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Faith Imagined: February 2011

Faith Imagined

Alisa Hope Wagner: Christian Writer

February 27, 2011

Drunk with Holy Spirit

Recently, I have gone to a rock concert, stand-up comedy and a musical on Broadway. During all three shows, I was astonished by the overwhelming show of esteem and love. People cheered, whistled, raised arms in honor and screamed praises. And although every show was great, I couldn't help wonder why Christians are embarrassed to exalt their God.

People were drunk on beer or drunk on the energy of the performance, so they let go of all their inhibitions and became expressive bottle-rockets of admiration and joy. I understand that there are all forms of worship, and I know that people have different ways of offering up their love to God, but sometimes it feels good to remove all constraints and dance and jump before the Lord like David (2 Samuel 6.14-16 NIV).

The world wants to jump for joy. The world wants to scream out praises. The world wants to lift their arms in awe. People want to believe that there is something more worthy and more beautiful beyond themselves. The world craves worship. Who better to worship than our perfect Creator? What better place to worship than our church?

I worship God in my car, at my home and while exercising at the gym; and I love the fact that I can also worship God at my church. Yes, I may be weird, but so were all those people at the U2 concert. I saw a hundred thousand people raise their arms to an imperfect singer, so why can't I raise my arms to a perfect God?

If we believe that Jesus took our sins on the cross and that we wear His righteousness by grace, then church should be a place where hundreds or thousands of righteous people stand side by side bringing praise to God. No matter what people did the night before, we are made righteous by faith and not by acts. We are clothed with the 100% perfection of Jesus and our praise is beautiful in God's eyes (Philippians 3.8-11).

Being drunk on the Holy Spirit doesn't dull your senses or slow you down. The dwelling of the Holy Spirit supernaturally brings you to the throne of God, where the most amazing rock concert of all time is being held every moment. I don't want to wait for heaven to praise God. I want to rock-out for Christ right here, right now. God doesn't need our praise. The Bible says that all of heaven and earth praises Him (Psalm 69.34). However, I need to praise God. I was created to worship. I tap into an endless source of hope, peace, joy and love when I do.

"Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

- Revelations 15.4 (NIV)

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February 20, 2011

Find Your Happy Feet

My kids were at the optometrist for an eye exam, and the movie, Happy Feet, was playing in the waiting room. I was intrigued by the main character, Mumble -- a name that represents his weakness (he can't sing). He was born different. No matter what he did, he could not fit in. The other penguins couldn't understand him, so they rejected him.

He left and wandered the wilderness; finally free from the expectations of tradition, he cultivated his gifting. When he returned to his home, he no longer feared the opinions of others. He was determined to express his gift; and as the penguins embraced this change, he was given a new name, Mambo (he can dance).

Little did Mambo know that his uniqueness was given to him for a reason. The life of penguins was transitioning, and Mambo was able to prepare them for the change. The older penguins fought the change, but the process of life can't be stopped. Life will never be stagnant or frozen in time. The established customs of the past are not always applicable in the future.

As a teacher, I've felt the movement of life first hand. Though my rules, justice and love never changed, my system of doing things had to keep up with the growth of my students. I cared about my students' education more than my comfortable way of teaching. When I saw my students becoming disinterested or lost, I knew it was time for something new. I changed my style, my systems and my presentations to better serve them. This made teaching a constant source of struggle and movement, but it was worth it because I grew along with them.

What does it mean to be a Christian? Many people check off all the traditions involved with being a Christian, but the core of Christianity is to love God (Mark 12.30 NIV). We are supernaturally able to love God through the righteousness we gain from Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, through the received gift of the Holy Spirit and through the amazing force of God's Word, the Bible.

Systems are formed by the direction of God's Spirit throughout history, so that each generation can better know how to love Him; and these systems change through the years. You can study God's waves of movement in the Old and New Testaments and in church history. God loves His people so much that He presents Himself in revolutionary ways. His rules, justice and love never change; but God is so full and so mysterious that there are infinite attributes to His divine nature, and each generation is able to taste something new!

