Friday, December 25, 2009

Enemy Fire? Stop, Drop, & Roll

by Kathy Lay

(*--Note, this devotion is a re-post from December, 2007. Enjoy your Christmas with family!)

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 18, 2009

Precious Prayers

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: Revelation 5:8, "And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints."(NIV, emphasis mine)

I was reading in Revelation 4 about the infinite praise taking place in heaven. It blew me away on several levels that this praise was, is, and is to come. It's going on right now. When we offer our own praises, we're simply joining a chorus already in progress around the throne of God.

And then something else struck me. Each of the 24 elders sitting around the throne is holding a golden bowl of incense. What's the incense? Our prayers! A scent pleasing to the Lord!

If you've ever felt "disconnected" in your prayer life, there might be an issue God wants you to address. Maybe you have some unrepented sin. Maybe you need to humble yourself. Maybe you just flat out aren't praying the things God would have you pray. But if you've given everything to the Lord in repentance and humility and are praying His will and still wonder if it's making a difference, know this: Your prayers are precious in heaven.

Consider the following scene: Up to this point in Revelation we see the beings, the creatures, the surroundings in heaven and there is quite a commotion. The praises are constantly being sung, the elders are falling prostrate before the throne, and the scroll is being revealed. And then suddenly, it all stops!

"When the Lamb broke the seventh seal on the scroll, there was silence throughout heaven for about half an hour. I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and they were given seven trumpets. Then another angel with a gold incense burner came and stood at the altar. And a great amount of incense was given to him to mix with the prayers of God’s people as an offering on the gold altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out" (Rev. 8:1-4, NLT).

The trumpets were present, but silent. The heavenly hosts were watching in anticipation, but uncharacterically quiet. I don't know if it's possible to hear footsteps in heaven (you know, with the clouds for a floor and all!) but I imagine the angel carrying the incense burner echoing them as he makes his way to the alter. All of heaven stops and holds its breath in anticiption.

The continual praise of the Lord stops for one thing--the prayers of the righteous. That's how important your prayers are to God.

God, in this season of celebrating how precious You are to us, thank you for the reminder of how precious we are to You. Thank You for holding our communication with You in such high regard that You quiet all of heaven for it to be offered up to You.

Read Revelation 4, 7, & 8:1-5 from a few different translations and really soak in the vivid scene. Notice that John writes about his vision in past tense (because he's telling about a vision he had seen) but presents some elements in the present tense to convey that these events are occuring in the present. Praise and thank God as you visualize that at that very minute, heaven's stopping to hear your heartfelt prayer offering.

Power Verses:
2 Chronicles 6:39, "then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you."(NIV)
Daniel 10:12, "Then he said, 'Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer'."(NLT)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Blended Worship

by Mollie Thompson

This Week's Verse: John 4:23, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” (NKJV)

I ran across a young man’s blog talking about his frustration with the song services in many churches. He referred to the mixing of traditional and contemporary styles of singing and called it "blended worship".

As I thought about this term I started to get totally pumped – not by what he meant, but by what the term "blended worship" can really mean…because worship isn’t just about singing.
You see, each person worships God only as they feel the need to worship. It is as we each humbly realize our true condition, as we face ourselves in the light of God that we see ourselves as we really are – poor, destitute, and sinful, unable to remove ourselves from the mud and slime of life. (Psalm 40:1-5 says it beautifully.) Until I see myself as I really am, how can I possibly worship God for who He really is? How can I see my need of a Savior if I don’t really think I am that needy?

And when I worship God whether it is in my car, when I’m doing the dishes, or when I’m wiping a snotty nose, that worship needs to come from the center of my being. It’s when nobody can hear me but the Almighty God and it is just Him and me, and I’m bowing down before Him in my neediness.

And when I say neediness, I mean I need His companionship. I need His love. I need His grace and mercy and wisdom and forgiveness and understanding. I need His presence! I’m so in love with Him that I need to pour out to Him. I so desire just to be with Him.

Those are the spirit and truth elements. Those are our everyday moments of worship. Notice none of them were accompanied by any certain type of music. None of them had a certain beat or style. No certain type of sensation had to be worked up. Our true worship comes from our hearts in everyday ways in everyday places.

And so then – THEN – when we do come together we truly can have blended worship. Our full hearts will naturally pour out of our spirits in truth in a unidirectional and harmonious way towards our God and our King – our Father who art in Heaven. How awesome is that?!! And we won’t care what instruments are playing or not playing, whether we are singing hymns or praise choruses. All that will matter is that we are all truly worshipping, and that sound will be so awesome both to us and to our Father.

Like the young blogger, sometimes we confuse harmonious instruments and vocals with the harmony that God really desires. Let us give Him the harmony of unity in spirit and truth instead. It’s harder, but more worth the while.

Father, we need You. We need You to help us worship. We worship other things. Sometimes we even worship ourselves. But that’s not what we really want to do. Help us, Lord. We do want to worship You in spirit and in truth, but we can’t do it unless You lead us into it. Humbling ourselves so we can do this is hard. Our flesh gets in the way. So hear our prayer, Lord, and lead us into worshipping You in spirit and in truth – no matter what it takes. And we thank You however You choose to answer. It is in Jesus name we ask. Amen.

The next time you are in church ready to sing, look at the words. Can you sing them from your heart? Do you really believe what you are singing? Do you picture our Father hearing you? Can you forget everyone around you and just reach up to the One that loves you more than any other ever can? Do you recognize your neediness of our Creator, our Savior?

Power Verses:
Psalm 29:2, "Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness." (NKJV)
Philippians 3:3, "For we [Christians] are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit and by the Spirit of God and exult and glory and pride ourselves in Jesus Christ, and put no confidence or dependence [on what we are] in the flesh and on outward privileges and physical advantages and external appearances." (Amp)
Isaiah 12:5-6, "Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done excellent things [gloriously]; let this be made known to all the earth. Cry aloud and shout joyfully, you women and inhabitants of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel." (Amp)

Friday, December 4, 2009

What If?

by Debby Craig

This Week's Verse: Acts 20:28, "Now it's up to you. Be on your toes—both for yourselves and your congregation of sheep. The Holy Spirit has put you in charge of these people—God's people they are—to guard and protect them. God himself thought they were worth dying for."(MSG)

As I looked around church last Sunday I noticed how many people I didn’t recognize. Who were they? Did I know them? Were they visiting for the first time or had they been coming for weeks and just happened to sit on “my side” this time? Whichever it was, I needed to make sure that I greeted them with a smile that would come from Christ himself.

But I don’t always do that. Do you? We sometimes get caught up in this mindset: but I don’t know who they are – I’m sure someone else knows them or invited them and I’m not in the greatest mood today so I better not say anything or look their way.

There are many, many “what if” stories we could imagine about the visitors that come through our church doors, but here is just one.

What if the visitor had fought with herself all week about finally getting there that particular Sunday morning for some unknown reason to her (read on)? What if her mother had been praying for her for as long as she could remember to come back home to the Lord? And what if that young woman ran into me or you on that very first visit--scared, away from her hometown, not knowing anyone at all--and we were in one of those “moods” and did not look her way.

What would we tell her mother? What would we tell our Lord?

Let’s be cheerful when we meet new people in church. It’s the place Our Father drew them to get loved on! Let’s greet people all over the place. Who cares who they are or what they were doing yesterday. Let’s pretend like we invited them over for dinner and are so glad to see them. If we see someone and we don’t know who they are, let’s say “Hi” – tell them our name and they will probably tell us theirs. It is a simple concept and it works. We might even get a reputation of being "the friendly person." Our whole church needs to be "the friendly person" for that matter.

