Monday, December 16, 2013

More Than Words

by Charity Pence

This Week's Verse: "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Proverbs 16:18 (KJV)

I love the book of James.  There are only five chapters, yet the book of James is filled with several great lessons.  One day as I was reading, God placed on my heart a lesson that is so true and so necessary to be shared.  It is a lesson I believe we all need to hear.

We call ourselves Christians, right? We find comfort in that.  We believe Christ died for our sins, we accept Jesus into our hearts, and we're saved.  Hallelujah! And we're done, right? We know who wins in the end, and now we're on the winning team.  But are we really part of the team? Last time I checked, being part of a team did not mean standing on the sidelines, watching others do their part while we slack off.  Webster's dictionary defines "team" this way: a group of people working together.  Working together.

I believe there is a danger in declaring ourselves Christians while doing nothing to back up that claim.  Sometimes we are even proud of ourselves for becoming a Christian.  But becoming a Christian requires much more than hollow words.  James 1:22-27 says, "We deceive ourselves by saying we are Christians if we do not conduct ourselves as such.  We have to be doers." (NKJ)  The danger I mentioned comes in many forms.  You see, if we were part of God's winning team, we would act in such ways that drew others to our Savior Jesus Christ.  Instead, we tell the world we're Christians while gossiping, lashing out in anger, using vulgar language, telling crude jokes.  We're filling our hearts and minds with movies and/or activities that increase our lust for things God does not desire for us.  And all the while, the world is watching.  People are watching with diligence, waiting for an opportunity to point their fingers and cry "Foul!"

Sometimes I swear when really angry.  I don't do it often, but that doesn't matter.  There is one word that pops out of my mouth; it's always the same one.  And it's ugly.  Some people who know me find it amusing.  "Ha ha, she just cussed!" I laugh it off with them, but you know what? Inside I cringe.  I am filled with shame.  Because I confess to be a Christian, and I worry about the damage I have just done to God's kingdom.  Those people who are watching me, waiting, will not see Jesus in my behavior.  My actions may even offer proof for their belief that we're all a bunch of hypocrites.  And instead of showing others the way to God's team, I may be leading them to their eternal destruction.

Perhaps you think I'm being extreme.  We all make mistakes.  We don't always get it right.  We repent and move on, as we should.  There are many verses throughout the Bible which assure us of God's forgiveness.  Here are two.  "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9 (KJV) "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us." Psalm 103:12 (KJV)

However, sin is never okay.  Forgiveness isn't necessary unless someone has been wronged.  And in our cases, we are wronging our Heavenly Father.  We should be reaching others for Christ, not turning them away from Him.  It would be easy to say we're saved because we declare with our mouths that we have accepted Jesus as our Savior.  But James 2:14 says, "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?" (NKJ)

I have been convicted.  I hope you have too.  Please do not deceive yourselves by thinking you are safe over there on the sidelines, out of the action.  Be more than words.  Be doers of the Word.

Dear Heavenly Father, I deceive myself by saying I am a Christian while not striving to live in a way that brings me and others close to you.  It is so easy to make this mistake.  I acknowledge how wrong I have been.  Please forgive me.  I thank You for your mercy.  Please continue to convict me, Lord, so that I will not be a speaker of hollow words.  Help me to be a doer- to follow Your command to Love others and show them the way to Your kingdom.  In Jesus' most precious name, Amen.

Power Verses:
Luke 16:15 "And he said unto them, ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. (KJV)
John 5:44 "How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?" (NKJ)
Romans 12:21 "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (NKJ)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Not Defined By Insecurity

by Charity Pence

This Week's Verse: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)

Insecurity is something I have struggled with most my life.  Part of me has always felt that I don't quite measure up.  I'm not pretty enough, not developed enough.  At times I've believed myself to be fat though I've never been considered over weight.  I get nervous and tend to trip over my words when speaking and fear I sound like a bumbling idiot.  When I walk through a room of strangers, I cannot shake the feeling that I am being judged.  And one of my biggest fears is being viewed as stupid. 

I was made fun of a lot when younger and was judged harshly for circumstances beyond my control, but I do not believe my negative experiences should determine who I am.  And you know what? I do not believe my Heavenly Father would think so either. 

If you struggle as I do with insecurities, allow me to share with you some mighty truths.

1. You were fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14)
2. You are precious and chosen by God. (1 Peter 2:4)
3. God did not give you a spirit of fear. (Romans 8:15)
4. God will enable you. (1 Peter 4:11)
5. You are made complete through Christ. (Colossians 2:10)
6. You were created beautiful by God. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
7. God cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
8. Nothing can separate you from God's love. (Romans 8:38-39)
9. God rejoices over you. (Zephaniah 3:17)
10. God has a plan for you. (Jeremiah 29:11)
11. You are instilled with the power of Christ. (Acts 1:8)
12. God will not forsake you. (2 Corinthians 4:9)

We are assured of so much more than what is listed above.  But I hope you will use this list to remind yourself of who you are.  Please do not let the world tell you any different.

