Friday, April 25, 2008

Pay It Forward

by Stephanie Neibarger

This Week’s Verse: Philippians 2:3-5, "Don't be selfish; don't live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don't think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing. Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had." (NLT)

I started reading Joel Osteen’s book Your Best Life Now book about four years ago. I got about two-thirds of the way through it and then stored it neatly on my bookshelf along with my other innumerable collection of “How to be a Better Christian” type books!! (Gee – if I would only read them!!) It wasn’t until this past week that I decided to pick it up again. This is the part where I had left off: [I paraphrased some of it to condense the writing.]
In Jesus life, you may recall that He always took time for people. He was never too busy with His own plans. He wasn’t caught up in Himself that He was unwilling to stop and help a person in need. He could have easily been distracted by His own situations and made excuses that He was too busy, but He didn’t. He had compassion on people. He was concerned about what others were going through. He willingly took the time to stop and listen and help others with their problems, no matter what else He may have had going on.
Most of the time I stayed focus on my own struggles and more or less ‘kept my nose in my own backyard’. I wasn’t very compassionate towards others or what they were going through. Jesus did not focus on his own struggles. Even when he was rejected, persecuted and shamed, He still showed compassion for others. The late Keith Green’s song ‘Make My Life a Prayer’ has a line it in that speaks volumes: “It’s so hard to see when my eyes are on me.”

In the story of Ruth from the Old Testament, her eyes were not on herself. She had compassion on her mother-in-law, Naomi. Both were widows and Ruth was determined to stay with Naomi and care for her. By this devotion and unselfishness, God blessed Ruth. (For more details, go to the book of Ruth in the Old Testament.)

In today’s world we seem to do for others just so we can get something in return, whether it’s the notoriety of our actions or something more tangible. Ruth knew Naomi could not offer her anything in return. She did it out of mere love and unselfishness.

There was a movie made a few years ago that focused on meeting the needs of others. It was called Pay It Forward--hence the title of this devotion. It was about a boy who had a school project to do and he decided his project would be to do good for others and all they had to do in return was to do good for someone else. I love the old adage that states: “What goes around comes around”. In good or bad cases, I firmly believe that to be true. If you want good to come back around to you, go do good for someone else.

Don’t you think it’s time we start being more like Jesus? We need to stop focusing on our own problems and start having more compassion for others. When we care for others and their problems we demonstrate the love Jesus showed to others.

Father, thank You for the many gifts You have blessed us with. Help us to use these gifts to be a blessing to others. May we always think of others as better than ourselves. May we earnestly seek to help others who are in need, whether it be tangible gifts or just our love and support. May we continue to be an example for You. In Jesus name, Amen.

You may be thinking that your problems are so big there’s no way I can help someone else. How do you know what others are going through? Or that your problems are bigger than theirs? Or you may be thinking I am so busy I can barely do the things I need to get done. If you will focus on meeting the needs of others, God will make sure your needs are met.

James 2:14-17 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, what's the use of saying you have faith if you don't prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can't save anyone. Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, "Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well"—but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, it isn't enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn't show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless.” (NLT)

To that end, identify one person whose needs you can meet. Step out in faith to meet it.

Power Verses:
Matthew 25:40, “Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'” (MSG)
2 Cor. 9:8, "God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others." (CEV)
Proverbs 11:24-25, "It is possible to give freely and become more wealthy, but those who are stingy will lose everything. The generous prosper and are satisfied; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed." (NLT)
Luke 6:38, “If you give to others, you will be given a full amount in return. It will be packed down, shaken together, and spilling over into your lap. The way you treat others is the way you will be treated.” (CEV)
Eccles. 11:1, "Be generous, and someday you will be rewarded." (CEV)

I wrote this devotion last week but was told it would be posted this week instead since last week's devotion was already written and ready to go. Then as I was listening to John’s sermon on Sunday, I thought how ‘crafty’ God is because his sermon was related to what this one's about. If you would like to listen to John’s sermon you can go

Friday, April 18, 2008

Shock and Awe

By Marsha Loftis

This Week’s Verse:
Hebrews 10:19-25, “So, friends, we can now-- without hesitation--walk right up to God, into the ‘Holy Place.’ Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice…Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” (MSG)

"Shock and Awe"...If you’re like me when you hear those two words together you think of three things. George Bush, Iraq, and The War. The people of Iraq were supposed to be surprised that we were there and in fear and wonder of the power of our troops.

Lately, like after a Wednesday night class on Preparing My Heart for Easter, those words have a different meaning. Now when I think or hear them, I wonder about the ‘Shock and Awe’ that two women experienced over two thousand years ago! When upon arrival at the tomb, where they had buried the Lord, the stone had been rolled away! They were definitely surprised! When Mary saw the angels, I’m sure she knelt in fear and wonder of the things she saw. They knew he was the Messiah. We know he told them he would rise again. We know that Jesus told his followers that “where two or three are gathered together in his name He would be there.” I wonder why, then, were the two Mary’s so surprised when they saw Jesus? They were there for Him, gathered together to finish the burial process. Mary even told “the Gardener” that they had taken “her Master.” They knew He was returning to them…one day, yet they were still surprised when He showed up!

