Friday, December 28, 2007

Don’t You Understand?

by Missy Milbourn

This Week’s Verse
Mark 8:33, … “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (NLT)

Sometimes I think we forget just who it is that we serve. I think we forget how magnificent, and powerful, and faithful, our God is. The following scripture is a historical account that depicts the greatness and faithfulness of our Jesus…let’s take a journey through the Word. “Father, as others read this, may your Word be alive and active in them.”

In Mark chapter 6:30-44, we see an account of how Jesus took two fish, and fives loaves of bread and miraculously fed 5,000 people.

Two chapters later we see the same thing happen AGAIN. Mark 8:1-3 says this: "About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them, 'I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.'"

Now, just having seen Jesus feed 5,000, you would think the disciples would respond with great faith and expectation, eagerly anticipating how Jesus is going to handle this current situation! Instead, their response is this, “His disciples replied, ‘How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?’” (verse 4).

As I read this, I thought, you have got to be kidding me! Did the disciples just totally forget how Jesus had previously fed 5,000?!

Jesus, very graciously, took the seven loaves, and a couple of fish, and miraculously fed this large group as well. “They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. There were about 4,000 people in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten. Immediately after this, he got into a boat with his disciples and crossed over to the region of Dalmanutha” (Mark 8:8-10).

Now hang with me here, I’ve got one more Biblical account that I want to share….so, Jesus and the disciples get in this boat and they head off for the other side of the lake. Mark 8 continues, “But the disciples had forgotten to bring any food.” (Oh my, not again!) They had only one loaf of bread with them in the boat. As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.” At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread (verses 14-16).

This time Jesus responded with “you’ve got to be kidding me!” Read on…

“Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear? Don’t you remember anything at all? When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?”

“Twelve,” they said.

“And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?”

“Seven,” they said.

“Don’t you understand yet?” he asked them (verses 17-21).

As I read all of this, it’s easy for me to say, “you crazy disciples…how could you not see?” However, I would never say that, because I’ve seen a similar pattern in my own life. I too forget what God has done for me. For instance, every time He calls me to step out in a new way for Him, I panic. I too have a crisis of belief, even though every time previously He has been faithful to me. I don’t want to forget! I want to remember His faithful ways. I want to remember how He proved himself faithful in Bible days as we see in the above account, and I want to remember how He daily proves himself faithful in my life. I want to approach every situation with faith, not fear, knowing that He’s brought me through before, and He’ll do it again!

Later in Mark 8, Jesus tells Peter, “You are seeing things from merely a human point of view, not from God’s”.

I think that we often get caught in that trap. We see things from our perspective, and not God’s. “You have eyes, can’t you see?”

Dear Lord, as we enter into a new year, let us not forget how great and faithful You are. Help us remember WhoYou are and How You’ve met our needs. Let us learn the lessons that You have for us today, so that we can grow on to full maturity in Christ. Let us know the truth that nothing is impossible with You, our great and faithful God. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Identify times in your life when you’ve experienced your own crisis of belief. Re-read the above story in Mark from various translations and allow Jesus’ words to the disciples to sink into your heart. Ask for His help in gaining understanding and acceptance of His work in your life.

Power Verses
--Lamentations 3:23, “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” (NLT)
--Proverbs 2:6, “For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (NLT)
--Ephesians 1:8, “He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” (NLT)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Enemy Fire? Stop, Drop, and Roll

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse:
Mark 9:49, "Everyone's going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you'll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace." (MSG)

A conversation the other day about the possible hazards of using space heaters led to a trip down memory lane. The woman I was talking to and I both remember the fire safety advice we were given as kids: Stop, Drop, and Roll—It can save your life! 1. Stop running around (air feeds fire); 2. Immediately Drop to the ground, and; 3) Roll around to try to smother out the flames. The executive who coined that safety campaign slogan should be very proud because we really do remember it all these years later.

What’s ironic is that I began to think how the same advice could apply to us during the Christmas season. (And no, I haven’t been hittin’ the egg nog, though I might be a little drunk with the Spirit!—Eph. 5:18) :-)

It’s well-documented that many people face the holidays with a sense of dread. Prayer requests for peace, or at least no fights, are voiced in Sunday school classes and church hallways. It seems that in some cases, visiting with family actually produces stress and high-blood pressure instead of the peace and joy Jesus brings. I’d wager that most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum—that even though we’re not as bad as the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, we’re also not a Normal Rockwell portrait of familial perfection.

Family relationships are unique. We get to choose our friends, but family? They’re chosen for us, right? And the tension sometimes produced by that leaves us vulnerable to attack; family gatherings can be just as much a spiritual battleground as anywhere else, maybe more so.

But take heart. Psalm 76:3 says, “There he has broken the fiery arrows of the enemy, the shields and swords and weapons of war.” So how can we break those fiery arrows and deal with any dysfunctional flare ups? Why not Stop, Drop, and Roll?

Stop: When Uncle Fred’s on the 18th minute of his monologue on why the other political party is a bunch of idiots, politely excuse yourself and find some privacy. No one over the age of ten will bother you if you stop and retreat to the bathroom for a few minutes.

Drop: When you’ve found sanctuary, Drop it all at the feet of Jesus—whether you literally drop to you knees or just drop the front you may have been putting on. Fight fire with fire and allow the flame of His Spirit to emanate from you. Recognize that He placed these relationships in your life for a reason, and seek His will to not just survive them for a day, but to enrich them for an eternity.

Roll (twice!): First, roll into action. Even though God’s will is sometimes difficult to determine, especially quickly, there’s always one constant—LOVE one another! When you “dropped” and plugged into Him, you no doubt soaked up some love that you can now pass on to others. Second, even if someone’s unlovable, let irritations roll off. Did Aunt Louise just insult your sweater? Let it go and present “your other cheek” (Luke 6:29) by agreeing that maybe it’s time to donate it to Goodwill. (And also choose to take the high road by NOT reminding her she gave it to you last year!)

And so, beloved Sisters, as you embark on your Christmas family get-togethers and begin to feel the flame of dysfunction that every family experiences to a certain extent, remember to Stop, Drop, and Roll. It can save your (spiritual) life! And it may just save someone else’s when they see the evidence of Immanuel in you.

Lord, let the only flames that touch us at our family gatherings this Christmas be the fire of the Holy Spirit living in us and through us, warming those around us. That’s one fire we DON’T want to put out! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Be proactive. Before you hit the road, identify and list the things that have driven you crazy at past gatherings. Pray over each one, claiming God’s promise that “love covers a multitude of sin” (I Peter 4:8) as your own. During festivities, don’t forget to Stop, Drop, and Roll.

Power Verses:
Job 18:5, “The lamp of the wicked is snuffed out; the flame of his fire stops burning.” (NIV)

Proverbs 17:9, “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.”(NLT)

Colossians 3:12-13, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (NLT)

Proverbs 17:1, “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.” (NIV)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hark, the Herald!

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse
Luke 1:17, "He will herald God's arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he'll get the people ready for God." (MSG)

Hark the Herald Angels Sing! “Hark, it's Harold...Harold's singing what?” Each year when the praise band dusts off the Christmas songs, some variation of the joke appears: “Hey, who's Harold, anyway?” It's a hoot.

(Warning: English nerd alert!) Okay, let's break it down. If I remember my Shakespeare correctly, hark means “Pay attention, everybody!” or “Hey, listen up!” According to Webster, herald as a verb means to “give tidings or announce” and in noun form, refers to the one doing the announcing. So a translation of the title of the oft sung Christmas hymn could be, “Hey Everybody! Shut Up and Listen to the News the Angels Are Proclaiming With Song!” (Um, I like the original better.) :-)

This week's verse, instead of heralding the birth of our Savior, however, is actually heralding a herald of our Savior—John the Baptist.

One of my favorite things about Christmas as a child was getting together and playing with cousins we didn't get to see very often. Today, it's one of my kids' favorite parts about Christmas too. So that's why I love reading about when John got together with his cousin, Jesus, for the very first time. Even while they were both still inside their mothers' wombs, their meeting was so joyous that John actually leaped inside Elizabeth's tummy!

Luke 1:39-45 records the blessed occasion: “A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, 'God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.'”(NLT)

John was heralding Christ even before either of them was born! And with such exuberance that his mother had no doubt as to just Who Mary was carrying into her house and into a world that needed, and still needs Him so desperately.

Don't you want to herald Christ as beautifully as the angel chorus? Don't you want to herald Christ as joyfully and enthusiastically as prenatal John, and as passionately and unapologetically as adult John? Let us usher in our King so that those around us know, without a doubt just Who it is we're celebrating. After all, he was Born to give us “second birth. Hark! The herald angels sing, 'Glory to the newborn King!'"