Many times God plants a seed of change -- a vision -- in His people, which will help facilitate His movement. He placed a seed in Abraham, Moses, King David, Nehemiah, John the Baptist, Paul, Constantine, Martin Luther, and so on. And God placed Jesus at the center of this movement with his left arm embracing the past and his right arm embracing the future, holding the balance of existence in His pierced hands. These people were different, and they were all shunned by their peers because they didn't fit in. But, they found their calling in the wilderness and returned to share God's grace to the desert places of the human heart.

God loves us more than traditions or customs (though there is nothing inherently wrong with them), and He wants to reach His children by the movement of His Spirit. So my question to Christians is what about you is different? What vision has God planted in your life that will reap a harvest of grace in the next generation? Allow God to take you into the wilderness, so you can find your "Happy Feet" beyond the opinions of our current culture. Then, share your vision with those around you, so that the next generation will know how to love their God.

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland" (Isaiah 43.18-19 NIV).

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February 13, 2011

ST Publication: Relationships

Happy Valentine's Day! We have a special gift for you! February 2011's Sanctified Together Publication: Relationships is available! We brought together some fabulous writers who share their heart on all kinds of relationship issues -- marriage, adoption, family, friends and the church body! There is also an interview with Alex Marestaing author of the amazing tween/teen devotional, Izzy's Popstar Plan!

You can download/print the PDF here. Read it on line here. And sign-up to have future ST Publication issues emailed to you here.

Five-Paragraph Christianity

The first essay I assigned for my college freshmen composition class was the five-paragraph essay, but I would always clarify, "As you grow as writers, you will want to stop using this blueprint." The five-paragraph essay has all the components necessary to write an essay (thesis, facts, personal opinions, etc.), but it is a standard from which to experiment and creatively grow. Mature writers will take those same elements and produce something original and breathtaking.

I taught night classes, so I had a variety of students. However, I could somewhat organize them into groups. This grouping helped me to better serve my students' needs. First, I had my recent high school graduates. Some of these young students had the five-paragraph essay memorized. The others had heard of it, but they didn't understand all the elements and the purpose of it. Next, I had returning students who hadn't touched a school book in years. If they had learned the basics of writing an essay, they didn't remember and had developed a fear of writing. Last, I had English as a Second Language (ESL) students. These students had acquired academic ideologies that were completely foreign to the western culture's style of expressing thought. Fundamental difficulties with language usage were hindrances for them, not to mention weaving words together to convey ideas. Within all these groups, I had students who wanted to grow as writers and students who just wanted to pass and get as far away from writing as possible.

I say all this because I've been learning a lot about grace lately. I'm discovering that there is a five-paragraph Christianity (cultural Christianity) that is the basic standard of living out faith today. Five-paragraph Christianity definitely serves its purpose: it provides a blueprint with the basic elements of faith. The thesis of Christianity is that God is the Creator, Jesus is the Savior and the Holy Spirit is the Counselor, and we are called to love the Trinity and love others. The facts to support the thesis are found in the Bible. And the personal opinions come from the Holy Spirit's movement in our lives. But, I have discovered that I have limited myself and others based upon a standard form of living our faith, and I have left no room for personal creativity and God's grace.

There are Christians who have grown up in Christian homes, knee-deep in Christian lifestyle. They know how to live by standard Christian expectations because they have seen it played-out all of their lives. Some of them embrace the standard, finding security in the familiar; others, however, never understood the purpose of it and haven't found it fulfilling. Moreover, there are Christians who have strayed from living out their faith. They haven't committed to any Christian disciplines (attending church, praying, reading the Bible, etc.) for many years, and they are scared about fitting in and/or learning to live by faith again. Finally, there are new Christians who know nothing about cultural Christianity. Praying is like talking to one's self, reading the Bible is like struggling through a boring history book and attending church is like going to the circus. Everything is strange and bewildering!

