exercise with three kids at home. I would beg my husband to watch the kids while I jogged. I would work out on an exercise step outside while the kids played. I would work out while the kids napped or after they went down for the night.

My work-outs began to eat away my writing time, and I struggled with not being able to effectively do both. I couldn’t figure out how to balance my schedule, and I started to feel like I wasn’t able to handle all of my responsibilities.

Finally, I became fed up. I decided I was going to wake up an hour earlier each morning. I already woke up about 30 minutes before my kids so I could do a quiet time, but now I was determined to work-out and spend time with God before my kids came looking for me.

The first day, I dragged myself downstairs and did a work out video. Afterward, I felt so great, and I had an excellent time with God because I was wide awake and filled with energy! By the time my kids were up, I was ready for the day. I didn’t have any bad mommy moments that day because I no longer had an agenda to keep. I wrote while the kids slept, but other than that, I was completely there for them.

What I learned from this experience is that many times our steps of obedience take us into a period of confusion or imbalance. This is normal because we are adjusting to our new situation that the change creates. I think many times we turn away from our obedience because we falsely believe that the transition should have been easy. The fact is that many things we do for God are not easy, but God always has a wonderful purpose.

It took me an entire year to finally adjust to my small step of obedience. And although life still does not play out perfectly each day, I have found the balance that I knew God wanted me to achieve. I’m sure He cheered for me the entire time, and I’m glad that I trusted His will for my life.

What step of obedience has God asked you to take? Have you experienced a time of difficulty because of the changes? How were you able to modify your environment, attitude or obligations to adjust? Did you see God’s purpose in the change?

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.18 NLT).

You can also read this article here!

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August 15, 2010

Ragman Directed by Dale Ward & Giveaway

I arrived at a doctor's appointment, and talked with the receptionists while I waited. I could tell she was under spiritual and emotional pressure. I found out that she went to my church, and I gave her information about some ministries available to her. I was determined to give her a slice of hope and comfort before I left. I could sense that she needed something tangible, some concrete resource that would help her through this season of heaviness.

I fished through my purse, and I pulled out a book that I was currently reading. This book gave Christian insight on issues that women struggle with every day. I was so excited that I had taken this book with me! I knew this resource could shed some light into the darkness in which this woman found herself.

However, I can never forget her expression when I handed her the book. She was so disappointed! The Gallup poll says that about half of Americans are reading books; yet, there are still another half of Americans who are not (

What Christian resource could I have given this woman that would have filled her heart with God's truth in a medium that she would have embraced?

My twin sister and I recently watched the Christian short film,"Ragman," based on the classic short story by best-selling author Walter Wangerin, Jr. Director Dale Ward (4 time Emmy Award winner) does an amazing job at bringing this faith-filled story to life in a way that is relevant and tangible. This short film is beautifully directed and performed, and my heart was so full of God's beauty and love when the 18 minutes were up.

In retrospect, I wish I had the book and the DVD in my purse. I would have pulled them both out and asked the woman, "Which would you prefer?"

What if every anointed written resource was produced into visual media? I see the trend beginning, and I know why the visual complement of books is so important. God loves 100% of people, and I could only imagine that He would want His truths produced to reach both halves.

The visual concepts of the film are stunning, and each current day symbol alludes to a New Testament counterpart. You watch as the Ragman (Christ figure) walks through an inner city, exchanging people's old rags for new ones. The Ragman meets people on his way to die on a trash heap, taking their pain and sorrow on Himself and replacing it with His healing and peace.

A well-dressed man diligently follows the Ragman, learning and experiencing His character, power and glory. The well-dressed man watches as the Ragman dies for the sufferings of others, and then the man falls asleep overwhelmed with grief.

The well-dressed man awakes to find the Ragman risen from the dead, beautiful and whole again. The man faces the Ragman, takes off his nice clothes and pleads, "Dress me!"

During this final scene, I saw my heart's cry. I want to diligently follow Christ, strip myself of my selfish nature, and beg God to dress me in His glory and righteousness. I want more than forgiveness of my sins; I want to emulate Jesus. I desire for people to look at my life and think to themselves, "She definitely loves God because she's starting to live like His Son."

My love for God shapes my obedience, and my obedience shapes my Christ-likeness. I pray that we all will deepen our love for God, so that our obedience to His commands become like honey to us (Psalm 19.9-10 NIV).

