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Faith Imagined: March 2011

Faith Imagined

Alisa Hope Wagner: Christian Writer

March 27, 2011

Watercolor Faith

My spiritual mentor paints with watercolors. She has taught beginning courses in that medium, and she honored me with one of her originals. Painting with watercolors, she explained, is an interesting art. The artist sketches an outline that presents the path, but the diluted colors usually add their own forms and shapes along the way. The water in the color cannot be fully controlled, which can cause frustration if the artist is not willing to “go with the flow.” It takes faith to trust that the water knows what it’s doing.

Another difficult aspect of watercolor is that you can’t make changes. Once the color hits the page, there is no turning back. You can’t paint over it because the paint is too translucent to hide what’s beneath; and you can’t scrape it off because the paint binds with the paper. All you can do is learn to anticipate the movement of the water. The more an artist study’s the flow of water, the better she will become at working with it. The end result is beautiful. The sketches underneath are fixed, but the colors around the lines take on their own life. The entire painting is a masterpiece of skill, imagination and faith.

When I placed my friend’s painting only inches from my face, I couldn’t see the distinction between each object. All the colors blended into each other, and I couldn’t tell what I was looking at. However, when I stepped ten feet from the painting, I could see the objects in detail. How could that be? My friend explained that your mind completes the shapes by drawing conclusions on what it sees. I saw sunglasses on a man’s face and a hat on his head from far away, but up close it just looked liked smudges of translucent paint. I gained a better perspective from a distance.

My walk with God is a lot like painting with watercolors. I sketch out my plans, but God’s movement never seems to stay in the lines. When I look real close at what He’s doing in my life, I become confused and frustrated. His will doesn’t seem to make sense to me, and I don’t understand how it’s all going to work out. Also, I make mistakes, and I know they are erased in His eyes, but they seem to always be there on my painting – never fully covered over or scraped off. They appear so ugly to me!

But God finally showed me through my friend that I’m looking too closely. I need to take a few steps back and look at my life from His perspective. He is the Master Painter, and He knows exactly what He’s doing. He doesn’t take over. He allows my imagination and passion to decide the subject, but His Spirit does flow through the pages of my life. God doesn’t cover up my sketches or scrape off my mistakes; instead, He shows off by incorporating my limited talent and redeemed sin into His perfect design. He works with us to make a one-of-the-kind masterpiece; and we have faith that our paintings will be hanging on the walls of His temple, telling the story of His glory in our lives.

"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).

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March 20, 2011

Righteous Hunger

Jesus told His disciples, "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom heaven" (Matthew 5.20 NAS).

Jesus just started His ministry. He chose His disciples and began to heal the afflicted. He brought His disciples to the top of the mountain and told them that they needed to be more righteous than the Pharisees. I'm sure these fishermen were pretty overwhelmed. They just began their ministry with Jesus, and already He expected too much from these average men. How could they be more righteous than the religious leaders?

The disciples probably became more bewildered when later on in the Book of Matthew, Jesus told them to be on their guard against the Pharisees' influence (16.6) and when He called the religious leaders white-washed tombs (23.27). Jesus overlooked all kinds of sin with His grace, but the religious leaders were the main source of His righteous anger because of their hypocrisy (Matthew 23.1-8). Jesus went so far as to give the religious leaders Seven Woes (Matthew 23.13-37).

The highest level of righteousness was based on the Laws of Moses made on Mount Sinai. The laws were a standard for a Hebrew nation thousands of years ago in love with their God -- the laws were supposed to be an outward show of an inward heart. However, as time passed the rigorous laws became an outward show of self-righteousness, instead of God-righteousness. Soon the heart of God was replaced by hypocrisy and pretense, which left the masses confused and spiritually lost.

The understanding of righteousness becomes the primary internal conflict of the New Testament. The standard of righteousness was set by religious leaders, but Jesus made it clear that this standard was not His divine standard. The word righteousness that is found in Matthew 6.33 and Matthew 5.6 is the Greek word, dikaiosynē, which means "condition acceptable to God" or "a state approved of God." The religious leaders were deceived. Their righteousness was based on acceptance and approval of people, not God.

So how can we gain acceptance and approval from God?

"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 on the basis of faith" (Philippians 3.9 NIV).

