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Faith Imagined: May 2011

Faith Imagined

Alisa Hope Wagner: Christian Writer

May 31, 2011

A Church Divided

I'm reading Warriors Don't Cry, a beautiful memoir written by Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the nine black students integrated into Little Rock's Central High in 1957. As I read about her childhood, I walked through memories that were vastly different from mine. She grew up in a "sepia-toned world, a cocoon of familiar people and places." The few times she interacted with white people tended to be racially charged and negative. As a child, she felt like a second-class citizen, but she and her family firmly believed that God would bring forth His justice and liberty.

I, on the other hand, grew up on a military base in the 1980s. I was surrounded by people of all colors and blends of colors. I had best friends who were white, black, Hispanic, Chinese and Filipino. I didn't believe we were all the same. I could see the differences in each race first hand, but I enjoyed and soaked up those differences. I never had to fight for my rights against an entire nation because I enjoyed the freedoms fought by those before me. Though our nation is far from perfect, we have experienced great victories won by people faithful to God's will.

I write all this because I'm learning that each of us has a unique lens on life. We can never assume that we know what someone is thinking or feeling, especially if we have limited our focus to ourselves. Though Ms. Beals and I have unique upbringings and life-experiences, we both love and serve the same God. Our situation shapes our perspective on life, people and spirituality, yet God is able to form His love, mercy and grace to fit our personal need and understanding.

I read a lot of books written by diverse spiritual leaders. Each leader has his/her unique Holy Spirit inspired passion and perspective. After reading a handful of books, I started to become nervous and confused. Every leader was so different and had diverse takes on the world, God and spirituality. I felt like there were huge gaps between each leader's spiritual ideology, and it was difficult for me to jump from one school of thought to another. But I knew every single one of them was aligned with God's Word and His Spirit. They each deepened my relationship with and understanding of God with strict Bible teachings.

Instead of pointing my "false prophet" finger, I kept reading more books. The Holy Spirit began bringing a colorful array of spiritual mentors into my path, and I consumed their insights. As I continued reading, other spiritual ideologies arose, and those big gaps between schools of thought became smaller and smaller. Soon these amazing, God-breathed insights formed stepping stones that merged together to create a solid path to God. I discovered that these spiritual platforms tied together at the root of God made up His beloved bride: the Church! And God wants us to live in harmony so He can raise up His Bride that we may glorify Him.

"May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15.5-6 ESV).

Additional readings:

I write about counterfeit Christianity in my article, "Empty Spirituality."

I write about the church sanctfication in my article, "Peaceful Swords."

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May 22, 2011

Accustomed to Paradise

Brian "Head" Welch came to our church and talked about how he met Christ. I loved his testimony, which you can read at I am Second. He "test drove the world," and he had everything that the world could offer: fame, money, women, success, etc. But a "dark cloud" hovered over his life, and he lived in misery. He thought he was a "loser," he was addicted to drugs and he couldn't care for his little girl.

But Jesus changed all that.

After Brian told us his redemption story, he expressed the amazing gift that we have in God. He said that Christianity is the only religion that offers a "Piece of Paradise" here on earth. The promised gift of the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us once we receive forgiveness from Jesus Christ. Jesus took on our imperfection, so we could wear His perfection, and now we stand righteous before a perfect God. Because of grace we are sanctified, and the Holy Spirit can live in us. This beautiful mystery of faith is the ultimate truth of Christianity.

Brian couldn't describe with words the peace and joy that flooded his life when he walked away from everything and followed after God. The world can give us its version of glory, but Brian explained that we were created to desire God. Nothing we consume will quench our yearning for God and His glory.

What moved me most about Brian's Holy Spirit filled words was his delight and awe of God. Brian had found "paradise," and it was better than anything he had ever known. His excitement reminded me that I dwell in this paradise daily. I rest in green meadows and walk by peaceful streams (Psalm 23). God's presence is so much a part of my life that I think I sometimes forget what I have.

The Holy Spirit has been prompting me over and over again to remember what God has done in my life. I finally sat down and started from the time I was young, listing the amazing movement of His will in my mess. I thought about the times He protected and cared for me and when He guided and encouraged me. I looked at all the blessings in my life and saw how He has grown me and changed me into His image.