Lord, thank you for showing us in Your Word that wonderful celebration among cousins, when John the Baptist first heralded the greatness of our Lord. Help us in our actions and especially in our Christmas celebrations to herald Jesus in a way that truly shows Him to others and even lays the groundwork for “second births.” In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Application: Consider how you are heralding the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Are your preparations so laced with joy that your spirit is contagious? Be purposeful and vigilant about your herald.

Power Verses:
Psalm 85:13, “Righteousness goes as a herald before him, preparing the way for his steps.” (NLT)

Daniel 3:4, “Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command!” (NLT)

2 Timothy 1:11, “And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.” (NIV)

Friday, December 7, 2007


by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse: Matthew 1:23—“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" —which means, "God with us." (NIV)

I don't remember what elementary grade I was in the year it finally happened. But I do remember that in the years leading up to that particular Christmas, I had failed. Each preceding holiday season had been tinged with regret, and the wonder, joy, and excitement that were supposed to abound in my heart that time of year had been tainted by defeat.

What was it that tripped me up and sucked the joy right out of too many childhood Christmases? Of all things...the annual kids' program at church!

I had stage fright. Bad. So bad, that several years I worked myself up into such an emotional frenzy that I actually tossed my (Christmas!) cookies all over the church basement before the program began. Of course the benefit of that was that it automatically pulled me out of the show and I could just relax and watch it, the anxiety purged along with the contents of my stomach. But I was always very disappointed with myself because I felt like I'd let Jesus down.

That was, until the year “it” finally happened. In early December of that blessed year at the very first Christmas program practice, our parts were distributed. Lo and behold...could it really be? I only had one line! Not even a whole line, really, just these five words: Immanuel means “God with us.” No WAY! “I might actually be able to say my piece this year since it's so short!” I thought excitedly.

That month was the most light-hearted and plain ol' fun time I'd had in my young life because I was able to anticipate Christmas for what it was really about without this shadow of dread hanging over everything. It was bliss! I threw my whole heart and loud voice into the songs we sang at practices and offered support and encouragement to my peers who'd been given entire paragraphs to memorize. But even better was the fact that I had been nailing my line, and MAN, was I gonna make Jesus proud of me this Christmas Eve!

The big night finally arrived. My older brother and sister teased me as we got dressed up in our best at home about whether I'd still be a cry-baby or whether I'd actually make it through the program this year. Even my parents expressed shaky confidence in me. But I resolved to let it all roll off and said to myself, you know, just to prove it was still in me, “ImmanuelmeansGodwithus...ImmanuelmeansGodwithus.”

Our program was structured into a service that alternated between the singing of Christmas classics and the children sharing scripture. Different Sunday school classes would take turns coming up to stand in line for each child to “say his or her piece” into the microphone that magnified the voice through the silent air amidst the watchful eyes of the congregation. Screw-ups were easily identifiable and quite frequent. But I surely didn’t have to worry about that this year, did I, with my five words.

There were only three kids in my small class and as we proceeded to the front for our turn I thought, “So far, so good…” I hadn't had the slightest inkling of nausea and I wasn't even shaking. I was last in line so I waited as the other two shared their messages. I noticed that when anyone said a word that started with a “p” the “p” sound came across really loudly—kind of like a pop—and startled some people. Thank goodness I didn’t have a “p” word! The girl in front of me finished her part and stepped to the side.

It was then that I approached the mic with surety and proclaimed to the masses, “Immanuel means 'God with us.'”

Whew! Boo-yeah! Hot-diggety dog! I pretty much floated back to our pew having a little party in my head and heart. Take THAT all ye nay-sayers (aka—brother and sister!). At last I knew what it felt like to do my part in making the program a success. I had a part, I said my part, and I didn't let anyone down—especially Jesus.

But you know what? The real triumph of that night did not come full circle until now, decades later, as I much more humbly realize the power in those five words and the awesome orchestration in the wonderful gift Jesus gave me that night. Immanuel means “God with us” and oh, how my God was with me! He had given a high-strung little girl a worry-free Christmas to remember, one she didn't have to dread or feel anxious about. And he did it by ensuring that I received a small, do-able part in the program. But that small part that he picked out special, just for me, speaks volumes to me now, for contained in those five precious words, was the very reason for my victory.

Father, thank you for the intricacies of your wonderful plan! And thank you for your patience when it takes some of us years to fully realize a special message or gift that you’ve given us. You are our Immanuel, you are with us, and there is no greater promise than that. Help us to remember it now and always. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application: Can you identify times in your life when God was with you, working things out for you, protecting you, or giving you a wonderful gift and you didn’t fully realize it until later? Take this opportunity to thank and praise him for it.

Power Verses:
Isaiah 8:9—…Because when all is said and done, the last word is Immanuel—God-With-Us. (MSG)

James 1:17—Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 31:8—The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (NIV)

Joshua 1:9—This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (NLT)

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Heart for Christmas

By Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse:
Luke 2:7—And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (NKJV)

We were putting ornaments on the tree last weekend and enjoying a really great Mercy Me Christmas CD to set the festive tone. A nifty, upbeat rendition of “Silent Night” came on and I remember thinking how interesting it was that the music score was so “jazzy” for such a peaceful, mellow song. It turns out, though, it didn’t lessen the impact for my son.

When the line “Round ‘yon virgin, mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild” played, he commented, “That part always breaks my heart.”

Shane said, “What breaks your heart, Buddy?”

“That mother and child part. Because I can picture it.”

“Does it make you sad or do you mean that it warms your heart?” I asked.

“Yeah, maybe warms my heart. It always does every time I hear or sing it, even at school.”

Shane said something to him about how sensitive and special that was but I didn’t get his exact words because I’d had to kick into self-composure mode. I guess you could say his reaction “broke my heart” too, in such a sweet, pure way. He knew something was going on in his heart; he just couldn’t quite put it into words.

Hearing Skylar’s reaction to the song reminded me of an ornament that my family had gotten when I was about his age. It was a round, flat, clear piece of acrylic that had Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus etched in the center. I loved holding it in front of the different colored Christmas lights to see which color looked best coming through it. Blue was nice because it recreated the nighttime aspect of the birth. Green was cool because it seemed so calm. Pink made me think of how Mary’s heart must’ve “felt.” But oh, that white. When I held it up in front of a white light, it just radiated with purity and righteousness. And just like Skylar, I couldn’t put into adequate words what that did to my heart.

Isn’t it awesome that God chose to reveal to the world his beloved son—our savior and redeemer, the Word made flesh—within that tender “mother and child” scenario? That the Lord of Lords and King of the Ages nestled in his mama’s arms as she pondered and treasured in her heart what all of this meant?

What if the Bible had merely said, “Jesus was born. Then at the age of 30 he…” What if all the vividly beautiful details hadn’t been recorded? What if we weren’t told of the swaddling clothes, the lowing of the cattle, the awestruck shepherds, the humble manger, and the mesmerizing star?

Praise God for his beautiful unveiling! What a flawless, purposefully chosen means of introducing his son. Humble beginnings foreshadow the ultimate humility later to come. But the visit of the Magi and their precious gifts signify that the baby would one day rule over nations. The quiet manger, away from the chaotic crowds of people, seems a fitting environment for the Prince of Peace. Further, the shepherds’ fear and excitement to go and worship offers a glimpse of the reaction of other believers of the message for generations to come.

How truly perfect. Can you put into words what that does to your heart?

Father God, how like you to carefully plan every lovely detail about our Savior’s birth, each one a unique revelation about him and his purpose. Thank you for that and for “breaking our hearts” and quickening our spirits as we contemplate the simple serenity and peace and wonder at that miraculous birth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application: Listen to different versions of your favorite nativity songs and hymns and allow your heart to be “broken” as you rejoice in the birth of our savior. ("Joseph's Lullaby" on Mercy Me's Christmas CD is guaranteed to make you crumble!) Also read Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 1 and 2, savoring every telling detail, especially how Mary treasured these things in her heart.

Power Verses:
Matt.2:10-11 (NLT)—When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Luke 2:15-20 (MSG)—As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. "Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us." They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Lover of My Soul, Every Day

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse
Revelation 2:4—Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. (NIV)

Have you ever been caught up in such a spiritual experience that you knew you were touched by the very hand of God? Maybe it was at church—a moment of reverence and awe as you saw his glory streaming through a stained-glass window. Or maybe it was a moment of conviction that left no doubt that the day’s sermon was crafted by the Spirit just for you. Or maybe while singing praise, you were so overcome with his presence that you fell to your knees and just wept, grateful to revel in his company.

