Friday, June 26, 2009

Mercy Flood

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: Romans 9:16, "It does not therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." (NIV)

This past Monday evening was ridiculously hot, humid, and still. According to my husband, it was a perfect evening for a bike ride together. I grumbled a little (maybe more than a little) but I went because that's what wives do for husbands they love. Shane is a serious cyclist so I knew this was not going to be a leisurely pleasure cruise. He even broke out his padded cycling shorts for me. (He's sweet like that.)

Equipped with our water bottles, we started off towards the east. The plan was to ride towards the river bottom and at a certain point, I'd turn off and end up doing a ten-mile ride back to the house, while he'd go on straight and loop around for a 25 mile ride. He was merciful to me and knew what I could and couldn't do in the short amount of daylight we had left.

After we'd split, I continued down my road at a pretty good clip because I wanted to surprise him by beating him home. Cornfields on both sides, a blacktop road baked out with the heat, areas of steamy fog beginning to rise in patches, the smell of farm life...AH! I took a deep breath and just inhaled the moment.

Chris Tomlin's "Amazing Grace: My Chains are Gone" began to run through my mind and I found myself singing the chorus (as much as singing is possible being short of breath!): "My chains are gooooooone; I've been set freeeeee; My God, my Savioooooor has ransomed meeeeeee. And like a floooooood..."

And at that moment, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a sign along the road that read, "Flood Area Ahead." A flooooood area ahead.

Sisters, what are the odds of that? That I'd read a sign with the very same word that was resonating in my brain at exactly the same time? Call it coincidence if you want, but that kind of stuff makes my heart skip a beat and my tummy do a little flip. I felt God's presence right there with me among those stalks of young corn and oily spots of road.

"...And like a flooooood, His mercy reigns. Unending love, amazing grace." A flood of mercy ahead. What a gift; what a blessing.

No matter what else I encountered along the the rest of my journey--my bike ride, my week, the rest of my life--God promised me there would be a flood of mercy ahead to see me through. He makes the same promise to you.

Father, thank you for speaking to us in that still small voice, through such random things as a sign by a road. Thank you for flooding us with your mercy and for your amazing grace.

Consider the subtle ways God speaks to your heart. I Kings 19:11-13 tells of God speaking to Elijah not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in a gentle whisper. Be vigilent for His whisper as He speaks His promises into your heart. Rejoice in His flood of mercy.

Power Verses:
Nehemiah 9:31, "But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God." (NIV)
2 Samuel 24:14, "'I'm in a desperate situation!' David replied to Gad. 'But let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great. Do not let me fall into human hands.'"(NLT)
Lamentations 3:22, "God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up. They're created new every morning. How great is your faithfulness! I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over). He's all I've got left." (MSG)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Watch Your Mouth!

by Stephanie Neibarger

This Week's Verse: James 3:5, "The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark." (NIV)

Watch your mouth! Have you ever been told that as a child? You would say something that was probably a little inappropriate and your parents would not-so-gently caution you to “Watch your mouth!” Yeah, me too! (More times than I care to admit!)

Just yesterday (as I’m writing this) I was certain a friend of mine had lied to me. I wanted so badly to cuss her out, yell, scream, whatever, to let her know that I had caught her in a lie and wasn’t going to put up with it. But, after taking a step back, I thought, "What good would that do?" It would only hurt our friendship and if she did lie, it was her problem, not mine. So I immediately prayed (thanks Kathy!).

But that’s not where this story ends… today, as I read the two daily scripture calendars that I have on either side of my microwave, both of them (yes – both!) talked about controlling the tongue! Wow! I am soooo glad I didn’t lash out at my friend. So now, instead of regretting any harsh words, I’m writing a devotion (thanks God!).

Quite a few years ago when I used to teach I visited another teacher in her room. I noticed a plaque on her desk that read “It is better to leave angry words unspoken, than to mend the heart those words have broken.” I have never forgotten that simple little rhyme. As an immature Christian, if I got upset or angry about something, I would fly off the handle and say whatever I thought, no matter the consequences, only to regret it later. I’ve gotten a little better at controlling my tongue when I get angry but admit I can still say some pretty stupid and hurtful things at times.

The Bible tells us in Proverbs 18:21 that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (NLB).

I have a phrase I like to use with my athletes when they come into the training room complaining about someone or something… “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I hope, like that plaque, it will stick with them forever.

May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Prayed from Psalm 19:14, NLT)

The Bible tells us that if we want joy in our life and have happy days, we are to keep our tongue from saying bad things and our lips from talking bad about others (1 Peter 3:10). It might help to remember the little rhyme that has stuck with me throughout the years: “It’s better to leave angry words unspoken, than to mend the heart those words have broken.”

Power Verses:
James 3:10, "My dear friends, with our tongues we speak both praises and curses. We praise our Lord and Father, and we curse people who were created to be like God, and this isn’t right."(CEV)
Proverbs 13:3, "Those who control their tongue will have a long life; a quick retort can ruin everything."(NLT)
Proverbs 15:4, "Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit."(NLT)
Psalm 39:1,“I will guard my way, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will bridle my mouth, so long as the wicked are in my presence.”(RSV)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Why Wait?

by Kathy Lay

This Week’s Verse: 2 Chronicles 6:40, "Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”(NIV)

Now typically, I like frogs. They're kind of cute, they eat insect pests, and my kids love to play with them. But imagine being completely overrun with them. Exodus 8 describes the plague of frogs as being so thick that they were even invading beds, ovens, and kneading bowls. It'd be kind of hard to sleep with those slimy, ribbitting things trying to slip into your PJ's for warmth. It would also be a bit disconcerting to bite into your bread and sense something unusually chewy, only to look down and see half a frog oozing out at you. And then there's what they leave behind. Everywhere.

