by Anita Keagy, JoyShop Ministries
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear ... but seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:25 & 33
I will never forget the day when Jesus got my attention as I cried out to Him for abundant life. Up to that point I was living the lifestyle of a hamster running on the ever-spinning wheel! I was tired of worrying about my life, my husband's and children's spiritual lives, as well as keeping up with all the responsibilities that continually filled my day. It was one big burden!
As I looked to the heavens and asked God for the abundant life promised in John 10:10, He immediately brought Matthew 6:33 to my mind. I heard His whisper over my anxious heart, "Anita, you have been living life backwards for many years. Every day you wake up, your day is about you and all you feel you need to get done. You are always trying to squeeze some time with Me and reading my Word into your busy schedule and it's not working. Every day your first priority is to be Me! Time alone with Me and My written Word should be the most important accomplishment for the day. Plan your other activities and many responsibilities around our time together! If you live a lifestyle of seeking Me FIRST, then you can be sure that all the things that you are worried about will be taken care of by Me!"
All of a sudden I saw the truth of how I was living. My daily focus was on all I had to get done that day along with worry and anxieties over the future. But God was asking me to change my focus to seeking intimacy with Him first and then leaving the future to Him.
But what does it really mean to seek first His kingdom? To answer this question I grabbed a dictionary and looked up the key words of this verse.
To "seek" means "to look for, to search intently for, to want to find"! I had to get honest with myself and ask the hard questions: Am I really looking for God? Do I take the time to search for Him? Do I really want to find Him?
Next I looked up the word "first." It is defined as, "Earliest in time or order, foremost in position, rank, or importance." To seek God first means that I will either do it first thing in the morning before I start my day or that I will organize my day around my time with Him! What part of "first" do I not get? First is first!
The word "kingdom" is defined as "a realm where the king's word has full sway." What the king desires is what happens. Every time I open my Bible, I am putting my heart under His sway where my King can get what He desires from my life!
For me, choosing a lifestyle of seeking God FIRST means that every day I am given the gift of waking up, I'm going to begin my day with Him. He is all that matters!
Tweet this! I'm going to begin my day with Him. He is all that matters!
Everything else will fall into place. I want to know Him, find Him and keep seeking intimacy with Him. I have been actively living a lifestyle of seeking God FIRST since that day. This simple discipline has brought the abundant life of Christ and His joy back into my heart! Only one thing is needed: order your day around intimacy with God!
Anita Keagy founded JoyShop Ministries in 2006 with one simple mission: To get people to spend time with God every day through Bible reading and prayer. Since then, she has traveled nationwide and internationally, sharing her message of seeking God first each day as the key to abundant life and joy. Thousands of people have heard and responded to her dynamic message at conferences, retreats, schools and churches.
With a compelling story of how God used a very difficult situation in her life for His glory, Anita shares candidly how she became pregnant as a teenager – all the more “scandalous” because she was a preacher’s daughter – and made the difficult choice to place her daughter for adoption. With tremendous support from family, she heroically bore her child and made an adoption plan. Anita never stopped yearning to know her first-born daughter, even as she married and had four more children. Through a file of letters and the help of her adoption agency, Anita finally met her firstborn 21 years later. God used Anita’s own desire to know her child to impress upon her how much He wants to know His children – us! With that knowledge, a ministry was born that is now thriving and impacting lives every day.
Discover more at www.joyshop.org.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Eph. 2:10
As I reflect on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, I am reminded of this beautiful verse from Ephesians. How wonderful that we are created like poetry – with workmanship.
The words, "Poetry in motion" are generally defined as someone moving gracefully. It's a phrase used to describe anyone from a fabulous dancer to the moves of an elite basketball player.
Most believe that the term began with the 1961 song Poetry in Motion, by Johnny Tillotson. The idea however, may have started much earlier, in the New Testament.
Paul writes in Ephesians that we are God's "workmanship," this particular word coming from the Greek word "Poema." This is the same word of course, from which we glean the idea of a poem. It is not a stretch then, to say that we are in fact, God's poem. We are created to do good works to change our world.
Tweet this! It is not a stretch then, to say that we are in fact, God's poem.
Years ago I heard a children's poet tell a class of elementary students that when writing a poem he often went through more than 100 drafts before finding the words, the rhythm, and the connection his readers needed so that he could say, "Finished."