My transformation from an insecure 14 year old who was hopeless and lost to the strong Christian woman I am today is nothing short of miraculous. Changing from a person who hated reading and studying to becoming the learner and researcher I am now is shocking. God makes the fool wise and that is so obvious in my life. I am a fool who is only wise because God loves me, Christ died for me and the Holy Spirit guides me.

I don't want to take the "paradise" I have today for granted. I remember how I felt with out Jesus, and I was miserable, purposeless and confused. Now I'm surrounded by peace, joy, love and hope that cannot be produced without God. I have paradise (a piece of God) inside of me, and that is a treasure worth selling everything for (Matthew 13.44).

"Remember the things I have done in the past.
For I alone am God!
I am God, and there is none like me."

Isaiah 46.9 (NLT)

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May 15, 2011

Sifting Thor

Thor is arrogant, prideful and scorns authority. His adopted evil brother, Loki, causes mischief that exposes Thor's selfishness. Thor's immaturity forces his father, King Odin, to strip him of his power and leave him stranded on earth. King Odin wants to relinquish the kingship to Thor, but he knows that unless his son learns obedience and self-sacrifice, he will never be a good king.

The evil brother, Loki, reigns while the king recovers in "odinsleep." Loki lies, deceives, kills and creates chaos, while the exiled Thor comes to terms with his selfishness and learns how to serve and sacrifice for others. King Odin allows evil to dominate for a time, knowing that the evil will sift the impurities from his son. Once evil is subdued, Thor finally finds his footing on the righteous path to his destiny.

King Odin did not create the life of Loki, but he brought this evil son into his family. Why would he allow evil into his kingdom? Because the evil is what sifts the arrogance, pride and disobedience from Thor.

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”

"Peter said, 'Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.'”

"But Jesus said, 'Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.'”

- Luke 22.31-34 (NLT)

God allows evil to sift Peter. Peter is brave and strong, but hiding inside of him is his selfish will. He wants to expand the Kingdom of God, but he hasn't experienced a trial that exposes his deception. When his life is threatened, the deep rooted self-centered motives are revealed. Instead of dying for Christ, he goes into self-preservation mode by lying three times before the rooster crows.

Selfishness is the utlimate thorn is our side and the killer of God's power in our lives. By default we all struggle with the idol of self, but God allows the Enemy to reign for a time so our pride, arrogance and disobedience (all outcomes of selfishness) can be sifted. Death to self is the only way we can fully have the power of Christ, and it is the only way we will find freedom from the trappings of this world: worry, doubt, fear, lust, pride, etc. Once our sinful nature dies, we can walk victoriously in the abundance that Jesus promised us (John 10.10 NASB).

Even though evil is allowed to reign, God will have the final and complete victory. He has an amazing purpose for all His children, and He needs the sinful nature to be sifted from us. Life trials are not fun, but when we trust the hand of God, they can pull out our impurities and shape us into the image of Christ.

"We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love."

- Romans 5.3-5 (NLT)

* Obviously, I only believe in the One True God found in the Trinity: God, the Creator; Jesus, the Redeemer; and the Holy Spirit, the Counselor. However, I do use movies like Thor as culturally relevant analogies to illustrate spiritual truths.

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May 12, 2011

Corpus Christ Caller Times Article

Lakendra Lewis is wonderful faith writer for my local newspaper, Corpus Christi Caller Times. She wrote an article about me winning first place in the Echoes of the Right to God writing contest for my fiction meditation piece, "His Return."

You can celebrate with me and read the article at I know God loves it when His Truth spreads into the secular wrelm! If you feel so inclined, please leave a comment at the newspaper site :)

I donated my winnings to If You Knew, a ministry that helps raise money for World Vision.

blessings to ya!

May 7, 2011

Receiving Mercy

I took my two sons (six and four years old) to an end of season soccer party. The kids got to play on a park, swim in a pool and jump on a trampoline. Many kids were running around having fun, but my oldest son was getting upset. One kid accidentally pushed him on the trampoline. Another kid unknowingly hit his eye with a water noodle. And a girl on a swing ran into him while he was walking through the park.