"But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did" (1 John 2.5-6 NLT).

We are giving away 2 copies of Ragman. Leave a comment and you get 1 entry. State that you are a follower and get a second entry! Entry deadline is Saturday, August 21st and we will announce the winners on Sunday, August 22nd.

The film has ben awarded the TAFFY Award at the Attic Film Festival, and also Best Faith-based Film at the Cape Fear International Film Festival. "Ragman" is currently nominated for Best Drama at this summer's Route 66 Film Festival in September.

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August 12, 2010

Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publisher

My article entitled, "In Defense of Self-help Books," has been published on Michael Hyatt's blog! Mr. Hyatt is the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publisher, the largest Christian publishing group in the world.

I would be honored if you would read the post and make a comment. If you Twitter, Facebook or post a link to the article, I would be overjoyed! Here is the link:

Blessings to you!

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August 8, 2010

His Return Meditation

I imagine myself as a frail, old woman. It is dusk, and I'm walking outside amongst strangers along the street. I have nothing left of value. My money has been passed along to my kids and God's service. My youth and beauty have died long ago. My body is broken, and my five senses have faded. My mind is forgetful, and I can't keep a schedule. I can barely muster the energy to complete the daily tasks of living. I live each day longing for my Love's return.

I hear a scream, and see people running away in fear. I look to the heavens just in time to see the star sprinkled night sky rip in half. The black drape ripples like a blanket and falls on either side of the earth. All around me is the absence of darkness. I've could have never comprehended such light.

I feel the earth flatten and draw together; all the peoples of the earth now have a front row seat to the final show. From the sky's center stage, a man appears riding a winged horse. An expanse of angels stretch for miles to His left and right. The man wears many crowns, and on his thigh is written, "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." His face is blazing fire, and His strength vibrates the earth.

I stare at the majesty of my Love. "Beautiful," I whisper. "More beautiful than I could ever imagine."

I offer my last confession: "Forgive me, Father. I did not describe Your beauty adequately with my words. I fell short of emulating Your glory with my life."

Around me a few people linger. They are the children of the Most High, and the Spirit of God in them affirms the time. They fall to their knees in despair. A man next to me pulls money out of his pockets, sacrificing it willingly. A woman in front of me eagerly offers up her beauty. Prestige, careers, children, fame, schedules, pleasures and worry are laid out on the footstool of the King, but it is too late. God had asked for their sacrifices, but they ignored His requests.

Thunderous praise steals my gaze back to the horizon, and my Love eases His horse on the earth. He has returned, and my heart is overwhelmed with joy. Yet...I have nothing left to offer Him. During my life, I gave Him everything He asked of me. He requested each thing I held dear -- my mind, my husband, my children, my career, my dreams, my time, my money -- and piece by piece, I handed my life over to His will.

I look to my Love. Would He remember that I gave Him all I had? Did I hear the Spirit's leading correctly? Have I lived the life that He desired for me? Does He know how much I love Him? The King walks toward me; His confidence causes the air around Him to shake. I open my aged arms wide. They are empty. I am empty. There is nothing left.

"Jesus, I am unworthy," I whisper. "But I love You. I love You. I love You." I can say no more.

Jesus gets on His knee before me, and He strokes the side of my wrinkled face. His smile radiates light, and His tears shimmer down His cheek.

He looks into my eyes and says, "I loved you first." He fills my empty arms with His glory, and my crumpled, old skin falls to the ground.

* I meditate on this image to remind myself of the meaning of life. My strength is renewed and my purpose is focused when I imagine Jesus returning for me. May we all have nothing left to give Him when He returns.

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August 5, 2010

Internet Cafe: The Good Fear

My oldest son has taken swim lessons since he was six months old. Every summer we pour energy, money and time into getting him acquainted with the water and comfortable swimming. By the end of each summer, he is able to confidently move through the water like a fish!

However, through the winter months, his water skills take a back seat and he loses his swimming confidence. When summer comes round again, he believes he can’t swim and is burdened by an unfounded fear.

Once again, I enrolled my son in swimming lessons, and the teacher assessed him in the water. He was nervous and wouldn’t let go of the side. She said that he would have to go with the beginners who were several years younger than he.