I don't ever want to take my relationship with Jesus for granted, but I certainly don't want to be surprised when I feel His presence. After all, I've asked Him to be with me in all things, all situations. Parenting, finances, social gatherings, work... Feeling God's presence is an awe-inspiring, beautiful thing. Something to forever be grateful and thankful for, but not something to be shocked by.

I was at a friend’s house for lunch the other day, and she said the blessing, in His name. I spoke of the gifts He has given us. We were there in the name of friendship, fellowship, and in His name. I know He was there with us! Blessing the time we spent together and the love shared between two friends in Christ. When we gather to pray for others, we don't have to wonder if He hears us, it's promised! When we gather to worship, He is there!

I don’t want to ever be in shock that Jesus is there with me. I want it to be commonplace, natural, “everydayish”… But I will always be in awe of Him and His goodness and mercy.

Father God, help me to know that You are always there with me and to never be surprised when you show up! I know that, one day, You will return to me just like you did to the two Mary’s. Help me to be ready to be awed by You! May we know the comfort of having You near us at all times. Thank you for sending Your Son so this relationship and fellowship with You becomes a way of life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Talk to God. I know. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But how often do we really do it? Not some scripted, elaborate prayer, just talk to Him. He’s waiting and listening. Ask Him to accompany you everywhere you go. Lord, be with me at church so that I may not only be blessed, but that I may be a blessing to others. Lord, be with me when the kids come home from school so I don’t lose my temper when they have ruined the third pair of shoes this year. Lord, be with me when I go to work so I can be a bright, shining light for You instead of the pinlight I’ve been lately. Lord, be with me when my husband comes in and let me lift Him up and not tear him down so that he may lead our family in Your name. Lord, be with me at the store, so I don’t spend too much money on things I don’t need.

Be aware of His presence in your life and never be shocked when He shows up!

Power Verses:
Matthew 18:20
, “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” (NIV)
James 4:8, “Come near to God and He will come near to you…” (NIV)
Hebrews 12:28-29, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (NIV)
Acts 1:11, “Jesus has been taken into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go.”
Psalm 145:13, “The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving to all he has made.”
Mark 14:62, “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at he right hand of the Mighty one and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (NIV)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sweet Justice

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse:
James 2:26, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (NKJV)

This past week I have been riveted by the story of the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, where over 500 women and children have been removed under allegations of abuse by the men in the sect. My heart breaks as I read and see accounts of the isolation and injustice that went on behind the walls of the secluded community. But my admiration goes out to the courageous 16-year-old girl who was brave enough to risk her life and make that pivotal phone call to “the outside” to gain her freedom from a life of hell.

As of this writing, authorities still have not determined the identity of the girl who made that call. But I know this about her...She knew something was horribly wrong in her world and she knew it was worth whatever risk she had to take to right that wrong.

Though facing entirely different circumstances, this anonymous heroine reminds me of Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law, from Genesis 38. They’re both strong ladies who took action to end injustice.

Let’s recap Tamar’s story…

Dad Judah finds a great wife for Son #1 in Tamar. But Son #1 was wicked, so God smote him. According to Jewish law at the time, Son #2 steps up to the plate to give Tamar children, the first of which would be an heir to Son #1. Son #2 didn't like the idea of providing offspring for his deceased bro, so he...well, the first recorded method of birth control, check out Genesis 38:9.... Yep, that's what he did and the Lord didn't like it. So He smote him too.

Don't you wonder what poor Tamar was thinking at this point? Was she somewhat relieved that two evil husbands were in her rear view mirror? Was she beginning to think something was wrong with her? Was she already thinking the third time might be the charm?

Turns out it didn't matter. Yes, there was Son #3, but Judah, having lost two other sons, told Tamar to return to her parents' home and remain a widow until Shelah (son #3) was old enough to marry. She did. But Judah had no intention of letting her marry his youngest son—hadn't he already lost two sons who just happened to be married to her when they died?

Time passes, Judah's wife dies, and Shelah is of an age to marry. Tamar is aware of this, probably waiting in anticipation to be called back into Judah's house, but she doesn't hear spit. By this time she has to be sick and tired of the waiting. Tired of passers by whispering, “There's poor Tamar, a widow twice over and still no children to show for it.” Tired of being a burden to her family and tired of not having what under Jewish law was rightfully hers—another husband and heirs. I wonder if her heart cried out to God in the night as she asked Him to help her find justice.

Tamar hears that her father-in-law will be passing through town and jumps at this opportunity to square things up. She poses undercover as a prostitute and do you know that ol' Judah propositioned her?! For payment of her services, our smart Tamar asks for his seal, cord, and walking stick as collateral for a goat he'd send later.

When word is brought to Judah several months later that his daughter-in-law is pregnant as a result of prostitution, he's furious and orders her burned. But Tamar sends back this zinger: “The man who owns this identification seal and walking stick is the father of my child. Do you recognize them?” (v. 25)

BUSTED! Judah acknowledged he'd wronged Tamar in not keeping his promise and Tamar was subsequently blessed with not just one baby, but twins, one of whom was Perez, mentioned along with his mother in the lineage of none other than Jesus Christ. Tamar, who had been unjustly denied any children and who acted out in a huge leap of faith, was blessed by God beyond her wildest dreams by being included in the bloodline of our Savior!