Even if we weren’t born with that touchy-feely gene, the Holy Spirit can muster it up on demand. Galatians 5:22 says, "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness..."

What if we submit to the Spirit?

What if we reach out to others as Christ Himself?

What if?

Father, help us to discern and follow your promptings in making people feel welcome and loved. Love them through us, in Jesus' Name.

Let’s get it started girls! Let’s not let one person slip by us or slip out that door this Christmas season. Let's impress the Lord on them so much that they leave thinking, I love these people. I know why my momma has been praying for me now. I think I’m coming back next week.

Power Verses:
John 21:15
, "After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?' 'Yes, Lord,' Peter replied, 'you know I love you.' 'Then feed my lambs,' Jesus told him."(NLT)
Psalm 68:3, "But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy."(NLT)
John 13:35, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."(NIV)

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Christmas Light

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: 1 Peter 3:15-16, “...And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But you must do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak evil against you, they will be ashamed when they see the good life you live because you belong the Christ.” (NLT)

I read this on facebook a few days ago by an acquaintance: (Name) "is going to celebrate the seasonal festivities. I will celebrate the winter solstice in the manner I wish to, which involves gifts and do NOT tell me because I don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of god that I cannot. The “Church” stole my religion, my holidays, and labeled my beliefs as evil. So there!"

If you follow and put your trust in Christ, reading that status update probably knocked the wind right of you like it did me. I was angry, sad, and heartsick all at the same time, especially when I saw that six people “liked” it.

Fourteen comments followed. A few of them echoed her sentiments but as I read through the thread I saw an interesting conversation unfold. One Christian friend responded apologetically for unloving Christians who had condemned her in the past and through some back-and-forth with my friend, left a door open to talk about things if she ever wanted some questions answered from someone who loved her.

Ah, hope.

This Christian was being the light of Jesus in an area of darkness, lovingly meeting this person where she was with the truth of the Gospel. A real Christmas light of a magnificent sort.

As we approach the Christmas season, many non-believers could echo the thoughts of my facebook friend. When our defensive hackles raise, it is paramount that we let the Holy Spirit exert self-control through us. In this case my initial knee-jerk reaction was to impulsively zip back a sarcastic comment such as “Oh yeah, because the winter solstice is SO worthy of celebrating! Did it die for you?!”

Ahem. You can see that would have done nothing to further the cause for Christ. (Sorry, Lord.) Self-control led me to read the comments instead of...uh, not helping. And the comments revealed that the Lord was working through someone else.

Thank God for the Christian sister that responded in love and allowed room for God to soften a hard heart!

May we do the same.

Lord, forgive me when I allow my defensiveness of you to overtake my emotions to the point when it would cause more harm than good. Infuse me with your Spirit so that its fruit is what people see. And make them hungry for it. Help us to be the light. In Jesus' Name.

Ask God to put people in your path who need to see his light. The Christmas season is a time when many people are more open to the truth if only we Christians approach them non-judgmentally and out of concern and love. Who can you reach out to so that God can “prepare Him room” in their heart?

Power Verses:
2 Corinthians 4:4, "Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God."(NLT)
Matthew 5:16, "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."(NIV)
John 8:12, "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"(NIV)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Okay, So Anyway...

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: 2 Peter 1:10-11, "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."(NIV)

We see references to it on facebook multiple times a day, we hear it from people’s mouths, and we say it ourselves: I just can’t get motivated. I really should be doing so and so but I just can’t find the wherewithal to do it. I don’t feel like doing anything.

See, I know what I’m talking about because I have a propensity to be easily overwhelmed. And when I get that way, often my coping mechanism is to shut down and not do a whole lot of anything. I allow myself to be paralyzed in times when I should be productive.

In some areas of life that may not be a big deal. If the dishes sit overnight they’ll get done the next day. If the floor goes unvacuumed no one will probably even notice—at least for awhile.

But what about when God has clearly called me to do something and I have said yes to Him? I’m fueled by excitement at first, but feelings fade. Eventually, I’m left to carry out obedience even when I no longer want to because it’s hard or boring or confusing.

I’m referring specifically to my writing. God made it clear that I am to write fiction for young people that will draw them into a closer relationship with him. Fun, right? Not so much anymore. And then I ran across this little excerpt from Cynthia Ruchti:

As in marriage, feelings come and go. (But) devotion and commitment hold us to the task. An author lays fingers to the keyboard whether emotionally full or emotionally empty. That's where miracles happen. God responds to our obedience and commitment by restoring the feelings we thought were dead.

It's all about writing *anyway*.

•No one will ever buy this dribble. *Write anyway.*
•Even I don't like the story anymore. *Write anyway.*
•Laundry looks mighty tempting right now. *Write anyway.*
•I've been writing a very long time with no visible success. *Write anyway.*

It's natural to write when we feel it. What a sweet victory (and testament to God's power at work within us) when we write when we don't feel it!

How remarkable is it to be faithful when the words come easily? When your mate is adorable? When your boss just gave you a raise?

(But) how *divine *to be faithful when your mate did something unkind and the boss doesn't appreciate you and the words come hard!

Now, that's remarkable.

These words hit me right between the eyes. I have to be obedient to my calling and not let doubt or distraction or yes, even being overwhelmed, become strongholds for the enemy who wants to thwart God’s plan.

It’s easy to serve when everything is roses, when life’s going our way, and when our motivation skyrockets on pure emotion. But it's commitment to God and perseverance in our "anyway" that grows us closer to God as we serve him through the dry spells.

Father God, forgive me for doubting your call or dragging my feet with it just because things get tough. Help me to be faithful in my follow-through. Lord, my desire is that you find favor in my service because you know you can count on me to do your will. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Application: What’s your “anyway” area? Is there something you know you’ve been called to do but haven't yet? Make a list of anyway statements similar to Cynthia Ruchti's above. Resolve to fulfill your calling by persuing it anyway.

Power Verses:
2 Peter 1:3-4, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."(NIV)
Hebrews 10:36 , "You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised."(NIV)
2 Peter 1:5-8, "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."(NIV)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rooted in Love

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: Ephesians 3:17, "...May your roots go down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love." (NLT)

A few weeks ago, there was a lot of talk about roots in our house as both my 6th graders were studying for a science test. I helped them study and learned right along with them.

One term on the study sheet was "positive gravitropism" and it referred to the roots of a plant "being pulled down into the ground to allow for them to absorb maximum water and nutrients from the soil." The deeper the roots go, the stronger and healthier the plant is.

This definition made me think of Jesus' parable about the seeds falling into four distinct places. If you remember, some seeds fell on the road and were immediately snatched up by the birds. Some fell in rocky places and though they sprouted new growth, the roots weren't deep so the young plants were quickly scorced by the sun. Still others fell into weeds and again, began to grow, but were eventually choked out by the weeds.

But look what happens to the fourth type. Luke 8:15 says, "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)

This time the roots went deep. And this week's verse shows that the soil we're to root deeply in is God's love. When we soak it up we're stronger. When we soak it up we're healthier. We're not scorched and we're not choked out.

Things get out of hand though when the enemy takes our focus off of God's amazing, beyond-all-understanding love for his people. We start to think God's love is conditional. That we're not worthy. (And but for the blood of Christ, we're not.)

But Ephesians 3 goes on to say, "May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God"(v. 19, NLT).

By being rooted--really firmly embedded--in God's love in an unshakeably confident way, we'll thrive and be fruitful. Never let the enemy snatch that away.

God, I'm amazed at how you've written your love for us in nature itself. Set our roots firmly so that like a plant, we're nourished by the rich soil of your steadfast love and will go on to produce fruit for you.