I doubt God needed 100 "drafts" when creating us. I'm sure He got it right the first time. Yet, we can be assured that just like a poet, God took great care in creating each of us—and Paul tells us He did so for a reason: Good works.
If nowhere else, here we can see the sanctity of our own lives and all human life in God's careful creation!
Serving in a pregnancy help organization truly reflects a desire to do these good works, works God created for us to "walk in them."
Every client, every patient, every resident, every single person we come across is an opportunity to walk in a good work God desires for us to complete.
So take heart. We are God's poems – created in his workmanship – and as we move forward to serve, assist and walk alongside those we see, we are truly "Poetry in Motion."
by Debra Neybert, Training Specialist
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:5–8)
At Christmas we are often drawn to the account of the Lord's humble birth, and certainly He came into the world in unpretentious circumstances, but His humility had an even greater impact. Jesus made Himself of no reputation, removing His royal robes, so that we might be adorned with the garments of salvation.
Andrew Murray captures it well, "Christ is the humility of God embodied in human nature; the Eternal Love humbling itself, clothing itself in the garb of meekness and gentleness, to win and serve and save us."
The Word tells us to put on, or clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 13:14). We are invited daily to slip into the garments He provided, taking on His character, disposition, attitude, and His righteousness. True humility is seeing ourselves as the Father sees us. We are the righteous of God in Christ. Yes, there are the human frailties and wounds, but the Father is always speaking to our potential; which beckons us to become more like Him!
The scripture in Romans implies putting away selfishness, the more room we make for God in our lives the more we will be imitators of Him. When we choose to step aside and esteem others better than ourselves, we can say, "It is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives in me." (Galatians 2:20) As He is made larger on the inside of us, love and humility become more evident. When we choose to love in the most difficult of circumstances, it protects us from the circumstances getting on the inside of us. Pride wants to protect itself, humility allows for God's protection!
Jesus is humility; and being full of grace and truth He was able to overlook all that came against Him; He walked in such a way that it could not touch Him. "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up." (James 4:6-7, 10)
How do we emulate His love and humility? When we choose to fix our eyes on Him, worship and adore Him, we become more and more like Him. Ancient rabbis would say a true worshiper of God was putting on the cloak of the Shekinah. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Corinthians 2:18)
Tweet this! Jesus is the gift of humility and so much more!
Jesus is the gift of humility and so much more! He made Himself of no reputation so that we might have the greatest reputation of all....sons and daughters of the most High God! Let us rejoice this season in The King of all Glory, who reigns in us, through us. Emmanuel, God with us!
But he answered them, 'My father is working until now, and I myself am working." John 5:17
We know the story of the healing at Bethesda, a miraculous moment where Jesus comes upon a pool where a sick man is sitting beside the water, hoping for healing.
Jesus asks the man, "Do you wish to get well?" and after the man offers that he is unable to get into what is known as the pool where healings take place, Jesus heals him—no water required!
Imagine the scene for a moment: A man, sick for thirty eight years, finds healing at the hand of one seeking to do nothing more than heal and assist. Can you consider with me how exciting this must have been? Can we see in our minds the people gathering around with joy and astonishment?
And yet, there is more to the story. Suddenly the religious leadership happens on the scene and become "The Sabbath Police." With a miracle in their midst, they complain because in their minds, Jesus chose the "wrong" day (the Sabbath) to do good. If their response was not so arrogant, it would be comical.
Yet toward the end of the story there is a joyous truth we can grasp today. In response to the religious leaders Jesus says, "My father is working until now, and I myself am working." The truth? Jesus is working . . . Now.
Where is it that I need Jesus' work in my life? Where do I need healing, or hope, or courage? For what situations do I need the peace He brings, even when there is tribulation all about me?
Tweet this: Every day, every hour, every moment, Jesus is working on our behalf, as is His Father.
Every day, every hour, every moment, Jesus is working on our behalf, as is His Father.
So take heart. Regardless of the circumstances, and no matter the date, help is on the way. A man sitting by a pool in Bethesda saw this first-hand. We can, too.
by Ellen Foell, Esq.
I was preoccupied and never noticed the stop sign at the intersection when I breezed through it. My newly licensed teenager could not resist the temptation: "Uh, Mom, that was a stop sign and it applied to you."
