Monthly Archives: April 2011
I was born with an imagination and it has served me well throughout life.
There is a line in Anne of Green Gables where Anne asks Marilla, a middle-aged spinster with whom she has come to live, “Do you never imagine things different from what they really are?” To which Marilla replies firmly, “No.”. Anne responds “Oh, Miss Marilla, how much you miss!”
There are good things that you miss when you can’t imagine – for imagination is one of God’s best creations – in fact it’s an important part of creativity. You have to be able to imagine something before you can build it, especially without blueprints. But imagination can have it’s failings.
When I was a young child, we were very poor. I didn’t know we were poor because I had everything I really needed – food, clothing, shelter and both of my parents. But with a family of 7 kids, sometimes food was scarce. Or there were times when I was out playing and got hungry, but didn’t want to go into the house to get something to eat.
On one such an occasion, while playing with one of my younger brothers outside, I got hungry. There was a mud puddle nearby, since it had recently rained, where both mud and water were available. So I decided to make mud pies.
After I made the mud pies, I got some water from the mud puddle in a tin can and told my brother we were going to have lunch. I imagined the mud pies to be very tasty apple pies. I told my brother, “Let’s eat the pies.” and we both took a bite. It was not at all what I had imagined, nor did the muddy water taste at all like the Kool-Aid I had conjured up in my head.
Imagination is not a bad thing, and pretending can be fun for kids, but when it comes to mud pies versus real pies, the real thing is far tastier and definitely more satisfying. Just like what some refer to as “religion”.
We can either have a quest after a spirituality of our own imagining – “religion”, or we can have a real relationship with the God who created the universe. One is mostly ritual, though it may include a genuine belief in God – but the other is intimacy with a heavenly Father. One is a striving to attain something that perhaps will please the Divine Being, the other is enjoying fellowship with that Being at anytime of our choosing – even a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute walk.
Even as an adult, when I think back to those dirt pies from my childhood, I can still feel the texture of the grainy mud in my mouth. It’s a reminder that whether food or “religion” the real thing is far better.
How about it? Do you have a real relationship with the Heavenly Father, or do you just have to imagine it? Real pie, or mud pie?
©2011, Marcy Alves
Some call it “church”, others call it “fellowship”, “assembly”, or “gathering” – but they are all synonyms for the “body of Christ”. In 1 Cor. where Paul is addressing the Corinthians who were partaking of the “Lord’s supper” he says: 29 “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
What’s Paul talking about? Does this verse mean that what you eat determines what shape your body will be in? Being a healthy-eating advocate, this could be a good support verse for my health food arguments. However, that is not the context of the Scripture passage in which that verse appears. Sigh.
The early church had “church suppers” – actually love feasts, where followers of Christ, the “body of Christ”, came together for a shared meal. As part of that gathering they partook of the Lord’s table – the bread and wine – in memory of Jesus and his death on the cross for their sins. Apparently the wealthier Corinthians were doing the shared meal and “Lord’s table” in a way that excluded or diminished others in the church family who were less fortunate.
In that context, what does this mean, “discerning the body”? I believe it means, realizing that we are “a part of the whole”, and that we function best in relationship to the rest of the body. I believe that many Christians today do not “discern the body” of Christ.
We are living in a day of non-commitment and spiritual isolation. The concepts of accountability, patience, forgiveness, forbearance, body life, speaking the truth in love, and building up the body, all seem to be antiquated ideas. Few people in today’s church appear to have the slightest idea of what is meant by being a part of the “body of Christ”. Yet, God did not call us to the life of a “Lone Ranger” – it’s not just “me and God”.
According to the book of Ephesians, we are “members of God’s household” and “individual parts” of His body (an organism with interdependent parts); and in 1 Corinthians we are fitted together into “a building”.
Many reject the idea of commitment to a local church body in whatever form it takes; when they become disenchanted or feel they are no longer being “served” and “serviced”, it’s on to the next church or “spiritual” event. In our fast-food, pick-and-choose culture, many do not remain in a church long enough to become a contributing part.
Snack here, snack there on “spirit snacks”- great!, but to actually belong to a body, a family of believers – to learn to work through problems, to accept people who don’t fit the preferred mold, to find their own acceptance from people who are trying to learn the way of love – many won’t stay long enough for that.
The elbows, or ears, or lungs surgically remove themselves from one local body and loosely join themselves to another. They are free-floating “parts” that don’t function within any stationary group. In times of personal need, these people may reach out to a local body for prayer or other help, but they never become an attached part – never really become a functioning part of any group they affiliate with.
