Let There Be Light

Genesis 1:1-3
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

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My spiritual father brought this up in church a couple of weeks ago. He read this portion, all the way through much of the first chapter of Genesis, but after the first two verses, he stopped reading, looked up at us, and said, “That was me.”

“The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.”

That was me. That was you, too. That was all of us.

“And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”

That was God in my life. That was God wooing me to Him. That was God protecting me from evil and preserving me for a grand purpose that I knew nothing about and certainly didn’t want to have anything to do with.

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I think we have this interesting idea about sinners (the definition for “sinners” being that they are in the world and don’t know Jesus and yahda-yahda) that because they reject God or don’t know anything about Him, that He is absent from the situation and the devil has total control of that person. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of discernment to see God hovering over them, protecting them, brooding over them, being concerned for them, mourning for them, and moving on their behalf, orchestrating things perfectly so they can come into the Kingdom.

And it’s just interesting to me, because a lot of the time we’re unwilling to share our hearts with people and have intimate conversations with them and let them into the safe places of our hearts until we see the conversion point of “Let there be light.” And THEN we acknowledge them as people, THEN we want to know what’s on their heart and what concerns them. THEN we want to be their friend.

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I’m not disregarding what the Bible says. I’m not skipping over the verses of caution that say, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Yes, we have an enemy. Yes, he is formidable. Yes, he is the prince of this world. Yes, we have to resist the devil so he may flee from us (James 4:7).

But immediately after James writes that, He says “Come near to God, and He will come near to you.”

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Maybe this is just me, but I know I personally have never found encouragement or strength in looking at my enemy. I don’t need to behold him. I don’t need to assess him. I don’t need to analyze him. And I certainly don’t need to focus on how close he is to me.

Because I’m easily impressed with darkness–that’s a great weakness of mine. I used to hear stories about demons and the darkness of the world, and just eat it up without even thinking or questioning what sort of spirit was behind this news and what spirit I was receiving it all in.

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God has given me a gift of great discernment of spirits, and I have to be careful not to get all wrapped up in it all the time. It’s so easy to see someone and notice that there is a spirit of death on them, or a spirit of depression and rejection–and then to take that knowledge and address it in a way I see fit, like go right up to them and say, “Oh, do you have problems with rejection?” Or go and tell my friend, “Hey, so-and-so has a spirit of death on them. We should really pray.” (I think the only reason we should make certain discernment of evil spirits public is so we empower each other to speak life and blessing and encouragement into whomever or whatever the spirit is on.) I hope that makes sense.

With this gift of discernment, and being surrounded by a lot of very prophetic people who are sensitive to the workings of the Holy Spirit, it can be very tempting to focus on the problem and not on the Solution–yes, Solution with a capital S, because the Solution is not a bill passed, a law, a mandate, a behavior, a punishment, a program or a speech–the Solution is a Man. His name is Jesus.

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People come over to our house to pray almost every day–and we’re talking large groups, from spheres and spectrums all across the board, all different ages. And a lot of them pray very fiercely against certain moves of law in our Capitol. Sitting in on these prayer meetings, I quickly became very confused, and extremely exhausted–and discouraged. And my heart was crying out with the desire just to worship and to set our gaze on Jesus and bring Him glory with our words and the meditations of our hearts.

Because my heart is to seek His heart. And if I focus on the problem–the sin condition, the behavior of a person, the way I’m feeling, the offense someone dealt me or another–if I focus on that for any length of time at all, it will start to consume me because darkness is so easily overwhelming when we pull our focus from the Solution.

My only excuse to spend time thinking about these things are so I can say: “Okay Holy Spirit, help me understand this. What is this? …Oh, okay. I understand. Now I will pray equipped, powerful prayers about this. And I give this burden to you. Will you show me your face? Oh Holy Spirit, you’re so good to us,” and so on. My prayer time always begins and ends in worship, exalting who He is, magnifying Him above the problem. And in the face of His glory and His strength and His might, the world just fades away into the background.

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This is not to say that I disagree with words of caution at all, but just to maybe bring a new perspective and share some of my testimony. And if you’re feeling a word of caution that we need to focus on righteousness and that maybe the devil is getting a little too close to our personal business for comfort, I’d like to challenge you to start declaring life to that.

I’d like to challenge you to lead us in declaring over ourselves, things like, “I was made in God’s image” (Gen. 1:27), “I am being transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Rom. 12:22), “I have a new nature–Christ’s nature” (Eph. 4:24), “As God is Holy, so I am Holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

Just try it and see what happens.

