Who God is to Me

How do you know God is real? Various people in my life havebutterfly-lens-flare asked me this question from time to time. And it’s a good question. I truly respect people who can say they have the faith to believe in a God they never see, hear or experience; however, I struggled occasionally with a certain level of doubt about who God is and at what level He is involved with humanity. This is my open and honest self-assessment.

Most of my Christian life (about 20 years) was based on faith alone. For a while, that was good enough, but it was difficult to maintain. I grew up in a church that claimed to believe in a powerful God, but I never saw Him move. I just knew He saved me, and that was enough. And it truly IS enough based on Jesus’s “mustard seed” statement in Matthew 17:20. But I wanted more, and my whole life was about to turn upside down.

The past three and a half years have been the most transformative years of my life. My life changing journey began with a simple prayer to know God at a deeper level. I told Him I was thankful for saving me, but I wanted to actually know Him as more than my “knight in shining armor.” I wanted a real relationship beyond saving the “damsel in distress.”

A couple of weeks later, I was offered an opportunity to join a discipleship group with two other wonderful women. This was a major step for me as an introvert. I didn’t know either of the other two women very well, and it caused major stress and discomfort for me at the time. However, I decided I would never grow spiritually if I didn’t try something; and, I reluctantly agreed to join the study.

A year passed, and the strangers in my discipleship study became like close sisters. Each of us had our own journeys and struggles, but we perfectly complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m extremely thankful to God and to those two women for those days. I’m not sure I could have made it through the months that followed without such amazing support and love as my foundation. By the end of the discipleship study, I began to realize I didn’t know God well at all. This realization broke my heart, and it pushed me even harder to keep searching. Was it a divine appointment for the three of us to meet? I’d like to think so.

The months that followed were some of the hardest in my life. I’ve mentioned different pieces of this part of my life in previous blog entries. I’ve come to understand that, at least in my story, it’s hard to truly know God if you don’t have a situation where dependence on His provision and divine intervention aren’t required. That story is long; therefore, I’ll simply point you to a previous entry that details a series of amazing events that occurred. Here’s very short summary: In a day, I was pulled out a dire situation and given a new opportunity. I was healed from a crippling anxiety disorder and learned the immensity of God’s love. These events radically changed the direction of my life and a level of understanding God.

For months after that life changing moment, I experienced and witnessed things I couldn’t explain. I was from a denomination that didn’t believe in speaking in tongues, but I spoke in tongues anyway. I watched the emotional crutches (over-planning for every situational outcome) I had been using to cope with my anxiety slowly dissolve away. Even my own family admits I’m a different person. I’m strong and confident (although still an introvert). I can speak in front of large crowds, and I don’t become a quivering puddle of gelatin. Life still has its stressful moments, but I’m not anxious. What a difference!

During the last year and half of my life, I saw two dear friends come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. They claimed some of the events that led to their decisions to follow Jesus were supernatural in nature, and I believe them. They are both normal, logical and sane individuals. How do you explain away things like a car radio cycling through stations with static except for the words “don’t doubt the Word of God” with each word on a different station? My friend’s daughter witnessed the whole thing. If it wasn’t God, but it really happened, then how did it happen?

I’ve also witnessed and personally experienced physical healing. How do you explain away a fever leaving a body or pain and swelling leaving a pair of legs in a moment of prayer? Both occurrances happened. The girl with the fever was one of my discipleship study friends. I was the one with the swollen shins. These experiences as well as being healed from the anxiety disorder have recently stirred a passion to join a local healing ministry to help others find wholeness is Christ.

At this point in my life, I’ve experienced too many seemingly coincidental or unexplainable moments to not believe God is real and deeply cares about us. He cares not just about our final destination but about the person we become and the lives we touch along the way.

Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings Series Part 4 – Abraham and Isaac

The story of Abraham’s (almost) The crosssacrifice of his son Isaac is one of those awe inspiring faith builders that initially inspired me to write the blog series “Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings.” If you’ve questioned whether or not the Bible is truly the Word of God or wondered about the relevance of the Old Testament to your own life, I hope this story will show some links between the two testaments.