As a mentor, I would explain to all of them the importance of the Christian disciplines and try to illuminate the main thesis of Christianity. But, I would also emphasize that Holy Spirit wants to mature us beyond the standard. I would point out that every influential leader in the Bible and church history was unique and part of a cutting-edge, Holy Spirit inspired movement. Christians who stand out grow beyond the norm of the day, so they can reach the changing people of tomorrow with the Gospel. I would tell them to cling closely to the Holy Spirit's guidance, and to use their God-given creativity to fulfill the amazing purposes that He has designed for them. Most importantly, I would urge them to put their hope and security in God and not people!

Many Christians (I included) have submitted to five-paragraph Christianity, and have not let themselves or others grow beyond the cultural standard. Because of fear or pride, we will not lean on God's grace and start creatively using the fundamental elements of Christianity to compose a beautiful, original essay that expresses the glory of God. The Body of Christ is made up of members, and we all have people that we directly impact. I for one want to encourage everyone in my sphere of influence to grow beyond the typical structure of cultural Christianity and live a life worth reading. Nevertheless, I want to be cognizant of the diversity of God's people and allow others the freedom to write their essays how they please.

I want to give grace to the Christian who is struggling with letting go of her comfort zone.

I want to give grace to the Christian who is still trying to come to terms with her faith.

I want to give grace to the Christian who has forsaken God but wants to recover her spiritual footing.

I want to give grace to the new Christian who finds everything about faith strange and confusing.

I will enlighten people to five-paragraph Christianity when they are just beginning or feeling lost, but I want to encourage Christians who are ready for growth to stretch beyond the norm into the unique direction God is calling them to. Whether they want to stick with the norm or take a step of faith into God's unknown is fine by me. I will love them either way. I will not judge nor will I compare; I choose to love and encourage.

There is so much freedom in allowing others to choose their own way. This freedom gives us more energy, creativity and grace to write our own essays for God. Let us by grace compose, side by side, our individual life stories so that the world can see the array of God's divine beauty poured out onto those who love Him. "As God's co-workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain" (2 Corinthians 6.1 NIV).

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February 7, 2011

Internet Cafe: Faith Journey

My son is learning to type using a computer program. Today was his third day, and he was slowly typing the middle row of keys, trying not to look at his fingers. There were about 8 lines showing; and as he typed each line, another line would appear on the bottom. After five minutes of typing, he finally looked at me.

“New lines keep coming up, Mommy. When is this going to end?” he asked anxiously.

I said, “Type a few more lines, and you’ll probably see the end come up soon.”

He went back to typing, but it was obvious by the way he was slouching in his chair and by the irritable expression on his face that he had lost hope of ever seeing the end to his lesson.

Suddenly, he punched the last key on the line he was typing, and the final sentence came into sight. He was about four lines away from finishing. My son’s back straightened and a smile spread across his face. He was almost there!

It’s interesting how a good dose of perspective can help you see something through to the end.

Many times in my Christian journey, I’ve had to walk out on faith. Sometimes my acts of faith are immediately confirmed; other times, however, I’m a million steps into “Faith-land” without any physical signs that I’m going the right way.

I feel God’s Spirit in me approving my direction, but it would be so nice if I could see the Promise Land! Often, I become disillusioned, and I feel like giving up and not finishing. But God graciously renews my strength right when I need it most. There are some faith journeys that I’m on that God is in the double digits of giving me strength-renewal!

Though the ending may not be in sight, I know that God works all things for His good. I know that He loves me, and He wants the best for me. And I know that He would rescue me and redirect my steps if I somehow lost my way.

By faith I choose to straighten my back and put a smile on my face because I know that I’m offering my life to the purposes of my Creator, and He will not steer me wrong. I trust that He has amazing plans for me, and I believe His Word and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Question: Do you feel like you’re in the wilderness right now for away from your Promise Land? How has God renewed your strength? How has your faith grown during your journey?

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage” (Psalm 84.5 NIV).

You can also read this the Internet Cafe!

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