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God’s Will, or God’s Won’t?

Last Sunday, our pastor challenged us to ponder a question over the week.

The question at hand: Is everything that God allows to happen, His will?

First of all, my answer is a resolute no.

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I’ll break up the explanation for my answer in a few categories: death, healing, offenses, and free will.

Death
God has given us a good 80-some years to live our lives. Some people make it past 100. I personally believe that the only “Natural cause” for death should be having lived a full life and leaving this earth sometime between 80 and 100 years—not of cancer, pneumonia, injury, or any other disease or pain. I refuse to believe that God’s primary instruments for passing man from here to eternity are instruments of pain and destruction of body or mind.

Last year, I watched my grandma pace helplessly as her mother, hundreds of miles away in Texas, lay dying. My great-grandma Callaway had lived a full life in graciousness and extravagant generosity, yet now her strength, as well as her mind, was failing her. I don’t remember exactly what she had, but I think it was Alzheimer’s that was now sapping her mind of sanity.

Every day, my grandma called her sister in Texas, asking for a report. My heart broke as she absorbed the blow of news of her mother’s rapidly worsening condition. My great-grandmother was waking up in her hospital room disoriented and confused, often in tears as she tried to sort out what was happening to her. Once, the nurses found her huddled on the floor, clutching a teddy bear to her chest.

My grandma put up a wonderful charade of strength for our family over that Christmas and New Year’s Eve, though it was evident her mind was elsewhere. Her usually festive Christmas decorations were absent, and there was a stale atmosphere of false cheerfulness over the holiday. My dad, my aunt and uncle, my grandpa and I all did the best we could to support my grandma, but for the most part, words failed. What encouragement can you offer to someone whose parent is being robbed by disease?

My grandma, through her grief, resigned herself to believe that God must have decided it was time for her mother to pass into Heaven and this was His way of doing it. The injustice of this rubbed me very wrong. A year-old Christian at the time, I was offended in my heart at the idea that it was God’s will for my great-grandma to die this way. I was fine with thinking that her time was up on earth; but I refused to even consider that God intended for her to die in the pain and confusion the disease was causing her.

I don’t have a seminary degree, nor a lifetime of Bible studying beneath my belt. But what I had learned of the Godhead in my short time in His presence was that He is gracious, merciful, kind, loving, and the giver of all good gifts (James 1:5). And I knew that sickness, disease, and death were the fruit of the prince of this world (John 14:30). I also knew that Jesus had said it is not the Father’s will that any should perish, but that all should have everlasting life (Matthew 18:14).

This isn’t a dictionary definition by any means, but when I think of the word “perish,” I think of an early, unnatural death. I think of the grief left in the anticipation and wake of these deaths. The  actual dictionary definition of the word “perish” is ” To die or be destroyed, especially in a violent or untimely manner.” If we put this with 2 Peter 3:9, it says “But He bears patiently with you, His desire being that none should die or be destroyed in a violent or untimely manner, but that all should come to repentance” (emphasis added). As humans being mortal, we all die. Our spirits are eternal, but the houses they live in are “but a breath.”

If it was God’s will to inflict someone—to inflict a strong, faithful Christian—with a disease to kill them off, wouldn’t that be contradictory to His nature? The Bible says that God and satan cannot walk hand in hand, and throughout the Old Testament, God demonstrates His inability to even tolerate, much less partner with, sin.

In tears, I went to God. My spirit was in complete turmoil. “If what my grandma is saying is true,” I thought, “This changes everything I thought I knew about You.”

In Jeremiah 29:11, one of the most familiar Bible verses quoted and memorized by the Church, God says “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.” Why would a God with a plan for your life, for a future and a hope, will for you to die before you have that future? When He said that to Jeremiah, He was speaking it into eternity for all who accept it. Even Paul said, “For even if it was written in the Scriptures long ago, you can be sure it was meant for us.” (Romans 15:4)

This is not a conditional promise. This is for everyone. This is a proclamation that spans generations and denominations. We know that God has a plan for every single one of us.

When I was 16, a friend in my class overdosed and killed himself. When I was 18, a slew of students from North Thurston High School were killed in several auto accidents, all within the span of a week. I have known several women who have miscarried and lost their children—some of them lost their faith in those seasons also, because someone told them it was God’s will, or that they didn’t have enough faith to change the course of events that had happened.