Application: Have you allowed God's multifaceted love to nourish your soul? Even when you feel scorched, choked, or snatched away? Plant yourself firmly in the good soil and have faith that the power of his love will grow you taller and stronger than any of the enemy's attempts to stunt your growth.

Power Verses:
2 Timothy 1:13
, "So keep at your work, this faith and love rooted in Christ, exactly as I set it out for you. It's as sound as the day you first heard it from me. Guard this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us." (MSG)
Jeremiah 17:8, "They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green,and they never stop producing fruit."(NLT)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Upside Down Kingdom: Trials

by Missy Milbourn

This Week's Verse: James 1:2, "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy." (NIV)

So many times as I read the Bible, which explains and describes and teaches the things of the Kingdom of God, I think what an upside down kingdom. God looks at things so differently than the way the world teaches us to view things.

The longer I’m a Christian, the more I realize how important it is that we go through the process of the “renewing of the mind”. We need to let go of how the world looks at things, and grab hold of how the Lord looks at things. Take this week’s scripture for example:

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.”

WHAT!?! Are you out of your mind?!?!

I don’t know about you, but when troubles come my way, I am anything but joyful about it. Seriously.

Depending on what trouble comes my way, my response to it--instead of being joyful--typically falls under one of these categories:





Let’s pick one of those and examine it a bit. Let’s say that I get angry easily, and I find that various situations keep happening that cause me to become angry. As a result, I think, why does trouble continually come into my life causing me to be upset?!

A wise Christian friend once told me that God, in his mercy, often brings us to the same mountain because He wants us to learn how to get over that mountain.

I believe that’s a huge part of what James 1 is teaching. Let’s looks at it in The Message: "Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way" (James 1:2-4).

If anger is our issue, I can assure you that God wants to help us deal with that, because we’ll be a lot happier if we’re not honked off all the time.

If being offended is our issue, I can assure you that God wants to help us with that, because we’ll be a lot happier if our feelings aren’t hurt all the time.

If fear is our issue, I can assure you that God wants to help us with that because we’ll have a happier life if we learn to trust God instead of living in a state of worry all the time.

Oftentimes when we find ourselves mad or offended or fearful, our first inclination is to flee the situation. But God is saying “don’t”. Don’t leave prematurely, but let this trial do its work in you so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

John Bevere, in his book The Bait of Satan, speaks of how Christians often leave their church over an offense. And often, when they do that, they run into the same problem at their next church. Because, guess what, God wants to work something out in that person, and as long as we’re in relationship with Him, He’s going to keep bringing the issue up. He wants to help us through it, because we belong to Him, and He’s molding us into His image for our benefit, and for the benefit of His Kingdom. He is guiding us into full maturity.

Let’s not run from what He has for us. But instead, let’s ask Him what it is He wants us to learn from the trial. Knowing that we can trust Him to make us mature, not deficient in any way…and that, my friend, is reason for joy.

Father, it is so hard when trouble comes our way. Typically our reaction is a “not so good” emotional one. But Lord, help us to trust you when trouble comes our way. Help us to know You more. To lean on You more. To learn from You, allowing the trial to grow us up in whatever manner you see fit.

Think about how you respond when troubles come your way. Or maybe you are in the midst of a trial right now. Take a moment to think about what God may want to teach you through that particular trial.

Power Verses:
2 Corinthians 4:17-18, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (NIV)
2 Corinthians 12:10, "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (NIV)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Beyond the Smoke

by Debby Craig

This Week's Verse: 2 Chronicles 16:9a, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him." (KJV)

The Lord was patient with me when it came to my habit of smoking. I accepted Christ as my personal Savior on 1/1/1979 and I quit smoking 21 years later on 10/25/2000--nine years ago. I had tried at least eight times before that to kick the habit. I learned a lot about His love for me when I finally quit.

I woke up with no voice that day – it was a sign! I took the cigarettes and ran water over them before I put them in the trash. (You have to do that when you quit or else when the urge hits you will sift through the broken pieces in the trash and find at least one that will work.) I made it 45 minutes until I had the first attack and without any hesitation, as usual, I headed to the car to go get another pack. I had a talk with the Lord as I headed out to the garage and told Him, “This is useless. I can’t do this, and you know it. You have seen me try and try and you understand because you know me better than anyone does.”

The radio was on when I started the car. It was “testimony day” on WBGL and at that precise moment (God’s timing) a woman was praising God because she had asked the Lord to help her quit smoking and she hadn’t had a cigarette since. That is when I realized that I had never given this “thing” to the Lord. I was trying to do it alone.

I was broken at that moment. I couldn’t ever do this on my own and the Lord knew that. He had been so patient with me. When I realized that He was right there in the car wrapping His big arms around me and comforting me, I knew He would be there for every urge and every “fit” until it was over. This was a HUGE day for me. I didn’t have to do it. He did it for me.

I used this week's verse as encouragement for many years in the battle: “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him." I could just see God looking back and forth and then He finds me and shows himself strong in my behalf at the perfect moment!

Has He possibly given me more time here on earth to spread His word and tell people about His amazing love, patience, and strength? Maybe an extra nine years that I wouldn’t have had before? I don’t know the answer to that – only He does.

What I do know is that I have a new understanding of how addictions happen and how they can control us. The ministry that He eventually planned for me called me to look past everyone's addications and see them as He did. Maybe it took so long in my case because He knew that I needed that personal lesson from Him to have it hit home and to empathize with those I'm now called to minister to.

Dear Heavenly Father, You have done so much for me and my family and still I waste days and sometimes even weeks or months and don’t shout to the rooftops of your might and power. I am so glad that you never turn your back on us. I pray that you will give me a boost of you when it is needed most. Show me the people in my path that need you and give me the words to share with them to let them know how much you love them. Please give me patience with them while they are waiting on their lessons from you.

Identify your addictions. Have a frank talk with God about your deliverance from them, recognizing it's all Him, not you. Listen for direction on how to use your experience to minister to others.

Power Verses:
Romans 10:13-14, “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them?"(NLT)
1 Corinthians 10:13, "No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it." (MSG)

Friday, October 23, 2009

From a Father to His Daughter

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse:
James 1:17-18, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”(NIV)

God often uses our children to reveal Himself to us. Tuesday night He used them to show me how closely our parenthood journey mirrors His role as our Heavenly Father.

The evening was jam-packed and it began in a panic. One of my children was missing! Grandma was to pick up all three kids at school so they’d have time to grab a snack and change before heading to Terre Haute for the girls’ basketball game. After waiting until the parking lot cleared and even checking in with his teacher, it was concluded that Skylar had forgotten the arrangement and rode the bus home out of habit. So Grandma then drove out to the boonies where we live to wait for him. The bus didn’t stop. No Skylar. And he hadn’t gotten off the bus at her house either.

We later learned that he’d been playing with a buddy out on the playground the whole time, completely oblivious to the fact that his family was worried and that the pick-up location is in front of the school! Whew! He told me he’d thought it was weird Grandma was taking so long. Mmm hmm…

Later at the basketball game both girls played their hearts out. Awesome defense, sweet shots, working as a team—it was so much fun to watch. I considered how they’d improved and realized how much work and practice it had taken to get them to this point. Practicing when they didn’t want to, hearing the same advice over and over, opening themselves up to heeding it, and putting it into practice. Yet Coach Dad hadn't given up on them and his faithfulness coupled with their obedience and diligence is really starting to pay off.

We had to leave at half-time in order to make it back to Marshall in time for the kids’ piano recital. All of them were nervous and worried about messing up. My prayer was that even if they did, they’d recover gracefully and keep going. And that is exactly what happened. Each of them did a tremendous job not because they were perfect, but because they persevered and did their best. Shane and I beamed with pride.