God is so good to bless us with these other-worldly glimpses of his majesty! In his continual pursuit of us, however, he isn’t satisfied with a weekly meeting. He woos us, seeks us out to be with him all the time, every minute of every day. And while it’s not difficult to respond and surrender during those supernaturally divine instances, it becomes more of a challenge to do it in the midst of real life, with a deadline looming, laundry piling up, illness setting in, overnight guests due the next day, and relationships in need of nurturing. It’s tough to hear that gentle whisper amidst the clanging, Amen?

But if we’re to be in a true love relationship with the Lord, which is the very reason we were created, we have to look for him even in the craziness. He wants to share everything from triumphant victories to cleaning the toilet (and if you think that’s beneath the Lord of the universe, remember that he happily removed toe-jam from his friends’ filthy feet). He wants your whole life—the gleaming and the gritty, the joyful and the anxious, the snail's pace or the break-neck speed—all of it.

Right now as I type this, millions of Americans are fully engaged in the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy. You might be one of those who love the excitement and thrill of the bargain hunt, and I give anyone kudos who attempts to be Jesus in the midst of the mad rush.

I'm not one of those.

Instead of affecting the masses, I tend to let the masses affect me, resulting in a not-so-holy attitude during this, an especially holy season. It's hard for me to abide in the Lord when other shoppers (who he loves just as much as he loves me) are rude, greedy, or even simply in my way. Since that's a weakness of mine and I know that Satan could have a field day with my vulnerability, I stay away from it (James 4:5).

But in the days ahead when I do venture out to make a dent in my shopping list, the Christmas rush will still be in full swing. I better bring my true love, my first love, along with me to ensure that this task—all in celebration of his birth, after all—remains a faithful act of worship.

So go ahead and be awestruck and humbled in church. Your Lord wouldn’t have it any other way. But don’t reserve it for only then. Look for him on the “off” days, too. In the hustle and bustle, can you hear him? When the aisle's blocked with shopping carts and three people are standing in front of the one product you need, can you hear him chuckle affirmatively as he watches you choose to wait patiently? He's there with you, Sister. He’s calling you every day, wooing you, his true love…Can you hear him?

God, we praise you for counting us worth to pursue! Thank you for your unending love and steadfast faithfulness. We invite you to be our “every day” God, wholly involved in every aspect of our lives, even crazy holiday preparations. In fact, as we submit those to you, please accept them as a pleasing sacrifice and be honored as you help us keep our attitudes and actions Christ-centered. In the Name of your beloved son whose birth we celebrate and honor, our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

On your things-to-do list or your shopping list, alternate items with scripture, prayer, or even love quips to Jesus. That way, as we remember what to do or what to buy, we also remember to invite our first love into the situation too. Here's an example of what a shopping list might look like:
egg nog
Thanks for the crowd, Father.
fruit cake
Help me be a light and a tool.
Tonka truck
Forsake me not, Lord, especially as I walk through the valley of the electronics counter.
MP3 player
Dance with me, oh Lover of my soul...

Power Verses:
1 John 4:19(NIV)--We love because he first loved us.

I Peter 1:19-20 (NLT)--He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him for this purpose long before the world began, but now in these final days, he was sent to the earth for all to see. And he did this for you. (Emphasis mine)

Philippians 1:9(MSG)...Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

John 15:9(NLT)--I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thank You, Lord

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: Colossians 3:16 (NIV)-- Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

I remember walking out of Burlington Coat Factory last fall having had a successful shopping venture. Both my girls needed new winter coats and I wanted to be able to get them something that satisfied each of their unique styles, but that also provided maximum warmth and durability. Getting them at a good price would be a bonus.

Upon seeing a brown faux suede one with a funky tan fur trim, I knew which girl would love that—it just looked like her. Next I spotted a pink camouflage number and knew exactly who that looked like, too. Both coats were thick, well-insulated, machine-washable, and priced reasonably. A few clicks of the cash register later, I walked out of the store a woman satisfied from a flawless shopping experience.

As I often do after “droppin’ some coin” grocery shopping or whatever, I got into the car thanking God that he enabled me to provide what my family needed. But this time--I don’t know if it was because I could picture my girls huddling into these new coats on a blustery frigid day or what--as the words left my mouth, I was suddenly overcome with such a deep sense of gratitude that I began to cry.

The words of Proverbs 31:21 came to mind, “She has no fear of winter for her household because all of them have warm clothes”(NLT). All I could think was “Lord, thank you. Thank you so much for your provision, which allows me to just walk into a store and get what my family needs without having to worry about how to pay for it. I sure don't deserve it, but I sure am grateful for it. It’s only your grace that allows it and I don’t take that for granted.” My gratitude completely overwhelmed me that day.

I know some Old Testament folks who were probably even more overwhelmed with gratitude. My “Read the Bible in a Year” schedule has had me in Ezekiel lately. What an astonishing story and reminder of purification and grace! In Chapter 39, the Lord lays out his plan for restoring Israel after the exile: “Then my people will know that I am the LORD their God—responsible for sending them away to exile and responsible for bringing them home. I will leave none of my people behind. And I will never again turn my back on them, for I will pour out my Spirit upon them” (28-29).

Okay, so after being purged from their sin, God brings every last Israelite home again and in pouring out his Spirit, determines to continually be with them from that point on. His Lordship in their lives meant safety, provision, and inheritance. Hallelujah, Girls, it means the same for us! Like the warmth and comfort those new coats provide for my girls, we can also wrap ourselves in the comfort and peace of God’s promises to us. Isn’t that great reassurance something that we can be grateful for? In the midst of anything our mighty, mighty God will take care of us and keep his promises…A HAPPY THANKSGIVING, indeed! :-)

Father, it's times like this, when we count our blessings and find them too numerous to even begin to list, that the plea “Oh for a thousand tongues...” applies. I mean really, how can we put into mere words how utterly thankful we are to you for all that you are? I'm even thankful that in your omniscience, you already know our words fall short, but you know what's in our hearts. How infinitely awesome you are and yet you call us “friend.” Thank you, thank YOU, Lord. Amen.

Application: In the spirit of the holiday, click on “comments” below and give a public thanks to God for something that you're thankful for. As The Message puts it in Ephesians 5:4, let's make thanksgiving our dialect.

Power Verses:
I Timothy 4:3,4 (MSG) They'll tell you not to eat this or that food—perfectly good food God created to be eaten heartily and with thanksgiving by believers who know better! Everything God created is good, and to be received with thanks. Nothing is to be sneered at and thrown out. God's Word and our prayers make every item in creation holy. *(What a great verse to remember around the Thanksgiving table--LOL!)

Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Colossians 3:16 (NIV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

2 Corinthians 9:12 (MSG)
Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they'll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Just a House, or a Real Home?

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse: Isaiah 32:18—My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. (NIV)

I came home from work around noon today and noticed that Penny, our chocolate lab, wasn't around to greet me. I figured that she was spending the day lounging with the neighbor's dog as she often does on school/work days, so I called across the yard for her and then came in to fix my lunch. I'd just sat down to enjoy my pork steak when I heard the trademark rumbling of paws across the deck. Penny-poo was home and wanted in to greet me!

Her excitement fueled not just one, but two full spins around as she saw me approach the sliding glass door to let her in. I thought her back end would fly off in all the wagging and she was clearly surprised I was home before the usual hour. I couldn’t resist hugging and scratching her and of course I had to share a few morsels with her. Later when she saw that I was finished eating, she found a sunny patch on the carpet and settled into a nap.

I thought to myself, Man, who wouldn't want to come home to this?! That dog has got a pretty sweet deal: go and socialize with friends, roll around in something—the stinkier the better, chase interesting things around in the woods, then when hunger or exhaustion sets in, come home to hugs, food, and a sunny place to nap. Waiter, can I have what she's having?

I was filled with warmth and joy seeing her so satisfied, knowing she has a happy place to come home to. But I was also suddenly filled with conviction that maybe it’s not always such a pleasant experience for the people in my life. See, dogs are simple: food, a bit of attention and love, and they’re generally happy. But people? A bit more complex. I expect things from them and they expect things from me. And when expectations go unfulfilled, we just might greet each other with frustration at the doorway instead of hugs and belly rubs.

Have you ever walked into someone’s home and been immediately blessed by the environment? I remember being delighted by the calm of one place in particular. My friend had scented candles burning, fluffy cushions on the couch to sink into, and low instrumental music was playing on her surround-sound. The whole room had an aura of peace and calm. I felt like I had walked out of chaos and into tranquility as she welcomed me in. And I felt loved because of her hospitality.

