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Faith Imagined: December 2010

Faith Imagined

Alisa Hope Wagner: Christian Writer

December 28, 2010

In Courage: The Gift of Contentment

I have a guest post on (In) Courage today! It is an article that helped me become a better wife and mother! I pray it blesses you.

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 lĭs-uh ?” 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?

You can read the rest at (In) Courage here.

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December 23, 2010

Guest Post: First Step out of Fear

My first blog entry for Faith Imagined (which used to be called A Writer’s Peace) was July 23, 2006. I had absolutely no idea why God wanted me to start a blog for my writing. I started a personal blog to capture family memories several months before, and I couldn’t fathom maintaining two of them. I sat in front of my computer staring at the blog post entry, wondering, “What the heck am I supposed to write about?”

Finally, I decided to open the Bible and write about the first verse my eyes picked out. The vision of Faith Imagined started with a tiny seed found in the promise of the following verse: “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still’” (Exodus 14: 13-14).

Here is how I began my post:

I’m afraid a lot. I fear that my book will be rejected. I fear that my ministry will fail. I fear that I don’t know enough of the Bible. I fear that I will never fulfill my purpose. I fear that I don’t have enough time to achieve my goals. I fear of being judged not Christian enough.

Like many Christians, I started my ministry in fear. I could see the plan that God had for my life, but I lacked any ability to achieve it. I was unqualified, timid, unworthy and fearful. I took an objective look at my life and compared it with what God had in mind, and I saw a huge gap. In my ignorance, I saw only impossibilities, but I didn’t know how to account for God’s grace (2 Corinthians 9.8) or for His work in my life (Philippians 1.6).

I wrote consistently for three years without any followers and with very few comments. If I did receive a comment, it was usually from my twin sister encouraging me as she always does. I kept at it each week, though, not understanding the reason for my obedience. I didn’t have a voice, and I didn’t have a purpose. I was merely being obedient to God’s will, and I never sought understanding.

Three years later after consistent (albeit pathetic) writing, my twin sister, Crissy, said she would like to help me with my writing ministry. She had been teaching herself how to blog design, and she wanted to give mine a facelift. We changed the name of the blog to Faith Imagined, which was the name of a Christian writing ministry we had agreed on years earlier.

After we changed the blog, Crissy started helping me market it. When she came along side of me, something in my blog writing clicked. I realize now that God had aligned all of the perfect elements for just the right time. During my season of “desert writing,” I had been deeply involved in women’s ministry. I also began to disciple other women. God had been doing a good work in me, even though I never noticed it.

God had been doing a good work in Crissy, as well. He moved her away from all her family and friends. She resigned from her job as a social worker in order to raise her children fulltime. She was isolated in a new city and in need of something to do after the kids went to bed. So, she began to teach herself how to design blogs. Then, she began to teach herself how to market them. I am proud to say that I was her guinea pig.

One truth I learned through the past four years is that we can’t rush God’s design. He has an agenda, and He is working His perfect will in our lives. Many times I tried to get the ball rolling on my own, and I was always left frustrated and discouraged. I’ve learned to trust that God will accomplish His will at just the right time; and when He does, everything will smoothly fall into place.

The other truth I learned is that we can’t let fear dictate our lives. Fear is nothing but a lack of faith in God. I feared many things because I didn’t trust that God could accomplish them. In all honesty, I really didn’t know better. I was ignorant to God’s character because I hadn’t spent enough time with Him or in His Word. When my relationship with God became my heart’s desire, I discovered that God has only the best for me; and I began to trust His voice and stay obedient to His hand.

I’m excited about what God has done in Crissy’s and my life thus far, but I can’t wait to see what else He does. I’m not worried or anxious about tomorrow because I decided to make an effort to enjoy each day. God’s understanding is beyond mine, and His ways are above comprehension. If I can keep my focus on His face and keep in step with His direction, I have nothing to fear.

You can also read this at Annointed Beauty Ministries here!

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December 19, 2010

Motive Contradictions

As I read the story of Balaam, I was intrigued because God seems to contradict Himself. Balak, king of Moab, is worried because a huge, homeless nation (Israel) is wandering in his kingdom's direction. Balak concludes that Israel wants to claim his land, so he sends Moabite officials to persuade the prophet Balaam to aid him. He wants Balaam to curse the already blessed Israel nation.

The king offers Balaam a lot of money to come to him, but at first God would not allow Balaam to go. The king then sends more officials and money, and God tells him that he can go: "That night God came to Balaam and told him, 'Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do'" (Numbers 22.20 NLT).

The very next morning Balaam gets up to go with the men, but two verses later God (so it seems) contradicts Himself: "But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way" (Numbers 22.22a).

Balaam does not have his eyes set on God, but the poor donkey he's riding does. God sends the Angel of the Lord to confront Balaam. Three times the donkey stops before stepping into slicing distance of the angel's sword; and each time the donkey goes off course, Balaam beats it. Finally, God miraculously gives the donkey the ability to speak.

The donkey asks, "What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?" (28b).

What is Balaam's reply? "You have made me look like a fool!" (29). This is a good signifier that something is wrong with Balaam's motives.

God then opens Balaam's eyes, and he sees the Angel of the Lord. The Angel tells him, "Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say" (35).