Then the family, including two grandmas and one grandpa, celebrated at Pizza Hut. Good food and fellowship were a perfect capstone to a nerve-wracking-at-times, but fulfilling evening.

It was later in the quiet—after the crazy-busy whirlwind wound down—that the events of the evening replayed in mind. God painted vivid parallels and whispered sweet reminders into my heart about His love for not only these kids, but all of His children, including you and me. From the perspective of a Heavenly Parent, He showed me how the range of emotions I’d experienced all evening were a glimpse of what He feels about us, His children.

When we’re lost, He’s not content until we’re found. (Luke 15:6, “…Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'”—NIV)

He’s given us skills and talents He expects us to develop and use. He disciplines and trains us so we continue to improve and grow, and He cheers us on along the way. (Hebrews 12:9, “Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?”—NLT)

He knows we have fears about not being perfect or falling short, but He applauds and claps when he sees us stepping out in faith and trying our best. He already knows we’re not perfect and His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. (Isaiah 41:13, “For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you”—NIV)

And the fitting capstone: we will celebrate. He’s prepared a feast unlike anything we can hope or imagine that will last throughout eternity. (Revelation 19:9, “And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”—NLT)

Lord, as our Heavenly Father, You love us too much to leave us lost. And when we're found You tenderly grow us into how You intend us to be, protecting and equipping us along the way. And when You return, what a glorious celebration we'll share. How we praise You for that!

In what ways has God revealed Himself to you through your parent/child relationships? Even if your situation is somewhat dysfunctional (whose isn't?!), tuck the truth into your heart that your Father God loves you too much to leave you lost, too much to let your growth be stunted, and too much to let you face fears alone. Look forward to the eternal celebration you'll share with Him.

Power Verses:
Zephaniah 3:17, "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (NIV)
Proverbs 24-25, “The father of godly children has cause for joy. What a pleasure to have children who are wise. So give your father and mother joy! May she who gave you birth be happy.”(NLT)
Song of Solomon 2:4, “He escorts me to the banquet hall; it’s obvious how much he loves me.”(NLT)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

by Bethany Lashbrook

This Week’s Verse: 1 Corinthians 14:12, "Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church."(NLT)

The girls and I pray every night before going to bed. Usually, we each think of one person specifically that we would like to pray for. This way the girls focus while praying! I finish prayer time by asking for blessings on each of our days ahead. I also usually ask that each of the girls “show” Jesus on recess at school to the other children.

When I was a child, I was terrified when my Sunday school teacher would ask if I had talked to anyone about God. I never could see myself just walking up to a friend on recess saying “have you found God today?” I just never had the courage like some did.

This has followed me into my adult years. I still don’t verbally ask others if God is in their lives. But recently, the Lord has shown me that it’s okay. Twice last week I came upon this phrase said by St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel every day, and when necessary use words.”

Some of us are given the talent of approaching others and just speaking the Word of God. But others are given the talent of showing God’s word. The girls and I can preach the gospel every day by being kind, courteous, loving, gentle, and friendly. In this way, others can see Jesus working in our lives.

Lord, please help me to be like your Son today. And--when it is time--I know you will help me verbally deliver your message. Until then, help me to be loving and gentle just as you are. Amen.

Do you compare your talents to others? God made each of us different. Use the talents He gave you to your best ability and to show Jesus. In that way, you are becoming the faithful daughter He wants you to be!

Power Verses:
Romans 12:6, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith."(NIV)
1 Corinthians 12:4, "God's various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit."(MSG)
Deuteronomy 31:6, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."(NIV)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A LOT to Think About

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: Isaiah 30:21, “Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.”(NLT)

Have you ever had times in your life when you’re seeking God’s direction and just don’t feel like you’re getting a clear answer? I know I have. And a thought I’ve had on more than one occasion is that I wish it was as easy to hear God as it is to flip a coin. You know, something like, Okay, God. Heads I take the job, tails I don’t.

Wouldn’t it be great to get such a decisive, clear answer just likety-split like that and know that God landed the coin to point out His will?

That line of thinking is what caused me to be so enthralled the first time I read in the Old Testament about the Urim and Thummim, specific lots that were cast to indicate the Lord’s will. But not just anyone could interpret them; only priests were given the privilege, beginning with Aaron: “Insert the Urim and Thummim into the sacred chestpiece so they will be carried over Aaron’s heart when he goes into the Lord’s presence. In this way, Aaron will always carry over his heart the objects used to determine the Lord’s will for his people whenever he goes in before the Lord”(Exodus 28:30, NLT).

There must’ve been much more to the Urim and Thummim than heads and tails though, because answers sought using them were more than just “yes or no” questions. Research I’ve done reveals that we just don’t know much about how they were used at all. But several commentaries make a point to distinguish the Urim and Thummim from such abominations as devinations or sorcery because of the recognition they were the Lord’s means of providing revelation.

Scriptural examples of the use of lots are interesting. 1 Samuel 14:42 says that Saul told the priest to "'Cast the lots between me and Jonathan—and death to the one God points to!’ The soldiers protested, ‘No—this is not right. Stop this!’ But Saul pushed on anyway. They cast the lots, Urim and Thummim, and the lot fell to Jonathan.”(MSG) It’s worth mentioning that up to this point, Saul had been rash with a goofy oath about his men not eating before getting revenge on the Phillistines. Jonathan hadn’t heard the oath and ate some honey. Saul knew someone had broken the oath because the Lord didn’t provide a clear answer to his previous question (v. 37-38).

The truth was illuminated through the lots, but God used it to illustrate Saul’s increasingly unstable leadership. The people recognized how asinine it would be to kill Jonathan and they rescued him from his crazy father. I’m sure they didn’t soon forget Saul was ready to murder his son for the sake of an oath that was questionable to begin with.

Look what happens later when Saul once again consults God through lots: “He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets”(1 Samuel, 28:6, NIV). Mind you, Saul had just cleared out all the mediums and psychics from the land, but when he didn’t get a response from the Lord right away who did he turn to? A witch from Endor who calls up Samuel’s spirit (v. 7-22). Had God not provided an answer this time to see what other measures Saul might take? Or because no priest was present? Or was his voice not clear because Saul’s heart wasn’t earnest?

Generations later, at the end of Acts 1, the disciples are discussing a replacement for Judas Iscariot and two men are nominated. Verses 24-26 state, “Then they all prayed for the right man to be chosen. ‘Oh Lord,’ they said, ‘you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen as an apostle to replace Judas the traitor in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs.' Then they cast lots and in this way Matthias was chosen and became and apostle with the other eleven."

Now here's the cool part: Right after this event is listed at the end of Acts 1, Acts 2 begins with the arrival of the Holy Spirit! From that point on, believers had (and have!) the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit guiding us. Just as the torn curtain in the temple illustrated our direct access to God's throne room--no priest needed--so too, does the gift of the spirit trump the need to seek direction through lots. Also from that point on in scripture, no other reference to casting lots is made.

Our job, then, when we need a clear word? Simply trust and obey. Don't grieve the spirit by casting verbal lots at God. Gather prayer warriors. Listen for a still, small voice. Seek direction and confirmation through the Word and through life encounters. And be patient. That's the kind of faith the Lord honors.

Father, give us patience and discernment to recognize the varied beautiful ways You speak to us. Help us to know your voice.

Have you ever considered verbally casting lots with God? The Word promises that the Holy Spirit leads us to the truth (John 14:17). Be alert for the Spirit's promptings through the Word, your prayer time, and your daily experiences.

Power Verses:
John 14:17, "He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you."(NLT)
James 1:25, But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action."(MSG)
John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”(NKJV)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Being Human

by Marsha Loftis

This Week's Verse: Hebrews 2:14, "Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death."

