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)