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Faith Imagined: November 2010

Faith Imagined

Alisa Hope Wagner: Christian Writer

November 28, 2010

Moving Mountains

“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them'" (Mark 11.23 NIV).

Like any great writer or orator, Jesus chose His words carefully. He paints an awesome picture of faith in the above promise, but I think we miss so much when we don't explore why Jesus would choose the metaphor "mountain." If a mountain were to fall into the sea, it would be a natural disaster of monstrous proportions, destroying everything in its wake. Since I don't think that Jesus really wanted Christians calling mountains into the sea, I have to believe that He chose this word for a specific reason. As we dig for understanding in His Word, so much treasure comes up that it's hard to take it all in.

The symbol of a mountain is used many times in the Old and New Testament. God's glory appears on the mountain and people experience supernatural phenomena; but I've noticed that most of the time, the people have to climb up the mountain to be a part of what God is doing.

Abraham climbed a mountain to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22.2). Moses saw a burning bush (Exodus 3.1), received God's laws (Exodus 24.12), and saw God Himself (Exodus 33.21-22) on a mountain. Elijah heard the voice of God on a mountain (1 Kings 19). Isaiah and Micah both promise that the Lord's Temple will be established on a mountain and God's people will make their way to it (Isaiah 2 1-5) (Micah 4.1-5). Jesus led Peter, James and John up a mountain and transfigured (Matthew 17.1-11).

So many times we want God to move our mountain, but from reading Scripture, I think God wants us to climb it first. I quickly researched the process of climbing a mountain, and it is not easy. Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. In order to ascend it, you must sacrifice a lot of money and time, find guides who are knowledgeable and go through a strenuous and lengthy acclimation process.

Mount Everest is 8,848 meters above sea level, and anything above 8,000 meters is called the "death zone," because one cannot survive for more than two or three days in it. Complete oxygen saturation in the body is impossible, even when taking three times as many breaths. Most people bring portable oxygen to ease the stress on the body. The wind, weather, freezing temperature and slick ice all add to the implausibility of reaching the top.

When climbers start out, they must move slowly so that their bodies can assimilate to the ascension. At sea level our bodies have 98% - 99% oxygen saturation. At the base camp of Mount Everest (5,380 meters) the oxygen saturation is already at around 85% and there is still a mountain left to climb! In order to acclimate to the altitude, climbers will "climb high, sleep low." I find this interesting because it sounds like wasted time, but the climbers push their bodies during the day and retreat to lower altitudes during the night to help their bodies get used to the height.

When we imagine mountains in our spiritual lives, we think of Exodus 15.17: "You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, LORD, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established." God plants our inheritance or His promises on the mountaintops. Often times we beg God to fulfill His promises to us; yet if He did, we would surely die. We will NEVER get acclimated to His anointing for our lives if we don't climb up the mountain--the climb is what prepares us for the summit!

Many people wonder why God would put His promises on mountaintops if mountains are so difficult to climb. Why wouldn't He make it easier on us and simply lay our promises at our feet? The one human condition that robs us of serving God is serving self. If the promises were strewn at our feet, we would stay in our self-idolatry state. Instead, God plants His promises on His mountain at His feet (Psalm 132.7-8), so we can have an encounter with Him. This earth, our souls and life in general were created to know Him; because in forming a personal relationship with our Creator, we find our purpose, our joy and our true love.

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”

- Isaiah 52.7 NIV

When we finally reach the mountaintop, our own feet become beautiful because we have finally discovered the meaning of our existence. We are to proclaim God's peace and salvation to the world. We are to use His promises for our lives to tell the world about Christ--any other reason would be idolatrous. We are to yell from the mountaintops that God created us because of His glory, Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sins so we can commune with a perfect God, and the Holy Spirit lives in each of us, guiding us through the mountains and valleys of our lives.

The climb to the top changes us. We sacrifice all we have and are then filled with God's glory because now our emptied selves have room for Him. And when we finally make it to the pinnacle, our faith causes the mountain to fall into the sea! Jesus gives us a beautiful promise: the highest point of that mountain -- a place where we can't survive on our own -- supernaturally becomes sea level. We can now function at 99% oxygen saturation on a mountaintop that we could never have survived before we started our journey up.

But don't get too comfortable on that sea-level mountain for long. God will place another mountain in your horizon. Don't worry, though, I'm sure He'll let you rest before He expects you to gather your climbing gear. And just remember, "climb high, sleep low." God will give you rest on the mountain, and He'll never push you beyond what you are capable of doing.