Parallel 1:

  • Abraham and Isaac: God promised Abraham’s family line would be more numerous than the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:4-5 and 21:12). This promise was fulfilled through Isaac many years later after almost a lifetime of anticipation.
  • Jesus: The long awaited promise of the coming of Isaac can be paralleled with Old Testament prophecies of the anticipated coming of the Messiah.  For example: the prophecies in Isaiah were written more than 500 years before Christ’s birth (Isaiah 43 and many other references).

Parallel 2:

  • Abraham and Isaac: The Bible says Sarah laughed when she realized she was pregnant at the age of 90. Abraham was 100 years old. Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children naturally; therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude the birth of Isaac was miraculous. Amazingly, Abraham and Sarah had several more children after Isaac’s birth!
  • Jesus: Mary, who was a virgin, became pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:34-38).

Parallel 3:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac, his only son whom he loved.
    • Isaac was a direct ancestor to Jesus.
    • Abraham also had a son named “Ishmael”, but out of impatience with God, he was born to the servant named Hagar. Therefore, Ishmael was not part of the line of Jesus; however, God blessed Ishmael’s family line because he was also Abraham’s son (Genesis 21:14; 22:2).
  • Jesus: Father God called Jesus His only beloved Son (Matthew 17:5).

Parallel 4:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac was offered as a burnt sacrifice (Genesis 22:2).
  • Jesus: Jesus was offered as the sacrifice to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Parallel 5:

Parallel 6:

  • Abraham and Isaac: In addition to Isaac, Abraham took two men with him to Moriah (Genesis 22:3).
  • Jesus: Jesus was sacrificed beside two thieves (John 19:18).

Parallel 7:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac carried the wood to be used for the burn offering (Genesis 22:6).
  • Jesus: Jesus carried a wooden cross.

Parallel 8:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Abraham bound Isaac and laid him upon the wood (Genesis 22:9).
  • Jesus: Jesus was nailed to the wooden cross (John 19:17).

Parallel 9:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac knew his father was going to offer him as a sacrifice, but he willingly went to the place of his death (Genesis 22:7-8).
  • Jesus: Jesus could have freed Himself or called down the angels to rescue Him. He was God after all! Instead, He willingly offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins (John 12:23-24).
    • “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

Parallel 10:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac was offered as a sacrifice at the end of a three day journey to the mountain in Moriah. He was essentially dead to Abraham the moment God commanded him to sacrifice his son. But because of God’s promise to make Isaac’s family line more numerous than the stars, Abraham trusted God would raise his son from the dead if he was sacrificed (Hebrews 11:17-19).
    • Instead of allowing Abraham to sacrifice his son, God provided a ram as a sacrificial substitute. The ram redeemed Isaac, essentially bringing him back from death (resurrection from physical death).
    • Although Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the lamb, a ram is given by God as a sacrifice. Did Abraham have it wrong? No. The use of the word “lamb” foretold the story of Christ who would become the “Lamb” according to John 8:56 which states: “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
  • Jesus: Jesus was dead for three days and on the third day He resurrected, eventually returning back to His Father. Jesus was the Lamb who was sacrificed as the substitute for our sins and redeemed us from spiritual death (Matthew 12:40, Matthew 17:23, and Acts 10:40).

The comparison above was first mentioned to me by a good friend of mine who is an amazing teacher of Biblical truths. She taught me how to look for parallels between the Old and New Testament.  As a result, this type of research has greatly strengthened and reinforced my faith and ignited a passion for studying the Word. Thank goodness for wonderful friends who help us grow!

