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)