Dear Heavenly Father, I have spent too much time worrying about what the world thinks of me.  Please forgive me for caring more for the opinion of others than I do about yours.  Your word assures me of who I am.  Help me to focus on that and focus on You, Your love, and Your grace.  For Your grace is sufficient, Lord.  Touch the hearts of those who need this list.  Show them who they truly are.  I love You, Lord.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, June 28, 2013

When We Seek Justice

by Charity Pence
This week's verse: "Then the Lord said, 'Is it right for you to be angry?'" (NKJ)

There are a lot of tragedies in this world that I have a hard time wrapping my head around.  People cause destruction and devastation with their actions, and those of us to witness such things cry out for justice.  But I often catch myself and wonder how I should really feel.

I was reading the story of Jonah a few days ago and something struck me.  The story begins with Jonah's blatant disobedience to God.  God had instructed Jonah to preach to the people at Nineveh, but Jonah refused and went the opposite direction.  For his actions, Jonah was rewarded by being tossed out to sea, swallowed by a big fish, and then vomited onto dry land.  God spoke to Jonah a second time.  "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you." Jonah 3:2 (NKJ)  Jonah finally listened, and by reading further we learn why Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh.  The end of chapter three says the people turned from their evil way so God's anger relented.  "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.  So he prayed to the Lord and said, 'Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, one who relents from doing harm.'" Jonah 4:1-2 (NKJ)  Jonah didn't believe the people deserved God's forgiveness.  He didn't think it was right.  From this part of the story we learn a couple things.  First of all, God's will will be accomplished.  Jonah had tried to flee, but God intervened.  Next, we learn our Heavenly Father is quick to forgive when we repent.  These are great lessons.  But what stood out to me as I read about Jonah was what God said in verse 4.  "Then the Lord said, 'Is it right for you to be angry?'"

When we hear of bombings, shootings, murders, kidnappings, and countless other tragedies, aren't we quick to anger? Like me, do you watch the news, anxiously waiting to hear the perpetrator has been caught so he or she can be punished? Despite how angry I get, I find myself thinking of how God must be grieving, not just for the innocent blood shed but also for the person who strayed so far from God's plan that he took innocent life.  This is where I throw in a disclaimer stating anger in itself isn't wrong.  Anger is an emotion we were created with, and it lets us know a wrong has been committed.  But there is a difference in being angry and being so angry that we decide what is right, we decide the punishment.  When Jonah's anger got the best of him, God corrected him. 

Our Lord is forgiving; the Bible assures us of this.  "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJ)  And 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  So the next time a tragedy occurs, let us think of God first.  Let us remember who God is so we can show Him to the world and give all the opportunity to truly be sorry and repent.

Dear Heavenly Father, It is hard to grasp why such horrible things are allowed to occur in this world.  For reasons we may never know, there are people who inflict harm upon others and innocent lives are taken.  But I trust You, Lord, and know You have a plan.  You are the judge; I am not.  Forgive me for the times I try to take that title from You and place it upon myself.  Fill me with Your love and mercy so I can share it with this hurting world.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Power Verses:
1 John 2:25 "And this is the promise that He has promised us - eternal life." (NKJ)
1 John 3:11 "For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." (NKJ)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

God Is Our Strength

by Charity Pence

Memory Verse: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all." Psalm 34:19 (NKJ)

"I'm not strong enough."
"I can't do it."
"It's more than I can handle."

Do you ever make those statements? I know I do.  What I find interesting, though, is that for all my talk about not being strong enough, I'm strong enough to cling to things I shouldn't.  Perhaps you can relate.  Is there a situation in your life that God has asked you to correct? Have you taken the necessary steps to be obedient? Making changes is hard, regardless of their degree of difficulty.  But I wonder, wouldn't it be easier to make the change and be done with it rather than exerting so much energy on fighting it?

Too many times I've allowed the devil to trap me in negative thought patterns like the ones listed above, but the problem isn't necessarily with the statements alone.  The greater problem is that the statements and the discouragement that comes with them cause me to forget I don't have to have all the strength.  Instead, I need to call out to Jesus, who is more than enough.  Jesus said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."  2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJ)

Allowing ourselves to feel alone is easy, especially when faced with challenging circumstances.  But God is right there with us.  And "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:19.  Don't let Satan fool you into thinking you're on your own to battle this world.  Jesus says, "I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you." John 14:18 (KJV)  Trust God to show you the way.  "In all ways acknowledge Him, and he shall direct thy paths." Proverbs 3:6 (KJV)

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for being all that I need, for never forsaking me when life becomes more than I can bear.  Open my eyes so I see you, Lord, and nothing else.  I place my trust in You, and You will not forsake me.  I love You, Lord.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Power Verses:
Psalm 40:4: "Blessed is the man that maketh the Lord his trust."
1 Peter 5:7: "Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Changes...and a prayer!