Lately, I’ve made an effort to go to those lengths in my own home. Why save candles for company when they could bring my family joy in the meantime? Why not have inspirational music as a backdrop to our activities at home?

But most important in creating a sanctuary for my family is that the attitudes, words, and actions that reverberate through the air are complementary to any environmental variations I’ve made. What good is order and a pleasant aroma if a funky attitude is stinkin’ up the place, ya know?

So when the kiddos burst through the door after a busy day of classroom learning, playground encounters, following rules (I hope!), and a long bus ride, will they walk into a sanctuary that allows them to unwind from their day and just be carefree for awhile? When my husband finishes up a day of sales calls and administrative chaos, will he cross the threshold into appreciation and love? Will they find a safe-haven from a world that can be rude, unfair, and at times even cruel? Or will they dread opening the door because they may find more of the same?

Ladies, even though it may seem a little unfair sometimes that it’s solely up to us to create this for our families, it really is. The very first time I read Proverbs 31—as a mom of twin toddlers trying to grade 100 research papers while potty training—I was resentful. I remember thinking, “Hasn’t she earned the right to sleep late? Or at least go to bed early? Can’t her husband stop being respected at the city gate long enough to get his butt home and give her a break?!”

But now, years later, I see the wisdom in the roles set forth by God himself as harmonious when we do them humbly for his glory. You’ve heard the expression “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Isn’t it so true? We set the pace and consequently, set the foundation of memories for our families.

Whew! That can be a daunting challenge on our own, but thankfully, if we invite the Holy Spirit in, his fruit will be manifested in a mom and wife that is truly welcoming. Gals, if we start there, we’ve got the most important ingredient to make our houses homes. I have to remind myself daily to submit to that. But when I do, I can gain the satisfaction of knowing I’ve fulfilled expectations and met needs for my husband, my kids, and yes, even our darling dog.

Lord Jesus, thank you for entrusting us with our families. Guard our hearts and minds when it comes to ministering to their needs on a daily basis. Fill our minds with the wonderful thought that we’re actually doing it all for you and let that shape not only what our hands do, but what comes out of our mouths, as well. May our submission to your Spirit be a pleasing and fragrant offering to you, Father, that in turn you bless our homes. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application: List some adjectives that describe how you feel when you walk through your door. What adjectives would your family members list? What action steps could you take that would add more positive adjectives to the list?

Power Verses:
Job 8:6...and if you are pure and live with integrity, he will surely rise up and restore your happy home.(NLT)

Proverbs 27:15—A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day; (NIV)

Proverbs 21:9—It’s better to live alone in the corner of an attic than with a quarrelsome wife in a lovely home. (NLT)

John 14:23—Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.” (NLT)

Friday, November 2, 2007

Finishing the Race

By Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. (II Timothy 4:7—NLT)

You know that look people get when they want you to do something? That's the look my husband had when he approached me with this: “I think we should do the Deuces Wild Duathalon. It’ll be fun, something we can do together, just you and me.”

I looked doubtfully at his cute face—I mean how could I turn that down? But, more realistically, how could I possibly run a duathalon? Me, okay? Someone who hasn’t run more than the length of the driveway at any one time since my high school track days.

“Plus, it will set a great example for the kids.” He had a point there.

“And your running would be broken up: two miles at the beginning, then I ride my bike 20 miles, which would give you close to an hour to rest, then you run two more. C'mon, it'll be fun.”

Okay, with two months to prepare, I could surely run two, two-mile stretches. Couldn’t I?

And so it began. This wish from my husband, and that persuasive style of his, started a training period for me. I began to run every-other day, starting the two-mile distance, but stopping whenever I felt I needed to at first. The very first day out, I vowed to jog to one telephone pole, walk to the next, jog to the next, etc. for the whole two miles. Girls, I thought I was going to die! I was so discouraged because, wow. I had no idea I was THAT out of shape. Major wake-up call.

But I didn't give up and you know what? The next time I went out, I was able to take two poles at a time and dramatically reduce the walking. Then two weeks into the program marked my first non-stop two miles! (Even if it WAS slow!)

I prayed during my runs... “Lord, please let my body hold out…thank you for that beautiful horse neighing as he watches me go by...thanks for the gorgeous weather...please let this whole deal serve as a positive example to the kids…please use it to strengthen my relationship with Shane…please be glorified in this.” I just enjoyed the God-time, even though I really wasn't having any major revelations or anything.

That was, until race day.

I am competitive by nature and I'd told Shane all along I didn't want him to be disappointed. I guess I transferred my competitiveness to him, assuming he was playing to win. He assured me throughout training that finishing was all that mattered. It was “just for fun.”

But as the entire pack of runners took off at the start, I made a huge rookie mistake: instead of pacing myself, competitiveness overcame me and I actually tried to keep up with the big dogs for a little bit. Things were not going well as I became extremely out of breath not even a quarter mile into the race. And I was still behind everyone except a mom with her young son. Not lookin' good. At all.

That leg of the event was nothing short of torture. My lungs were stinging, my mouth, throat, and even ears (weird feeling!) were completely dry as I gasped continually. I was reduced to walking fast a few times just to get a decent breath. As I finally tagged Shane so he could start his leg, I felt utterly defeated: “I can NOT do any more. I got Shane off to a late start, I walked for Pete's sake, and just about killed myself for what—to be in stinky-next-to-last place! There's no way I can continue in this race.”

Ever been there before in your life? You feel you just can't go on another minute, let alone another day? You're washed up, dried out, and fearful or maybe even hopeless?

Girlfriend, that's when grace and mercy kick in.

Angie Lindley was Jesus to me as she met me at the line. She encouraged me, walked me around, actually helped me peel off my outer shirt because physically, I just couldn't, and assured me the next leg would go much better after resting. Of course I didn't believe her at that moment because I felt like, well you know, puking and all, but she was amazing. :-)

Sure enough, a little less than an hour later when my hubby zipped back in to tag me for the last leg, I felt better. For one thing, I was starting alone this time—no pack to set an unrealistic pace. I was working at a speed that was optimal for ME, not someone else. It also didn't hurt that I was no longer near the rear because Shane had done a tremendous job on the bike. I was determined to enjoy this part. As I met other runners coming in, they'd holler “Good job” or “Way to go” (I didn't know about this runners' etiquette!) so I started doing it back. As I reached the turnaround, I knew that I'd be meeting others who were behind me, so I made a special effort to encourage them as well (even knowing several of them would soon be passing me!). I was actually having fun with this!

Then God hit me with the lesson I'm sure he'd planned from the beginning: See Kath? When your focus is on how you're doing compared to everyone else, it leads to disappointment and frustration... But when your focus is attuned to my plan for you, there's fulfillment and satisfaction in that because you're right where I want you. Stop looking at everyone else and just run the race I have marked out for you (Heb. 12:1-2) and no one else. You're not supposed to be with the big dogs yet.

Amen, Lord, what freedom in that! Thank you for a lesson I will ALWAYS remember because I didn't quit.

And as God so often does when we've internalized more of Him, he threw in an extra blessing--Shane and I received medals! We came in first in our class! (Okay, we were the only ones in our class, but hey, we'll take it!) And the kids are very impressed by medals. ;-)

(By the way, for those of you who know Heather Kirkwood, give that sister some major props! She did the whole thing, running AND biking, by herself and came in under two hours! She won the medal in her class (and she was not the only one in her class!). Way to go Heather!)

Lord, how we thank you that you have a special plan that is beautiful in its uniqueness for each one of us. Keep our eyes on the course you have marked out for us as we encourage others along the way on their own courses. Keep us continually focused on you and whatever prize you have for each of us as we finish our respective races. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Application: How are you doing in your race? Are you struggling for each breath and step or enjoying the process? Pray that God shows you where you need to be to ensure you're not trying to run someone else's race.

Power Verses:
Proverbs 6:17-19
[Things the Lord hates] haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family. (NLT)

Acts 20:24
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. (NIV)

Galatians 5:7-8
You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. (NLT)

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Best Ghost Story

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Power Verse: John 14:17 (NLT): He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.

Lean in around the campfire or the glow of your screen for a ghost story, Friends...

It was a dark, damp, foggy night in late October. My kids were putting the final touches on their Halloween costumes so we made the trek into town for a few last minute accessories. The spectacle of the new supercenter had a carnival-like atmosphere, with familiar faces, pleasant aromas, and tempting goods everywhere. Little did we know that peering at us from between carefully stacked bags of candy and fun costume accessories were two real-life, honest-to-goodness monsters!

