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)