My son cried to me, “Why do kids keeping hurting me?”

“They are not doing it on purpose,” I told him in my sweetest mommy voice. “There are a lot of kids here, so they’re going to bump into each other.

“But, they are hitting me, and I don’t like it!” He screamed.

“Well, the only thing we can do is make all the kids go home, so you can play by yourself. Does that sound fun to you?” I asked him.

“No,” he answered.

“You have to understand that people accidentally hurt each other, so you have to give them mercy. No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes.”

“Okay, Mommy,” he said and went back into the pool.

Ten minutes later, I found my son standing with his head buried in a lawn chair. He looked like an ostrich hiding his face in the dirt.

“What happened,” I asked him.

He looked at me. His eyes were red and swollen, and his cheeks were wet with tears. “I accidentally pushed a girl!” he whispered.

“How?” I asked

“I was on the trampoline, and I ran into her!” he said, getting louder.

“Did you say sorry?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “but everyone looked at me!”

“It’s okay,” I said pointing to the trampoline. “Look, they are all jumping again. They don’t even remember.”

“But, I ran into her, and they all looked at me!” he yelled.

I knew my son needed additional insight on mercy. “Guess what, Son? You are not perfect either. You also make mistakes, and you will need to receive mercy from others.”

“But I hurt her!” he screamed with fresh tears falling down his face.

I took my son into my arms and gave him a big hug. “I think you also need to give yourself a little mercy too.”

As I held my son, I realized that I also struggle with giving myself mercy. Through the years, I’ve learned to give mercy to others, but I never quite got the knack of receiving it. I’m hard on myself, and I tend to focus on my mistakes. I don’t give myself any slack, and this makes my life tense when I’m in a particularity difficult season.

I know that there is a balance between grace and diligence, and I’m determined to figure it out. I don’t want to limit God when I try to stick myself in a mold of perfection. I will never be perfect and I will hurt and offend people, but I trust that God will make my mistakes into something beautiful. I want to lean on His perfection and allow His grace to fill in the cracks of my imperfection. Hopefully, my son and I can step into the fullness of His mercy together.

"But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life" (1 Timothy 1.16 NIV).

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May 5, 2011

Internet Cafe: Analytically Overweight

I get overwhelmed sometimes with all that God teaches me through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses relationships, memories and situations to show me spiritual truths. Many times, though, I feel like I can’t keep up. I analyze my experience, pull out the truth and then try to digest the surrounding situation. I’m still trying to understand stuff from years past, but I’m realizing that I’ll never fully be able to stack all of my life experiences in neat, organized rows into my subconscious.

A couple of days ago, I found myself pulling a spiritual truth from a relationship. I understood what God was teaching me, and I appreciated the insight that I had been given; however, I still couldn’t wrap my brain around the situation, and to be honest, I didn’t want to think about it anymore. I started to see that there was no end to my spiraling condition of over-thinking, and I was upset at God for making spiritual insight so grueling to gather.

I told God, “If you want me to analyze everything I encounter in this life, I’m going to be thinking a very long time.” I truly feared that the joy and peace I’ve finally found in Christ would be squeezed out by my constant desire to gain understanding and grow in wisdom.

God told me, “Take the seed; toss the rest.”

Right then, I had an image of me pulling out spiritual truths from every direction and tossing the rest of the circumstance out the window. God uses our life experiences to grow us, but He doesn’t expect us to understand it all. In fact, I pictured myself being analytically overweight from thinking so much about everything, and spiritually inactive because I was too busy digesting it all. How could I possibly be an effective witness for Christ if I was constantly trying to organize and spiritualize every aspect of my life?

God does use our circumstances to teach us, but He never said that we would understand all the ins and outs of our lives on this world. People bump into each other every day, and there is no telling why things happen as they do. All we can do is look for the spiritual insight that God wants us to gain and toss the rest at the foot of the cross.