The climb may take years, but Jesus never mentioned a timetable when He promised the mountain would be moved. Take a good look at the mountaintop before you start your ascension; you won't be able to see it until you make it to the "death zone," and God supernaturally throws the summit into sea level for you. You'll have to press forward by faith, knowing that God gave you a vision of the mountaintop and planted your inheritance at His feet.

* Mountain research from Team Everest 03 and Wikepedia.

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November 20, 2010

One Talent and Proud!

In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25.14-27), a Master gives three of His servants money to invest while He's away. He gives one servant 1 talent, another 2 talents and the other 5 talents. A talent is a measurement (weight) of gold or silver. If the Master was giving gold, the value of one talent would be a staggering $840,000! Needless to say, the Master trusted even His 1 talent servant with a great responsibility.

Whenever I read this parable, though, I often times become a little anxious. I wonder if am a 1, 2 or 5 talent kind of girl. Are my "abilities" worthy enough to handle the 5 spot or am I only strong enough for the 1? I know the emphasis of the parable is placed on the effort. No matter what God gives us, we should do our best to serve Him and His kingdom. However, I have trouble with some scholars' opinions that God blesses some people with more talents than others--like somehow there are "Christian Elite," and they have special purposes that surpass the rest of us. The Bible was written for all of us, and the promises that fill it are for each child of God to claim--not just a few.

When I was contemplating all of this, I felt the Holy Spirit tell me that I was looking at the parable one-dimensionally and that there was a fullness that I was missing. Then I realized that I was all three servants. God has blessed me with 1, 2 and 5 talents according to my abilities. To be honest, I have very few 5 talents, a handful of two talents and a slew of 1 talents. I can comfortably confess that there are many areas that God has given me only 1 talent of ability. I do the best that I can with my 1 talent, but my efforts won't be able to produce what others can produce with their 5 talents.

For example, I find it difficult to speak one-on-one with people. I have friends that take this ability for granted. They don't see what is so special about being able to casually talk about church and life with people they just met. I, on the other hand, am in awe of their communicative suaveness, and I appreciate the amazing gift that they have been given. They have 5 talents in an area that I only have 1. Sometimes, I wish I could just bury my 1 talent in the ground, but God expects me to put forth the effort, even if it's uncomfortable and exhausting for me. Thankfully, though, God usually allows me to rest in this area, and I enjoy taking a backseat to the social-butterfly.

When I do run into people face-to-face, I use my 1 talent to the best of my abilities, and I know that God is pleased. I won't ignore people just because I'm uncomfortable. I know that even my 1 talent is worth almost a million dollars, and I won't squander it just because I'm an introvert. Thankfully, God gave me more talents in another form of communication. I love to write. I'm comfortable writing, and I can produce much more at the keyboard than I can at a dinner party. Because I enjoy writing, I don't mind spending time and energy doing it. Sitting at the computer for several hours every night doesn't sound too bad to me (though, that took years of discipline to achieve).

In reality, I wouldn't want to have 5 talents in everything I do. Could you just imagine how draining our lives would be if we were the "bread-winners" in every area of life? When would we ever rest? I love the fact that I don't have to be the one in charge, the one making things happen, the one that every one looks to or the one that produces the most all of the time. I value that God chose to give me a break when He designed me with many 1 talent abilities. I might have a lot to say at the keyboard; but if you find me at a dinner party, I'll be the one in her seat, enjoying the ability to just sit and do nothing. Sure, I'll talk if God urges me to, but normally He allows me to be a fly on the wall.

So where are your talents? Are you content in your 1 talent abilities? Do you know which abilities God has blessed you with 5 talents? Have you ever been in a season where God asked you to work in a 1 talent ability? Do you applaud those who have more talents in certain areas than you? Have you ever judged others according to their 1 talent ability, only to be surprised later on by their 5 talent ability? Have you ever been judged according to one of your 1 talent abilities?

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November 14, 2010

Flying with Jesus

The woman saw Jesus' face amongst the distant waves and heard His call. She gripped the wooden side of the boat and flung her legs into the dark abyss below. Sprays of water splashed the side of her face, and her legs tried to adjust to the movement underfoot. The finer muscles in her body worked to keep her balanced, and they strained from the rolling current that sought to knock her down.