I was discouraged because I know he could do better. I see his fear and try to explain to him that he is an amazing swimmer….he just forgot! He won’t listen to me, though. His fear dictates his actions and drives his mother crazy!

During the first swim lesson, my son regained his confidence; and by the second swim lesson, the teacher had to move him to the next class. He was far more advanced than she had anticipated. When he finally let go of his fear, he was able to demonstrate his real ability.

Oh! But don’t we do that too as God’s children?!

God is constantly working in us to prepare us for the challenges ahead. He knows who we are deep in our spirits, and He knows that we can do His will. But many times our fears stop us from shining His glory! I can go through all the reasons and excuses of our fears, but I’ll just touch on the deepest root: We have lost our fear (reverence, honor, awe) of God, and that fear has been transmitted to the world.

If the Creator of life, the God of everything living, and the King of all the breathes says that we can do it, what right do we have to yell back, “No, we can’t”? Are we going to bow down to the fear of God or the fear of the world?

If God says you can do it…YOU CAN!

I want to be an excellent wife – YOU CAN!

I want to raise godly children – YOU CAN!

I want to serve with a heart of joy – YOU CAN!

I want to accomplish the impossible – YOU CAN!

I want to be a shining woman of faith – YOU CAN!

You can swim in this crazy ocean of faith. God has given you the tools, and He is slowly honing your talent during the seemingly meaningless tasks that you do every day. He is doing a good work in you. He knows when you are ready to swim; so when you hear Him calling you out, don’t think about it, don’t analyze it, don’t worry about it and don’t fear it. Just tell yourself, “I can!”

If you have submitted to His authority and have been faithful in the small things of your daily life, you will find victory. And when you finally start swimming, you’ll realize that you had more ability than you anticipated. God will have to pile on more anointing just to keep up with your skills. Take off the weight of fear, and you’ll rise to the top!


What fears have prevented you from achieving God’s best for your life?

What would happen if you replaced the fear of the world with the Fear of the Lord (the basis of all wisdom)?

Would you make a commitment starting today that you would fear the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, the only name deserving of your fear?

You can also read this devotional over at the Internet Cafe!

You can also read my interview at Robin's Nest!

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August 1, 2010

A Stump

As you read through the final chapters of Exodus, you will find God's very particular blue print for His worship place. From the material, design, usage, accents and construction -- each aspect of the Holy dwelling was unique and intricate. After reading such detailed instructions, you might say, "Geez, God! You have pretty picky expectations!"

We are the New Testament Temple, and I want to say that God is just as picky about you (His chosen one) today as He was about His chosen people back then. You are His worship place; He dwells in you, and He has a plan for the temple He has given you.

If you daily seek God, you will find that He will give you detailed instructions. Some instructions are lasting, some are seasonal and some are for the moment; but He has a design, a purpose and a bunch of awe-inspiring accents that He wants to carve into your life. But, you have to be obedient and let Him wield the hammer.

In my life, God has given me finite laws that go beyond the 10 Commandments. The 10 commandments are the basic moral foundation for all humanity; however, God's children have very explicit commandments. These laws shape our temples and make us a unique and fruitful creation fashioned by God: "A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God-shaped life is a flourishing tree" (Proverbs 11.28 MSG).

I've come to realize that a God-shaped life is a very disciplined life. I have a list of things that I can't do. I sacrifice those things for God because I know that He has amazing blessings for me that far outweigh what I have given up for Him. I also have a list of things that I must do, but I have found joy that is not based on my circumstances. I now enjoy doing tasks that I once deemed as boring, difficult or trivial. I trust God, and I want Him to mold me; otherwise, I'll be molded by the world or the insignificance of my own understanding.

So my encouragement to you when God tells you to give up something or to do something is that there is a purpose. God has a plan, and He has to make a particular pattern in your life because He is creating your temple to hold the beauty and power of His glory. And realize that your pattern will be different from other people; but don't worry, they're getting shaped in other ways.

Do you want your life to be filled with God's glory? Do you want to be more than a stubby "stump" stuck in the trappings of this world? Then forget about what everyone else is doing and live within the parameters that God has tailored to your life. Stay focused on how the Holy Spirit is leading you this day and stay obedient to where He is directing the fullness of your life. Walk in discipline; and at the end of your days on earth, your life will be a gorgeous, fruit-filled tree.

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12.11 NIV).

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