Friday, August 29, 2008

It's Our First Anniversary!

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse: 1 Chronicles 16:24, “Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.” (NLT)

Happy Anniversary, Olive Branch! In August of last year, the Women’s Ministry at First Christian Church took this week’s verse to heart and launched a blog dedicated to “publishing his glorious deeds.” We can’t let the occasion pass without giving God major praise and thanks for all He’s accomplished through it.

Sara B. sums it up very nicely with the following:

It's really been 1 year??!! How incredible is that! To God be the Glory!

I can't think of a single devotion from the Olive Branch that hasn't been a blessing to me. It's comforting to know that we all experience so many of the same things. The details may be different, but the challenges are similar. It's so helpful in gaining perspective when someone else has shared their experience. I love being a part of the Body of Christ!

I'm excited to see the new devotion each Monday morning in my email in box. What a great way to start the week. I love it that we get to know the hearts of our sisters in Christ through their words.

I hope that more of our sisters will take a leap of faith to write a devotion. We have a safe place for any one of us to express how God has worked through our lives.

God has blessed us so much! I can’t wait to see what He has in store for us!

As Sara mentioned, we began emailing the devotions at the beginning of ’08. They’re still posted on the blog every Friday, and then emailed out Sunday evenings so that you’re greeted with them Monday morning. We currently have 80 ladies on the email list and welcome more.

I would personally like to give major props to our devotion writers. Besides myself, Sara Boyer, Karen Keim, Bethany Lashbrook, Marsha Loftis, Missy Milbourn, and Stephanie Neibarger also shared in obedience what God had placed on their beautiful hearts. Thank you, Sistas! Thanks for using your talents for the kingdom!

Also as Sara mentioned, we would love to see our team of writers expand. Many of you have experienced wonderful God stories that need to be told. As we look to the year ahead, please pray about whether God may be calling you—yes, YOU!—to share your own devotions on the blog. If he is, just email us. We may even offer a one or two-time “class” on how to write your story if there’s interest. God wants His great works told.

It has been a great first year! Please join us in praying that in the blog’s second year, more and more lives are touched and encouraged by what they find here.

Father God, your faithfulness astounds us. Thank you for a platform from which we can share You and Your glorious works. We ask your continued blessing on this blog and the devotions, that as we embark on our second year, You use it to bless the women who need it. Your word never comes back void, so we thank you in advance. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application: Go to the archives on the right-hand side of the blog and click through past devotions. It’s so neat to go back and see—not only through the devotions, but also through the comments—the glorious things God has done over the past year.

Power Verses:
Isaiah 45:25
, “In the Lord all the generations of Israel will be justified, and in him they will boast.”(NLT)
Philippians 4:4, “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!”(MSG)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Infinite Word, Personal Savior

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse: John 1:1-4, “In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God. He was in the beginning with God. He created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn’t make. Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone.” (NLT)

Make no mistake—there is no greater authority than Jesus Christ, the Word, who existed with God before He created a single thing. When the apostle John established this “bigger than we can imagine” aspect of our Lord at the beginning of his gospel, he was leading up to the ultimate irony: that so many who were eagerly awaiting their Savior did not accept him when he came. The Word made flesh was even rejected by many of His own people.

On a much smaller scale, that’s like saying, “Tom, I’ll pass on the Mercedes so that I can see what’s behind door number two.” And behind door number two is a toaster.

It’s like brushing off a child’s sweet curiosity with an abrupt “Um hmm” because you’re busy checking email.

It’s like missing the majestic splendor of a vivid winter sunset because the guy in the car in front of yours isn’t driving fast enough.

It’s about the sting of missed opportunity, missed blessing. We don’t want to miss a thing, do we? There’s never been anyone like Jesus and there never will be again. God sent His Son to earth once for all time and for every sin.

All you have to do is accept Him. Accept Him as your Savior, yes. But far beyond that, accept Him into every minute of your life—submitting each one to His awesome, eternal authority—as His true child.

Lord, I confess that I often overlook your infinite awe-inspiring “big-ness”—maybe in part because it’s difficult for me to fully grasp. Instill in us a deeper sense of wonder as we discover new aspects of your divine nature in our daily, sometimes ho-hum lives. We don’t want to miss a single opportunity that you have for us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application: Read John 1:1-14 and try to wrap your mind around the infinite depth and wonder of The Word made flesh. He’s so much more than we often allow Him to be. Is there anything He doesn’t see? Is there anything that He can’t handle?