I love being human! I love to revel in the marvelous things that God has done and made. I love to hear the birds sing. I love to taste the sweetness of honey. I love to feel the hug of a child. I love to see the sunsets. I love to sing His praises. I love being His creation.

Most of the time. Then there are times where being human is a very rough road to travel. Times when I feel every bump and bruise like a ripened apple! Times when somehow my size eight shoe fits snuggly in my size one mouth. Times when the pain of my broken heart is almost too much to bear. Times when I feel like God has stuck a fork in me and said, "Nope! She's not done yet."

I'm not. I'm not "there" wherever "there" is; I obviously haven't reached that point yet. None of us have and we never will until He calls us home. We are walking, talking, sometimes crawling and falling works of “undoneness”.

Even the great apostle Paul struggled with his “not quite done-ness.” He fought thinking what is right, knowing what is right, and doing what is right.

Romans 7:15-25: “What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. …But I need something more! I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. … I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” (MSG)

Being human is HARD! Don’t you think? If Paul struggled like this then who am I to think that I’ve got it all under control?! Have you ever told God, “I got this… I can handle this one alone.”? Well the human condition is hard enough. Why on earth would we want to go it alone?

We have been bought into a relationship with God through Christ’s death and resurrection. We don’t have to do this thing called life alone and we have been made righteous! I know it’s hard to think of ourselves as righteous. After all, we are only human, with all our baggage, our pasts, faults and flaws--a person who is still learning how to be the person that God wants, all the while being righteous and knowing without a doubt that God is not done yet. The same person who is standing on the promise that what works God has started will not cease until that work is done. That person is you! And me..... any one who believes that Jesus died for them AND now lives in them!

Father God, help me to know that I am nothing without You, your love and most of all your grace. Thank you for accepting me when I was not righteous and sending your Son so I may come to you, unashamed, washed, loved and forgiven. Help me to become the person You need me to be, the person I long to be. Help me to do what I know is right even when I feel UN-righteous. I ask all these things in Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Being righteous doesn’t mean we are better than someone else. It only means that we have Saving Grace that allows us to come to God’s throne freely and present our worship, praise, and requests. Shake off that “human-ness,” that feeling of being “not quite done yet.” Let go of that guilt. Deny that shame, that feeling of being unworthy and present yourself to God as a sacrifice. Empty yourself of yourself and let God fill you up with HIM!

Power Verses:
Ephesians 2:4-10: “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (MSG)
Romans 8:5, "Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God!" (MSG)
Romans 5:18-19, “....Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.” (NLT)
Romans 8:3, “In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.”

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's Covered

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse: Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”(NKJV)

I recently experienced a ceremony in which I died to a part of myself.

In this powerful demonstration of faith and sacrifice, each participant took a piece of bread, held it up to the Lord and named a sin, habit, belief, whatever—a part of her flesh that she wanted to put to death. She then threw the bread into a basket to symbolize giving it to God.

I knew immediately what I wanted to put to death: fear and anxiety. I am continually praying for deliverance of these joy-stealers, but to paraphrase Paul, even though my spirit is willing, my flesh is weak. I still find myself dry-heaving or crying whenever my anxiety kicks into overdrive. I can’t seem to control it. As much as I want to, my physical body betrays my heart and my will. So that was it; I’d made the decision to die to fear and anxiety and I cried them out to God as I threw the bread into the basket.

After each person did this, the leader held up a full basket brimming with aspects of our lives we wanted to put to death. And then she poured juice over the bread to illustrate the sins and ugliness being completely saturated with the blood of Jesus Christ! You should have heard the whooping and hollering and amening when she claimed those sins covered by Jesus! It was freeing and empowering and every face simply glowed with hope and restoration.

As warned in John 10:10, however, the thief came back in to steal my peace and destroy my assurance that Christ had it covered. It wasn’t a full two days after the mountaintop weekend was over before I was back in a pit of restless nervousness and worry about some idiocy at work. I wondered to God how this could be since I claimed dying to this very thing in Jesus’ Name. How was I still struggling with it?

Jesus whispered to my heart, “Kathy, remember? I’ve got it covered. My blood covered it just like the juice sopped all through that bread.”

“But Lord, then why was I a nervous wreck this morning to the point that I couldn’t even eat?”

“You don’t need to know why. You just have to trust that I’ve got it covered.”

See, instead of the physical “won’t-feel-anxious” resolution I was looking for, The Lord showed me a new perspective of what it means for Him to cover the sin. For one thing, He covers it in His way. He may deliver some folks from the sin instantly and completely, never to confront it again! But He also may cover it continually over time. I know that my anxiety was not only covered the instant the cry left my lips, but it will continue to be covered every time I’m confronted by it again.

Whatever we battle, God may continue to use it to some degree to help us become the best conquerors we can be. But He will be with us, covering the battle with His blood on our behalf. We just have to place our complete trust and faith in the fact that He really does have it covered!

Lord, thank you for having it all covered! Thank you for pointing out areas of our lives that keep us from living in the fullness You want for us. And thank you for the privilege of dying to them and turning them over to You. Increase our faith that Jesus’ blood covers them, once and for all.

Can you identify one particular area of your life that prevents you from living fully in abundance? Give it to God and pray for His governance of it under Jesus’ blood. Promise not to take it back, but rather to live in the faith that it’s already covered.

Power Verses:
Romans 5:9, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him.”(NIV)
1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” (NASB)
Romans 4:7, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”(NIV)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Positively Influenced

by Bethany Lashbrook

This Week’s Verse: Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (NLT)

We have a small bathroom in our master bedroom at my house. Last year when we moved in to this house, we replaced all of the carpet. Our bathroom door worked just fine until after the new carpet was installed. After the installation, the door would barely move. The carpet was so thick that it came up to the bottom of the door. When I was showing my dad our carpet for the first time, I remember coming up to our bathroom. I was embarrassed thinking that he would see me struggle just to open the door. After I told him our situation he replied, “Better thick than thin.”

Positive thinking – it does a body good.

Imagine how the followers of Jesus felt. Zaccheus was a wealthy tax collector who changed his ways because of Jesus. Jesus called him by name, ate at his house and assured him even a tax collector was loved by him (Luke 19:1-10). The Bible doesn’t indicate if Zaccheus stayed true to his word about giving back four times the amount he had taken from people, but I would like to think that the encouraging words of Jesus in his life changed his faith forever.

Or what about the woman at the well in John 4:1-26? Although the law forbade Jewish people to converse with Samaritans, Jesus did it anyway. This Samaritan woman had led a life of sin. Jesus told her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (vs. 13-14, NIV). Later, John records “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed and had faith in him because of the woman's testimony” (vs. 39). What a positive impact Jesus had not only on this woman, but also on the whole town!

Many of us at FCC are involved in the “40 Days of Community” study. The heart of it revolves around the very same theme as the above examples. Christ has changed our lives; now we’re to go and change others’ lives in the same way by showing His perfect love.

It’s not easy and there will be many negatives to overcome. But Romans 8:39 says that neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (NIV). He loves us and he wants to make a positive impact in our lives today! And in turn, we will make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Dear Lord, help me to be positive today. It sounds so simple, yet some days it is so hard. Help me to see the good in everything and everyone I come in contact with today. If I do this Lord, everything else will fall into place. Help me to be like the woman at the well, who goes to the whole town and exclaims how Jesus has impacted her life forever. Amen.

Are there negative feelings surrounding you today? Just like Paul recommends in this week’s verse, do not follow the ways of the world. Just throw away those nasty thoughts today, and replace them with lovely words from our Savior. If Jesus changed Zaccheus and the woman at the well (and countless others), he will change you too! If you’ve not already done so, consider joining forces with a small group to influence a positive change for others in the community, as well.

