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.”