She looked out into the dark, and the face of the One she loved glowed through the black. She walked toward Him, trying not to look away, but her eyes needed to focus on her feet. She was learning to walk again by faith, and it took all of her concentration. She took several steps, scanned the night for the light, then continued further away from the boat. She couldn't look back; she knew she would fall if she did.

The light seemed to change direction several times, but it could have been the waves pushing her away. She searched for His face again and again, and she continuously altered her course. Was she going in circles? She stopped for a moment and scanned the horizon. The boat disappeared behind the shadows, and she desperately searched for the light. It was gone. She cried out, but the wind swept her voice into the void.

She felt something nudge her from within. She couldn't see it or hear it, and she wasn't sure she should trust it....but she had no choice. She allowed the pull to guide her, praying that it was Truth. Whatever it was, it was not of this world, and it was difficult to absorb its nature. But it burned inside her; and as she followed its lead, she lifted her eyes and allowed them to search through the darkness.

She persevered with hope, but her legs began to shake from exhaustion. Her arms grew tired from grasping through air. And her eyes strained from sifting through the emptiness. She could no longer walk; she wanted to relax her body and slip into the sea. The current seemed inviting, willing her to stay idle in its caress. But the prompting in her Spirit intensified, and it compelled her forward. Eyes closed and body fighting to continue, she allowed the Spirit in her to guide her.

Suddenly, she felt excitement swell in her chest. She opened her eyes and saw Him -- Jesus! She pushed her legs and ran, gaining momentum as her arms sliced through the wind. Unblinking, her gaze stayed on His face. She wouldn't lose Him this time. The waves blocked her view, but only for a moment. The Spirit inside of her willed her onward and while her feet kicked, water sprinkled around her like rain.

Jesus reached out for her, and she dove toward him, clasping her arms around His ankles. The lower half of her body sunk into water, but she kept her chin above the current, holding tightly to her Savior. She made it; she was safe. She could stay at His feet forever and be content. She rested and allowed her body to sway with the water. After a time, she felt Jesus move His feet, so she looked up.

"Get up, my daughter," He said.

"I can't, Jesus. I gave You all I had trying to get here. There's nothing left in me. I'm done."

"There's a well-spring inside of you. Get up, and I'll show you."

The woman held on to Jesus' feet for a moment longer. He expected too much. It was a miracle she had gotten this far. She would get up and show Him her weakness. She let go of His feet and gripped the current. She pulled herself onto her knees and felt the waves spiral beneath her. Jesus reached down His hand and lifted her to a stance. Her legs mimicked the flow, and her body balanced to the rhythm of the sea. Jesus let go of her hand, and she felt secure by His side.

"This is easy, Jesus! I'm standing as If I were on solid ground!" she said.

Jesus smiled. "You are on solid ground."

"What do we do next?" she asked.

"Follow me," Jesus answered, and He lunged back and sprang into the air.

The woman watched Jesus fly into the midnight sky. She felt the pull inside of her beckon her to Him.

"I can't fly!" she yelled out.

"I will teach you," she heard. "You will learn by faith. I have a life not bound by limits prepared for you. Will you trust me?"

She looked down at the water and moved her legs confidently with the tide. Walking on water was no longer a challenge. She looked back up and saw the glow of Jesus skimming the air. She knew learning to fly would be harder than she could imagine, but excitement filled her Spirit with anticipation. It would be worth the sacrifice. She stepped back and dug her toes into the water. She directed her eyes toward the sky and prepared her muscles for the leap.

"Tell me to fly with You, and I will," she whispered.

"Fly with Me!"

She jumped with all her strength.

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November 7, 2010

Sanctified Together Publication - Peace

I'm so excited! The November Sanctified Together Publication (Peace) is out! To view the ST Publication, click here! Too print it, click here. To sign up and get it sent to your email, click here. If you would like to contribute your writing, click here!

Peaceful Swords

Our world is a colony, established by God to emulate His divine Kingdom (heaven) here on earth. The Holy Spirit is our colonial ambassador, living amongst us, guiding and teaching us in the ways of our perfect King. The Holy Spirit's job is to saturate our world with Kingdom-influence so that God's children will become like their Father. The Holy Spirit is able to lead each person whose sins have been atoned by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Jesus is our Prince of Peace because He is our only link to the King's abundant peace (Isaiah 9.6). God is Holy and faithfully undivided; He is the source of all peace. We cannot fully understand His divine peace until we're on the other side of eternity (Philippians 4.7). Christians have this Source of Peace inside each of us - a gift promised by the resurrected Jesus (John 14.26).