Jamming on the brakes, I stopped a hundred feet into the intersection (as if that would have done any good). My heart was racing in spite of the fact that there were no other cars coming; it had thankfully not been a near miss. I was perplexed that, in my inattention, I had completely failed to notice the intersection or pay attention to the stop sign that applied to me.
Since then, I am twice as careful to not only stop at intersections, but to linger (to the annoyance of my children). I look up the street, down the street, behind me, before me, and beside me, determined to never again go through one without paying attention to the stop signs. One never knows what might be coming.
I tend to do the same thing -- go through the stop signs without noticing the intersection -- in my spiritual life. Thankfully, that's usually when the Holy Spirit says to me, without as much sarcasm as my children: "Um, that was a stop sign, and it applied to you."
These intersections, are as important, if not more so, than the physical intersection I cruised through. And the most significant intersections are where despair and faith meet. Sometimes, I have the wisdom to see that it is an intersection, and as I approach, I stop, looking in all four directions. At other times, I've already rolled through the intersection, and it's not until one, two or three hundred feet past the stop sign that I realize that, not only was that an intersection, but it applied to me. That is typically a holy moment... when despair and faith intersect.
Learning to Watch in the Intersection
Many years ago, my husband and I struggled with secondary infertility, unable to conceive again for four years following the birth of our daughter. We made frequent visits to the obstetrician's office, and eventually decided it was time to visit an infertility expert. There had been too many cycles of hope and despair, too many cycles of expectation and disappointment, and not one cycle that had ended in pregnancy. We would cycle through more disappointment as we waited for our appointment on Oct. 10, 1997.
The night before my appointment, my husband kindly asked if I wanted him to join me for the appointment. Being a strong, self-sufficient woman, I pooh-poohed the idea and told him he should go ahead and go to work. I could handle whatever the infertility doctor could throw my way.
As soon as I walked into the office, I sensed I was in trouble. It may have been the rapid heartbeat, or the tears forming as I walked down the hallway, eyeing the happy pictures of the success stories all along the walls. Somewhere along the 45-minute drive to this office, I had morphed from a hopeful and confident woman to a woman afraid and sad that our happy family picture would never grace the doctor's office walls.
The visit took all of 30 minutes. It just seemed wrong that, after waiting and trying and hoping and praying for four years, our future could be assessed in half an hour. The gentle, warm, and gracious smile, giving me the solution to our four years of heartache was actually a somewhat cold and matter of fact: "Well, I would recommend that you pursue adoption."
No further tests necessary. No diagnosis. No smile. No gentleness. No reassuring hand on my shoulder. No further wisdom. The expert clearly had nothing to offer to salve my heart, let alone cure the infertility, so I left.
Through tears I found my car and stood there, pounding on the hood of the car, thinking, "Where is Phil when I need him?!" I was angry with my husband, angry with myself for telling him not to come and go to work, angry with God that He was nowhere in sight -- and I had not even told Him to go to work!
I leaned against the hood of the car, knowing I had no other choice but to further lean on God. At the moment, I hated having nothing else to lean into. My trust and faith in Him at that moment was more an act of desperation than a joyful surrender. To whom else could I go?
To Faith from Despair
It was not long thereafter that we started the process of adoption, although we had a mere 53 cents to invest in the long and expensive process. We had already been told at the county that the likelihood of our being successful candidates through the county adoption process were nil. Again, no warm gentle understanding smile or explanation.
And so we began our journey of international adoption. We settled upon an adoption agency and began the home study. Our only country selection parameter was that it could not be Thailand, since I had lived in Thailand for two years and had frequently seen couples staying at the guest house, hearing their stories of waiting years for the adoption process -- rife with obstacles and delays -- to finalize.
Then came the day in January that Phil and I came to an intersection.
We received a call and an email from two different people. Phil was checking the email on our third floor computer while I was in the kitchen checking phone messages. The phone message was from friends who had heard of our desire to adopt and wanted to fund the adoption, start to finish. The email was from a friend in Thailand who knew of twin boys needing an adoptive home.
We were each receiving these pieces of incredible news alone and ran to tell the other, meeting at the landing. Had we not come to the intersection of that offer of funding and children needing a home, I don't know that we would have ever considered Thailand as a country from which to adopt.
