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Faith Imagined: September 2010

Faith Imagined

Alisa Hope Wagner: Christian Writer

September 26, 2010

The Accuser

"Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: 'Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down'" (Revelation 12.10 NIV).

I recently read this verse in Revelation, and I got a better understanding of what I'm up against when trying to live a sold-out life for Christ. I have an Enemy who accuses me day in and day out. And he is very good at what he does. I've only been on this earth for a short time; my Accuser has been on this earth since time began. He has practiced his schemes on every generation since Adam and Eve, so I am no surprise to him. The Accuser looks at me and thinks, "Piece of cake."

There is no way that I will be able to claim victory over this Accuser on my own. I might as well admit defeat because I am out-smarted and out-matched. Thankfully, God knows that I would lose in my own strength, so He tells me to die to my weak self and live in the power that He has given me (Luke 9.23-24).

Dying to self is very hard at first, but it gets easier when we begin to see first hand what God can accomplish in our lives when our selfish dictatorships are out of the way. Once I learned to forgo my plans and cling to God's, I discovered a life that was worthy to be lived -- a life that produced a harvest for God's kingdom.

When we let go of our limited understanding, we gain the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.16). The Enemy may out-smart us, but Jesus Christ out-smarts him. Jesus proved this on the cross when He defeated death. Moreover, Christ renews our mind, and we leave the predictable patterns of the world that the Enemy is well versed in. The Enemy knows how to make us fall, but the renewing of our minds in Christ will keep the Enemy guessing (Romans 12.2).

Also, when we realize that we are weaker than our Enemy, we will rightly give control over to the Holy Spirit. God's spirit in us is like having a perfect guide, perfect leader, perfect parent and perfect compass in our lives. We are out-matched by ourselves, but the Holy Spirit greatly tips the scales in our favor (John 14.26). Although the Enemy may be accusing us, God's spirit is constantly interceding for us. I can only imagine that the Accuser's accusations are petty compared to the amazing things God's Spirit says about us (Romans 8.27).

But who are we listening to? Are we listening and believing in the Enemy's accusations or are we listening and believing in God's truth? I once believed that it was normal to allow my mind to accuse myself, but I discovered that I was doing the Enemy's will. I want to do the will of God. I want to proclaim my victory and my value according to God's truth established for me. What is God's truth? He loves me. He loves you. He loves us enough to die for our sins so that we can commune with a holy God through the righteousness we gain by faith in Jesus Christ (1 John 4.10) & (Romans 5.17).

I think if we fully understood God's love for us, we would instantly embrace His will for our lives. He has such an amazing plan for all of us--a plan that we could never comprehend or fulfill without Him (1 Corinthians 2.9). I want to stop listening and believing in the Enemy, so I can keep my ears and eyes focused on how God wants to display His glory through my life. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to listen to what God says about me.

"With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1.11-12 NIV).

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September 19, 2010

The Handicap

Wikipedia defines Sports Handicapping as follows: "The practice of assigning advantage through scoring compensation or other advantage given to different contestants to equalize the chances of winning."

Keep this definition in mind when you consider Job's question found in Job 9.2: "But how can a mortal be righteous before God?"

There are two ways of achieving such righteousness:

1) Righteousness According to Law
2) Righteousness According to Faith

Ecclesiastes 7.20 (NIV) states: "There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins." Jesus is the only one who can stand in righteousness according to law.

Philippians 3.9 (NIV) states: "and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith."

Job (Old Testament) and Paul (New Testament) were both imperfect people. Job had to ask God for forgiveness because he presumed to know the wonders of God (Job 42). And Paul persecuted Jesus and His disciples (Acts 9.1-5). Both these men had made mistakes, yet they claimed Righteousness by Faith, and the people hated them for it.

In Job 31.6, Job tells his friends boldly about his righteousness through faith, "Let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless." This upset Job's friends so much that they left him: "So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes" (Job 32.1).

In Acts 23:1-3 (MSG), Paul proclaims his own righteousness before the High Council: "Paul surveyed the members of the council with a steady gaze, and then said his piece: 'Friends, I've lived with a clear conscience before God all my life, up to this very moment.' That set the Chief Priest Ananias off. He ordered his aides to slap Paul in the face. Paul shot back, 'God will slap you down! What a fake you are! You sit there and judge me by the Law and then break the Law by ordering me slapped around!'"