Oh, we were vulnerable alright. The eerie invaders no doubt sized us up as easy targets and plotted how to seize and take control of us. The destroyers slinked out from their lair of temptation to get their slimy grasp on us. Have you seen these monsters? One has green eyes and the other can devour you from the inside out in no time at all. Their names? Envy and Greed.

Envy’s green eyes force its victim to focus on all the cool stuff others have, material or otherwise. The victim can become obsessed with not only “keeping up with the Joneses” but also one-upping them. The victim lives by comparison and always keeps score. This then paves the way for Greed who takes up residence in the victim’s core, driving him or her to always want more, more, MORE. Even if it means compromising what was once important.

So facing these forces, what was I to do? How could I conquer evil? If I was going to do battle right there in the aisle, I needed my sword of truth—the Word. Proverbs 23:17, “Don’t envy sinners, but always continue to fear the Lord.” Take THAT, you green-eyed beast! Luke 12:15, “Then he said, ‘Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.’” You’re goin’ down, Greed! I Timothy 6:8, “So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.” I, equipped by the God of the universe, hereby conquer evil in the name of the Lord! Waa Hahahaha…

Now, ghost stories can be a bit oversimplified and they are definitely heavy on dramatic embellishments, but this one contains some truth. We have an advocate spirit—the Holy Ghost—who lives in us and equips us to fight the enemy, no matter what monstrous form he takes. Pure and simple.

According to my copy of The Student Bible Dictionary, “hallowed” means “something set apart, separated from ordinary things.” In Old English it was equivalent to “saint” and All Hallows Eve was the evening before All Saints Day, a day set apart to glorify God. Unfortunately, as cultures blended and pagan influence became more widespread, Halloween began to take on a much more secular flavor. I encourage you this Halloween and every day, to get back to the root word—Hallow God by setting yourself apart for him, and make it a point to share your favorite Holy Ghost story. That’s the best kind of ghost story there is!

Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be your Name! How we praise you that when we give you our lives, you dwell in us! Your spirit guides and leads us into what is best, helping to bring your Kingdom “here on earth as it is in Heaven.” Let this difference in us notably set us apart in such a way as to attract others to your wonderful truth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

What battles is the enemy launching at you? Have you allowed Jesus to stake you as his claim? (If not, you can by clicking on “Need Saved?” in the side bar. -->) Once you’re his, you’ll never have to fight alone again.

Power Verses:
James 2:19-20 (NLT)
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Eph. 6:13-18 (NIV)
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Galatians 5:16 (NLT)
[ Living by the Spirit’s Power ] So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Does God Really Care?

by Karen Keim

This Week’s Verse: “For by him ALL things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. . . ALL things were created by him and for him.” Colossians 1:16 (NIV)

ALL THINGS? Oh, come on now. All things? You mean wiggly spiders and slimy snakes? You mean those pesty mosquitoes and biting fire ants? Hmmm. Does God really care for them? Well, you know, I’ve decided he does. In fact, after I gave it some thought and looked at some scripture, I KNOW he does. Let me tell you how all of this became an issue in this weak mind of mine. (You’ll probably have to work hard to stay with me on this one!)

One day last week while on my lunch hour, I was driving in the south end of our little town when a little puppy appeared in front of my vehicle. I had to stop to keep from hitting the cute little thing, and as I did, I noticed that she was wearing a collar. The poor thing was darting back and forth, trying to keep from getting hit by traffic, apparently without a clue as to which way to go. So, guess what I did. Yep, I got out of my vehicle and picked the little thing up, thinking to myself that some poor child has lost his puppy. I took her home. My husband called the police, and no one had reported a missing puppy, so now what do we do?

Well, the story from here gets a little complicated. I won’t go into ALL of the details, but the next day, the puppy ends up “visiting” my daughter-in-law’s parent’s store (see, I told you it’s confusing) in a town about 20 miles from here. Now, mind you, we were still looking for the owners of this puppy.

While the puppy is at the store, the daughter of an employee comes in and begins to ooh and aah over the puppy and asks if she can take the puppy to the local Rural King to show it to her friend. So, here goes this little puppy on another excursion! The young lady takes the puppy to Rural King and while she is talking to her friend, a patron overhears their conversation. The patron says, “Did you say you found that puppy in Marshall?” (That’s the town we live in.) “I think that puppy belongs to my neighbor. If it does, PLEASE don’t give it back. They totally mistreat the puppy. I’ve called law enforcement and everybody I can think of to report it.”

Yikes! Now what do we do? Well, after an evening of investigating, we discovered that it was indeed the puppy she had spoken of. They hadn’t reported it missing, which told us a lot, and as we all began to think about it, we realized what had just happened – GOD, not me, had rescued this puppy. You don’t think so? Well, I know he did. There were way too many coincidences – no, I mean God-cidents:
* I was driving in an area I’m not normally in.
* I was driving the truck that day – a good thing to haul a puppy in.
* I picked up a puppy – totally out of my character.
* The puppy ends up 20 miles from here for a visit, “just happens” to be taken to the Rural King where the neighbor of the owner “overhears” a conversation . . . well, you get it!

Okay. So you’re probably wondering what happened to the puppy. We sent out e-mails to all of our e-mail contacts, and, lo and behold, we got a response from a grade school teacher who “just happened” to have lost her dog in June and was missing it so terribly she was going to the humane shelter that very weekend to get another one. When my husband and I took the puppy to her, she actually cried because she was so happy to have it! Wow! Did God do an amazing job of orchestrating the rescue of that little puppy or what? HE IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!!

But do you know what the greater lesson is in all of this? If he cares that much about a little puppy, how much more do you think he cares for you? One of my favorite scriptures comes from Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” I KNOW God cares about that little puppy and all of the many other animals he created, but I also know from reading the Scripture that he cares even more for me, who was created in his very own image! Wow!

The Bible is full of references to God’s care for animals. Here are a few:
Psalm 104 says God quenches the thirst of the wild donkey. He causes grass to grow for the cattle. It says the high hills were created for the wild goats and the cliffs for the rock badgers. Did you know that according to the book of Exodus, not only were men and women to rest on the Sabbath day, but also cattle! God DOES care for the animals. They are part of his creation, and he created them for his own good and for his own purpose. And God loves YOU, more than we can ever imagine or realize!

Oh, by the way, today at noon, my friend and I were heading to the Pizza Hut for lunch, and she said, “Oh, look at that dog! I saw that dog yesterday at Wal-Mart! Look, it’s lost! It even has a collar on it . . . “ And I said, “Oh, Lord, not another one!”

Father, how we praise you that you care so lovingly for all the creatures you've created, especially those of us you call sons and daughters! Instill in each of us the full knowledge and confidence that you care so deeply about the intricate details of our lives. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Application: Do you ever get to feeling down and out and wondering if God really cares? Pray the promises of this week’s Power Verses! HE REALLY DOES CARE!

Power Verses:
1 Peter 5:7: “I cast all of my anxiety on you, Lord, because I know you care for me.”

Psalm 55:22: “I cast my cares on you, Lord. You said that you will sustain me and never let the righteous fall.”

Nahum 1:7: “You are so good, Lord. You are a refuge in times of trouble. You care for those who trust in You.”

Romans 8:38-39: “Thank you, God, that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate me from Your love, which is in Christ Jesus, the Lord.”

Friday, October 12, 2007

In Defense of Apathy

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: Luke 10:41—The Master said, "Martha, dear Martha, you're fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it's the main course, and won't be taken from her.” (MSG)

My hubby and I were talking as we bustled around one morning getting ready to go somewhere. I don’t even remember the specific observation he made, but apparently I considered it trivial. It was something like “The chairs sure did get dirty fast” or “Man, that plant looks bad.” My reply was, “Who cares?”

Now, take note: it was not said in a snotty way and he didn’t take it that way. I meant it in a “that is so not a priority right now” sort of way. In fact, we started laughing, and he said “That’s great—apathy, ya gotta love it.”

Not two minutes later, I responded to something else he said with a similar “So?” As soon as our eyes connected we cracked up! We even began to think of other phrases to communicate apathy…Big deal! Oh well! I could not care any less than I do right now. Whatever! Talk to the hand. Doesn’t matter (or if you’re from where I’m from, “Dudn’t” matter). It has now become a running joke with us.

Here’s my disclaimer: OF COURSE when we’re dealing with others—family, friends, enemies, or strangers—and their needs, apathy is NOT an option for Christians. We are to wear love (Col. 3:14) and usually love and apathy blend about as well as oil and water. That’s a given.

