Friday, January 25, 2008

From Rags to Riches

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse:
2 Kings 25:29, “So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king's table.”

From the pit to the palace. From the prison to the penthouse. Don’t we all love a good “rags to riches” story? There’s something so satisfying in knowing that someone who endures hard knocks can rise to the top and triumph. Such Cinderella stories make it seem attainable for any of us who may still be struggling in the mire.

I know of a young beauty with soulful brown eyes and shiny hair who had a rough beginning in life. When she was old enough and saw her chance to escape from the pit though, she was promptly removed from the streets and imprisoned for her own good. At least behind bars she was fed regularly and was probably even hopeful she might be rescued.

Okay, the "young beauty" of the story is our dog, Penny. And the hero? Well, that would be Shane, who happened to be talking to Jim Bender at church one Sunday. Jim must've heard about the loss of our other dog because he was telling Shane he could probably find a great replacement at the pound. Shane said he'd only be interested if Jim happened to have a chocolate lab. Jim's smile said it all...he had a female whose time was almost up.

Apparently, she'd been picked up in town running loose with a rope tied around her neck that looked like she'd chewed apart to get away from whatever pit she in. Maybe I've watched too many episodes of Animal Cops with my kids, but I imagine she was quite mistreated given her thinness, her timidity, and the fact she was willing to chew through a rope to get away. The poor thing didn’t even know how to play.

Back in “the pen” as her clock ran down, her chances of getting a new home dwindled. And then a simple conversation changed everything for her, resulting in her hero coming to rescue her and bring her home. Shane tells her, “Penny-Poo, you went from the prison to the penthouse, didn't you?” And it's true. From skid row, to time in the pen, to living large and sleeping every night with a full belly in a warm, king-sized bed. What a difference a day makes! And she knows it. Shane is and will forever be her hero as displayed so intensely in her eyes when she looks at him.

We see example after example in the Word of wonderful rescues for the faithful. For instance, look at Joseph’s story beginning in Genesis 37. From Daddy’s favorite to the pit and slavery, from running an official’s household to prison, and in one single day, from prison to wearing Pharaoh’s signet ring and ruling Egypt. Joseph remained faithful and God rescued him every time.

Look at Jehoiachin from this week’s verse who traded that nasty prison garb for daily feasting with the king. Look at David. Look at Jonah, Daniel, the leprous, the blind—the DEAD! Faith opens doors for prisoners to be set free. Faith opens doors for a pauper to exchange her filthy rags for a Princess’s crown and robes.

Are you a pound puppy in need of a hero? A peasant in need of a Prince? You have a Rescuer who is just waiting to ride in and sweep you into a life of fullness. No matter what type of prison you're in, there is a Hero who wants to help you break the ties that bind you, to lavish His love on you and meet every need. He enjoys it, in fact. Psalm 16:3 says, “The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them!” He wants you free so you choose Him. Allow Him to free you. Trade your rags for riches, set your adoring eyes on your Rescuer, and never look back.

Father, how we need You daily to set us free from the ties that bind us. Even as we walk with You we become more aware of sin’s entangling grip in our lives if we don’t immediately take it captive first. Your Word tells us that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matt. 18:18). By Your power we bind up whatever might take us captive, if not for Your intervention and grace. Because of You we’re set free and ONLY because of You can we ever boast of rising from the mire of prison to the splendor of the palace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Okay, let’s get very practical here. List the top three sins or problems in your life that you need to bind up. Pray each one through Matt. 18:18. For example, “Lord, I bind up my temper here on earth and trust You’ll be helping me bind it in heaven. Instead, allow me to let loose with mercy here on earth and trust You’ll be helping me loose it in heaven.” (Remember, He’s your Hero and will move you from being captive to being captor!) Rejoice in your freedom with the video below.

Power Verses:
Isaiah 58:6, "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.”(NIV)

Psalm 68:5, “Father of orphans, champion of widows, is God in his holy house. God makes homes for the homeless, leads prisoners to freedom, but leaves rebels to rot in hell.”(MSG)

Zechariah 3:3-4, “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.’” (NIV)

Ephesians 2:1-6, “It wasn't so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.” (MSG)

Friday, January 18, 2008

What Can We Offer?