How can Job and Paul be so bold as to claim their own righteousness when they obviously have not lived perfect lives? They stood strong on a divine handicap that people cannot see. They understood God's grace, and their faith became stronger than their failures.

If we have righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, why is the world chalked full of guilt ridden, insecure Christians? Why are we not claiming the spiritual handicap that is ours, and determining our victory by the grace God gives us? I believe more Christians would claim their God-given promises and do the impossible for the kingdom of God if they truly understood what it means to be made righteous by faith.

It doesn't matter if the world has video, photos or any other documentation to prove our sin; we have been made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. We can claim our innocence from the mistakes we made twenty years ago to the mistakes we made today. We can demand a clear conscience because we have a divine handicap that levels the playing field. God packs on the grace, smoothing out the holes of our sin, which gives us an equal chance of winning. Yes, this advantage may upset the people who don't have it, but it's available to all who are willing to receive it.

So here is my question to you? Are you claiming your righteousness or are you wallowing in the past, condemned by the opinions of others? Which is stronger? Your faith or your failures?

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September 12, 2010

The Gift of Contentment

We were at the beach, and my oldest son was collecting seashells. I asked him what he was going to do with all of them. He said he was going to make a necklace for a special girl. I thought of all the little girls in his circle of friends, and one in particular came to mind. I asked, "Does her name start with a C?"

He said, "No, her name starts with an L."

I went through the short list of little girl L names I knew, even mentioning some of the mommies with L names. But with a smile, he said no to each one. Then I thought of my name. Although my name is Alisa (uh-lĭs-uh), my husband usually takes out the beginning A and calls me (lĭs-uh).

I called my son close to me and whispered in his ear, "Is it lĭsa?" He smiled and blushed and nodded his head yes. I gave him a big hug, and all that day I felt like a treasure. My son may have confused my name, but it didn't affect how I felt about his eagerness to bless me.

Isn't it beautiful how the love we have will overlook the small mistakes and focus on the show of devotion? However, when I thought about this, I remembered that early in my marriage I was not very good at forgiving oversights. My husband would go out of his way to do something nice, but many times it wasn't according to my anticipation. I would zero in on what I didn't like, instead of appreciating the beauty of his sacrifice.

After a time, my husband stopped trying to do special things to spoil me. I didn't blame him, because I had filled his gift-offerings with negative energy. Why would he continue giving when he could never get it right? I quickly discovered my mistake and worked hard to reverse the damage I created. I changed my perspective and openly accepted everything he did for me and gave me. Moreover, I started to realize that I enjoyed his taste and ideas. Now my husband rocks at giving!

We live in a very self-indulged society. We are used to getting everything exactly how we want it; and if we don't, we show our discontent. We are swimming in blessings, and we don't realize that everything we receive is a gift. When we start being picky, we might need to shed off some pounds of selfishness and let go of our self-entitled attitude. The gift is not as important as the person who gives it.

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4.11 NIV).

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September 7, 2010

Stand Your Ground: Internet Cafe

My son loves to chase birds. When he sees them sweetly sitting there, he takes off into a sprint toward them. The birds instantly fly away as they see my son heading like a freight train in their direction. He divides the birds like the red sea, and he grins with a feeling of triumph.

One afternoon, I took my kids to the splash park. A single bird sat in the water enjoying herself immensely. My son ran toward her, but the bird didn’t budge; she didn’t even ruffle a feather. Her fearlessness caused my son to abruptly stop. The bird stood her ground, and my son walked away. I figured my son only enjoyed the chase-and-run game when the birds that cooperated.

God has been teaching me a lot about standing my ground. Many times I’m others-centered instead of God-centered, and I worry way too much what people think. If I have to make a decision that others don’t like, I show my fear, guilt and apprehension of their opinion concerning my decision. Unknowingly, others take this as a cue that I’m in the wrong and that their disapproval of my decision is justified.