Power Verses:
Proverbs 19:15, “Wise words are more valuable than much gold and many rubies.”
Matthew 17:20, “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”(NLT).

Friday, September 11, 2009

What Kind of Tool?

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse: Isaiah 10:15, “Can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a whip strike unless a hand is moving it? Can a cane walk by itself?” (NLT)

With that unmistakable hint of autumn in the air, my husband was eager to get in some target practice in anticipation of bow hunting season’s opening day. Through our patio screen I could hear the “whizzzz…THUMP” of the arrows speeding their way through the air and finding the target.

Still, something was a little off. The arrow’s entry wasn’t as clean or precise as Shane would’ve liked.

It turned out that the bow—sitting idle since last winter—needed some fine-tuning. So off we went to see Big Joe, bow tuner extraordinaire.

Let me tell ya, Big Joe ain’t called Big Joe for nothing. And that poor bow was man-handled and tweaked and tuned within Big Joe’s big hands and with his big bow-adjusting implements until it reached the state of being perfectly tuned. Shane’s test shots then showed small, perfect holes, the sign of true, accurate shots.

Shane hadn’t changed his technique or style of shooting; it was the same. But the instrument required some pressure and adjusting before it could properly carry out its master’s will and hit the mark.

How like us! Apart from our Master, we can do nothing worthwhile. If He sees us struggling or missing the target, He fine-tunes us, bringing us to the level of performance He wills. Then He uses us as He sees fit.

This week’s verse takes place within the context of a warning to the king of Assyria. The Lord used him to humble the children of God. But then the king boasts and brags about his destructive prowess. God doesn’t let that go unanswered and poses the questions in the verse (through Isaiah) to illustrate that people are merely tools in the hands of God. It’s His power and skill that enables the tool to do the meaningful work it does.

The tool box is open. God looks through his menagerie of every imaginable instrument. He has a special job in mind and His eye finally settles on you, little sweet you, among all the others. Allow His big hands to wrap around you and guide you to hit the mark.

Father, how we praise you that you’ve designed each of us to be used for Your glory. Open us to feel the love in your big hands as you fine-tune us to do our designated jobs. And help us to always realize that apart from You, we can do nothing. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

What kind of tool are you? In what areas is God using you to bring His light? Are you going through a period of “tuning up” and are you yielding? Look forward to the result of the adjustment and claim the excellence for the Lord’s glory.

Power Verses:
Romans 9:21, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”(NIV)
Ephesians 4:11-13, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”(NIV)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Second Anniversary!

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: Malachi 3:16, "Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name."

I've dearly loved this week's verse from the moment I first heard it. I also dearly love a ministry in which this verse is active! You're right...that would be the ministry right before your very eyes, The Olive Branch, which marked its 2nd Anniversary this past week. Two years! During that time it has been humbling and amazing to see how God has used it as a tool of encouragement, a tool of conviction, a tool of confirmation, and a tool for growth.

And I'm not just talking about for the readers!

I can tell you as one of the writers here (and I've heard it's the same for the others too) that God always teaches me through whatever message I'm about to post. I'll pray, "Lord, may my words be the words you have for your precious daughters." And then by the time I've finished it, the Lord is telling me, "Dear one, this message may be for some others, but it's mostly for you." (Why is a vision of a plank and an eyeball coming to mind? Hmm...) :-)

And I can't even begin to count how many times a post will go up on Friday and then that very next Sunday, the sermon or elder's meditation will mirror what was posted. No one shared ideas, no one peeked at the sermon just happened. Marsha and I will get these crazy "raised eyebrow" moments during service that communicate all we're bursting to say: "Did you hear that? That's just like it said in the devotion!..." God's unifying spirit is incredible.

I also love how God is growing a crop of women who love to write His praises, His lessons, His love. Our writing team has slowly continued to expand and my prayer is that He'll call even more of you to "Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does." (1 Chronicles 16:24, NLT).

In the meantime, I want to thank (in alpha-order) the wonderfully obedient gals who have contributed devotions over the past year: Sara Boyer, Debby Craig, Karen Keim, Bethany Lashbrook, Marsha Loftis, Missy Milbourn, Stephanie Neibarger, Paula Sprigg, and Darra Strohm. We were also blessed to have a guest contributor, Dawn Miller.

Ladies, thank you all for spilling your hearts and God's treasures out to us. It's not easy to put yourself out there like that, but you did it and it will not come back void as noted in Isaiah 55:11: “It is the same way with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”(NLT). (I always knew y'all were a little fruity and there's the scripture to back it up! ) It is truly an honor and tremendous blessing serving with you here.

As we celebrate the past few years, however, let's all continue to pray for God's leading and direction with this ministry. To Him be the Glory!

Father, thank you for the privilege of serving you. Thank you for the ladies who bare their souls and thank you for the ladies who read with open, pliable hearts ready to soak up whatever you have for them. Continue and grow your work here, Lord. And thank you for two wonderful years. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

What God stories do you have? Please consider sharing them here for the encouragement of others to God's glory. Email to contribute.

Power Verses:
1 Chronicles 16:24,"Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does." (NLT)
Isaiah 55:11, “It is the same way with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”(NLT)

Friday, August 28, 2009

How Do I Trust Thee? I Wish I Could Count the Ways...

by Paula Sprigg

This Week's Verse: Psalms 94:19, "When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul."(NIV)

Do you remember the lyrics of this popular song from several years ago? "Anticipation… Anticipation… is makin' me late - is keepin' me waitin' …." They were actually written by Carly Simon, but made popular by Heinz Ketchup. If you'll recall, someone was holding a bottle of ketchup over the hamburger and waiting, anticipating the savory taste of the ketchup on the freshly grilled burger. WOW--sort of makes you hungry, doesn't it ?

Or maybe you recall the days of your youth (mine seem to be getting farther and farther behind me!), and the anticipation of Christmas, or birthdays, or summer break from school. Or possibly you can recall the dreaded anticipation of the beginning of the school year--new friends, new teachers, new classes, lots of homework--the fear and anxiety of the unknown!

Caleb plays football as do several of his friends. One of those friends, Sheldon, lives nearby and so our two families trade rides to and from football. The boys catch a ride to football practice with me, and then they get a ride home from Sheldon's parents. Last Wednesday evening, I picked Sheldon up at the prescribed time and when he got in the car I asked him how he was, if he'd had a good day, etc. I'm sure you've had a conversation like this before, the kind where the adult asks the kid various questions about their day, and the basic answers are yes, no, good, uh-huh, huh-uh. So we had the usual dialogue, and then it was quiet for a short time.

And then the conversation went something like this:

Sheldon: Hey Caleb, are you ready for school tomorrow?

Caleb (giving me an odd, terrified sort of look): HUH????

Me (giving them both an odd look): School doesn't start tomorrow.

Sheldon (with a VERY puzzled look): WHAT???

Me: Today is Wednesday, and school doesn't start until Friday.

Sheldon: Huh-uh….. (continuing to look a little puzzled as the truth sunk in.)

Me: Yeah. You have another day of freedom tomorrow!

Sheldon (with a look of surprise and relief): WOW! I can't believe it. I've been thinking about it, and dreading it all day long! I thought school started tomorrow.

We had a good laugh after that (at Sheldon's expense of course!). And we talked about the fact that they did in fact, have one more day of freedom and how glad they were for the 'extra' day! But as we continued the drive to town, I had to ponder the fact that he had 'worried' about it all day. Something that was beyond his control (school starting, the end of summer break), had worried him, occupied his thoughts and caused him to have a sense of dread all day.