Being “in the body of Christ” is not a loose attachment. God puts us into a body for our spiritual protection. We need others to cover our backs. There are some who need deliverance from the forces of evil and healing from emotional and spiritual wounds, but who isolate themselves from “body-life healing”. Outside the camp is a very dangerous place to be.
God’s gifts are given to the body to foster relationship. The Godhead – Father, Son and Spirit – denotes relationship. “Members of God’s household” (Eph. 2:19) is a position of relationship with other believers. Body parts (I Cor. 12:14-27) are a picture of functional biological relationship. “Being built together into a building in which God dwells in His Spirit” (Eph. 2:20-22) means structural relationship. “Body”, “family” and “building” convey unity and wholeness.
Some people want to “belong”, but want no intrusion into their personal lives. They see no need to be built up by anyone else, move on at the first “ouch” and want benefits without commitment. They will drop in for a meal, but prefer to come and go as the “spirit” moves them.
None of us is truly whole if we disregard our position as a functioning member in the body of Christ. David and I were in itinerant ministry for quite a few years. We had opportunity and felt free to cross denominational boundaries. We experienced the broader body of Christ, but were loosely attached at home, due to travel schedules.
We began pastoring about 18 years ago – and discovered the “body of Christ” on a whole different level. We’re learning what loving devotion is all about – really belonging to a local group. Small, but intimate. This is “the body” at it’s best.
How about you? Are you allowing yourself to be in real relationship with the body of Christ – learning to love and be loved by others just as you are? Are you laying aside the fear of being known and possibly rejected? Are you willing to become an attached body part?
©2011, Marcy Alves
David and I were eating dinner on a recent Friday evening. It was still daylight outside. We were chatting about something when we heard a thump against the sliding glass door to our deck. When we looked toward the glass door and the deck, we saw some small feathers on the glass and a small bird laying on the deck. Apparently the bird tried to fly into the house and didn’t see the glass door. It was a bad decision.
Going out to check, we found the bird was alive. His eyes were open, but he didn’t make any attempt to move. its tongue was sticking out between it’s upper and lower beak. We figured the bird was stunned from the collision. We went back into the house to finish our meal, deciding to leave the bird and check on it later.
However, when I sat back down to eat, I felt awful about the motionless little bird. I felt led to pray for it’s recovery. So I went back out to the deck, stooped down, laid a finger on the bird and prayed for Jesus to touch it and restore it’s ability to fly. I had a strong sense of the Lord’s presence as I prayed. The bird still did not move, but it’s eyes blinked a couple times.
Going back into the house, I still felt a bit of sadness over the plight of this little creation of God. It was then the Lord spoke in my mind, “You are greatly moved by the condition of this little bird; imagine how deeply I care about my children. How much I care about those who have been injured by life or bad decisions.” It’s hard to imagine that God feels that way about us – interested in each of us.
After finishing dinner and clearing the table. I went back to deck door and looked out; the bird was gone. There was such a feeling of joy and relief and thankfulness. I had asked the Lord earlier that day to reveal His love to me. The answered prayer for that little bird and the impression left on my mind and heart was His answer to my request. How much our Father loves us!
How has the Father demonstrated His love to you recently? Are you tuned-in to the small things as well as the large ones that leave you with the impression of His affection for you?
©2011, Marcy Alves
I am a morning ritual person. When I wake up I have a bathroom routine. Then I move to the kitchen and load or unload the dishwasher and dish drain tray, clear the sink, drink my morning glass of water, decide on breakfast, etc. I don’t like to talk with other people when I first arise because I usually awake with deep thoughts to ponder. Just after breakfast, I spend some time with the Father with meditation on a Scripture or a devotional reading.
Part of my breakfast prep time is to empty my electric tea kettle (I don’t use the microwave for much of anything) and refill it with filtered water from our well. As I was emptying the kettle this morning I was suddenly struck by the blessing of fresh water at a touch of my hand.
I pictured some of the areas of the world where water is very scarce and there is no means of accessing the underground water – no way to dig a well deep enough to reach the water that is sometimes far below the surface – no money to pay for well drilling. And here I was, pouring perfectly good water down the sink. It occurred to me again how very blessed we are.
How many other blessings do we take for granted? Daily food from our pantry or refrigerator or a local restaurant, shelter, warm beds, electricity, showers and in-door bathrooms.
If you are struggling today with self-pity or daily complaints – take a look around you and start saying “Thank you, Lord” for things you’ve been taking for granted. I think it will brighten your day and give you a different perspective for the challenges you may face today. Thankfulness does change things.
©2011, Marcy Alves
Part 2 of 2 [Read Part One yet?]