So Pharaoh--fed up with all this--summons Moses and Aaron to pray to their God to remove the frogs. Moses challenges Pharaoh to determine the time the prayer should take place. (Now here's the part that makes my jaw drop...)

Pharaoh responds, "Do it tomorrow."

(Okay, re-read that first part of v. 10. because I KNOW he didn't just say "tomorrow.")

"Do it tomorrow," Pharaoh said.

What?! Why on earth would he allow the frogs to remain one more day if he didn't have to?! Unless it was exactly 11:59:59 p.m. (or whatever the ancient Egyptian equivalent would be), then I simply do not understand how Pharaoh could respond this way in the midst of such nastiness. Why did he not burst out desperately, "Today! Do it right now to end this!"

But then as God so often does, He transported me from His Word to my life...or more accurately, His Word IN my life: "Kathy, why do you judge Pharaoh? You do this all the time. When you're worrying about a decision to make, you tell yourself that you need to pray about it—and sometimes you do—but sometimes you forget entirely. Or someone who is struggling will confide in you and you tell her “I'll pray for you,” implying that you'll do it later. Why not do it right then? By waiting, you're postponing resolution or healing, just like Pharaoh did. So quit judging."

Wow. Lesson noted, Lord. Thanks.

And you know what? A few plagues later when the flies swarmed in, Pharaoh gave Moses permission to take the Israelites on a three-day trip to the wilderness to offer sacrifices. But in verse 28 he doesn’t say, “Pray for me in a few days while you’re out there.” No, this time he asks for immediate prayer.

Even though he still struggled with a hard heart in later chapters, Pharaoh was beginning to learn his lesson: why wait?

Father, I am not so different from Pharaoh with my hard heart and my delayed or often omitted prayer. Help me finally come to realize the urgency in prayer to the point that it becomes second nature to do it at the exact moment a need presents itself.

Have you ever wondered if a situation could have been averted had you prayed about it sooner? I know I have. I Thess. 5:17 tells us to pray continually, which lends itself beautifully to timely, urgent prayer. Try to develop the habit of turning thoughts into prayers. It takes discipline, but it will enable you to stay in constant contact with The One who has it all under control.

Power Verses:
Exodus 8:28, “'All right, go ahead,’ Pharaoh replied. ‘I will let you go into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord your God. But don’t go too far away. Now hurry and pray for me.’”(NLT—emphasis mine)
Psalm 102:1, “God, listen! Listen to my prayer, listen to the pain in my cries. Don't turn your back on me just when I need you so desperately. Pay attention! This is a cry for help! And hurry—this can't wait!”(MSG)
Psalm 86:6, “Listen closely to my prayer, O Lord; hear my urgent cry.”(NLT)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Capture That Thought

by Kathy Lay

This Week's Verse: 2 Corinthians 10:5, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."(NIV)

I had an evil thought recently. I'm ashamed to admit this, but I did. In a moment of extreme frustration with someone who often raises the hackles of those nearby, I found myself envisioning a certain someone whizzing down the interstate in a car and out of nowhere, along comes this huge, monstrous semi truck and...well, I'll spare you the gory details!

I was jolted back into reality by the horror of what I'd just imagined! Would I really want this person dead?! Heavens, no. But for just a brief little moment I found escape from a situation in this warped fantasy.

And fantasies are harmless, right? Not so. James 1:15 explains how our thoughts or desires lead to sin, which eventually lead to death. Wow.

So what's the remedy? How do we gain control over our thought life?

The answer is in this week's verse. We take those impure thoughts captive under the authority of Christ.

The first time I was directed to do that very thing I had trouble with the method. Take a thought captive? I smirked. And how exactly do I that? Hog tie it and lock it up? (Uh-huh. You see now why I desperately need help harnessing my nasty little attitude.)

But that's actually not so very far from the truth. Matthew 18:18 says, "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."(NIV)

Sooo..let me wrap my mind around that. If I do hog-tie and lock up a bad thought under the authority of the Name of Jesus Christ, then I'll have all the power of heaven joining me in capturing it? And if it's bound, how much easier is it to conquer?

That's just powerful enough to work! Even for me!

Let's not stop there, though. We need to flood our mind with good thoughts, Christ-like thoughts, to crowd out room for any more bad ones to pop up. Phillipians 4:8 prompts us to fix our "thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise"(NLT).

Is a blood-spattered highway lovely? I need to replace that thought with a thought that Christ himself might have. I can't really picture the victim in my fantasy "Dancing With My Father God" in fields of grace or daisies, but I can picture me praying more for this person. I can begin to see this person through the eyes of the Creator. And I can turn my thoughts to the truth and praise God that He's opened my heart to it.

The least I can do is get my lasso ready to go!

Jesus, you know how hard it is for us to keep our thought-lives pure. Thank you for your promise to help us take thoughts captive under your authority and for binding them up with all the power in heaven. We ask that you also loose from heaven the types of thoughts that are pleasing and glorifying to you so that we can loose your will here on earth.

Application: Impure thoughts can range from heinous crimes to little snide comments you've thought but not said out loud. What are three thoughts you've had lately that you'd be ashamed of if people knew? Get out that rope and take them captive right now in Jesus' Name. Replace them with thoughts that are praiseworthy.

Power Verses:
2 Cor. 10:5-6, "We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity."(MSG)

Titus 1:15, 16, "Everything is clean to the clean-minded; nothing is clean to dirty-minded unbelievers. They leave their dirty fingerprints on every thought and act. They say they know God, but their actions speak louder than their words." (MSG)