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse: Exodus 29:24—“…and you shall wave them as a wave offering before the LORD.” (NKJV)

On a Clint Brown CD we have there's an intro to a song called “Holy, Righteous” in which Clint spontaneously sings direction to the congregation: “…give Him a wave offering in this house.” I always thought that was kind of a neat idea and I could picture the crowd erupting into a wave for God that would rival any found in professional sports complexes. Who, after all, is more worthy of a mighty wave?

So imagine my surprise when I found that the wave offering is actually Biblical! (It wasn’t that I thought Clint just made it up, but I never remembered reading about it before!) There are many Old Testament verses that explain the wave offering along with all the other types of offerings the Israelites were to bring to the priests to present to God. If this is a new concept for you too, allow me to submit Exhibit A:

Exodus 29:24—“Place all of these [fat and organs from a ram and bread] in the open hands of Aaron and his sons who will wave them before God, a Wave-Offering. Then take them from their hands and burn them on the Altar with the Whole-Burnt-Offering—a pleasing fragrance before God, a gift to God.” (MSG)

I love the concept of the wave! When we wave it's to acknowledge someone or to get their attention, right? Have you ever felt alone, inadequate, or in need of God's touch? During those times, don’t you just want to stand on the roof top, wave like crazy, and shout “God, here I am! Right here! Can't you see me? I need you!” As the above verse would indicate, when we expose our inner-most vulnerabilities, it’s “a pleasing fragrance before God”—a gift to Him.

Exhibit B:
Exodus 35:22—“All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the LORD.” (NIV)

Precious gold, beautiful ornamentation. I’m sure the Israelites liked their bling as much as we do. And yet they were willing to give it up in a wave offering. What precious blessing has the Lord has given you that you can now give back to Him? And let me just say right here that if you feel you have nothing to offer, you couldn't be more wrong. You just haven't discovered what it is yet. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” If you’re unclear as to what your gift is, perhaps a spiritual inventory (see Application below) can help you identify it.

So what CAN you wave before Him that’s as precious to him as pure gold? Do you inspire others? Are you good at listening and showing mercy? Can you provide a kind word to a worn-out sales clerk or a shout of praise in the midst of the mundane? All of those are precious offerings in the Lord’s sight.

Then there’s Exhibit C:
Leviticus 8:27-28— “He put all these in the hands of Aaron and his sons and waved them before the LORD as a wave offering. Then Moses took them from their hands and burned them on the altar on top of the burnt offering as an ordination offering, a pleasing aroma, an offering made to the LORD by fire.” (NIV)

In many of the wave offering references, the waving of the sacrifice preceded placing it in the fire. First, wave. Second, fire. I can’t help but see a parallel with our sacrifices too. First we wave in acknowledgement that He is sovereign, He is worthy, He is our Redeemer who has our best interests at heart, then his Holy fire lights us into action…

Check it out—Exhibit D:
Numbers 8:11—“Aaron is to present the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the Israelites, so that they may be ready to do the work of the LORD.” (NIV) Mmm Hmm! Moving into action! Are you ready to do the work of the Lord?

What we learn from the detailed offering descriptions is that when they were presented according to God’s plan and with pure hearts, they were pleasing and fragrant sacrifices to the Lord. It’s no different for us. So the question is, what can you offer Him? What can we all, as the corporate body of Christ, offer Him? Let’s submit our very best and join together for a unified, colossal wave offering to our Father.

Father God, You tell us in Hosea 6:6 that You “desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Thank you for that! And yet You still offer glimpses about your will for us today in reading about the offerings of our Old Testament brothers and sisters. Thank you for allowing us to come straight to you with the offerings we bring. May they be pleasing to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

If you’re already offering your gifts to God, press on, Sister! But if you’re unclear about what your gifts and talents are, click to do an on-line spiritual gifts inventory (or google "spiritual gifts test" for lots of other choices). Pray that God will direct you in how to serve Him.

Power Verses:
Re-read the above verses and meditate on how they relate today for you under the New Covenant.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Comparatively Speaking...