I hope this comparison and the “Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings” series will ignite the same passion for you!

rainbow

Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings Series Part 2 – Noah’s Ark

Old Testament stories like Noah’s Ark ( Genesis 6:5-9:17) sometimes conjure thoughts of an angry God fatally sweeping away humanity and life in a torrent of water. Sound familiar? Although the logistics of the story of Noah’s Ark are hard to imagine, it seems the impossible task of gathering pairs of animals and rainbowcramming them into a large boat is not the number one issue that bothers people. Instead, the most difficult piece of the story seems to be the not-so-obvious answers to perplexing questions about our Divine Creator: “Why does God seem to oscillate between two extremes — the angry, jealous God of judgment of the Old Testament and the loving, merciful Father of the New Testament?”, “Did God change His mind about humanity and decide we weren’t worth the grief we caused Him?”, “Does God hate humanity?”, and “What signs and symbols of mercy, if any, exist in stories like the one about Noah?”

God’s Character

Hollywood movies and the mainstream media sometimes typecast God inaccurately as a tyrannical master who can’t wait for humanity to slip up so He can wipe them off the face of the earth; but I encourage you to consider how Old Testament stories like Noah’s Ark reveal God’s grace and mercy and can be paralleled with Christ’s death and resurrection (like many other Old Testament stories believe it or not!).

God does not enjoy the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). As the ultimate loving Father, He always provides hope and a way out of judgment. If you read closely enough, you will realize the Biblical account of Noah is a wonderful story filled with signs and symbols of a gracious and merciful God. As the Divine Creator, God could have chosen to wipe mankind from the earth, especially since the Bible says our wickedness was so great it caused an outcry from the heavens. The Scriptures say it deeply grieved God that His creation had become so morally bankrupt that no one except Noah was found to be righteous. How great is our God that He allowed man’s legacy to continue through Noah’s family line (Genesis 6:5-8)? Why would He do this? Although man’s wickedness grieved God, He loves us and promised to repair our broken relationship with Him (Isaiah 53:5-12).

Symbols of Grace – The Ark

floodAlthough God promised the flood would come, He also promised Noah a way to escape destruction onboard the Ark. The Ark provided complete protection from the flood in the same way the blood of Jesus covers us and provides grace over judgment. God invited Noah and His family into the Ark and sealed them inside to secure their protection (Genesis 6:9-7:24).

Symbols of Grace – The Raven

After several days of floating around on the flood waters, Noah released a raven. The Bible says the raven flew back and forth in the sky continuously until the Ark found its resting place in the mountains of Ararat. When I first read this statement, I was somewhat perplexed. In modern times, the raven is often used to symbolize death. I suppose it could be said the raven could not perch on anything because the earth was covered in water which symbolized death while the waters existed. Also, ravens were considered to be unclean birds because they feed on the dead (“Genesis 8 – Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible”, Bible Gateway).

Is it also possible there is a dual meaning to why the raven was sent out? In my research about Noah’s raven, I found several websites that indicated the bird is often used as a symbol of provision (see “1 Kings 17 – Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible”, Bible Gateway, “Vincent of Saragossa”, Wikipedia, and Luke 12:24). I have to wonder if the raven is meant to symbolize God’s provision for Noah, his family, and all the living creatures on the Ark while there was only death everywhere else upon the earth.

Symbols of Grace – The Dove and the Olive Branch

The dove shows up in many different passages of the Bible to symbolize the Holy Spirit, purity, peace, and new life. In the story of Noah’s Ark, the dove was sent out three separate times to find dry land. The first time the dove and olive branchdove was sent out, it flew back to Noah because there was nowhere to land (death upon the land). The second time the Noah released the dove, it returned with an olive branch, symbolizing peace. When the dove was released a third time, it did not return, symbolizing freedom and deliverance after the world’s submersion). Just as Noah’s Ark is often compared to the finished work of Christ, the dove can be compared to a believer’s baptism after salvation, signifying the Holy Spirit being with a follower of Jesus (“Why is the dove often used as a Symbol for the Holy Spirit?”, Got Questions.Org).

