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)