Power Verses:
John 1: 14
, “So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.” (NLT)
Mark 6:4-5, “Jesus told them, ‘A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child.’ Jesus wasn't able to do much of anything there—he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that's all. He couldn't get over their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages, teaching.” (MSG)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Body of Christ

by Sara Boyer

This Week’s Verse: Romans 12:5, “…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (NIV)

Recently my father-in-law, Jim Boyer, passed away. He was an incredible man. He was gifted, loving and one of the most compassionate people I have ever met. He loved Jesus and served Him. When he was in the hospital, we called out to our church family and friends for prayer. They answered, as they always do. People came to the hospital to see us, feed us, pray with us and encourage us. After he passed away, we were showered with love. We were lifted up and our burden was lighter because our church family shared it with us.

The outpouring of love we received overwhelmed some family members. They had never experienced people truly being the hands and feet of Jesus. It was an awesome witness for who Jesus really is and what it means to follow Him.

It was brought to my attention that there are people we sit next to on Sunday morning that have never experienced that kind of love. There are people who are part of our family that we don’t know. Either we have been so wrapped up in our own little world that we haven’t seen them, or they have isolated themselves from the body. There are people that are hurting and we have no idea that they are in pain. There are people who are wandering in the wilderness and want desperately to ask someone for directions. There are some people who simply need a hug.

If you are someone who is going through Sunday morning with blinders on, take them off. See the beautiful family that surrounds you and reach out a loving hand. If you are one who is hurting, don’t sit quietly! Ask someone to pray for you and with you. These connections are vital! Share your triumphs and your tragedies with your family! Take off the mask and let us see you for who you really are and know that you’re are loved. There are none of us without blemishes and scars from our past. Let us pray together, let us lavish His love on each other and let us praise and worship our Abba Father together.

Abba Father, Thank you so much for our church family. You have gifted each of us to be a vital part of the body. We know that your plan is perfect and we are so blessed when we live in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us embrace each other with the love and compassion that you have taught us. Amen.

Get involved. If you don’t belong to a small group or a ministry team, choose one and get started. It is so important to make connections with your church family.
If you have a burden, ask a pastor, elder, deacon, or Sunday school teacher to pray with you.
Send a card or email of encouragement to a brother or sister. Reach out to someone that you have known and also a new member or guest to the church.

Power Verses:
1 Corinthians 12:26
, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all of the parts are glad.”
Philippians 1:3, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”
Ephesians 4:3-6, “Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lore, one Faith, one Baptism, and only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.”

Friday, August 8, 2008

Confident Dependence

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse: Hosea 13:6, “…always live in confident dependence on your God.” (NLT)

Remember that team-building exercise that was all the rage for awhile at everything from corporate workshops to summer camps? You know the one—members of small groups were asked to take turns falling backwards into the arms of the others in their group. The purpose was to address trust issues, thereby fostering more cohesiveness and unity within the group.

Though I was never asked to participate in that experience myself, any time I’d heard others talk about it I always wondered what the big deal was. I thought about the people I’ve worked with, played with, lived with, worshiped with, and generally “done life” with, and I don’t think I’d hesitate for a second to fall back, trusting them to catch me. (Hmm…maybe I’m TOO trusting?!)

But what I realized is that even though I might fully trust them to not let me hit the ground during a pre-planned, artificial scenario, I may have trouble trusting them not to let me down in real life. Can I really trust so-and-so to get such-and-such to me by that deadline? Will so- and-so convey the message in as detailed a manner as necessary? Are the kids going to remember to feed and water the dog as they promised? It’s those kinds of areas where I have trust issues. I guess I question others’ follow-through.

But you know who always follows through? I mean, always? I’ll drop a few hints—he’s crazy in love with you. He sings and dances over you. He desires to spend forever with you so much that he became flesh so he could die for you, but he’s such a gentleman that he leaves the decision up to you. If you choose him, he works miracles in your life whether or not you realize how perfect they are for you at that moment.

Now that’s someone we can trust. I loved the phrase from this week’s verse the moment I read it. Confident dependence on God…that’s what I want to always have. I want to wholly depend on him and be 100% confident that He’ll come through. I believe it in my head, but when it gets down to the daily ins and outs of life, do I live it out from my core? Do you?

Let’s depend on God with such confidence that we don’t hesitate for a millisecond to fall back into His big arms. He’ll never let us crash when we do.