I love this interpretation from the Biblical Research Institute:

One could also argue that the dove is, in this particular case, a symbol of deliverance. The dove as a symbol of the love of God appeared, telling us that, as with the Flood, the storm of sin is not powerful enough to keep us permanently separated from the Father. Our planet is now connected with heaven through Christ. In accepting His Son, God signifies to us that we are also accepted in the Beloved through faith in the provision He made on our behalf.

Symbols of Grace – The Rainbow

The rainbow is a symbol of God’s covenant with Noah that He will never destroy the earth again by flood. The rainbow is a sign to God’s people of His enduring faithfulness (“Christian Rainbow: Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary” by Mary Fairchild, Christianity.About.Com).

If you are interested in the meanings and symbolism of the colors of the rainbow, I would highly recommend the article found on Bible Study.Org titled “What does a rainbow mean in the Bible?”. There are multiple layers of meanings and so many interesting things to study on this topic that it would be easy to make a whole other blog post about it (and I just might!).

Parallels to Christ’s Work on the Cross

The parallels to Christ’s work are incredibly rich and detailed, and I would encourage you to explore the web and study it on your own. You won’t be disappointed. Here are a couple of interesting sites I found while I was doing some research:

“Noah’s Ark: Bible Story, Lessons, and Questions” by Jack Wellman, Christian Crier

“Seeing Jesus in Noah’s Ark” by David Armstrong, Looking into God’s Word

My Encounter with the God of Love

I suffered from an anxiety disorder most of my life. In addition to this disorder, I felt shame and unworthy of God’s love and grace even though I had been a Christian for almost 20 years. But now, I can’t deny I’m loved.

In September 2012, I found myself sitting in a prayer service thanks to the strong urging Joy and freedomof a good friend. I remember listening to the live praise music and other Christians around me worshiping God with a love and adoration I didn’t yet understand. I felt nothing. After months of crying and begging God to pull me out of a desperate situation that had only deepened my anxiety and depression, I was completely drained.

“I know you’re real and powerful God, but where are you?” I remember thinking.

The prayer service message that night was all about oppression, mental and physical bondage and how our spirits are affected by these things. As the prayer director spoke, I realized I was the person who needed to hear the message.

“What an odd coincidence,” I remember thinking. But now I know it was a divine appointment.

When the message concluded, there was an opportunity for prayer and worship before we were dismissed. That’s when I felt a tug on my heart as if God was saying, “Go ask for prayer” – so I went to the alter. As the prayer director began to pray over me, she motioned for an intercessor to join us. The girl who assisted didn’t know my story, but immediately said words I’ll never forget, “God wants to know He hears your cries. You think He’s not listening; but He hears you, and He loves you. He calls you His precious daughter.”

After the young intercessor spoke, the prayer director placed her hand on my forehead and prayed for God to break the hold of spiritual oppression and restore my joy. Suddenly, I was overcome with an immediate feeling of immense love and joy. It struck me so hard and so fast that I felt like I might stagger backwards during the prayer, and that’s when the giggles started — and I couldn’t stop. During prayer, happiness overpowered me and the silly giggles increased into laughter. I felt the love of the Father completely engulf me, sweeping away the pain and the darkness that I have suffered from for so many years.

When the prayer ended, I realized I was a different person. My anxiety disorder was gone and peace had replaced it. I undeniably know that God loves me. I will never question His love for me again. For the first time in my life, I have learned to trust with my whole heart.

Thank you for reading to my story, and I hope it has encouraged you.

There’s No Going Back

The blog post below was written by my husband.  Enjoy!

– The In-Place Missionary

Lights leading to Cross Bible

I grew up always going to church. My parents were both Christians and were always heavily involved in the churches we attended. We were members of three different churches throughout my childhood and my late twenties. The churches were of different denominations, but I would consider all of them traditional and conservative. The Sunday morning services were structured and usually similar – sing a few hymns or praise songs and listen to a sermon. There were also different things going on at times other than on Sunday mornings, such as a Wednesday night supper, small group meetings, student ministry activities, etc.