No matter how good we think we are, we will never gain right-standing with God on our own. We are covered with Jesus' righteousness when we accept His sacrifice by faith. Jesus is God in the flesh who freely took our sins on the cross over two thousand years ago, so we might have right-standing with God and live with Him for eternity. But our righteousness doesn't end there.

If all we had to do was gain Jesus' righteousness by faith, there will be no reason to stay on this earth. God not only wants to cover us with His righteousness; He wants to fill us with His righteousness. Once we are saved, God places His Spirit inside of us, in order to transform us into His likeness: "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3.18 NIV).

God allows us to stay in this broken world, so that we may become like Him. I believe that many Christians -- either out of fear or ignorance -- stay clear of spiritual transformation. They sit content in their wedding clothes but never bother to get to know their King (Parable of the Wedding Banquet: Matthew 22.1-14). I was once such a Christian. I allowed myself to be too busy, too distracted and too self-focused to get to know my Creator. He had to break me, so He could get my attention. And I'm glad He did.

Our righteousness starts out as a spiritual seed, but that seed should manifest itself into physical fruits. People should see a difference in us. They should notice that we have more "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5.22-23 NLT). People should see us walking on Paths of Righteousness (Psalm 23). We should be gaining the Mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.16) and be filled with the Power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1.8). However, this transformation will not happen overnight nor without sacrifice (Philippians 3.8).

But how do we start this transformation journey?

We seek it: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6.33 NIV).

We hunger for it: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matthew 5.6 NIV).

"We live in order that our souls may grow. The development of the soul is the purpose of our existence." - John G. Lake (Amazing man of God).

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March 16, 2011

Guest Post: Enthusiasm Outshines Ability

Enthusiasm Outshines Ability

My six year old son started playing soccer. He doesn’t quite know what he’s doing and the rules are a bit confusing to him, but he has stellar passion and enthusiasm for the game. His smile stays fixed on his face; and when he or his team mate makes a good play, he cheers and hollers. His passion spreads to the other team mates and his coach. They all get excited over seemingly simple moves. This passion -- placed in him by a family that continuously exposes his significance -- gives him power and strength to play hard and overcome his limitations and lack of skill.

When I see my son play, I think of the servant who was given five talents (Matthew 25.14-30). He was given more than the other two servants according to his abilities. I always believed that the servant was given more talents because he was more skilled; however, I know that skill does not necessarily ensure a person’s productivity. When you read the end of the parable, you find that the Master does not become upset because of the one-talent servant’s lack of ability; rather, it was the servant’s laziness that angered the Master.

When I researched the word ability, I discovered that it means something very different. The Greek word for ability is dynamis, which means power. It is the same word used to illustrate the power that surged through Jesus’ body when the woman from the crowd touched his clothes and was healed (Mark 5.30). Dynamis has little to do with a person’s skill-set but has everything to do with the power residing in the person. That power comes from the Holy Spirit who lives in Christians once we have the covering of Jesus’ righteousness.

We as Christians all have the power of the Holy Spirit residing in us, but it stays untapped until our passion for Christ unleashes it. When our actions follow our passion, we can accomplish anything that God has for us. We don’t have to be skilled or smart. In fact, God says that he uses foolish things to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1.27). We just have to want to be used by the Holy Spirit, want to do more for the Kingdom of God, want to be endowed with more responsibility. We need to WANT more of Him!

The coach put my son in the game not because he’s a skilled player, but because my son wants to play. His passion usurps his ability. I believe if we all fully understood the significance that God places on us, we too would be passionate about His plan for our lives. And instead of being content with just one or two talents, we would beseech more from the Master. We might not have the amazing abilities that others have; but what we lack in ability, we make up for in enthusiasm.

“I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2.3-5 NIV).

Paul himself was scared to do the things of God, but he did not let that stop him. He relied on the Spirit of God inside of him to accomplish God’s mighty work. Paul’s life is an amazing example of living with the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul might not have been the most eloquent speaker, but he wanted to be used by God. He was passionate about running a good race, and he was obviously a five-talent servant. We all can be five-talent servants if we are passionate for God and His Kingdom.

You can also read this article at Jan Christiansen's blog, Refreshed by the Word!