This was one of those intersections with a stop sign that we knew applied to us. We had to stop, take notice, look up, look down, look ahead and behind. God was up to something. We could pursue this and ditch our original route with its parameter of avoiding Thailand, or we could take a new direction. We chose the new direction.
Again, we ran into disappointment. Tests run on the boys showed that one was HIV positive and the other twin was HIV negative. We did not want to separate the brothers. We could not fathom the heartache of our family to adopt a son and then lose him to AIDS. We brokenly said "no."
Where was God headed with this? Only a few weeks later, our friend emailed with a request that we prayerfully consider another set of twin boys. Our prayerful consideration was short but an enthusiastic, "Yes!"
Ten thousand miles past the intersection and eight months later, we flew to Thailand to pick up our sons from the orphanage. Few words can describe the intense wall of heat that greets a traveler stepping onto the tarmac in Bangkok. It didn't matter. The plane ride was an excruciating twenty-seven hours. It didn't matter. The airplane food was...well, airplane food. It didn't matter. Our body clocks were twelve hours behind. It didn't matter. The adoption review board interviewed us with our entire life story spread out before them. It didn't matter.
They approved us as an adoptive family. Two days later, we celebrated our sons' first birthday, Oct. 10, 1998. We have celebrated many thankful birthdays since then.
But I like to remember their true birth-day, the day they arrived into this world. The day that I leaned against the hood of the car, sobbing in the doctor's parking lot, feeling the pain of aloneness and hopelessness, wondering where the Lord was. How could I have known, then, at that intersection of despair and faith, that, indeed, He was present and at work? At that moment, 10,000 miles away, on Oct. 10, 1997, Thailand time, and 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, my God had already delivered my sons into the world.
Even now, years after I sailed through the intersection, I still slam on the brakes, my heart races and I marvel that, indeed, God is always at the intersection of despair and faith. And the stop sign applies to me. I never know what's coming.
"But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called 'today,' so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Hebrews 3:13
None of us wants to be involved in sin. It's an ugly thing and as Christians we certainly want to avoid whatever it is that tempts us. Still, in the real world, avoiding sin is not easy.
What would we do if there were a "sin shot" we could take that would shield us from falling into vicious anger, gossip, hatred or any one of the sins that can so easily overtake our minds?
What if someone came up to us and said, "Here's the vaccine; take this and if you continue with regular doses and up the medication when temptation comes, you'll likely avoid doing wrong altogether!"?
Would I take that shot? Yep . . . And the writer of Hebrews gives us our "Sin Antidote" in Hebrews 3:13. The antidote is simple - encouragement.
The writer here is not giving us a nice phrase to remember, but a proven fact for the Christian: Spend your day encouraging, and sin will flee your mind and your actions. The hardened heart you fear will never be a problem for you.
Often I can see the word "encourage" as only icing on the Christian cake - a nice addition to the walk of faith, but nothing to get too excited about. Yet that's not what the writer of Hebrews is saying. To the writer, encouragement is essential.
Shifting my thinking, I need to see encouragement as an integral part of every day in my life. Who have I encouraged today? And how? Who needs encouragement?
The writer's point I believe, is this: When we make encouragement a daily focus, we no longer have time for temptation—or yielding to temptations. Encouragement builds relationships, and builds up a foundation for a stronger Body of Christ.
So take heart. Today is the day to encourage. When we do, our hearts remain soft and our ability to be mighty in the faith becomes strong.
By Jennifer Minor, Editor/Writer
For the last 42 years, October has been recognized as Respect Life Month, focusing on issues of life and the dignity of the human person, with a special emphasis each year. It's also time set aside to spread stories about the good that comes from adoption and the healing that can follow an abortion.
For us, every month is the month we witness, experience, and encounter these stories, so why even bother with Respect Life Month?
It's all about seasons. The seasons set aside in church life to celebrate such events as Easter and Christmas help fuel our appreciation and awareness about truths that should always be on our hearts and minds. We recognize the truth of Jesus rising from the dead every day, but that doesn't keep us from celebrating Easter. In the same way, we celebrate Respect Life Month to remind ourselves and others of the beauty and wonder of life from conception to natural death.
Reflect on this year's theme for a moment. "Each of us is a masterpiece of God's creation." When you go to an art museum and see a painting or sculpture worked by a master artist, what do you do?