Then I thought about my own life, and how often I allow things over which I have no control to worry me, occupy my thoughts, and cause me to have a sense of dread or anxiety--sometimes for much longer than just a day, sometimes until my stomach hurts and I am physically ill. I worry about my kids, my soon-to-arrive grandbaby, Ruthie and how she'll handle Nate's absence during Basic Training and Tech School, the economy, a job, and the list could go on and on and on. (Wow, sort of makes me feel a little ill.) I try to convince myself NOT to worry, to let God have control and lead. And I will readily admit that I'm not very good at giving that part of my life over to God.

Last week at church, we sang a song about God being "unchangeable, unshakeable, unstoppable... That's what You are… You are God alone… and before time began, You were on Your throne, You were God alone, and right now in the good times and bad, You are on Your throne, You are God alone." And I had chills as we sang this song because at that moment, the reality of God's love and provision struck me very hard (and I need that now and then!) The reality that HE IS in control of EVERYTHING sunk in to the very depths of my soul.

And I prayed that He would protect my family, provide what I need according to His will for my life, give us peace in difficult times, help me feel His presence even when I'm unsure of what's coming next. And at that moment, I had peace and assurance that He WILL provide just what I need, just as I need it according to HIS perfect plan. And today I'm very sure that he holds the future, and I don't have a thing to worry about!

Dear God, help me to give it all to you knowing that you're already well aware of not only my concerns, but also the outcome whether it's tomorrow or years from now. I pray, Dear God, that you would remind me that I must not worry or be anxious about anything--that I need to give it all to you, and if necessary, on a daily basis name my concerns one by one even though you know them already. I thank you for your calming presence each and every day of my life, and pray that I would learn to trust you more and more. Amen.

Are you worried about something? Do you have something that occupies your thoughts, something that gives you a sense of dread or anxiety? Cast ALL of your cares on Him, and He will give you the peace that you need!

Power Verses:
Matthew 6:34
, "Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."(NIV)
Psalms 94:19, "When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul."(NIV)
Philippians 4:6-7, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."(NIV)
I Peter 5:7, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."(NIV)

Friday, August 21, 2009


by Bethany Lashbrook

This Week’s Verse: Romans 15:17, “Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.” (NIV)

One month ago summer was busy. My family—like most of yours—was in the midst of summer vacations, family reunions, swimming adventures, and of course, good old Vacation Bible School! For the first year, both my husband and I were able to volunteer for a week of fun! We decided to let Stacey, our children’s minister, assign us where needed. Risky? Yes. But we knew there was a great need for volunteers so we were willing to do anything, go anywhere!

It came to be that Clint and I were both needed for drama. Clint’s part came first on that Monday. He was Festus of Augustus. He was a wanna-be-athlete that won the crowd over. My part of Junia was the last night, and it went well as I proclaimed my loyalty to Christ, even as the Roman authorities were shutting down my business for that very fact. VBS was a wonderful experience for us both, and to my astonishment, it didn’t end that Friday.

John Cutshall had written in The Caller (something like) “these children will remember this VBS for a long time and will remember Rome and what it was like to be an early Christian.” I didn’t tell him this, but I was skeptical. I didn’t think that our parts would change anyone, or anything for that matter. Really, what could Clint and I have accomplished in our five minutes of drama?

A lot.

Last week, Clint and I were swinging on his grandma’s front porch when a scooter came whizzing by. Perched on this scooter were a father and his son. As soon as this boy saw Clint, he yelled “OLYMPIAN!!!” Three weeks after Clint had played Festus, this boy remembered who he was! This made my heart skip a beat!

Maybe Clint and I did make an impression on these children. Maybe they do understand the hardships of early Christians in Rome. Maybe God placed Clint and me where we were needed in order to impact at least one child, if not many more! Maybe this VBS will be remembered and Clint and I will look back on it in many years still smiling because our part in it was so fun and adventurous! Maybe, just maybe, God didn’t just change these children, but he changed Clint and me.

Often times, when we do something to bless someone else, we are the ones receiving the blessing.

This one moment, sitting on the front porch swinging, affirmed everything I believe in. My Lord, My savior loves me and wants to bless my life in big ways, in small ways, and in unexpected ways. And I’m so grateful for that.

Dear Lord, thank you for sending this child to remind me we are all needed and called to further the Kingdom of God. Thank you, Lord, for our ministers who work so hard to reach out to these children. Thank you for the many volunteers that make each year’s VBS so special. And of course, thank you for the wonderful children you send to each year’s VBS so we may teach them about you! Amen.

Is the Lord calling you to do something, but you are scared? He will stand by you. Like many, you might not quite understand the Lord’s will, but He will reveal it to you if you follow His lead.

Power Verses:
3 John 1:4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (NIV)
1 Corinthians 14:12, “Since you're so eager to participate in what God is doing, why don't you concentrate on doing what helps everyone in the church?” (MSG)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Love, your basic, all-purpose garment

by Melissa Milbourn

This weeks verse: 1 John 4:12 "No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. (NLT) emphasis mine.


As a Christian, I’m amazed by God. I’m amazed by his power, his omnipotence, his grace, his mercy, and I could go on and on…but mostly I’m amazed by his love.

I’m amazed by his love for me…but what really amazes me is how He loves through me. How he will lay someone on my heart, and cause me to love them. The love I feel in that situation is unlike any love I’ve ever felt. The best way I can describe it, is to use words that I heard Henry Blackaby say, “It’s as if God lays His heart over my heart.” When I love like that, His love for that person consumes me.

Paul and Epaphras understood this. In Colossians chapter one Paul is talking to the church of Colosse and He’s commending them, among other things, on how well they’ve loved, as he says this, “He (Epaphras) has told us about the love for others that the Holy spirit Has given you.” (NLT) Yes, the Holy Spirit causes us to love others, and when He does…it is powerful.

But love is also a choice we make. It’s a lifestyle we choose to live. It’s an attitude we choose to take. In the letter that Paul writes to the church of Colosse, He says, “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it". Colossians 3:12 (MSG)

When God is loving someone through us, that is awesome!! But when we don’t necessarily feel that, we need to choose it anyway. We need to grab the garment of love and clothe ourselves in that. That’s the basic all purpose outfit that we need to wear daily…never be without it.

“Father thank you for the times that you are literally loving someone through us…I love that. I love the fact that you give us a glimpse of your love for others. And Father let me tell you, that your ‘glimpse’ overwhelms me. But Father, in those times when it’s hard for us to love, help us to choose love anyway. Help us to clothe ourselves with it daily, and then walk in it daily. Holy Spirit I need your help in that…Father I submit myself to you, lay your heart over my heart…in Jesus name…”

Application: Remember this…love is a choice, not a feeling. Make the decision to love. Here’s some ways to know if we are choosing love (based on 1 Corinthians 13) (Lord help me :-)

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Power Verses:

1 John 4:19 "We love each other because he loved us first". NLT

Ephesians 5:1-2 "Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that." (MSG)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Reservations, Please

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: Colossians 1:4-6, "For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News."(NLT)

Several years ago, Shane and I loaded up the kids and headed to Western Illinois. We were making a circuit, visiting folks from that general large area that we'd not seen in several years. Since we weren't exactly sure how long each visit would take and where we would end up at what time, we didn't make hotel reservations. I mean, spread out over many counties, there would surely be no problem getting a hotel room somewhere along the journey, right?

Normally, that would probably be the case. But on this particular weekend in the largest town between point A and point B (a town that had multiple hotels) there just happened to be some kind of major tournament going on that brought in people from the far ends of the earth. Every hotel in town was booked. And guess what. So were all the hotels in neighboring towns. We ended up back tracking one small burg at a time and finally, hours later, we were able to get our sleepy kiddos into bed after 2:00 a.m.!