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse:
John 3:27, “And John replied, ‘God in heaven appoints each person’s work.’”(NLT)

It is so hard not to compare ourselves with others, isn’t it? The enemy can certainly use it to undermine our confidence in the Lord when we play the comparison game. After all, there will always be someone smarter, someone prettier, someone with more influence, someone who’s richer, someone who has more talent, someone who has better toys, someone who’s more patient, someone who knows more Bible…the list could go on and on. If we continually see how we stack up, we’ll continually see that we don’t.

The disciples of John the Baptist found themselves playing the comparison game, too. In John 3:26, they approach John with this issue: “Teacher, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you said was the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going over there instead of coming here to us.”

I find the last two words of their complaint very telling; “to us” indicates a focus on themselves, as if they were being cheated of something because people were now gravitating towards Jesus. It doesn’t sound so much like they were concerned for the people’s benefit as much as their own decline in popularity.

But John knew his role, his purpose in the Father’s will. He responds to his disciples that he never claimed to be the Messiah, and that he was there to “prepare the way for him—that is all” (v. 27-28).

Imagine how his followers felt upon hearing that. The one they’d followed, put their stock and reputation in, was now saying there was someone else more worthy of following! I can just see the factions dividing now! Some remained loyal to John, some washed their hands entirely of the whole business and may have even lost faith, but some took to heart the words of John and began to take on the cause of Christ. From John-ian to Christ-ian—not easy, for sure, but nothing worth having ever is, is it?

John continues in verses 29-30: “The bride will go where the bridegroom is. A bridegroom’s friend rejoices with him. I am the bridegroom’s friend, and I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”

It’s worth noting that John’s ministry didn’t stop there. People still needed him to point the way to Christ. I can see folks coming to him, talking with him, looking for direction, and John telling them about Jesus.

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”

We’ve heard the cliché dozens of times—It’s not about us! We agree in theory and claim to believe it, but boy is it easy to get off track. Our ministries become so ingrained in who we are, that we start to think who WE are is what’s driving the ministry. And then because we’re human, comparisons set in. Then insecurity. Then frustration. Then the enemy can have a real field day.

But when we follow John’s example and make pointing the way to Jesus our over-riding goal, does it really matter what “the numbers” look like? If we’ve been faithful in answering a call, and we trust the Lord that He has us there for a reason, then we rejoice over the success of others. It’s all for the extension of the Kingdom, right?

Confession: See, the reason I’m serving up this particular lesson is because it was recently served to me. A woman I met at a conference in ’06 has just had her first book published, and has signed a contract to do two more. This woman was in a peer editing group with me and had never written before. But I encouraged her, gave her some suggestions, and went away happy I met such neat new friend.

But later, when I found out she’d been signed by the same agent who’d expressed no interest in me, I’m sorry to say that I did not rejoice in her success. Jealousy (read: comparison!) set in with a fury. In fact, I threw quite a little fit for a few minutes and had some words with God. I knew it was wrong, but I just had to get it out of my system, ya know? Then, ashamed, I gave it over to Him, asked Him to forgive and correct me, and to accept that He alone appoints each person’s work. That was a year ago.

Girls, when I gave that over to Him, it was permanent and freeing. I am truly happy for her now and blessed that I was able to encourage her and that we’ve kept in touch. She just emailed me last week about her first book signing and now I can’t wait to buy her book because it deals with neck and back pain and how to heal our temples. And you know what’s also cool? She's seeking my advice about blogging! (That cracks me up!)

What a lesson! Less of me and more of Him equals peace, extension of the Kingdom, and blessing. John’s disciples were comparing their ministry to Jesus’ ministry, resulting in selfish concern (I mean, who can stack up to THAT?). I was comparing my writing ministry to my author friend’s, and the immediate result was also selfish concern. But as John encouraged his followers to rejoice in the success of Jesus’ ministry, the Lord encouraged me to do the same with my friend. Not only has He equipped me to do that, but in hearing how frenzied and busy she is right now, I don’t envy her one iota! God knew I’m not ready for that.

John knew his appointment and gladly accepted it. And he compared himself to the only One worthy of comparison. Let’s resolve to do the same—less of us, more of Him.

