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!


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 Relationship with God

I have had a difficult time over the last two years articulating to other people why my encounter with the God of Love has radically changed me forever. The physical experience reinforced my faith that God is real, awesomely powerful, and able to divinely intervene on our behalf no matterJoy and freedom the circumstance or our beliefs about Him. However, it wasn’t the physical experience that change my life (read the blog post My Encounter with the God of Love to read about my encounter with God). Emotional and physical experiences are great, but memories fade. The emotions become less passionate, and the intensity of the physical experience dulls, but the revelation of who God is and how I interpret my relationship with Him remains.

I went to my first Passover dinner this year. It was a unifying experience to see brothers and sisters from different churches worshipping God together and celebrating the Passover story, the Passover feast, and how the elements of the meal contrast to Christ’s work on the cross. It also allowed me to make new friends with two older ladies who sat at our dinner table.

One of the ladies, whom I’ll call “Joy” for the purpose of this blog post to protect her privacy, explained to us that the work of Christ on the cross isn’t the only reason to love God. As an effort to help us understand what she meant, Joy bittersweetly interwove her testimony about the painful loss two years ago of her husband who had been terminally ill. On his final night, as his last moments drew near and his body was failing, she called for Hospice to take him with the hope his last hours would be as peaceful; but he never made it to the ambulance. Joy choked on her words, as did we, as she recalled crawling back into her bed and pulling the covers over her after her husband’s body was taken away. She stayed in the bed for several minutes, lying in the fetal position, sobbing, and asking God to take her.

My best friend was gone; but that’s when everything changed,” Joy explained. Jesus’s presence engulfed her. Her pain became His peace. Her emptiness became His fullness. She said she physically felt Jesus hold her tightly, heard Him reassure her everything would be okay, and the promise the void left by her husband’s passing would not leave her empty because He would be everything she needed.

“At that moment, I understood what it meant to truly love Jesus beyond being my salvation.” Joy informed us softly. “If He died on the cross and rose again for us and nothing more, that would be enough; but how great is our Savior that He is not satisfied with salvation being the only part of our story with Him? He is our friend, our brother, and the lover of our souls. I miss my husband, but I don’t feel empty or lonely because He fills me. Now, I truly understand what people mean when they say they have a relationship with God. I’m so in love with Him, and He is so much more loving than we can ever imagine. He desperately wants a relationship with us.”

As I sat listening to Joy’s story, I was instantly taken back to the day when God radically changed my life and understood why that day was so important. It was a day of revelation. My soul was awakened to my desperate need to know God at a deeper level than simply the one who saved my soul. He confirmed how much he deeply loves me as my Father, my Protector, the One Who Cries with Me, the One Who Lifts Me Up, and the Prince of Peace. I was overwhelmed by the crushing weight of His love. All of the anger, bitterness, and anxiety could not withstand His tremendous force.

Although several months have passed since that day, I am reminded of His love. I had a vision several weeks ago of a painful morning I spent crying in my SUV, unable to join my husband for Sunday worship because I was so angry with God. I saw myself from a third person view, huddled with my knees to my face, and bitterly crying out to God to save me from my circumstances. Just as I was remembering the tremendous pain and wondering why I was reliving the moment, I saw Jesus holding me, crying with me. The image of His presence wrecks me even now. I don’t honestly know whether I was imagining the moment, or if it was truly God giving me a glimpse into a time when I felt alone but wasn’t. I suppose it doesn’t really matter because it reminds me of the loving characteristics of God.

My challenge to you — if you don’t feel the need to ask God who He truly is, you will likely never realize you are missing anything. After all, you don’t know what you’re missing if you’ve never had it, right? But if you want to know His heart and love for you, I would encourage you to ask God to reveal Himself to you. He never disappoints when we honestly seek His heart. Although He doesn’t need a relationship with man, He still wants one with you. In the same way we cherish our families, our children, and our friends at the deepest levels of love we can possibly imagine, He cherishes you; and He desperately wants you to know how much He loves you.

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.

My Savior’s Embrace

I want to share a beautiful vision with you that I had about a month ago. At the time, I was walking through a set of trials and was asking God to protect me, give me peace, and guide my steps.  On the eve of the climax of the trials, I had a dream of tremendous peace. In many ways, I am still speechless by the captivating imagery that flooded my mind.

I found myself standing in a long, white gown inside an alabaster building.  At first, I wondered where I was because everything seemed unfamiliar, but I quickly realized I was inside a gazebo nestled within a garden. Staring out the window

My breath echoed softly throughout the stone building, providing a complimentary rhythm to the gentle flapping of the luxurious purple curtains hanging across the entrance. I listened to the comforting sounds as I slowly walked across the cool floor towards a window overlooking the garden.

As I looked through the window, my eyes were immediately drawn to the vibrant wildflowers filling a meadow before me. They overwhelmed my senses in a vibrant kaleidoscope of rainbow colors as they swayed and nodded to the wind. I stared upon them for a long moment, enjoying their silent song, but they paled in comparison to the man who stood among them.

The man in the flowers was slender and adorned in a purple robe. His shoulder-length chestnut colored hair played gently in the breeze, joining the flowers in their harmonious dance. The man appeared to notice me the moment I saw him and slowly lifted his arms towards me, beckoning me to come to him.  Although he never said his name, I knew it was Jesus.

Excitement welled within my soul as I quickly ran out of the gazebo and down the alabaster steps. I bound through the flowers towards Jesus; but the more I ran, the more I realized he was the same distance away as when I started. I stopped running and stared at him curiously for a moment, realizing I couldn’t reach him.

“Don’t come to me.  I will come to you,” his voice echoed gently in my mind.

“Okay,” I obeyed as I closed my eyes, focusing on his words.

As I stood very still, I felt his comforting arms across my back and shoulders; and I leaned my head into his chest.  I drank in the scent of his robe which smelled of the sweetest roses and wildflowers.  The warmth of his embrace and the rise and fall of his chest comforted me the most. I couldn’t help but think it was a similar embrace to one my father and mother gave me as a child to comfort and protect me from the pains of this life. 

“Don’t leave,” I begged as I opened my eyes and gazed upon the flowers around us. 

“I’m always with you.  Trust me to protect you,” he assured.

“I will,” I promised.

For the first time in my life, I remembered His words and trusted Him completely to protect me, and He did!  He is always faithful.

In His love,