My grandma on my mom’s side died in a house fire when my mom was 10 years old. Last week would have been my grandma’s 74th birthday. My mom struggled through the rest of her childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. An orphan in spirit and in the natural (my grandpa, her dad, was alive but absent throughout her life), my mom remains fractured and brokenhearted. I feel the void in her heart that only a mother or an act of God could fill.

You can’t tell me that it was God’s will for my grandma to be killed when my mother was a child. If God’s heart is to comfort orphans and restore them to wholeness, why would He create more of them by killing off more parents? It’s not His nature. Though God is bigger than circumstance and tragedy—He can and does use every terrible thing in our lives for His glory and our healing—He doesn’t need to create a setup of pain just so He can swoop in and save the day.

Can you imagine, if a superhero went around the city causing disasters just so He could come and rescue the citizens, put out the fires, and take the cats out of the trees? The citizens of the city would become his pawns, and his integrity as a hero and savior would be compromised.

On a less anecdotal and more Biblical note, let’s talk about dead raising. If everybody who died short of their 80-some years died of causes that were God’s will, then why was Jesus going around raising the dead? If Jesus went about during His years of ministry, healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons–all against God’s will–then He was the biggest rebel against His Father that history has ever witnessed!

Why would God give us the power, and Jesus give us the command, to raise the dead unless it isn’t God’s will that everyone die when they do? Even in the Old Testament, prophets raised people from the dead. Under Old Covenant, even without the instructions of Jesus Christ telling us to heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons! And this was back in the day where if someone accessed or witnessed the glory of God outside of His will, they were killed—such as when when the Israelites were moving the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, and someone was killed because they reached out to steady it from falling.

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Along the same lines is the topic of Healing. We are instructed to lay hands on each other and pray for healing. We are given numerous promises throughout the New Testament that if we pray for something, it will be given. Jesus healed all the sick in Nazareth and in other cities He ministered in. How are we to do any less?

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My third point is on Offenses.

Sometimes, we pray for something to happen—or not to happen—and they happen anyway. Is it God’s will? Not always.

When I was 15, I had my first boyfriend. He was a Christian, but he was also a teenage boy in his first relationship. I was not a Christian, and I had so many issues with rejection and self-esteem that I was starving for any and all affection he would give me. I placed my desire to be loved above my values to stay pure and save myself until marriage. Our relationship quickly grew physical, and I fell more in “Love” with this boy the more we fooled around. Suddenly, he broke our relationship off, saying he had lost interest—when in fact the opposite was true; God had convicted him of our relationship being lust-oriented, and he was desperate for a way out before we lost our virginity entirely.

Heartbroken, I swore myself away from dating. A year later, God encountered me in my brokenness and I accepted Him as my father. Our relationship didn’t progress beyond that, and I did nothing more than write in a prayer journal and receive comfort from Him. I didn’t attend church and I refused to open my Bible. But I prayed.

A few months later, after my ex boyfriend and I rekindled a sincere, platonic friendship, he invited me over to his house for a few movies. He assured me that his parents would be there at the house. I was immediately afraid that something would happen if I went, but I was afraid of telling him no…so I said yes. While I waited for him to come pick me up from the house, I broke down before the Lord and I prayed that nothing would happen. I prayed that He would protect me and keep me safe, that He would give me the courage to say no, to leave the house, to get away from the situation if the boy tried to instigate anything. But at the end of my prayer, I made a promise: “Whatever happens, I will still love You.”

It turned out that his parents were not home after all. You can guess what happened. Violated and ashamed, and taking the blame completely for everything that had happened (after all, I hadn’t been able to reach my voice to tell him no; how could it not be my fault?), I told no one but my best friend for months. And I kept my promise to God. I still loved Him and I didn’t hold Him responsible for not answering my prayer. Though I was confused and didn’t understand why He would have allowed this to happen, I didn’t let my heart be offended. I needed Him too much.

Was it God’s will that I was humiliated in this way? What about all other rape victims? What about the girls and boys across the world who are stolen from their families and sold into slavery, trafficked across country and state borders, smuggled even into our own country? Is that God’s will? No.

Many people who call themselves atheists, agnostics, or polytheistic use the situations I have previously mentioned to spearhead their argument against God being gracious, sovereign, loving, and all the other qualities we know to be true about Him. A favorite target against God is the issue of world hunger and poverty, that there are hundreds of thousands of children dying due to starvation or no access to clean water. Then there’s the Holocaust, and the millions killed in wars throughout history. How do you explain those away?