Personally, I'm stopped in my tracks, breathlessly gazing on the beauty and wonder of the masterpiece. Between van Gogh's Starry Night, da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Rodin's The Thinker, and Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son - only a few of the recognized masterpieces of Western art - I could spend days in reflection and admiration.
And yet, these master artists are mere shadows and reflections of the Master Artist, whose masterpieces we so easily pass by without a second glance. God gives each of His masterpieces unique gifts of life, personality, and will. God's art is not stagnant or unthinking. Every person - each of us - is one of God's masterpieces.
When we take the time to gaze at His masterpieces, we can't help but notice the beauty and wonder of each man and woman, adult and child, pregnant mother and unborn baby.
This is the month to remind ourselves, our staff, our volunteers, our clients and our communities that each of us is a masterpiece. It's a time to remember that every life is worth celebrating, honoring, and cherishing as a precious and irreplaceable creation by the Designer and Maker of the universe.
Whether you have celebrated October as Respect Life Month with fundraising, awareness campaigns, or nothing at all, it's not too late to remind someone that they are a masterpiece. Those we serve certainly need this reminder, but so do our staff, volunteers, and everyone we see day by day.
Speaking of reminders, here is one for you: You are a masterpiece created by God, the Master Artist. Even if no one else does, He gazes on you with wonder, both in this season and in every season.
By Debra Neybert, Training Specialist
“One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Mark 10:21B
Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler fascinates me. You know the story; a rich young man came to Jesus, asking “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus draws the man in, telling him to obey the commandments, and the ruler replies, “I have kept all these things from my youth.” Jesus then turns to the heart, asking the man to sell his riches, give the proceeds to the poor, and to follow. Sadly, the rich young ruler chooses not to do so. This story is not about the poor, but about what we must release in order to fully follow our Lord, Jesus. In the rich young ruler’s life, he had his “fall back plan”—his wealth—that he could rely on for security and safety. He was happy to follow, as long as he could keep his stuff. That’s not how things work in the kingdom of God. We all have fall back items we must be willing to release. Wealth is one of those, but others might be reputation, pride in our own abilities, status, or something else. Yet there is a flip side. We often think of letting go of those things that are positive in our lives—such as wealth, etc.—but what about those negative moments in our past that must be set aside in order to follow with abandon? Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:1 to “lay aside everything that hinders” us from fully following Jesus, right? Paul isn’t only talking of sin, but all that hinders us. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we define ourselves by our past. When we do this, we create our own “fall back” position, just like the rich young ruler. For us however, our hindrance is not wealth, it is the idea that we can never fully follow because of a past decision that disqualifies us from full participation in the Body of Christ. Instead of dwelling on the new person we are, we continue to look back, trying to make amends for what we did, many years ago. I think Jesus’ message to the rich young ruler, the command to “let go,” is not only for those who have to let go of a safety net, but also for all of us who struggle with a past decision that we’ve let define who we are. Take heart. Today is the day to let go. Today is the day to press on, to follow with abandon. And today is the day to define ourselves not by who we once were, but by who we are . . . Today.
Are you one of those who has a tendency to compare yourself to others? I can be. And my comparisons often show me coming up . . . short.
Others appear more engaging, more educated, more everything. They seem to have the very gifts I don’t possess.
The funny thing is, I may be exactly right. Not all of us are alike. God gives different gifts and talents to each of us and for His reasons only, some appear to have more than others.
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 tells us of a master giving talents (a measure of money) to three servants. One received five talents, another two, and another, one. We know the story well.
The servant who received five talents made five more, and the servant who received just one talent hid his away and made nothing. The first servant was rewarded with greater authority. The third was cast aside for not using what he was given.
But what about the servant in the middle ... the one who received two talents? We see no record of him complaining about receiving just two talents, and there is nothing in the text about any grumbling over the difficulty in making more money with only two—while another was given five.
Instead, we see a servant who took no time to compare to another and instead went to work with what he had. In the end, he gained two more talents. Do you know what fascinates me about the master’s response? For both the servant who received two talents and the one who received five, the reward is the same.
Both servants are told, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Mt. 25:21, 23)
I suspect many of us feel we are a little short of talents at times. And yet, the Lord is only asking us to take what we have and give our best. If we build on what we have, He receives joy--which He then invites us into.
So today, let’s all take heart. The joy of our master is not dependent on the number of talents we receive, but on how we use the ones we have.
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