What a difference a reservation would have made! A reservation--a spot held just for us, guaranteed upon our arrival because we'd called ahead, agreed to the terms by providing credit card information, and committed to following through. Making a reservation would have ensured rest and refreshment on our journey to the final destination.

What about our final, eternal destination? According to this week's verse, God has prepared a place--already reserved a spot!--for His faithful. With your name down in the book of life (Rev. 3:5) you can set hopeful eyes on the rest and joy completely beyond comprehension that He has waiting upon your arrival there.

No more road weariness, no more uncertainty of the next stop. It's all taken care of.

Father, thank you for preparing our places in eternity with you! We're already homesick and long to make good on the reservation. If there's anything keeping us from being recorded in the book, please open our eyes and hearts to it so that we can rejoice with you for all eternity.

Application: If you are unsure about your heavenly reservation, cry out to God for his direction. Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and visit this link:

Power Verses:
1 Peter 1:4-5, "...To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."(KJV)
Psalm 61:5, "For you have heard my vows, O God. You have given me an inheritance reserved for those who fear your name." (NLT)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Conversation With God

by Karen Keim

“Lord, I am really hurting right now. I can’t quit crying. That person once again spoke to me and treated me in a manner that I don’t deserve.”

“I know how you feel, Karen. I didn’t deserve the treatment I received so long ago. And you know what else? Not that I want to hurt you more, but I don’t deserve the way YOU treat me sometimes either.”

“I know, Lord, and I’m sorry, but can we deal with that later? Right now can we just talk about me? I mean, how much more can I take? How much more SHOULD I take? I have a notion to just e-mail them and give them a piece of my mind!”

“You know, if you really consider yourself religious and don’t keep a tight rein on your tongue, you deceive yourself and your religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)

“So I’m just supposed to sit back and continue to take this treatment at their will?!? Psshh!”

“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:29b)

“But who do they think they are?”

“I could ask you the same thing, Karen. Who do YOU think YOU are? You’re a sinner saved by my grace. You were once lost, too, you know.” (Ephesians 2:5)

“All right, all right. But, Lord, you know my friend and I have even been praying for them, even going so far as to literally hold in our hands things that belong to them and praying that they would soften their heart, that they would in some way come to accept You. Boy, that’s sure done a lot of good!”

“You don’t think so? Sounds to me like you’ve gotten the attention of satan! Sounds to me like he is on the prowl, like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Are you going to let him get you?” (I Peter 5:14)

“Great! So now what am I supposed to do? I can’t fight SATAN!”

“Resist him. Stand firm in your faith. Be self-controlled and alert.” (1 Peter 5:8)

“I can’t, Lord! Don’t you hear me crying? All I want is to give them a piece of my mind!”

“Don’t you trust me? Don’t you think I can handle this one for you? Don’t take revenge. If there is revenge to be taken, I will take care of it.” (Romans 12:19)

“Well, okay. But I’m just not going to talk to them! If they’re going to treat me like that, I’ll just treat them the same way!”

“Would that really make you feel any better? How about just forgetting about it and turning the other cheek?” (Matthew 5:39)

“Oh, for goodness sakes! I suppose the next thing you’re going to tell me is I should overcome their evil by doing good to them, so it’s kind of like heaping burning coals on their head!” (Romans 12:21)

“You got it! I love you, Karen! Isn’t that enough?”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Heart Cry

by Marsha Loftis

This Week's Verse: Psalm 5:1-3, "Listen, God! Please, pay attention! Can you make sense of these ramblings, my groans and cries? King-God, I need your help." (MSG)

I saw the words "heart cry" as I tried to catch up on my daily readings from Tim. He was describing David crying out to God.

I was immediately taken back to a time where I didn't know what to pray, how to pray, or what to hope for or dream of. A time where I was completely at His mercy, where I should be more often, but this particular time I was really lost. I could not form words or thoughts. I could only fall on my face and weep. Jesus knew what I was doing. I was praying. I was communicating with Him in a cry directly from my heart.

At times when you are so lost, so weary, so confused, so .... whatever! Know with every thing in you that Jesus understands. He cares about the smallest detail of our lives. He cares enough to number the hairs on our head. He collects our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). He is there for the little things, the big things, and every THING in between! His love is unimaginable. He knows all. He knows when we cry, when we sigh, and when we are too weary to try.

Thankfully, Jesus cares enough to be my intercessor and go to God on my behalf and interpret my 'heart cry'.

Lord, search my heart. Know that I long to be at Your mercy in all my 'things'. Thank you for sending your Son so that we may have a personal relationship with You, allowing your Holy Spirit to dwell in us. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Have you ever been unable to 'talk' to God? Every moan, groan, or sigh can be a prayer. Whether that prayer is out loud, silent or in the form of a heart cry. Each time you communicate with God you are releasing His power here on earth. Wait, watch, and be exalted!

Power Verses:
Lamentations 2:18 "Give out heart-cries to the Master, dear repentant Zion. Let the tears roll like a river, day and night, and keep at it—no time-outs. Keep those tears flowing!"(MSG)
Romans 8:26 "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."(NIV)
1 Peter 5:6 "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you."(NKJV)
Matthew 11:28 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace."(MSG)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Room to Grow

by Karen Keim

This Week's Verse: Song of Solomon 6:11, "I went down to the grove of nut trees to look at the new growth in the valley, to see if the vines had budded or the pomegranates were in bloom." (NIV)

A little over a year ago, a friend sent me a beautiful planter. The pot that held the plants was about six inches by six inches, and it had four different plants in it, each just the right size to make a very nice arrangement. As time went on, of course, the plants began crowding one another as they grew in that small pot. They began looking weak and pitiful. More than once I would think to myself, “I’ve GOT to repot those poor plants.” In fact, my husband suggested that I would be doing those shabby-looking things a favor if I just threw the whole pot away!

Well, here came spring. I was cleaning out my potting shed and came across some pots that were just the right size to repot each of those four malnourished plants. And that I did! I planted each in its own pot, using fresh potting soil, adding a little bit of fertilizer, and put them on my front porch where they get just the right amount of sunlight. Oh my, what BEAUTIFUL plants they’ve each individually become! As I was admiring them just this morning, I couldn’t believe how they had grown and improved in such a short time.

I then got to thinking how that whole scenario is representative of our own lives. We are like those plants. We are “all bunched up” and bound up by the things of this world. We couldn’t grow (spiritually) if we wanted to! We’ve got so much “stuff” of the world crowding in around us. Mind you, it’s not all bad stuff. All of the plants in that pot were “nice”, “good” plants. But they were “sucking the life” out of one another and causing each of them to be weak. Do you have things, people, activities that are sucking the life out of you?

Let’s do a little repotting of ourselves! Don’t do what I did with those plants and put it off. Let’s get out of that “pot” that’s holding us down. Let’s repot ourselves in a spot that has less of the world in it. How about putting yourself in the fresh soil of God’s Word? Get in it!!! And then “fertilize” with prayer.

You know what? I can just see the beautiful, growing, spiritually-nourished person we can each become by doing just that!

Father, forgive us for allowing the worries of this world to choke the life out of us, as Jesus spoke of in his parable of the seeds (Matt. 13:7). Thank you for the chance to start fresh, leaving behind what stifles our growth.

Identify wordly influences that are leaving you weak and undernourished. What can you do to disentangle yourself from them and start fresh separated from them? Sinking your roots into the Word and getting nourishment from prayer will allow you to blossom.

Power Verses:
Ezekiel 47:12, "Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing."(NIV)
Job 29:19, "For I am like a tree whose roots reach the water,whose branches are refreshed with the dew."(NLT)