Friday, December 26, 2008

His Presence

by Bethany Lashbrook

This Weeks Verse: Luke 11:13, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"(NIV)

Did you have that one gift that you asked for this Christmas season? I sure did! And, knowing my family, I received it from someone; if not my husband, then my mom. My oldest daughter knew exactly what she wanted! My greatest joy of the season will be watching my two children excitedly open that ONE gift they just HAD to have. This, to me is the greatest “earthly” joy of the season.

Like many other women, I live for my Lord, and I live for my husband, and I live for my children. So it goes without saying that nothing on this earth is comparable to me making them happy. I get an overall contentment knowing that I gave them something they needed. Sure, I give them love every day, but it’s not every day you get love and a present under a Christmas tree!

Unfortunately, many presents opened this season will soon end up in the bottom of the toy box. But as for God’s present – it lasts for an eternity! And for the first time this morning, reading a daily devotion, I felt God get excited about me opening his present! I realize that God gave us a gift when He gave us His son wrapped in swaddling cloths in that manger the first Christmas morning. But, He also gave us the present of the Holy Spirit. This way we are never, ever alone. We never have to face a challenge or a disaster without Him.

Each time we listen to Him, we are using His gift, His offering to us. And not only are we using it, but He is getting excited about it! God – gets excited about me! Say that out loud. God – gets excited about me! Oh what a joy to know that his present to me will never be thrown out with all the other presents I will receive!

Father, thank You for the gift of Your Son. Thank You for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Please continue to guide us through You so that we may continue to do good. Lord, thank You for all the presents under the tree, but help us not to forget about the presence of You. Gifts from earth are short-lived, but YOU are forever. Guide and direct us in whatever You do. In Your Son's precious Name we pray, Amen.

Did you find yourself more excited about the presents under the Christmas tree or the presence of God in your life this Christmas season? If you feel like you need a boost, pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide you. Just like other gifts, the gift of the Holy Spirit works best when you get it out from the bottom of the pile, and place it back on top!

Power Verses:
Luke 11:9-10, "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." (NIV)
Ephesians 2:8,"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God." (NLT)
John 14:16, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you." (NLT)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Little Broken People

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: Eph. 1:4, “Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.” (MSG, emphasis mine)

Every Christmas when we decorate, I let the kids put out several mixed up sets of those light-up Christmas villages, complete with little ice-skating figures, carolers, and other assorted townspeople. They cover two coffee tables with white batting for “snow” and then get busy creating their Christmas wonderlands. They love putting everything in just the right spot, not caring at all that these beat-up, hand-me-down people are dressed from different eras. Some are wearing Charles Dickens-era Victorian clothing, while others are knicker-bockered in 1940’s fashion. The Victorians also out-size their modern counterparts noticeably. And yet where cultures could clash, the Christmas spirit is written all over each face.

One particular table happens to be mere inches away from my face when I’m in my morning quiet time. I’m eye-level with a country scene that includes a train, a bridge, a barn, and an inviting white farmhouse that appears to be hosting quite a festive holiday celebration. Out in the snow-covered yard children are helping adults decorate trees, boys are sledding, and a few wild animals—such as deer and a fox—co-mingle peacefully with the humans.

Suddenly I notice a little boy in World War II-era clothes who’s fallen onto the ground. Earlier I’d seen that he was placed beside two Victorian ladies on a bench that was much too large for him. But now here he was, helpless in the snow. When I picked him up I noticed his entire bottom legs had been broken off. That’s probably why some caring little fingers had placed him on a bench with the nurturing-looking ladies to begin with.

With no legs below the knees, his condition reminded me of the village scene on the other table across the room where a woman without feet is exiting a toy shop. Fortunately for her, a large cottony snow drift had been lovingly placed around her, allowing her to remain upright.

That’s when I began to notice other imperfections among the citizens of Christmasville. A guy hanging lights on a tree is missing a hand—can you imagine hanging lights without one hand?—and yet he’s happily doing it as a little choir sings encouragement to him as he works. In fact, with the bumps and scratches accumulated through years of being played with, dropped, forgotten about, packed, and unpacked, I’d be hard-pressed to find even one perfect inhabitant. Sound familiar?

And yet not one of these people is discarded or banished to remain in their box. Each is given its own special place. Why? Because I’m not in charge of the citizens of Christmasville; my kids are. And they see each one as a valuable part of the whole scene. They even give special attention to the broken ones so they are equipped to function and contribute to the good of everyone! Within that magical world, each individual—whether broken or whole, scraped up or shiny—experiences the wonderful spirit of joyful unity and peace and love. Oh, that the spirit of God’s mercy would flow through us that way in our world!

May we, like children do, look past the imperfections of the real people in our own Christmasvilles, and be unified in the merciful love of our Savior.

Father, give us Your eyes to see the people around us who are broken. With the faith of a child, help us to obey in reaching out to them, showing them their worth to You and in You, loving them in Your Name, and empowering them to contribute to Your kingdom. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Who comes to mind that you consider “broken”—physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, or spiritually? How can you equip them to be made whole through the love of Jesus?