I try to root all of my decisions in God, and, honestly, many people don’t like my choices. When I show my angst about my decision, I’m indicating that I approve of other people’s disapproval, and I reveal a lack of trust in God’s judgment. The impression I give is not fair to others or to me because it causes a bunch of negative undertones that wouldn’t be there if I were to simply take my insecurity out of my decision making.

I’m learning to be like that bird and stand my ground. Others see my sincerity (even if they don’t agree), and they back away. Plus, I’m not conflicted with emotional stress that my uncertainty causes. If God is the core of all that I do, I don’t have to worry about the waves that my life creates.

When Jesus lived, many people disagreed and misunderstood Him. But no one could doubt His sincerity. He never worried about what others thought because He was only concerned with what God thought. I want to be like Jesus. Even in the middle of complete chaos, I desire to be assured and confident with my God-aligned choices.

Do you have difficulty standing your ground? How does your indecision shape the behavior of others? What can you do to prevent yourself from worrying when others disagree with you?

You can also read this article over at Internet Cafe!

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September 2, 2010

The 300 Club

I'm doing a guest post for Warren Baldwin, the author of Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks. I hope you join me in The 300 Club!

My husband is intrigued by the story of God forming Gideon’s army to fight against the Midianites. We discuss this story together because we crave to be part of the 300 men God uses to show His glory. We all know that God slims down the army of 32,000 so He can ensure that the victory is obviously His alone. However, why does God choose to use those particular men? What is different about them that they are granted the honor of fighting? How can Christians today ensure that we are part of the infamous 300 Club?

Finally, after much conversation and study, my husband and I came up with three characteristics that separate these men from the crowd. I believe every single man among the 32,000 had an opportunity to serve God, but each chose to bow out of God’s plan by A) his lack of trust in God, B) his lack of hunger for God and C) his lack of obedience to God. God wants all of His children to share in His glory, but He gives us free will to choose. Whether or not we are willing to be a part of God’s amazing adventure is up to us.

God first whittles down the army by allowing those who were afraid to leave the fight and go home. Twenty-two thousand men walk out on the amazing demonstration that God is about to perform. I believe that this is the number one reason today Christians do not fulfill their destiny – they are afraid. This fear shows a lack of trust in God, and this lack stops the blessings of God. Psalm 84.12 (NIV) reads, “O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.” The men who show courage trust that God is about to do something spectacular, and they know that they will share in the bounty.

Only 10,000 men are left after the doubtful leave. These are the men who trust in God and want to do His will, but the question is “Do they thirst for God?” God tells Gideon to have all the men go down to the water to take a drink. Although the Bible doesn’t specify, I believe not all 10,000 men make the trek down to the water. I’m sure many of the men did not feel thirsty, so they decide to stay behind on dry land. Jesus said in Matthew 5.6 (NIV), “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” The men who thirst for God have a desire to do His will, but the men who do not desire Him will stay behind.

Finally, at the water source God separates the men one more time. Not only must we trust God and thirst for Him, we have to be obedient to His nontraditional and sometimes crazy will. Out of all the men who drank water, only 300 of them lapped it up like a dog, and those are the men God could use. Although the entire image of lapping water has many implications, I’m fascinated that God chose the men who go against the norm, who are different. What I’ve learned about God is that He is not predictable, and He doesn’t do things the way the world does. Jesus is the prime example. The world expected a King, but God gave them a Carpenter. Job declares in Job 37.5 (NIV), “God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.” God does things differently, and if we crave to do His will, we can’t worry about what others are doing. Our obedience to God will cause us to stand out in mainstream culture.

God employed those 300 men to defeat the Midianites in a way that would not be documented in any wartime strategy manual. In fact, if each man did not trust God, thirst for Him and obey Him, the army would never have been able to pull off a victory – everything centered on God’s ability and the men’s compliance. There was no room for fear, selfishness or disobedience. Each man had to be crazy in love with God and willing to execute His bizarre plan. My desire for all Christians is that we make it into God’s 300 Club. We don’t have to be smart, popular or perfect; we just have to want God more than anything. My husband and I are ready to enlist in God’s plan. Will you join us?

Reference: Judges 7

You can also read this article over at Warren's Blog here!

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