Father, sometimes it’s just so tough to trust your timing or accept your will and yet you always follow through with mercy and grace when we ask you to. Help us to trust in full confidence that we can depend on you for everything that’s best for us, when it’s best for us. Help us to confidently depend on You. By all the authority in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Whether it’s falling backward, taking a leap of faith (off a cliff, sometimes!), or running hard, trusting God fully usually requires some action on our part. What steps have you taken recently to put your faith into action? What steps do you need to take to show God you’re confidently depending on Him in a certain situation?

Power Verses:
2 Timothy 1:7
, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (NLT)
James 5:11, “…From his [Job’s] experience we see how the Lord’s plan finally ended in good, for he is full of tenderness and mercy.” (NLT)
Psalm 44:3, “They did not conquer the land with their swords; It was not their own strength that gave them victory. It was by your mighty power that they succeed; It was because you favored them and smiled on them.” (NLT)

Friday, August 1, 2008

O Jealous Heart

by Marsha Loftis

This Week's Verse: Psalm 18:2, "The Lord is my rock, my protection, my Savior. My God is my rock. I can run to Him for safety. He is my shield, my saving strength, my defender." (NCV)

I recently attended funeral services for a wonderful man. A man that will be missed terribly by his family and friends. I know, because although we were not that close, his life made an impact on my daughter, and about a thousand other people. I sat in the service, listening to the pastor speak of what a great man he was, a good husband and dad, and an exemplary grandfather. He promised that this was not "Goodbye," just "See ya later." He reassured the family, each one by name, that they would see their loved one again.

This was all overwhelming for me. There were so many people! So, much loss, loss of years and events and time and many, many tears shed. At one time or another, I tend to wonder if I am truly a Christian. This was one of those times, albeit a bad time, but there I was... thinking. I always think I could do more, know more, pray more, live more, be more thankful, more patient, more obedient, listen more... MORE, MORE, MORE! I was clearly only present in body, not in mind. Then I heard the pastor say, "...'cause there's Someone on the other side standing there, with outstretched arms, saying, 'Welcome home'."

There, sitting between the two most important people in my earthly life, I felt the tears begin to tumble. I wept. Oh, I was sad, I was feeling loss, thinking about what a great man he was, and thinking about what a horrible person I can be, but more than anything I cried because I was jealous! He got to go home and I didn't! He's being welcomed into Jesus' arms right now and I'm not! He's not feeing anymore pain and I still have to face.... tomorrow!

Now this was not me; this was not rational, not 'normal' for me at all! I'm scared of dying! I don't want to leave this place, this life, this child, my mom...! I'm not done here! There's too much left for me to do, to say, to teach, to fix, to create, to love... I'M NOT READY. But there I was, sitting between my precious daughter, and my beloved mother thinking, I wanna go home! Oh, I've heard it before, "This place is not your home, it's only temporary." But my earthly ties are strong... or should I say, were strong. I think this is the first time in my life I've felt like a "true Christian." Or a term I like a little better, "Christ follower." I know Jesus. I believe that He died for me. I believing He's coming back. But, NOW, I'm actually looking forward to it!

Although we were not close here on earth, I will see Big Bill again, for we are truly brother and sister in Christ. I get to tell him that he not only made an impact on others with his life, he did in his death as well. Had I not been at his funeral, I would probably still be living for the dot and not the line.

Father God, help me to not have a jealous heart for I know that You are with me. I pray that Your Holy Spirit will continue to guide me through this earthly life and will set my heart on course so that I may live for the eternal and not the temporal. Help me to know and to teach and to live as though this is not my home. I can't wait to see Your outstretched arms! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

I know it's hard to think of leaving loved ones behind, even harder to let them go. If there's anyone that you aren't sure that you will see on the other side, start praying now, if you haven’t already. That's what I'm going to do! Pray for courage to approach them, and hearts that will receive the most important thing you can ever pass on. More than morals, and a good work ethic, more than being kind and appreciative. THIS is your legacy. If you are the legacy, pray that those who are lost will somehow find their way home!

Power Verses:
2 Samuel 14:14, "All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead He devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from Him." (NLT)

1 Thes. 4:13, "First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word...Archangel thunder! God's trumpet blast! He'll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise... Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master... then there will be a huge family reunion." (MSG)

1 Thes. 5:4 & 9, “But friends, you're not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard in any of this? You're sons of Light and daughters of Day… He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we're awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we're alive with Him!" (MSG)

Psalm 18:30, "As for God, His way is perfect! The word of the Lord is tested and tried; He is a shield to all those who take refuge and put their trust in Him." (AMP)