In all my years growing up in the church, it always seemed the sermons were always basically about how I should act and live my life – I should tithe 10% of my income, I shouldn’t curse, I should do this list of things to be a better parent, etc. I don’t say this to imply that there is anything wrong with that. Those things are true. There is nothing wrong with getting instruction on how to “be a better Christian.” The problem was that I didn’t realize there was so much more to God than what I had experienced up to that point in my life.

The turning point for me began when I went to a conference at a local church that was actually very close to my house. My wife had a friend at work who told her about the conference, and she agreed to go. The conference was Friday night and Saturday morning. I missed the Friday night service because of work. My wife got a friend to go with her on Friday; I joined them Saturday morning. When I first walked into the building, I noticed you could feel God’s presence overwhelmingly in the church. The service started with worship music, but it was not the kind I grew up experiencing. I wasn’t familiar with the songs, but it wasn’t the songs or the musicians or singers that struck me. It was the way the people in the congregation were worshipping. I could tell they were really singing the songs to God and pouring their heart and soul into worshipping Him. They were crying out to God and sometimes shouting and dancing, but I sensed it was not for show. During worship services I had previously experienced in other churches, people stood around and sang, a small number of people might close their eyes, or a couple of people may lift a hand while singing. It was completely different from what I was familiar with.

This is the part where I should say I am an introvert. I am usually pretty quiet and reserved. I must admit I was a little bit uncomfortable attending this church at first. Yet something about it drew me in, and I felt called to regularly attend there. I tried to resist and told God it was uncomfortable, but God instructed me to step outside of my comfort zone in order to really grow. The fact that it was uncomfortable for me was the point.

I have been going to this church every Sunday now for about nine months. It has really changed everything I thought I knew about being a Christian. I have seen and heard many testimonies of the sick being healed, even the dead being brought to life. I have seen people, including my wife, receive visions from God. I have seen people give prophetic words over others. I never experienced any of this in the first 30 years of my life growing up in the church. It seems a lot of churches worship God and talk a lot about Jesus, but they put the Holy Spirit in a box and don’t allow His power to work.

Jesus says in John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (NLT). Jesus performed all kinds of miracles, from healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and casting out demons all the way to bringing people back from the dead. Yet He says if we believe in Him, we can do all those same things AND EVEN GREATER WORKS! Not growing up being taught these truths, it blew my mind to think I could lay hands and heal people in Jesus’s name. The way I grew up, prayer was a passive act, meaning you only asked God to do things like heal people. You didn’t actively go to the person, lay hands on them, and say “in Jesus’s name, be healed!”

I am still learning a lot about the power of the Holy Spirit, so much so that I almost feel like a new Christian. I am diving in though because I want God to work through me to impact the lives of others through healing, prophetic words, or even just encouraging others. I have seen Him work through others at my church through healings, prophetic words, and speaking in tongues. I long for Him to use me like that. Once you have tasted and seen the awesome power of God, there is no going back to worshipping God passively and distantly.

I think two sentences from a book titled The Essential Guide to Healing by Bill Johnson and Randy Clark sum up my feelings: “Just as Jeremiah criticized the Israelites for creating with their hands gods who were helpless, modern man has created a “god” who is helpless to act in this world. A god this writer refuses to worship.”

Written by Clay White

A Free Gift

Another great post written by a friend of mine:

One evening, my wife and I watched a video we borrowed from a friend called Finger of God.Finger of God is part of a trilogy of short films put out by Darren Wilson. The trilogy is a documentary where Mr. Wilson and company travel to meet people around the world in attempt to ask a simple question: who is God?

I was touched by one scene in Finger of God in particular. A group of Christian missionaries were visiting Turkey. One of the missionaries named Heidi Baker began talking to a Muslim woman through a local Christian pastor who was interpreting for her. The woman suffered from blindness in one eye which Heidi asked permission from the woman to pray for.  As the missionary and local pastor prayed, the woman was healed from her affliction. Afterwards, the woman praised Allah. In response, the local pastor tried to correct the woman by saying it was Jesus who had healed her, and he seemed quite annoyed the woman kept praising Allah. Finally, the missionary pulled him aside and asked him not to continue to correct her.  The point was the woman was healed.