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March 14, 2011

Internet Cafe: Toss Me!

Gimli: Oh come on, we can take ‘em.
Aragorn: It’s a long way.
Gimli: Toss me.
Aragorn: What?
Gimli: I cannot jump the distance; you’ll have to toss me.
[pauses, looks up at Aragorn]
Gimli: Don’t tell the elf.
Aragorn: Not a word.

- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Watch video clip here. (39 seconds)

In the above dialogue from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Gimli is ready to fight. He sees his destiny before him, but he discovers that there is no way he can get there without help. In a moment of decision, he swallows his pride and asks for a favor. Aragorn agrees to assist Gimli and tosses him into battle. Gimli wastes no time and begins to fight the forces of evil. (Cue the sound of swords clanging.)

Many times God designs our steps so that we will need other people. We will not be able to get where God wants us to go if we are not willing to make “asks” of ourselves. I found this out in my early 20′s when God called me on a mission trip and then told me to ask others to help pay my way. I thought since God wanted me to go, He would supernaturally provide the funds. Well, he did….through the pocketbooks of my family and friends. God criss-crosses our paths with others in order to develop us into His image and to teach His children to work together.

However, we cannot simply ask people to help us if we have not prepared ourselves for the “toss.” Gimli could ask for help from his king, Aragorn, because he has invested into a future favor.

1. Gimli has already developed a friendship with Aragorn. When you ask something of others, you need to have a solid relationship with them that fosters mutual loyalty, respect and trust.

2. Gimli has proven himself in battle. If you want someone to “toss” you into your destiny, you need to show that you are able to handle the new level of combat. It would be heartbreaking to “toss” someone into battle only to watch him/her fall.

3. Gimli has shown other strengths that balance out his weaknesses. When Gimli asks for help, he is admitting to a weakness (he can’t jump); but he has already demonstrated other strengths (excellent fighter, loyalty, perseverance) that prove he is battle-ready. People need to know that their help will empower you, not indulge you.

4. Gimli has selflessly sacrificed for others. People will not help you if your thoughts are only about yourself. There is a battle of good vs. evil, and we all need to band together to win our predestined victories. Selfishness is an inward battle we need to defeat every day before we can accomplish the great plans that God has for us.

So my advice to anyone who knows that one day she will need to be “tossed” into the next level of her destiny would be to continue the fight. Don’t think about what you need; God will take care of you. You just keep seeking God, serving others, developing your skills and fighting the small battles that God has prepared for you. One day you will hit a brick wall, and your destiny will be raging on the other side of it. You will look over your shoulder and someone will be there to “toss” you. Just swallow your pride and prepare to be catapulted into your future.

Questions: Was there ever a time that you had to make an “ask” of yourself? How have others helped you accomplish God’s will for your life?

“The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?’ Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it’” (Nehemiah 2.4-5 NIV).

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

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March 6, 2011

Flask or Horn?

Comparing the lives and actions of King Saul and King David teaches us how to handle the vision/promise God gives us. We all have our "kingdom" that God has prepared for us. We all have our designated territory that we have dominion over. Both King Saul and King David were given the same promise: they were both kings of Israel. However, they each treated this promise very differently. The distinction that occurred in their leadership can be traced to their anointing.

Both Saul and David were unexpectedly anointed king by the same prophet, Samuel. Saul was looking for his father's donkeys (1 Samuel 9.3) and David was tending his father's sheep (1 Samuel 16.11).

Saul's family somehow lost their donkeys. Donkeys are highly intelligent animals that are very affectionate. In ancient times they were symbolic of wealth (especially by the Jews) and were used by the rich for transportation. The fact that Saul had several donkeys suggests affluence. The carelessness of caring for the donkeys indicates a great lack of concern as their guardian. Donkeys are pretty laid-back animals that are easy to care for. They can last long periods of time without food or water. Usually only a predator can make donkeys run, and Saul did not take adequate measures to ensure their protection. Saul looked through many territories to find them, but his inattentiveness caused him to wander.