Have you ever been so desperate for justice that you were willing to do whatever you had to do to obtain it? Maybe that's where you are now, on the brink of taking a big breath, shaping up a plan with God's full authority, and in faith, plunging in. The brave action of an anonymous 16-year-old secured not only her own rescue, but also the freedom of the women and children in the entire compound! Tamar's faith in action produced a lineage that saved us all from sin! And with God on your side, what will your faith in action do?

Father, thank You that You love justice. Thank You for providing it for those who have been wronged if only they come to You in faith, seek Your will, and then put that faith into action. We ask you to fulfill Your promise to set captives free. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Where has injustice kept you from claiming what is rightfully yours? In Tamar's case and also in the recent case of the polygamous compound, it was people breaking the law that imposed injustice on others. But the biggest enemy of all can also infringe upon our rights as heirs of God. After praying and searching the Word, what are some tangible actions you can take to see that justice is met? (And no, I'm NOT suggesting prostitution! LOL!)

Power Verses:
Psalm 37:28
, “For the Lord loves justice, and he will never abandon the godly. He will keep them safe forever, but the children of the wicked will die.” (NLT)
Psalm 105:7, “He is the Lord our God. His justice is seen throughout the land.” (NLT)
Isaiah 30:18, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”(NIV)
Matthew 5:6, “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” (NLT)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Letting Go to Hold On

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: Matthew 19:22, “That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crest-fallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn't bear to let go.” (MSG)

I caught myself doing something kind of weird this morning. We were smack in the middle of the morning rush and I had about seven different things on my mind. The girls were supposed to have soccer practice at 4:30, but with rain in the forecast I didn’t know if they really would or not. I saw my cell phone and their coach’s phone number laying on the counter, reminding me that I really needed to store his number in my phone in case I needed it at work to confirm a practice cancellation. I’d been intending to do it for over a week and still hadn’t gotten it done.

I picked up my phone and the slip of paper as I made a quick trip over to the window to see if the bus was coming. I figured I could add the number to my contacts while stealing peeks outside. Just then one of the kids “mommed” me and I was headed back to help with a task in the kitchen. As you all task leads to another, and another, many at the same time. Finally, about ten minutes later, I waved good-by as the kiddos walked down the lane. (YES! We beat the bus today!) As I shut the door behind me, sighing in the aftermath of the whirlwind, I realized I was still clutching the phone in my hand and had been the whole time!

As I rewound the last several minutes through my mind I thought to myself, what a complete goober! How much easier it would’ve been to butter toast, pour a drink, help with coats, zip up backpacks, and snap some pants if I’d had full use of BOTH hands! If I’d let go of that one thing, I’d have been more efficient at all the other things.

I’ve seen the same truth in our spiritual lives too. We sometimes hold on to things that keep us from reaching our full potential in Christ.

I recently heard someone say that when it seems that God is pulling something out of your grasp, he’s only freeing up your hand to fill it with something better. But if we're clinging tightly to pride, or control, or revenge, or fear, or the newest “answer,”or bitterness, or any other thing not of God, we're crippling our efforts for Him and His purpose in our lives. Or worse, like the rich young man in this week's verse, we might be denying ourselves of His very presence in our lives.

Ouch. I want to be more like the “good seed” of Luke 8:15, “But the seed in the good earth—these are the good-hearts who seize the Word and hold on no matter what, sticking with it until there's a harvest.” (MSG)

As I tried to figure out why in the world I didn't just put the phone down, I realized it was probably because I knew if I did, in my limited human-ness, I'd forget to enter that phone number in all the hub-bub of activity. But when we lay something down before our Heavenly Father we don't have to rely on our own very limited natural power. That's the perfect opportunity to use that empty hand to cling to His amazing supernatural power and just wait in faith to see what miracle He does with it.

Amazing Lord, are you ever just astonished at the way we tend to make things harder than they have to be? There You are, just waiting to bless us with something better, if only we'll let go of what hinders us. Help us to do that, Father, and give us the faith to expect you to replace what we've given up with something infinitely superior. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

L-E-T- G-O
of whatever is compromising your walk with God...
LLay it down. Identify one crippling factor in living your life for the Lord. Surrender it to Him in repentant prayer.
EExpect His supernatural intervention and fulfillment of His promise in Psalm 91 (see power verse below).
TThank Him in advance for working mightily and Tell others of how He fills your empty hand.

GGrab onto the hem of His garment daily and Go to His Word for your daily bread to sustain yourself.
OObey His promptings to continue receiving the blessings that result from letting go.

Power Verses:
Mark 7:8, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." (NIV)
Hebrews 6:18, “We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go...”(MSG)
Deuteronomy 13:4, “Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him.”(NLT)
Psalm 91:14, "If you'll hold on to me for dear life," says God, "I'll get you out of any trouble. I'll give you the best of care if you'll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I'll answer, be at your side in bad times; I'll rescue you, then throw you a party. I'll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!"(MSG)
1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (NIV)