We said in part 1 that there is human faith – evidenced in everyday experiences – like faith in the government, verbal contracts, your spouse, the chair you are sitting on, etc. Human faith is sometimes turned toward God. But it’s not the kind of faith that will get you through difficult times or actually change your circumstances.
For dealing with the tough decisions, difficult problems, times of real trial, and the experience of miracles, real faith is necessary. I call it spiritual faith or real faith, to distinguish it from mere human faith.
Where does spiritual faith come from?
Jesus is the source of real faith:
Heb. 12:1-2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith . . .
Acts 3:16 (NIV) “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing . . .”
Faith originates with God – it is His gift to us:
Rom. 12:3 “. . . think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
The “measure of faith” is – just what you need to get the job done. This is faith given at a particular time of need or for a particular purpose; for instance, the saving faith that brings us to God.
Eph. 2:8-9 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”
God also gives faith as an anointing of the Spirit:
1 Cor. 12: 7-10 “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit . . .”
We don’t own these anointing-gifts of God – they come and go as God pleases. Without the Holy Spirit, we can’t operate in these gifts. Remember, we are just the mailmen delivering His package for a particular need on a given occasion.
Though there are measures of faith and anointings of faith, faith is also a fruit.
As a child I could only recognize the kind of trees in our small orchard by the fruit that appeared on them in fruit season. The fruit began as a flower, then formed a small fruit “bud”, and grew until it reached maturity and ripened.
Faith as a fruit:
John 15:7 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit . . .”
2 Thess. 1:3 “We ought always to thank God for you. . . because your faith is growing more and more and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.”
Not only does the fruit that grows on a particular tree depend on the nature of the tree, but that fruit has to remain on the tree until it is fully grown; it won’t continue to grow after being picked from the tree.
You cannot maintain freshness and continue to grow the fruit of faith without maintaining a relationship with the branch, connected to the tree, fed by the “root of faith”.
There are a two important things the Scripture says about the operation of faith.
1. Faith and love work together:
In the New Testament there are about 50 references to faith in the same context as love.
Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus . . . The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
1 Cor. 13:2 ”And if I have faith that can move mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing.”
Without a love for God and a love for people, we would misuse faith. We would pray selfishly, or without thought of consequences. Love is greater than faith, and will moderate the use of faith.
1 Cor. 13:13 – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
2. Faith and patience work together
Heb. 6:12 “Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”
Through patience, faith’s work is perfected in us. Faith is not about getting our will done – it’s about getting God’s will done. It’s about “on earth as it is in heaven.”
I want to operate in “real faith”, not an imitation – only the supernatural kind that can’t be explained away. The kind that will bring glory to my heavenly Father and bring heaven into this realm; the kind that will cause people to say, “What a dad you have! I’d like to get to know Him.”
What have you discovered about faith that you can share with us?
©2011, Marcy Alves
Part 1 of 2
Do you sometimes wonder what “faith” is? Do you often wish you had more faith?
The Bible has much to say about faith. There are more than 360 verses in the NT alone that speak of faith or being faithful. A key faith verse is Heb. 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
So, what is faith? I think it’s best to start with what faith is not, because I believe that what we think is faith often isn’t faith.
My personal journey requires faith. I want to make sure I have the real thing. Join me on my “what is faith?” exploration. Following are some of my conclusions so far:
Faith is not belief.
Belief is something you can come up with on your own. We can believe things that aren’t true – about God or people or situations. We can believe the right things, but not act on them – faith seems to have an active component.
Believing the right things can lead us into faith, but it’s not the same as faith.
In Mark 16:14 the resurrected Jesus appears to the eleven disciples and “rebuked them” for two things: 1. “their lack of faith and 2. their stubborn refusal to believe” those who reported they had seen Him after He had risen from the dead.
When we mistake “prayers of belief” for “prayers of faith”, we may pray for things that God is not leading us to pray for.
And when we do not get what we pray for, then we feel that prayer doesn’t work, or God doesn’t love us; that God is powerless, or just not interested in our plight, that God has more important things to attend to than responding to our requests. Or, that God can’t be trusted.
The struggle we have with faith is often not a struggle with faith at all, but with trust. Many people who believe in God do not trust God.
If we trusted God, we would not be so easily disappointed when we don’t get our prayers answered in our timing – or when God says, “No.” when we want Him to say, “Yes”.
Faith is not feelings.
We can feel good about something we want to happen, but that’s not the same as faith. Because we can feel good about the wrong things if we’re not walking in a current relationship with our heavenly Father.
Faith is not desire.
