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)