But for a former perfectionist control-freak like me (okay, a current-but-workin’-on-it perfectionist control freak like me) a little apathy aimed in the right direction goes a long way in helping me walk in a more Christ-like way. Don’t believe me? Consider these examples:

*I’ve been working on my hair for fifteen minutes and my stubborn area will not conform to my wishes.
Option A: Waste more time on it, delaying breakfast for my family, and becoming crabby over something no one else will probably even notice.
Option B: Sigh “Oh well,” unplug the curling iron, and turn my attention to helping my family get ready for their day.

*A tractor pulls out right in front of me—I mean, how did he not see me?!
Option A: Think and probably mumble something derogatory as I get worked up and impatient to pass him.
Option B: Exhale “big deal” as I slow down and appreciate the beautiful autumn splendor all around me.

*One of the kiddos comes out to the breakfast table in socks that I certainly wouldn’t have chosen with the outfit.
Option A: Voice my opinion, showing clear disapproval at her choice, and force her to change into more appropriately suited hosiery.
Option B: Tell myself “So what?” At least she took creative initiative.

*Guests are arriving soon, one of whom is a pretty important gentleman. The house is a wreck and food needs prepared.
Option A: Fly into a cleaning and cooking frenzy, barking orders to anyone who dares to get in my way, or worse, doesn’t help.
Option B: “Who cares?!” (Actually, I do…I’m still working on that one.)

But you get the idea. Option A involves spending emotional energy on something inconsequential and possibly even doing some damage. Option B conserves my efforts for other more significant situations that will no doubt arise throughout the day.

You’ve heard the rhetorical question before: A year from now, will what you’re so worked up about really matter? When I ask myself that question, more often than not the reply is something along the lines of “A whole year? I probably won’t even remember two hours from now what currently has my panties in a bunge!”

It all comes down to choosing my battles, knowing which ones are worthy of my time and effort. Mismatched socks aren't, but my daughter developing her own style (albeit a quirky one) is. Being a few minutes late because of a slow moving vehicle isn’t, but honing patience and valuing others is. In fact, most situations dealing with appearances aren't, but the relationship involved most definitely is because it would be worthy to Jesus.

In fact, let’s look at that last example again. Martha was being a responsible hostess. She was expending her efforts to make a pleasing environment for her special guest and that ol’ Mary wasn’t doing her part. But Jesus praised her. She had chosen what was most important. If we placed the scenario in 2007, I can see Martha confronting Mary in a corner and Mary retorting, “Talk to the hand, Sister! I’m going to my Master’s feet.”

So I maintain that apathy has its place. When we use it to replace preoccupation with things that are insignificant to God, it's a tool for growth, for proper perspective. Still confined to our earthly bodies, we only have so much energy. Let’s use ours for what truly matters and develop some healthy apathy for the things that, over the long haul, really don’t.

Lord God, thank you for equipping your daughters with passion for what you’ve entrusted to us. Help us direct our energy towards only what matters to you and to say “Whatever!” as we walk away from the things that don’t. Give us discernment to know the difference. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application: What kinds of situations do you tend to get worked up about? After you’re removed from them, does your perspective of their importance change? What’s your favorite apathetic response that you could pull out to use in such circumstances?

Power Verses:
Colossians 3:11—In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. (NLT ) (emphasis mine)

Daniel 12:13—And you? Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax. When it's all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward. (MSG)

Matthew 6:25—Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (NIV)

Ecclesiastes 2:22—What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? (NIV)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Just Think--What If You Did?!?

by Karen Keim

This Week’s Verse: Zechariah 4:6 – “This is the word the Lord spoke to Zerubbabel: You won’t succeed by might or by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” (God’s Word translation)

Hey, have you read Bill Hybels’ book “Just Walk Across the Room”? What a read! What a challenge! “Simple Steps Pointing People to Faith”. That’s how the author describes it. Our church just finished a church-wide study of the book, and it’s the talk of the masses!

“Simple”, huh? Scary is more like it! So many “what-if’s”!

What if I sound stupid?
What if they laugh at me?
What if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to?
What if I really mess it up?
What if they just totally reject me?

But, you know, what if NONE of those things happened? What if you prayed for the Spirit to first place you in a situation where you could share your faith and then what if you prayed that the Spirit would totally take over and do all of the talking for you? Do you really think that God is going to let you down? Let me share a recent event where I found out what if!

It’s the day of my birthday, and my sweet, loving husband took me out for a nice dinner. I’m feeling especially light-hearted. After all, it is my birthday! Our waiter comes to our table and plops himself down in one of the extra chairs at our table, letting out a sigh as he does so. I said (as I look at his name tag), “Well, have a seat and join us, Dave.” Conversation ensued and as we’re talking, I had the feeling this was one of those opportunities God was giving me to “walk across the room”.

Upon learning it was my birthday and following along that path of conversation for a while, Dave made a statement about how he just recently realized that growing older was inevitable and that he decided he should be taking better care of himself so that he could see “old age”. (By the way, Dave is a college kid, mid-20’s, and I’m sure his comment about “old age” had nothing to do with his perception of me!) Dave said, “Yeah, I sure don’t like to think about dying!” Right out of my mouth came the words, “Well, unless you know Jesus and you’re going to heaven! Do you know Jesus?” CAN YOU BELIEVE I JUST BLURTED THAT OUT? (Thank you, Spirit!) Dave said, “Well, I’m not really religious, and I’m the kind of person that has to find things out for myself. I don’t like to be told what I should or shouldn’t do.” Feeling a little defensive, Dave? Afraid you’ve got a “Jesus Freak” here on your hands that’s going to start thumping her Bible and preaching? I just simply, light-heartedly said, “I know what you mean. But you ought to try Him!”

We had a great dinner, and Dave was a very good, attentive waiter. We had a fun time with him, joking and sharing each time he came by. At one of his last stops by the table, guess who brought THE subject up this time??? DAVE!!! Wow! Had I planted a seed of thought in his mind? That wasn’t so hard! Dave said something to the effect, “Yeah, I believe in God, but, man, my grandparents have really turned me off. They are totally decaffeinated in every aspect of their lives, claiming to be such great Christians, and they are the rudest, most abusive people I know!” Yikes! What do I say now, Spirit? I once again said, “Yeah, I know what you mean, and I’m sorry about that. Unfortunately, that’s what often gives Christianity a bad name. But, really, that’s not how all Christians act – or should act. You really ought to give it a try!”

That’s all I did! It wasn’t really that hard at all! But I KNOW I planted a seed in that young man’s mind, a seed that now I have the opportunity to pray will grow and be fertilized by others so that some day a bountiful harvest will come from that seed! We left that evening promising to come back and to look for him to be our waiter next time. I told him when I did, I wanted to hear about all the good things that had been happening to him since we saw him last, praying in my mind that one of them would be that he had “tried” Jesus.

Spirit, thank you for living in me, for taking over when I don’t know what to say or when I don’t have the guts to say it. You are amazing! Right now I pray for Dave and for others like him that need You in their lives. Give us strength to ‘walk across the room’ and plant those seeds and to allow You to work in Your ways to obtain the harvest. Forgive us when we have failed to be the picture of Christ that would attract others to You. Amen.

Application: Who do you need to share your faith with? As we have learned, it doesn’t have to be a big, long-winded story. All you need to do is plant a seed and let the Lord take it from there. Pray for the Spirit to put you in a situation where you have an opportunity to plant a seed, and then BE BOLD and trust Him to speak the words!

Power Verses:
John 14:14 -- “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (New American Standard)
Hebrews 13:6 – “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?”
Philippians 4:13 – “I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me.”

Friday, September 28, 2007

What IS In A Name?

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: Mark 3:17—James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder).

When my husband was a baby, he crawled so fast that his parents had a tough time keeping up with him. Zipping here and darting there earned him the nickname "Bug." To this day when his dad calls, he says, "Is Buggy there?" (He also earned the nickname "Foghorn" as a baby, too, but I'll let him tell you about that.) ;-)

As noted in this week's scripture, James and John also earned nicknames. Just imagine the scene when Jesus imparted them...

Brothers J & J are approaching Jesus and the others. Jesus elbows Matthew in the ribs and whispers conspiratorially, “Check it out. Here come those Sons of Thunder!” Matthew chuckles knowingly.

Or maybe Jesus has each of his outstretched hands on James and John’s shoulders and very affectionately, maybe even squeezing in a few noogies, says, “I love your boldness, Guys. You are definitely my special Sons of Thunder and you’re gonna do great stuff for my kingdom.” I love that!