We can want the wrong things. Or we can want the right things at the wrong time. Though the Scriptures say God will give us the desires of our heart – there is a condition to it. The Scripture says if we “delight in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart.” Are you delighting in the Lord, enjoying fellowship with Him?
Faith is not something we can get by struggling for it, something we can earn, manufacture, or create by professing we have it. It is not a magic formula. So, what is faith?
What faith is:
Heb. 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV)
Faith is assurance, knowing you have something that does not yet appear.
We have often made faith a condition of the mind – but it is really a condition of the spirit. It is a grace of the heart.
There’s spiritual faith (which I call “real faith”) and there’s human faith.
John’s Gospel refers to people putting “their faith in Him” (Jesus)– yet most of his early followers later turned away from Him. They had human faith, not spiritual faith.
If the faith you operate under results in your turning away from Jesus and not trusting God, you need a different kind of faith – it’s not REAL FAITH.
What kind of faith do you operate under? Human faith, or spiritual faith? Next installment we’ll look at “spiritual faith”: what it is and where it comes from.
Take me to “Real Faith” part 2
If you have not already read When God’s Voice is “Indistinct” part 1, please go back and do so, or what follows might not make sense. Thanks.
Often when we experience delays from God, we are not sure whether He’s saying something new about our situation, keeping us on the older track, or not speaking at all; or whether we’re just not hearing – like wax in our spiritual ears.
I had one of those times recently. And the thought came to me, that I should again ask God to confirm my particular journey of faith, or redirect it. I figure I either need to keep waiting or change what I’m doing regarding the experience of cancer.
So I asked God for confirmation of the earlier words I received when this journey began. Of course, I also hinted that a visit from an angel would do wonders to bolster my faith walk.
I have had some remarkable dreams from the Lord during my lifetime that have fueled faith in my heart. But thus far, no angelic messenger from God to deliver to me His unmistakable assurance.
After asking for the Lord’s confirmation, I opened a daily devotional book, Streams in the Desert, that I received as a Christmas gift from a friend. The verse for the day was Matt. 9:29 “According to your faith will it be done to you.” Whoa! Was that you, Lord?
There was a reminder in that reading that “no earthly circumstances can hinder the fulfillment of God’s Word.” Also, there was the encouragement to pray through, “to the point of assurance . . . that your prayer has been accepted and heard . . . [and] actually becoming aware of having received what you ask.”
I said “thank you” to the Lord, but also reminded Him (or maybe He reminded me) that 2 Cor. 13:1 says “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” when a matter of truth needs to be discerned.
So I asked the Lord for confirmation of 2 more witnesses, that I was to stay the course or that He will specifically direct a change of course for me. I then went back to my morning writing work.
I was looking through some things that were in my “Marcy’s Writing” files, when I came across “Sabbatical Insights” – a piece I wrote last April when David and I were on our sabbatical. This was witness #2.
God revealed something to me through a book by Henry Blackaby entitled Experiencing God, which I read during our sabbatical last year. That is when I got a couple spiritual “ahas”!
Last April’s “Sabbatical Insights” excerpts:
When reading the Bible or a thought-provoking book or blog or twitter, or listening to a speaker (recorded or live) a truth insight breaks in, at that point I am experiencing God. Recall that Jesus said, “I am the truth.” So an experience with a spiritual “truth” is an experience with God – not just the words on a page. Wow!
As I read further in Blackaby’s book, other “God encounters” took place. I entered the following in my journal:
Silence from God in response to prayer should increase anticipation for the answer He is preparing to send at just the right time – not our “right now” time, but His absolute best time. Meanwhile, God’s silence is to draw us deeper in to where He waits for us – waiting to reveal Himself to our spirit in a more profound way. When we pray we need to keep our spiritual eyes open and our senses alert to see what God is already doing to prepare our character for His well-timed response to our prayers.
My on-going experience with breast cancer has moved me to just such a place of waiting for His timing. I know what God said to me early on:
1.This experience is not just for you, but for also for others.
2. Wait on me.
3. Don’t be afraid.
4. Trust me.
5. Be still and know that I am God.
And as time has gone on:
6. This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God.
7. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
8. Let the peace of God “rule” in your heart.
9. Stay the course.
So, in the meantime I am doing my part: waiting, listening, trusting and enjoying the peace of God’s presence. When I feel any bit of anxiety creeping in, I run into Him who is “my strong tower”.
Back to now:
I’m now waiting for the third witness. I’d still like the visit from an angel, but I’ll take whatever God sends to establish the truth of what I am to do or not do.
What do you do when God’s voice seems indistinct? Or when the memory of His word to you becomes a distant whisper?