As you can see, what was once The Olive Branch has changed.  New name, new look, new layout.  And lots of good things in store.  Our mission is the same.  We hope you will continue in your journey with us as we serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

God bless!

Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank You for instilling in us a desire to serve Your kingdom.  Lord, we are so far from perfect, yet You equip us and use us for Your glory.  We love You, Lord, and seek to complete the work you set before us.  Help us to reach those who desire to know You more.  It is in Your name we pray, Amen. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Devastation of Sin

by Charity Pence

This Week's Verse: Psalm 1:6 "For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish." (NKJ)

What comes to mind when you think of sin? I've been reading through the book of Psalms, and there is a particular passage that stands out to me.  "There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin.  For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.  My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness." Psalm 38:3-5.  My wounds are foul and festering.  When I picture that, I see a terrible, painful sore oozing with pus.  It's a nasty image, isn't it? But that is exactly what sin does to us.

The consequences of freely partaking in sin can be devastating.  Sin weakens our body and makes us physically ill.  David, the writer of the 38th Psalm, understood this very well.  The physical toll is not the worst consequence, though.  Sin wedges itself between us and God, causing a separation between us and our Heavenly Father.  Isaiah 6:3 tells us God is holy, holy, holy.  And in 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 we are reminded, "For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.  Therefore, he who rejects this does not reject man but God, who also has given us His holy spirit."  So in choosing sin, we forsake God.  For how can we stand in His presence, He who is most holy, when we are full of sin?

We can find comfort in Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  Whew.  We can breathe easier now, right? Perhaps.  But only if we've truly repented and made Christ our Lord.  The question is this: if we are freely partaking in sin, are we truly repenting? Or are we foolish enough to think sinning is okay because we can repent for it later and be forgiven? Now don't get me wrong.  The Bible assures us of God's grace and forgiveness.  But that means we have to continually check ourselves and be sure we are truly striving to resist sin.  This is where prayer comes in.  The truth is, we can't do this on our own.  We have a sinful nature.  However, God fills us with His strength when we pray which allows us to resist the temptations we are faced with daily.  Prayer is our strongest tool.  We should use it more often.

Dear Heavenly Father, You know what sins we struggle with daily.  You know the burden sin places on us.  You call us to a life without sin because you know the damage it causes.  Therefore, be with us, O Lord.  Please fill us with your strength so we can resist the traps set for us by the devil.  We are your children, and we wish to draw near to You.  We love You, Lord.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Application: When you find yourself tempted this week, call out to God.  He will always show us the correct path as long as we seek it.

Power Verses:
Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Titus 2:11, 12 "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A New Day

by Charity Pence

This Week's Verse: "Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!" Psalm 27:14 (NKJ)

There was a time when I looked forward to New Year's.  I'd jot down my resolutions and then ring in the new year with family.  We'd bang pots and pans, cheer, have a toast for all the good to come.  The new year always held such potential.  Regardless of what occurred the prior year, I could smile and be joyful.  A new year brought a new day, new opportunities.

Each year, a bit of that excitement slips through my fingers as I'm reminded that one day doesn't change anything.  Not really.  On New Year's Eve, when the clock strikes midnight, there's no magic wand that waves away our struggles.  And, thankfully, our blessings are not waved away, either.  Instead, life goes on in one continuous loop that seems to speed up and never slows down.  And you know what I recently realized? I don't mind.  Okay, I wouldn't mind if time slowed, but I don't mind that time occurs in a continuous cycle. 

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." (NKJ)  The point is, there really is a time for everything.  Seasons change, circumstances change.  And it all happens in God's time.  So rather than see January 1st as a new day for change, I try to appreciate each and every day because every day has potential for change.  When life gets tough, I accept struggles as lessons for patience (although not always gracefully), knowing that the trial will pass.  I try to focus on the blessings because they don't end when the year ends.

In the midst of the holiday season, it's easy to get caught up in the idea of a new year.  But every day is a new day.  And even more amazing, God's right there with us.  He will hold our hand, wipe our tears, laugh with us, hold us up.  Whatever we need, every day of the year, we can count on God to provide. 

So don't focus so much on January 1st.  Every day is a new day, and God is with us to celebrate.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank You for reminding me I don't need a new year to see Your glory.  I don't need to wait until next year to find joy.  Instead of focusing on a new year, help us to look upon each day as we do the new year.  Every day holds promise; every day You are there.  Thank You, Lord.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Power Verses:
Psalm 16:1 "Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust." (NKJ)
Isaiah 55:6 "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near." (NKJ)