David obviously cared for his father's sheep. Even when a famed prophet arrived at his home, he didn't leave them until his father summoned him. Shepherding was considered a lowly job. Servants did the shepherding or many times the last born son, like David. Sheep are extremely helpless animals. Some people have said that without human intervention, they would already be extinct. They have trouble finding food and water, and they lack any ability to protect themselves from predators. In ancient times sheep were allowed to roam pasture land, so the shepherd had to stay alert and attentive. The shepherd needed to gain the trust of the sheep, so they would closely follow him. Shepherding was also a solitary job that garnered no prestige or acclaim from society.

They were anointed with the same oil, which comes from the Hebrew word shemen. Oil is symbolic for God's Spirit or Holy Spirit. Saul (1 Samuel 11.6) and David (1 Samuel 16.13) each received God's Spirit. Although they received the same oil, the container that held their oil was vastly different.

Samuel put Saul's anointing oil into a flask, which comes from the Hebrew word pak. This flask was man-made, and many times created from a fine mineral called alabaster. Samuel was prepared to anoint a king because God told him the day before. Not only did he have a flask of oil ready, he had a dinner with thirty prestigious guest arranged, a seat of honor prepared and the choicest slice of meat waiting! Samuel made a grand show of anointing Saul.

On the other hand, God told Samuel to put David's anointing oil into a horn, which comes from the Hebrew word qeren. Samuel was scared to anoint David because King Saul was still ruling, so God told Samuel to say that he was offering a sacrifice to God and anoint the new king in secret (1 Samuel 16.2). I think God chose the horn for two reasons: First, the horn would hide Samuel's intention of anointing David. Second, the horn is not man-made and represents power and strength.

I believe the container of the oil signifies the main difference between Saul's and David's kingship. Saul was the human desire for a king. He was a tall man, anointed in prestige. Shortly after Saul was anointed, he was made king before the nation. There was barely in lag time between events. Saul would not submit to the Holy Spirit and become a king after God's own heart. He lived out most of his kingship in the flesh and not in the Spirit. All throughout his life, he lived to please man, not God. Saul was a flask.

David was God's desire of a king. He was forgotten, anointed in secret. He was in his teens when he was anointed, yet he didn't become king until he was thirty (2 Samuel 5.4). During the many years David hid in caves and commanded his growing army, God was able to transform David into a man after His own heart. David's sole desire was to be with God (Psalm 27.4). He lived out most of his kingship in the Spirit. All throughout his life, he lived to please God, not man. David was a horn.

God needs our willingness if He is to transform us into people after His own heart. We need to put His desires above the desires of ourselves and others. He also needs time to change us from the inside out. He wants us to victoriously lead in our designated territories, but we need to be willing to submit to the process. God wants to make our "prestigious" man-made flasks into Horns of Salvation -- the likeness of Christ.

When Saul was declared king, he hid (1 Samuel 10.22). When David was declared king and finally brought the Ark of the Lord back home, he danced (2 Samuel 6.16). God wants us to dance in the promises that He's given us. Let us be horns for God, so He will lift us up on high and we can declare His glory and salvation to the world.

"I love you, LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."
- Psalm 18.1-2 (emphasis added)

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March 2, 2011

Royal Heiress: Interview

Princess #2 is Alisa Hope Wagner.

Alisa proudly wears the righteousness of Christ through her faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for her sins. By grace she received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and He and the power of God’s Word guide her life and writing. Alisa and her husband, Daniel, have three amazing children, whom they homeschool. Alisa’s identical twin-sister, Crissy, is her ministry help-mate, doing all aspects of ministry that writers are usually horrible at.

Heiress: I am super excited to begin, so Alisa please tell us three things that most people don't know about you.

Alisa: I didn't become an avid reader until my mid-twenties. The career test I took in college suggested that I be a park ranger. I hate talking on the phone.

Heiress: A park ranger huh? That's funny. Well I'm glad you decided to become a writer instead. So, I know that you're an accomplished writer, but for those who don't, can you share with us some of the publications you've written for?

Alisa: Michael Hyatt's blog, Internet Cafe, (In)Courage, The Right to God, Exemplify, Ruby for Women, Granola Bar Devotionals, Sanctified Together Publication, Glo Magazine, A Woman Inspired (audio), Moments of Peace (audio), Padre Island Moon and The Galveston Daily News.