Life is too short to try to eat and digest every twist and turn of our journey. God wants us to gain understanding and grow in wisdom, but He also wants us to enjoy life, keep our eyes focused on Him and our feet moving toward heaven. From now on, I’m determined to look for a seed of understanding or a gem of wisdom, and let God deal with the rest.

Questions: Is there a situation that you have been over analyzing? What does God want you to learn, and what does He want you to leave at the cross?

“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold” (Proverbs 3.13-14 NIV).

You can also read this at the Internet Cafe!

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May 2, 2011

ST Publication: Summer

I'm so excited to showcase the next Sanctified Together Publication - Summer! We hope you find time to enjoy each article, as you prepare for summer craziness! If you haven't joined our mailing list, you can join here and make sure to receive our ST Publication every three months! If you would like to print out the publication, you can go here!

Eternal Summer

I've been thinking a lot about aging lately. Gray hairs are starting to find their way into my auburn hair, and fine lines and creases are beginning to frame the features of my face. The youthful aspects of my body that I've always taken for granted seem to be losing their momentum. I'm trying to gain an eternal perspective about the physical changes that I'm about to experience as God allows me to live more years on this earth.

To acquire understanding, I looked at the average lifespan of a person. I know that people many times use the concept of "seasons" when describing life, so I divided the average life into four: spring, summer, autumn and winter. If a person lives 80 years, then each season will have a set of 20 years. I realize this is a little cut-and-dry, but I really needed to have something tangible to explore the aging process and to prepare myself for what's to come.

Since I am thirty-four years old, I am nearing the end of summer. The youth I've always known is waning, and I will begin the beautiful season of fall. I'm not angry or scared about this new season. I've just always been horrible with change, and my mind and spirit desperately need awareness before my scenery transforms. I want to stay on the curving path of God's design, so I will have victory in my autumn years and continue to live with confidence in Christ.

Jesus never lived into His last two seasons; He was crucified in the glory of His summer. He conquered death for us and returned to show His resurrected body to the world. He walked the earth in the ripeness of His summer, and the splendor of His eternal body revealed the scars of His earthly sacrifice. His physical brokenness became His everlasting beauty.

Brokenness is not a very nice word in a culture obsessed with perfection and beauty. If someone were to invent a body eraser to airbrush over blemishes and imperfections, that person would become a gazillionaire. We would use that eraser to shave off inches from our hips and stomachs, erase freckles and wrinkles and rub out stretch marks, cellulite and scars. We might even become skilled enough to shade in some muscle tone and firmness! We would definitely not highlight our brokenness, but that's exactly what Jesus did.

Our brokenness is what releases God's fullness in our lives. It is not until we finally admit that we are not perfect and our efforts at control don't work, that we finally cling onto to God's power instead of our own. When we die to ourselves, God lives abundantly in us. And God will break us to get us to understand that. Aging is definitely a form of brokenness. As we get older, we realize that time is no longer on our side. Our physical bodies are dying and we have very few years left to reach our predestined purposes. Aging helps us to look beyond ourselves and into the heart of God, where the spiritual and eternal things dwell.

I pray that in my new season, God will show me how fleeting my looks are and how short my life is compared to eternity. I want heaven-eyes, so I can keep my life aligned with God's everlasting plan. I desire to lay hold of the aspects of my life that have eternal value, so my life can have purpose and meaning. I know that the physical elements of this life are important, but I want to use them to develop and fulfill eternal assignments.

With all that said, I will still hold onto the promise that I will die in this crippled, mortal shell and be transformed into my Eternal Summer self. In heaven I will have long auburn hair, a wrinkle free face and youthful muscles. I will be able to fly, run and dance into God's glory that fills the gates of heaven. But I know that any brokenness I endured in this life for the Kingdom of God will be worn like a badge of honor. I will recite my stories of how I lived by faith for Christ, and I will highlight the brokenness that caused me to cling onto God because I believed in His promises.

And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

"Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?"

- 1 Corinthians 15.53-55 (NLT)

*Giveaway! Every person who leaves a comment will be entered into a drawing to win Susan Lawrence's Bible study, Pure Purpose! Find out more here!

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