As I watched the scene unfold, I thought, “Yes, the missionary is absolutely right.” The fact God loves all His children and He just healed one from her afflictions without any conditions attached was the point. The healing was a gift, no strings attached.  The local pastor was so focused on getting the old woman to acknowledge the healing was done through Jesus, he missed the most important part of it all. It is so obvious to me it’s like the 300lb gorilla in the room; yet he missed the point. With great sadness, I feel I can’t say it enough.

Sometimes, we miss the forest for the trees. We’ve all been guilty of this at some point in our lives. We get so wrapped up in the details of something that impassions us that we lose focus on the big picture and what we were trying to accomplish; therefore, I will ask an important question.  Do we know what we want to accomplish? Maybe more importantly, what is it that God really wants us to do?

Written by Leslie Hardin

Be an Ambassador

It happened again.  This week, I sat in front of the television, watching the news and found myself angry, ashamed, and saddened.  It wasn’t the violence, desperation, or human condition, usually flooding media these days.  Instead, it was the realization of society’s view of Christianity today and how in some ways it’s our fault the world views us the way it does.

As I listened to a news anchor calls the values of my Father “outdated”, “backwards”, and “self righteous”, I felt the breaking of my heart for people who will never know His love because they don’t know the truth about Him or His Son based on how we represent Him.

Now don’t get my wrong, there are plenty of God fearing, completely sold-out-for-Him followers of Christ out there, but those representations don’t appear to be what the world sees.  They see a body of people who judge the world, live in excess but withhold giving abundantly to those in need, fight among themselves, and who speak love but do not appear to know how to love themselves.  They see people who confine themselves to a building of four walls where they go to upstage each other on supposed holiness and get their “Jesus fill for the week.”  They see a lot of fakes, and a lot of rules (Luke 11:35-44).  Would you want to follow a god that appears to condone such actions from His people?  Whether this is truth or not, this is how many people perceive us.  If you don’t believe me, try typing “christianity is outdated” into Google.

How do we change the world’s view of us?  We go back to His model.  We start loving people.  We live like we have a love worth dying for.  We start showing people the type of unconditional love Jesus died for, and we believe it and strive for it with ever fiber of our souls (John 3:16).  We build relationships among each other and among people in the world who may be wandering hopelessly seeking a love they’ve never known.  We build each other up instead of tearing each other down.  We always speak truth; but we speak it with grace, love, and peace.  We pray for each other.  We speak with the authority we’ve been given even when it scares us.  We do not only what’s right, but sometimes we even do what’s hard.  We speak to nations.  We become servants of one another (Matthew 23:11). As my pastor stated profoundly this morning, we should be obedient in carrying out what He tells us to do because “It may not even be about you.  It may be God getting you in a place to touch others around you…We need to start acting like who we are.”  We need to remember who we stand for even when we’re having a bad day because “God still speaks through you even when you’re having a bad day.”

I am just as guilty as anyone else, and I don’t mean to come across as preachy or condemning.  But as western world culture turns farther and farther from God, we should feel an urgency, not an apathy, for affecting those around us.  We should attempt to share His goodness and blessings in a positive, unmistakably different way every day.  We should be ambassadors and represent Him well (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Act:*

  • Act as a new man/woman.
  • Act declaring (declare truth and His goodness).
  • Act as a conqueror instead of a prisoner.
  • Act as a blessed man/woman instead of a pauper (no matter how much or how little you have).
  • Act righteous and not as a sinner (He has made you worthy!) – Romans 6:11
  • Act free, not bound (He has freed you from the chains.  Go tell the world!)
  • Act as a son and an heir (let to world know how good your Father is).
  • Act forgiven (and forgive others).

* Wise words from Pastor Richard Marcello.

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.  Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.  Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and He knows everything.” – 1 John 3:18-20

In love and peace,
The In-Place Missionary