So in all, God tells Balaam to go with the officials twice and not to go with them twice. What is going on? It all comes down to motive. God sees sin before it manifests itself into the physical world. God wants Balaam to go with these men, but Balaam's heart isn't right. 1) He doesn't have his eyes on God. He is unable to sense the presence of the Lord even though his donkey does. 2) He worries about what others think more than what God thinks. He yells at his donkey for making him look like a fool in front of the officials. 3) He isn't planning on being obedient to God. The Angel of the Lord has to remind him to say only what God wants him to say. A reminder isn't necessary if Balaam is intending to be obedient.

What I learned from this story is this: We can't just be obedient to God in the physical world; we must also be obedient in the spiritual world. God dwells in the Spirit, and He sees the motives of our hearts. We can go to church, read our Bible and talk about spiritual things; but if our eyes are not on God, if our focus is on other people's opinions, and if our souls are not obedient to the daily movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we will not be able to move on the paths of righteousness He has set for us (Psalm 23.3 NASB).

I believe that God wants to pull out every root of selfish motive (especially the small ones), before we enter into a promised land that He has for us. Even though that root might not be visible to us now, it will grow and start affecting our lives in apparent ways. God has great plans for us, but He might be placing Himself in our way for a reason. He may be protecting us from our ugly motives we haven't even discovered.

The only way we can find out for sure if there is something wrong with our motives is to allow the Holy Spirit complete access to our souls -- mind (thinking), will (actions) and heart (feelings). As Christians, God's Spirit is in us, and He will bring to light any darkness He finds, exposing all our pretty, sugar-coated intentions.

We will not claim victory unless God fights for us; however, He will not fight for us if our motives are not pure. How do we know when our motives are pure? King Nebuchadnezzar said it best after he lost his throne and spent 7 years living like an animal in the wilderness.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”
- Daniel 4.34b-35

Once King Nebuchadnezzar understood the magnitude of God, his kingdom was restored. Our little lives are nothing compared to God. God is what makes our lives worthy, and He can do what He pleases. The mere fact that we have the choice to be obedient to His will is an honor. I pray that I can understand the expanse of who God is. If I truly knew Him, my motive would always be to glorify Him.

* Another example of motive contradiction is when the people of Israel were too afraid to occupy their Promise Land, even though God promised to be with them (Numbers 13 & 14). After they disobeyed God, they felt guilty about not going. A group decided to finally fight for their land, but it was too late. God did not go with them because their motives were wrong, and the people that went to fight were slaughtered. Their physical actions seemed right, but their motives were not pure. God had the nation of Israel wait 40 years before He reopened the path to the Promise Land, so that the selfish motives of that generation could die off (Deuteronomy 1.26-46).

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December 9, 2010

Internet Cafe: The Christmas Photo

My kids were all ready for pictures with Santa. My sons wore cute red and green plaid shirts, red sweater vests and corridor pants, and my daughter wore a beautiful Christmas dress that I bought last spring on clearance. I couldn’t wait to grace the entrance of the mall and present my picturesque kids to Santa and the photo elves. Wouldn’t they all just swoon over my angelic children?!

Amazingly enough, my sons both smiled and waited patiently for the camera to flash. My daughter, on the other hand, took one look at the stranger wearing a red suit and donning a long white beard and freaked out. My husband and I tried our best to get her to smile, and the photo elves took several shots, but my daughter’s screams only grew louder and her tears only grew fatter. She reached her little arms toward me and called out “Mama!” Never once did she look in the direction of the camera.

In Christmases past, I would have been irritated about the wasted energy and the less than perfect Christmas photo, and I would have allowed my disappointment to steal a little of my Christmas joy. However, this year was different. I felt a tinge of frustration, but it was quickly overpowered by my enjoyment in the honest reaction of my child. I held my daughter in my arms and praised her instincts: “I’m so proud of you! You distrust strangers and that is a very good thing!”

As I walked with my husband back through the mall to let our kids play on the soft park, I thought about what had changed in me. Since I’ve only been a mother for six years, I prayed that God would help me to understand the good work He had performed in me. I came upon a Christian writer who gave words to what I was experiencing. She writes that our children are not here to meet our expectations or to fulfill our happiness; rather, “they are here to fulfill the purposes of God.”*

I believe that having standards for our children is good; but when we start pushing them to meet our expectations, or worse yet, other people’s expectations that we fear, we have placed a large burden on their shoulders that they were never meant to carry. As parents, we are called to obediently follow God’s lead in caring for our children (allowing His grace to fill the holes of our mistakes), and God will take care of the rest. It is HIS job to “fulfill the purposes” that He has for them.

After I finally digested this truth, I realized that I would have less disappointments, frustrations and irritation if I didn’t drive myself and everyone around me to meet MY expectations. Only God knows the future, and He is the only One who has perfect expectations. When I relinquish my desires for His, I can live my life in peace, joy and hope no matter what is going on around me. This year’s Christmas photo will always bring a smile to my face, because I know that even my daughter’s cries have fulfilled the purposes of God.

Question: How can you alleviate some stress this Christmas season by letting go of your own expectations?

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28 NIV).

You can also read this article at the Internet Cafe!

*Parenting guidance comes from Leslie Leyland Fields and my all time favorite parenting book: Parenting is Your Highest Calling and 8 Other Myths that Trap Us in Worry and Guilt!

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