Sometimes the majesty of our King inspires such a sense of awe in us that it’s easy to forget his desire for an intimately personal relationship with us. But if you can ask yourself what nickname Jesus has for you, it could enhance that “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24) aspect of our divine friend. Daughter of Mercy? Sister Sunshine? Oh Ye of Little Faith or Good and Faithful Servant? I can’t help but think of descriptive Native American-like names, too. I’d probably be “Little Big Mouth” or “Weeping Willow” or something along those lines! What might he call you? And even more importantly, what does that reveal about how God can use you?

Throughout scripture we see numerous examples of God changing someone's name in light something they've done or will do for Him. In appointing James and John, Jesus used a powerful noun that captured their dispositions. And remember, that special gift of boldness to be used for the Lord’s glory was the very same characteristic that drew criticism from others when the “Sons of Thunder” later asked to be seated at the right and left of Jesus.

In other words, the nickname can be a term of endearment or conviction--having a “thunderous” personality could be fruitful or lethal, depending on James and John. Had they been thunderous on their own, the results might have been disastrous. But being thunderous under the direction of Jesus bore precious fruit.

As we see in this wonderful example in scripture, God calls us according to our very nature—He gave it to us! And as James and John eventually learned to do, we also must submit it to His Lordship so He can grow us to our full potential.

So what’s your nickname?

Lord, we praise you that you call us according to how you created us! We're not random, but rather, purposefully chosen to be used in certain ways. How special that makes us feel! Show us a glimpse of how you regard us personally and what name you have for us, so that we can submit our predispositions right back under your authority. Not our will, but yours be done, Father. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Application: Think about nicknames you've been given by family and friends. Do these names reflect who you really are? What might your Lord call you in identifying your personality and characteristics? How can those traits further the Kingdom?

Power Verses:
Isaiah 62:2 (NIV) The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow.

Genesis 17:5 (NLT) What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations.

Genesis 32:28 (NLT) “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

Isaiah 43:1 (NIV) But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says: "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine."

Friday, September 21, 2007

The New B.U.S.Y. and Its Ripple Effect

by Kathy Lay

Verse of the Week: Joel 1:3--Tell your children about it in the years to come, and let your children tell their children. Pass the story down from generation to generation. (NLT)

The woman was doing an outstanding job by all human standards. Her ministry had a ripple effect that reached thousands and many souls came to Christ as a result of her efforts. One night she slipped into a dream. Jesus came to her and said, “I want to show you something.” He took her hand and together they rose to the top of a beautiful mountain peak, more spectacular than she’d ever imagined, with a view so grand it seemed to sweep over many lifetimes. From the high vantage point, the woman could look down into the valley and see vast numbers of people. The Lord told her that those were souls she’d brought to Him.

Full of satisfaction, she thought to herself, “Oh man, this is IT! This is when Jesus will turn to me and say ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’” But as he turned to her and spoke, the words she heard were more of a crushing blow: “Where among these people is your own family?”

Marybeth Whalen of Proverbs 31 Ministries shared this story at a conference I attended over two years ago to illustrate to a room full of aspiring writers that our first commitment is to our families. I still remember the impact it had on me. In fact, I remember an audible gasp from the audience at large, as if we’d all been collectively punched in the gut. Why? Because we knew if we weren't careful in how we pursued our calling, some of our loved ones might be missing from the valley too.

Gretchen Beltz shared once that being too BUSY stands for Being Under Satan's Yoke. Mm mm mm...Conviction. In my "busyness" to serve, where was my family? Was my busyness actually hindering their relationship with Christ?

But let’s get one thing straight. I mean, doesn’t God want us to reach out to others? Isn't that what taking a walk across the room is all about? Absolutely. Fulfilling the Great Commission is inherent in our calling to be Christ-followers. But as we spread our faith and create our own ripple effect, consider who should be in that very first circle or ripple. God has placed some individuals so close to the epicenter in our circle of influence, that they sometimes get overlooked, or worse, become casualties in the fall-out of our busyness.

So how about this approach? Being Under my Savior’s Yoke. Maybe I can run my to-do list through my Washing Machine (aka—the Holy Scripts, see Eph. 5:26) and whatever I can’t stamp with Jesus approval has got to go, even if it seems to be a noble or worthy cause. And whatever is left (and I’m pretty sure it will always include housework—we have to stay humble, right?), I’m making a family affair. Writing? I can show them how their lifesongs end up in my work. Being in the praise band? They can help me practice and Shane and I can encourage their interest in music. Ministry meetings? I can share my excitement with them about how God’s doing great things and pray that they catch that same excitement.

Instead of feeling neglected or even jealous, my prayer is that our families would feel included and blessed by our involvement in the Great Plan, that instead of being overcome by or even drowning in our ripples, they ride the wave and desire to start their own ripples for God.

Father, we lift up our families to you! As we strive to reach out to others, let us include them and grow them through it all, setting an example of being a faithful Christ-follower. Guard us against satan's attempts to distract us through the busyness. Keep our hearts centered on You, so that your love spills out of us onto others, especially those closest to us. In Jesus' Precious Name, Amen.

If you can picture God plunking you into a pool of people who need you, who are the first ones your waves will reach? How are those same people being influenced by what you're involved in?

Power Verses:
Psalm 34:3--Join me in spreading the news; together let's get the word out. (MSG)

Deuteronomy 4:9--Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. (NIV)

Psalm 34:11--Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. (NIV)

Proverbs 31:26-29--When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say,
and she always says it kindly.
She keeps an eye on everyone in her household,
and keeps them all busy and productive.
Her children respect and bless her;
her husband joins in with words of praise:
"Many women have done wonderful things,
but you've outclassed them all!"(MSG)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Oh, For the Faith of a Child

by Kathy Lay

Verse of the Week: Mark 10:15—I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (NIV)

With that crisp hint of autumn in the air, my husband was eager to get out in the woods to clear some areas and hang some deer stands. The kids are always up for a hike and put on long sleeves, pants, and rubber boots so they could tromp “the 45” with Dad. Skylar was bound and determined that he’d be in full camouflage and he found his pants with no problem. But his camo shirt wasn’t where it was supposed to be. He checked his pants drawer just in case it had found its way into the wrong spot, but to no avail. Then he did what any self-respecting six-year-old would do… “Moooooom!”

I went through the same procedure he’d already been through and even checked his closet in case I’d been really ambitious the day I’d put the shirt away, but it was nowhere to be found. I heaved a big sigh and said, “Buddy, just pick a different shirt. I can’t find that one.”

That’s when my boy, laying comfortably on the floor as he waited for me to search, said, “Can I pray to God and Jesus first, and then we’ll look again?”

Okay, here’s the part of the story that I wish could be different. This is the point I wish I could write that my response was an enthusiastic, “Yes, Skylar! That’s exactly what we need to do!” But instead, I actually hesitated. I mean, I had just looked through those entire drawers and that shirt was not there. So I ended up softly saying, “Go ahead, Buddy,” and biting my tongue so that I didn’t add, “but don’t be disappointed if we still can’t find it.”

I watched as my little man of faith rolled to his side, folded his hands, and prayed silently with his precious eyes screwed shut. I said my own little prayer that went something like this: “God, this could be a faith-breaker for this little boy. Please help us find that shirt!” But I confess I offered it up while already trying to decide how to phrase the lesson when the shirt still wasn’t there.

Now this is the point in the story when I know Jesus just had to be shaking his head, saying to me “Oh, ye of little faith,” and smiling because he was about to astound me…When Skylar said "Amen" the shirt drawer came open for the third time and...Voila! There was the camo shirt! I told Skylar with much ado that Jesus sure did hear his prayer and see his faith. But he simply put on his shirt and said, “Yep! Thanks, Jesus” very matter of factly, but happily. What he was not, was surprised. He expected it all along. And I really hate that I didn’t.

Why are we like that sometimes? We know we are to walk by faith, not by sight. We know to ask in expectation, right? This week’s scripture (above) illustrates exactly what happened: I didn’t approach the throne as a little child and that prevented me from entering into it a higher realm of my relationship with God. Instead of Skylar’s “thanks, Jesus, I knew you’d come through” approach, which just added another solid layer to his faith, I was lagging behind, stupefied at a miracle. Now I’m not saying that didn’t increase my faith too, because it did. But Skylar was in camaraderie mode and I was just kind of a dumbfounded observer. I never want to lose my sense of awe, but I guess I want to move from being surprised when my prayers are answered to simply being truly appreciative and grateful. That’s a closer relationship, don’t you think?