Sin penetrated our special colony, so our environment has become corrupt, our bodies decay and people hurt each other. We live in a world of unrest and conflict. We capture moments of peace only to have them swept away by the tide of disorder. We grope onto pitiful worldly understandings, desperately seeking illusions of peace. But peace - pure and endless - can be found generously within the spirits God breathed into each of us.

Be assured, though, Christians go against the grain of world culture, and we will cause turmoil because of the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus says, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10.24 NIV). Christians will not agree with much of the world-view, and this will create division. We will be spotlighted as Bible-thumping trouble-makers. The colony has declared independence from our holy and perfect King and the heaven we were meant to represent. Indeed, Christian influence will disrupt the world's agenda if we are to stay sanctified (1 Thessalonians 5.23).

However, Jesus also tells us to pursue harmony. He says, "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other" (Mark 9.50b NIV). As a church, we need to swallow our pride to keep the peace and put the unity of the Body of Christ above our own desires (Colossians 3.15 NLT). As Christians, we should serve others and eliminate our self-entitlement and our perceived rights. Our goal should be to strengthen the Church, so we can be used by the Holy Spirit to spread His Kingdom-influence.

But how do we know when we should pursue peace or division? When should our sanctified lives sever or unite? When should we be swords or peacemakers?

Swords: We cut away unholy influences with truth to keep the Church sanctified.

Peacemakers: We deny our self-will to promote peace in the Church.

The Holy Spirit lets us know when to separate the Body of Christ from the world's influence and when to lay down our rights for the sake of church harmony. This is every Christian's balancing act, and we must be completely submitted to the Holy Spirit if we want to be the peaceful sword that God has called us to be. God's Truth will build the church and offend the world, and Christians are called to do both. But even as we slice off sin for church sanctification or cut off our personal rights for church harmony, we still have the peace of God in our spirits -- and that's how we become Peaceful Swords!

Read the article at the ST Publication here!

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November 1, 2010

Internet Cafe: Beautiful Lack

I finally purged my closet.

It felt so good. I can’t believe the piles of clothes, shoes and accessories that came out of that small space. At the end of my four hour purge, I had three piles of trash and four piles of giveaway stuff. I looked at the mess in my room, and I knew all that unnecessary stuff had made getting dressed difficult and confusing every morning.

I got rid of old college t-shirts, clothes I bought on sale but never wore, shoes that were trendy but hurt my feet, belts and scarves that haven’t been touched in years, and work clothes that I no longer needed. Every time I held an item in my hand and thought, “Well, maybe someday I’ll wear it,” I would throw it in a pile. If I’m not wearing it now, I will never wear it!

Once I cleaned out my closet, I discovered several nice pieces that I had forgotten about. They were pressed between clothes I usually ignored, so I never saw them. Also, there was now a ton of space in my closet, and it felt good to know that I was gaining control over my wardrobe. Style has never been my forte, but I’m beginning to learn that a few “perfect” items are better than a truck-load of “okay” items.

With all that empty space, I began to get excited. Yes, I had very few clothes now, but I didn’t see it as a lack – I saw it as an opportunity! I was determined to slowly fill the emptiness with clothes that fit my body type, lifestyle and personal taste. No longer would I cram stuff into my closet that obviously didn’t belong there.

As I stared at my completed work, God said, “Isn’t lack beautiful?”

I instantly knew what God was referring to. He had purged my life of everything that was “okay.” I can remember every instance when He told me to throw something out or give something over to someone else. I felt insecure because I feared people’s opinions of me. Would they think I was being lazy? Would they think I wasn’t doing enough for God? Would they somehow think I was living in rebellion?

First of all, I know that I shouldn’t put other people’s opinions over God’s because that is idolatry. Second of all, I finally discovered what God was doing when He cleaned out my life. He was getting rid of everything unnecessary because He was about to fill my life with perfectly tailored pieces of my destiny. I was in a beautiful lack, and I became excited about what God was about to do.

Have you ever been in a beautiful lack? Does God want to purge your life of all the distractions that pull you away from your purpose? Will you allow God to trash all the “okay” things that confuse your calling? Don’t worry about what other people think about the purge – they’ll understand when they see you walking out in an amazing wardrobe tailored to your life. Hopefully, they’ll learn from your example and do a little life-cleaning themselves.

You can also read this devotional over at Internet Cafe!

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