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.”