Power Verses:
Ephesians 4:16, “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”
1 Corinthians 15:43, “Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength.”(NLT)
Jeremiah 30:17, “‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD, ‘because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.’”(NIV)
Matthew 15:31, “So the multitude marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.” (NKJV)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weeping Willows Rejoice!

by Marsha Loftis

This Week's Verse: Psalm 56:8, "You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book."

I recently read a wonderful work of fiction. I won’t reveal what the book was in case you haven’t read it. I don’t want to give anything away. If you have read it, you may recognize what I’m about to tell you and you may want to do what I did… Read it AGAIN!

The author suggests that people collect things because they are valuable. Either to everyone, or to the individual. He also suggests that the Holy Spirit collects our tears. That every single one shed is so valuable that God has directed the Spirit to collect each one in a bottle. Isn’t that wonderful?!

I cry in church. There, I said it. Sometimes it embarrasses me. There, I said that too! There are times when I think, “Goodness, Girl! Why can’t you keep it together?!” I don’t always know what makes the tears come. Sometimes, when I close my eyes the church sounds as close to angels as I can imagine. (We are so blessed to have the Praise Band, don’t ya think?) Anyway, the beauty of all those voices brings tears to my eyes. Sometimes, I’ve had a particularly awful week and to be there, in the midst of the beauty and the presence of God brings on the waterworks. There are times that I am so thankful for what God has done in my life, there’s nothing I can do but weep.

This past week, we were in the middle of the song “Offering” when, of course out of nowhere, here come the tears. I thought of the Holy Spirit collecting each one that spilled out of of my eyes. While I sang, “I bring an offering of worship to my King, no one on earth deserves the praises that I sing…” I could feel His presence, and see the other offerings that were being lifted up to Our King… Hands raised high, heads bowed low, arms spread wide... and my tears beginning to fall.

I will no longer be embarrassed by my tears. They are an offering of worship to my King! When I leave the ‘building’ from now on with slightly swollen eyes, wearing less make-up than when I came in and a gnarled, balled up Kleenex in my hand I will feel as though I have been to church! I have been in His presence and I have worshipped at the feet of Jesus!

Fellow Weeping Willows, fear not; your tears are precious! There’s no need to be embarrassed… We are in good company. Remember? “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

Father, thank you for showing me one more way to worship You. Thank you for my tears and the cleasning feeling that they bring. They let me leave it all with you and convince me that when I feel like I'm falling apart that You will be there to put me back together again. Just like the stars in the sky, You count my tears and value each one as a gift given unto You. Blessed Be Your Name, Amen.

Worship was meant to be personal. That's why there are so many ways to do it. Whatever fits your personality and your relationship with Christ. Sometimes it’s hard to express what is in your heart. Whether your tears are born from joy or sorrow, love or laughter, thankfulness or regret, remember that the One who knit you together in your mother's womb sees and records every one. Whatever position you choose to worship… Hands raised, head bowed, kneeling, standing, face down on the floor or crying a river for The King. Be assured, it won’t be wrong. God will honor what’s in your heart, not what position you’re in.

Power Verses:
John 11:33-35, “When Jesus saw her weeping… He was deeply moved in spirit…Jesus wept.” (NIV)
2 Kings 20:5, “This is what the Lord, God of your father David, says: I have heard you prayers and seen your tears; I will heal you.” (NIV)
Psalm 30:5, "The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter." (MSG)
Jeremiah 31:9, "Tears of joy will stream down their faces, and I will lead them home with great care."(NLT)
Luke 6:21, "You're blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning."(MSG)

Friday, December 5, 2008

So Grateful

by Missy Milbourn

This Week’s Verse: Romans 5:6-8, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”(NLT)

A couple of weeks ago we had a guest speaker at our church, and something that he said has stayed with me. He asked if our church was a “safe place”. He posed these questions…

“If a homosexual couple came to your church, would you welcome them?”

“If a woman who had just gotten a divorce from her husband because she was having an affair with another man (and you knew it because she was the talk of the town) came to church, would you welcome her?”

He went on to say that studies indicate that these people aren’t coming to church because the church is too judgmental. (I think I already knew that.) But it’s what he said next that really got me, and has stayed with me. He said that we (the church) expect people to act like Jesus before they even know Jesus.

He’s right. I’m sorry.

How opposite that is to how Jesus loved people. How opposite that is to the very nature of God. For God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8)

While we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. (Romans 5:6)

I’m so grateful that He didn’t wait for me to get my act together before he reached out to me, or quite frankly…He’d still be waiting.

Father, I’m so thankful that you reach out to us while we are still sinners. I’m thankful that in the middle of the messed up lives that we lead that you love us, and you reach out to save us. Help us to love like you love. Help us to reach out like you reach out. Help us to be a safe place where anyone can come and learn about you, fall in love with you, and experience a new life with you.

Make a mental assessment of how you would receive (welcome) the above described people coming to church, or someone else experiencing other possibly controversial issues. Let’s make a conscious choice to meet people where they’re at and do our best to love them into the Kingdom of God.

Power Verses:
Luke 5:31-32
, “Jesus heard about it and spoke up, ‘Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.’”(MSG)
Mark 2:17, “When Jesus heard this, he told them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.’” (NLT)