To be sure, these are all questions that are meant to challenge our faith—and we should ask them! We are encouraged to ask the Holy Spirit all of our questions, and who better to ask than God Almighty, Omniscient, and Faithful? He is honest and true, and He is eager to answer our questions because if we are asking things of Him it means we are seeking His face. I would like to add as a sidenote, however, that there is a very distinct difference between seeking His face on an issue and demanding something of Him with arms crossed.

In Genesis, when God informs Abraham of His intentions to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham does not stand away from God, offended in his heart—nor does he slump his shoulders resolutely and state that all this is simply God’s will. Rather, he invites the discussion as fruit from intimacy with God. The Word says that Abraham came closer to the Lord: Abraham approached Him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living…” (Genesis 18:23) The discussion goes on for several verses, down until God promising that if He finds even one righteous man in the wicked cities, that He would not destroy them.

In Exodus, when Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Wilderness to the Promised Land, the Israelites forgot God and began to worship idols crafted of gold. At one point, God in His anger says He will destroy the children of promise and start over with a line from Moses to inherit His blessing. Moses reminds the Lord of the promise He made to Abraham, and the Lord changes His mind.

God is moved by the supplications of a people seeking after His heart. He isn’t looking for people who know His law, for the law is not the language by which we relate to Him anymore. Now, we are free to come boldly into His presence by the blood of Jesus. Now, we are free to make our requests of Him just as Abraham and Moses did. Now, we can take events in which God allows disaster to happen, and implore that these things be reversed, or used for good and His glory.

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Free Will

Because of Jesus, the curse placed on humanity from the beginning has been finished, and man has been given the opportunity to start over with the original blessing: be fruitful and multiply, and take dominion over all creation. Man has been re-invited to co-create with God through declaration, the laying on of hands, dreaming, imagination, and simple prayer.

But these things are all active, and we must choose to do them. We have been given the world as our land to take care of and be stewards over. Through years of selfishness and sin, we have enslaved each other, killed each other, orphaned one another, and robbed each other. The world we see today is the result of this. Poverty, third world countries, extreme greed and imbalance of wealth, and an earth that is physically groaning with the efforts of holding back its cries to glorify the Lord and be consecrated back to its original design. Proverbs 9 says that the Lord designated the boundaries of the waters of the ocean, saying that it cannot cross beyond its shores.

The Japan tsunami of March 11th, 2011 is a direct rebellion of this Word. Not that we can blame a world that has remained cursed as the result of God’s children’s refusal to rise up and take dominion of what is rightfully ours and God’s.

The reality is that we are partners with God. Though He is Sovereign, the only way He could bring justice and righteousness and peace back into our world is if He were to either kill all who are unrighteous or rob us all of our free will. And because God is a God of relationship, to do either would be a contradiction to His nature.

Earlier, I mentioned the ordeal that happened with my ex boyfriend. Months after I had been hurt, I told my mom about it. I asked her why God had let it happen. She said that though I had prayed, the boy was still a human being with free will. If God were to have been sovereign in the situation, He would have had to compromise His nature by stealing this boy’s free will. He would have had to violate this boy to keep him from hurting me, which would have been no less wrong.

Through the years following, God has healed me of this offense. I have forgiven the boy for hurting me. My marriage has helped me heal from the scars left by rejection and being taken advantage of, and dispelled all lies that I deserved what happened to me.

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Not everything that happens is God’s will. Pastor Bill Johnson explains it this way: “God is always in charge, but not necessarily in control.” Please don’t take this to mean that God doesn’t have the power to control; He does. He is Sovereign. He could step in at any moment and take control of everything. But He doesn’t, and He won’t, because we have a role to play in all of this. God has relinquished control to us as stewards of the earth. One day, He will take His place as King of all, but for now it’s up to us.

So, World Changer. Yes, you. Reading this, right now. It’s up to us. Scary? Absolutely. Impossible? Oh yes. But with God, all things are possible. If He is for us (and He is!), who can stand against us? We have been invited to participate in the grandest commissioning in history! And we have the best partner, whose yoke is easy and burden is oh so light.

Be encouraged. Whatever you’re supposed to be doing, you’re doing it. Right here, right now. You are an instrument of His purposes here on earth, and you are extending Kingdom.