Father, we ask You to help us be joyful and satisfied in our appointments. We need Your continual help in not comparing ourselves to others and staying focused on You, reflecting Your joy for others’ successes. Decrease us, Lord, so that You may increase. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

In what areas of your life do you find yourself making comparisons with others? What has resulted from that? Resolve to turn every comparison over to God. Ask Him to clarify your appointment and to help you keep focused on the path marked out for you.

Power Verses:
Psalm 86:8, “Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours.” (NIV)
2 Corinthians 10:12, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”(NIV)
Matthew 3:11, "I'm baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I'm a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He's going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned."(MSG)

Friday, January 4, 2008

2008--Your Year of Jubilee?

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse: Leviticus 25:11, “Yes, the fiftieth year will be a jubilee for you…” (NLT).

I love that many of the Old Testament rituals and regulations, which often seem so strange to us, seem to illustrate a parallel spiritual lesson for us under the New Testament covenant. Take, for example, the Year of Jubilee as detailed in Leviticus. God declared that every 50th year would be set apart as holy, when each Hebrew would be restored his true inheritance and freedom.

One on-line source explains it this way:

Like the day of Pentecost, the year of jubilee is a sabbath of sabbaths. It is a special year among special years. Its climax was the great Day of Atonement. What happened then on this momentous once-in-a-lifetime occasion? Trumpets were sounded throughout the land of Israel, and 2 amazing things took place.

1) All Hebrews slaves were set free.
2) All land returned to its original owner or owner's family.

We cannot understand the full impact of this without knowing its historical background. For more than 80 years before the Exodus, the Israelites had been slaves in the land of Egypt, without freedom and without possessions. When they reached the land of Canaan, Joshua divided the land among their tribes and their families, so that each had his own inheritance. Every adult male among them became a land owner. This land was a permanent possession that could never depart from his family. If a man became poor he could sell part or all of his land, but only temporarily. It would always revert to him or his descendants at the year of jubilee. If he became even poorer and was unable to pay his debts, he could sell himself into slavery, and work to pay off his debts. Again that slavery could only ever be temporary. When the great Day of Atonement in the year of jubilee came he became a free man once again and repossessed his inheritance.

Can you imagine the rejoicing? And what’s so cool for us under the New Covenant is that we no longer have to wait for the next 50 year mark in order to claim our inheritance, Amen? God made us His children, ensuring our freedom and inheritance, when we accepted His Son as Lord and Savior.

Still, we can make some interesting comparisons between the OT Israelites and ourselves. First, the literal slavery of some Hebrews—being owned by someone and serving them—is not an issue we can relate to directly. But we are enslaved by sin when we let our guard down. Maybe we’re instead “owned” by debt, depression, pride, or illness.

Further, where the OT property sellers had forsaken family property, we may instead lose our territory or sphere of influence by “selling out” to the world. Maybe we’ve “sold off” bits of our territory by compromising our beliefs or squandering opportunities.

But in both cases God provided redemption and reinstatement as His children. Under the Old Covenant it was through the Year of Jubilee. And Sister, His redemptive power is still at work under the New Covenant…and we don’t even have to wait for a specific year to claim it!

We can have our freedom and rightful inheritance restored through our acceptance of the One perfect sacrifice for the rest of all time—Jesus! When we truly give our lives over to Him, well now—that’s cause for celebration. That’s cause for Jubilation!

God originally ordained the Year of Jubilee so that His chosen people would inherit what was rightfully theirs, even if they’d messed up somewhere along the way. He wants that for you too, Friend. Claim 2008 (and every year hereafter) as your Year of Jubilee.

Father, your redemptive power is so vital for your people that you even built it into the calendar! Thank you! Without that grace, we would all lose our rightful inheritance as your children. Impress upon us, Lord, the importance of setting aside holy time to reclaim what’s ours. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

If you need to make 2008 your Year of Jubilee, ask the Lord to come into your heart and renew your commitment to Him. Make a New Year’s resolution (starting today is okay!) to daily set apart holy time—time dedicated to growing closer to God through His Word—and ask some friends to hold you accountable.

Power Verses:
Leviticus 25:10, “This year will be set apart as holy, a time to proclaim release for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you returns to the lands that belonged to your ancestors and rejoins your clan.” (NLT)
Exodus 15:17, “You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance— the place, O LORD, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established.” (NIV)
2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (NIV)