Heiress: Wow! Not only have you written for those publications, but you have both your Bachelors and Masters Degrees in English. That's impressive. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

Alisa: My main muse is the Holy Spirit and the Bible, but I also find inspiration in other Christian leaders, my family, my friends, Christian music and anything else with the imprint of God.

Heiress: Speaking of Christian leaders, are there any that you just love and have to read their books?

Alisa: God brings Christian leaders to me, and they become my mentor through their books. I will read several of one author's books in a row, until I feel like I've gleaned much of his/her insight. My list of mentors is long, but it includes Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Francis Chan, John Piper, Dr. Myles Munroe, C.S. Lewis, Dr. David Cho, Mark Batterson, Joseph Prince, Gene Edwards, Derek Prince, John Bevere, Billy Graham, Bruce Wilkinson, Jentezen Franklin, John Maxwell, Charles Swindoll and (my pastor) Bil Cornelius.

Heiress: Yeah, that is an extensive list, but there are several that you named that I love too. For instance, Joyce Meyer always tops my list. I love her! I also enjoy listening to TD Jakes and we just featured one of Bruce Wilkinson's books on the Royal Heiress blog. I'll have to make an effort to get books by some of the other authors you named. It's great to know that you pastor is also your mentor. What church do you attend?

Alisa: I attend the fabulous Bay Area Fellowship in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Heiress: Texas huh? They say everything is bigger in Texas so what big upcoming projects do you have in place?

Alisa: I'm seeking publication for my first novel, Eve of Awakening, so my twin-sister and I are making preparations.

Heiress: Wow, that is big! That is a huge deal, and we will be looking forward to the release of that. So as an author, what do you hope people gain from reading your blog and/or devotionals?

Alisa: My desire is that people will experience a well-spring of God's Spirit that draws them closer to their creator.

Heiress: I can relate to your blog post titled "First Step Out of Fear" the most. Like you, I didn't know why I began writing or even what I would write about. Now that I've been writing for sometime I've finally found my "blogging voice." What advice would you give to someone wanting to write a book or blog?

Alisa: Don't be like everyone else -- that role has already been filled. God wants to do something new in and through you, so listen intently for God's voice and follow obediently to His plan for your life.

Heiress: When you said that I immediately thought of the 96 Psalms the first verse. It says "sing unto the Lord a new song..." Don't be afraid to do something new. Don't be afraid to sing a new song; don't be afraid to write a new blog; don't be afraid to pray for new (different) things. I really like that advice. So what is your favorite Bible verse?

Alisa: My favorite verse changes with the season I'm in, but right now I'm clinging onto Proverbs 13.12 (NIV): "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." Jesus is the Tree of Life; once we cling to Him, our heart's desires become reality.

Heiress: Oh wow, Proverbs is my favorite book of the Bible. Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

Alisa: I think many Christians know that Jesus is the answer; however, I believe many Christians don't know why He is the answer. The world wants to know why we need Jesus. Here is my why: God created a perfect world and perfect people, but He gave us free-will to obey Him or not. The ungodly choices we make with our free-will corrupted God's perfect design. Our sin separated us from God, and we are unable to spend eternity with Him because we can't achieve righteousness on our own. However, we are able to gain righteousness by faith when we accept Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Jesus took our sin and separation from God, so we could commune with our perfect Creator in heaven. We cannot gain righteousness without Jesus; therefore, we can not go to heaven unless we are saved by grace through Jesus.

Heiress: Yes, I agree. I probably couldn't write it as eloquently as you though. Ok, so here is the game that I like to play with everyone. I'm going to name two things and I would like you to pick which one you like the best and explain. First up...Paula White or Joyce Meyer- even though we know the answer already.

Alisa: Joyce Meyer was one of my first mentors.

Heiress: Esther or Ruth.

Alisa: Ruth is my favorite. I wrote an exegesis about her and Boaz on the threshing floor ;-)

Heiress: Women's Conferences: Speaking or Attending

Alisa: I like attending them, but if God leads, I would also speak.

Heiress: Praise Music or Worship Music

Alisa: I love both genres of music.

Heiress: The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman or The DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley.

Alisa: I recommend The 5 Love Languages to all my friends!

Heiress: Thank you Alisa for your time, and for agreeing to do this interview.

Alisa: Thank you, Marletha! It was a pleasure.

You can also read the interview at Royal Heiress!

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