Lord God, your Word tells us in 1 John 3:1 that the love you’ve lavished on us is so great that we are your children. Lord, then help us come to you with the faith of a child. Help us to pray in full expectation of your power being manifested in our lives, so that when we experience it, we marvel at it and appreciate it, but we’re not surprised by it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Think back to times you’ve been utterly floored by God and how he answered a prayer so quickly and in just the way you asked. What was your reaction? Do you feel your reaction lines up with your faith?

Power Verses:
Luke 10:21—At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” (NIV)

Matthew 18:4—So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. (NLT)

1 John 5:4—For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. (NLT)

Galatians 3:26—For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (NLT)

Psalm 116:6—The Lord takes care of the childlike. I was brought down, and He saved me. (NLV)

Friday, September 7, 2007

It's Time to Wake Up

by Karen Keim

Verse of the Week: Psalm 73:28--But as for me, the nearness of God is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Thy works.

Okay. So here’s the deal. There’s three things I haven’t been very good at lately: 1) exercising; 2) eating breakfast; and 3) spending some good, quality time with the Lord. I have good intentions, mind you, to do all three better. But I just can’t seem to get there. Every night when I go to bed, I say to myself, “Now, I’m going to get up an hour earlier tomorrow and go for a walk, eat breakfast and spend some time with the Lord.” Well, guess what! Sleep (that’s spelled S-A-T-A-N) always wins. The alarm goes off that hour early, and I think, “Just 15 more minutes.” (Snooze) “Okay. Just five more minutes.” (Snooze) “Well, it’s getting too late now. I might as well just sleep until my regular time.” (And don’t tell me you haven’t been there, too!)

Well, guess what! This morning I beat satan two out of three!!!! Yea!!! Now, which one of those three do you think I just couldn’t work in? Yep, you’re right! EXERCISE! But I had my egg sandwich (with catsup) and I had some quality time with the Lord. And, boy, did He have some things to tell me! Here’s how it went.

I started out praising him for winning the morning battle, telling Him how awesome He is, read a nice little devotion – you know the routine. Then I picked up my Bible and said, “Lord, speak to me through Your Word today,” and I just popped open my Bible, feeling certain that whatever page I opened to, He would have some plain, simple message for me. Well, hmfph! I opened to Ezekiel 24, where God is giving Ezekiel the words He wanted him to say to the rebellious nation of Judah. It’s all that symbolic jargon. You know what I’m talking about, the kind where as you’re reading, you think, “Yada, yada, yada, whatever that all means!” I almost gave up on it and said, “Let’s try this again,” and opened to another passage.

But I remembered how I had asked Him to speak to me and felt that he had led me to the passage He wanted me to hear, so I kept reading. I get to the part where God tells Ezekiel that with one blow He’s going to kill the person that Ezekiel loves the most! I’m thinking, “Oh, dear, Lord, is that what you wanted me to hear? Is it my husband? Is it one of my boys?” I read on, and God told Ezekiel that He was making Ezekiel an example to the people of Judah of what he was going to do to them. He said (Ezekiel 24:25, God’s Word translation), “Son of man, on that day I will take their stronghold away from them. It makes them happy and proud. It is their hearts’ desire and the thing they love the most.” In other words, the thing the people of Judah loved the most was getting in the way of their obedience and relationship with God. Hmmm. “Is that what you wanted to say to me, Lord? What is the thing I love and desire the most? What is the thing You want me to give up before You have to take it away from me so that I will put You first?”

I laid my head back and closed my eyes and began to think . . . . is it my husband? Is it my son? Is it this, is it . . . and then all of a sudden, as I am about to drift off into my inner thoughts (okay, fall asleep!), it hits me! My eyes pop wide open and I almost laugh! It’s SLEEP! It’s as simple as sleep! (Stay with me here!) See, sleep is one of my favorite things to do. I took a survey the other day that asked, if you had an extra hour of time given to you, what would you do, and there were four or five options, like read a book, watch a movie, take a hot bath, or SLEEP! Mine was definitely SLEEP! I don’t know if it’s the empty nest thing going on or being married to a cop all of these years or just old age, but I just can’t seem to get enough sleep these days. I wasn’t always that way. Sure, I liked my Sunday afternoon naps, but given a choice of doing just about ANYTHING these days, I’ll choose sleep. And I do it well! I NEVER have trouble sleeping.

Now, if you are a person who has trouble sleeping at night (like my husband) you know what a blessing it is to be able to sleep without difficulty, and I truly believe it’s a blessing! But I’ve come to the point where, as I said, I would rather sleep than do almost anything else – including spending time with the Lord! It’s what He calls in this verse “my heart’s desire and the thing they love the most.” It’s what’s getting in the way of me being obedient and connecting with Him in the way He wants me to.

So what’s it going to take, Karen? Are you going to give it up willingly, sacrifice a little extra sleep for a little extra time with the Lord, or is He going to have to take it away from you by removing your blessing of being able to sleep with no trouble?

What about you? Maybe you think I got a little carried away here in analyzing what the Lord was saying. Maybe you’re saying I’m making it too simple, comparing something as BIG as destroying the nation of Judah with something as SMALL as removing my ability to sleep. But I don’t think so. God’s word meets us where we’re at, and He speaks to us in small, simple ways.

Father, thank you for your patience. Help us to put You first, making YOU and time with YOU “our heart’s desire and the thing we love the most”. We love you so much. In Jesus name, Amen.

Are you listening? Is there something you need to give up willingly so that you can be obedient to what He’s calling you to do? Is there something you need to be sacrificing so that you can spend more time with Him? I promise it will be worth it!

Power Verses:
Psalm 143:10—Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God. Let Thy good Spirit lead me on level ground. (American Standard)
John 10:17—The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. (NLT)
Exodus 20:3—You shall have no other gods before me. (NIV)

Friday, August 31, 2007

If We Are the Body

by Kathy Lay

Verse of the Week: Romans 12:10--"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." (NIV)

I remember meeting Dustin that hot August morning on the first day of class. A whole new crop of excited college freshman were sitting in the classroom waiting for their new English class to begin. As the instructor, I always wanted to establish a relaxed, familiar environment on those first few days because I remembered how overwhelming college can be at first. One way I did this was to allow students to submit anonymously on a note card any question that they wanted to ask. Inevitably, through questions like “How do you spend your free time?” or “What are your hobbies?” the opportunity arose for me to share that I’m a Christian.

Dustin’s class was no different. I remember him coming up to me that day and saying how cool it was that I’m a Christian because he was too. As the semester progressed, we shared many God-conversations. But the one I remember most was when I asked him what church he attended. His response was, “Oh, I don’t do church. My relationship with God is between me and him and it’s no one else’s business.” I had no ready response for that and quite honestly, at his age I had felt about the same way. My Christianity had really been Kathianity at that point, as in “God, what will you do for me today?” if I even bothered to throw out that little prayer. I’d been saved, so that took care of it, right?

But I know better now.

Our community is currently grieving the loss of a young boy. When something tragic like this happens, we begin to ask questions... “Why, God?...How do we make sense of this?...How can we help the family?” I was talking with my friend, Missy, and she told me that as she prayed about the situation, she felt God saying, “Stand. Just stand.” We considered what all that might encompass...Stand in the gap for them praying. Gather and stand around them, like a hedge of protection. Stand back and watch what I, the Lord your God, will do.

And as Missy and I ended our conversation, it clicked for me...that is why we participate in the church body. To disregard that aspect of being a Christian is to miss the point of being a Christian, apart from being saved. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love, first the Lord, and then your neighbor (Matt. 22:36-39). And in 1 Peter, all Christians are reminded to “be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.” (NLT)

And that, my friends, is why we “do church.” Even though the couple who lost their little boy attends a different church than I do, we belong to the same Body—that of Christ. That means being his hands raised in intercession for this family, being his feet running to their aid to meet physical needs, being his heart loving them so much that they feel peace and comfort in the midst of chaos and heartbreak, and being his head helping them iron out details and maybe even over time, begin to make some sort of sense of things.

I continued to see Dustin on campus from time to time after our semester together ended. He even bought our praise band’s CD. But I’d love to see him just one more time and ask him again which church he attends. This time I’d have a story to share.

Lord Jesus, we thank you that you use your church body to minister. What a privilege to be a part of that! Show us how to use our individual gifts and talents to reach out and be You to those who are hurting and in need. By the power in your name, Jesus, Amen.

Application: What are you really good at that you enjoy doing? Offer those talents to the church body in an effort to build others up.

Power Verses:
*Deuteronomy 27:7 (NIV)—Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the LORD your God.
*I John 1:7 (NLT)—But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
*Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)—Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.