And In the End

Long ago and far away in my teen years, before the advent of all this newfangled technology, I spent the week or so before family road trips performing one of our favorite traditions: recording our own travel tapes.

Those were the days (am I so old already?) before MP3 players, iPods and all digital music.  We listened to music together in the car during the drives to my grandmother’s house in South Carolina: five kids and two parents all cramming our musical tastes onto a few homespun cassettes.

Every family member submitted song requests and then I sat on the living floor buried under towers of CDs and a handful of blank tapes to create the “mix.”

We reveled in the diversity of the playlist, placing songs from popular artists immediately after a selection from one of Wagner’s operas, which came after the Beatles, which followed Andrew Lloyd Weber, which followed Patsy Cline.  It was a curious weave of musical styles and statements and we loved it.

The ritual was never complete, though, without squeezing our traditional “Travel Tape Closing Song” onto the last 23 seconds of every single cassette.  Twenty-three seconds exactly.  That’s just enough time to fit in The Beatles’ song, “Her Majesty.”  No travel tape was complete without it.

It’s a quirky little tune thrown in as the final song on The Beatles’ final album, so it seemed a fitting end to our own musical creations.

Somehow the other day, in the same mysterious way that these things always happen, I thought of the song “Her Majesty” and sang it quietly to myself as I peeled potatoes in my kitchen.

Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say.  Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she changes from day to day….

Then I thought of endings and the endings of travel tapes and childhood and the closing of a year before the beginning of something new.  Another Beatles’ song came to mind from the same album as I made the leap from one curious thought to another.

In that song, Paul McCartney sings, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

And I thought, “That’s just not true.  Is it?”

All this life we live, all these daily graces, all this lavish mercy from God in ways we see and ways we don’t….well, there’s no way we could ever repay that. We’re perpetual debtors and yet God erases the account books and sets us free, saying we’re redeemed, paid for, no longer owing or lacking.

I’m no math whiz, but even I can tell you there’s nothing “equal” about it.

That’s the beauty of this story, that God’s always pouring out undeserved mercy, always faithfully giving even when we stubbornly refuse to trust, or obey, or drop to those knees and lift those hands in praise.

It’s the beauty of Elizabeth’s story in Luke 1.  All those married years of longing for a baby and remaining childless, month after month of hope unfulfilled.  Then God came in His extravagant glory and gave the barren woman a son. Not just any baby boy.  The forerunner of the Messiah, cousin to the Savior of mankind.

So much blessing must have knocked her to the floor in tear-filled worship.

After nine months, she cradled that newborn “and when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her” (Luke 1:58, NLT).

The Message reads:  “Her neighbors and relatives, seeing that God had overwhelmed her with mercy, celebrated with her.”

Yes, “the Lord had been very merciful to her.”  He had “overwhelmed her with mercy,” making her life whole, healing brokenness, fulfilling promises, giving far more than she had ever asked or imagined.

It’s overwhelming mercy that people can’t miss.  Everyone saw.  Everyone rejoiced with her.  No one could mistake God’s mercy for coincidence or fluke or fate.  They couldn’t even imagine someone righteous and faithful like Elizabeth and her husband deserving such a miraculous gift.  It was all God’s mercy and nothing of their merit.

The people say it themselves in Luke 1:66: “Clearly, God has his hands in this.”

And in the end of an old year and the beginning of something new, that’s what I hope for, a story so amazing I can’t steal any glory away from God.  It has to be Him.  It’s so clearly His hand, so overwhelmingly full of mercy that there’s no mistaking the imprint of His hand.

It’s not about maintaining some cosmic balance, giving and receiving love in an equilibrium.

It’s about humbly confessing that as much as we pour out in responsive praise, God out-gives us.  By that, we are amazed. For that, we are grateful.  Because of that, we are saved.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Fear of Blank Calendars and A New Year’s Verse

Afraid.

That’s how I feel.  Maybe it’s pessimism or a sort of realistic pragmatism, but pulling out that blank calendar for the new year, all those empty spaces soon to be filled to overflowing with notes, events, appointments, due dates, and reminders, makes me nervous in an awkward and embarrassed kind of way.  It’s the kind of fear that you want to hide and cover over with nervous giggles and by abruptly changing the subject.

I’m no believer in superstition, and yet I battle this one mysterious fear-mongering belief that if the first few weeks of the new year begin poorly, I’m in for doom and dismay for the next twelve months.

Like the year I threw up on New Year’s Eve as a teenager.  Even I knew that seemed like a bad omen.

Truth be told, I don’t look at that empty dayplanner with excitement and anticipation about all the unknowns in the coming year.  I don’t like surprises and the unexpected makes me nervous.  I’d rather see the pages filled out in advance so I can brace myself for the ride with all its twists, turns, high rises and low points.

I guess I’d be a failure as a mountain climber or an adventurer of any kind.  I’d never really look forward to what’s over the next peak or around the next bend in the road.  Instead, I’d likely be trekking backwards, always back.  Even if the ground were difficult, at least it’d be familiar.

It’s a foolish thing really, this fear of mine coming so soon after Christmas.  The consistent message of the Christmas story, heard in the prophecies of Isaiah, the announcements of the angels, the pronouncements of Almighty God, is “Do not be afraid.”

All year I flip open my Bible to these words, returning again and again to take comfort in the promise of an angel to a virgin and the host of heaven to shepherds keeping a night-watch in the fields.  God with us.  Fear Not.  Do not be afraid.  Emmanuel has come.

And then I sit just days after Christmas staring at this white-paged calendar, worrying and fretting anxiously, preparing for the worst instead of expecting the best.

How quickly I forget the promise and stumble into this now-familiar pit.

And I need to stop.

I don’t want to be a backwards-traveler, confined by foolish superstitions and held captive by the sin—yes, sin—of fear and worry, refusing to trust my Almighty God who carries the the whole world in His palms and who loves me so passionately and lavishly that He’d sacrifice His Son to spend eternity with me.

It’s uncomfortable at first, awkward like a baby stumbling through those first few steps.  Maybe it’s even unnatural, me learning slow to walk by faith, letting go of the comforts of the known within my white-knuckled grasp.

So I’m choosing this week to meditate on a verse that reminds me to be excited about the new work of God in my life, the blessings and beauty He has in store for the year ahead.  I’m reminded to take joy in the promise of a new year in His presence and in His care.

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland
(Isaiah 43:18-19).

“Always Expect the Unexpected,” Christmas and December

Originally posted on December 14, 2011

My schedule is a delicate balance.

There’s a shopping day.  A scrub the bathrooms and the floors day.  Laundry days (one doesn’t cut it!).  Make bread day.  Ballet day.  Volunteer day.  Eat lunch with the kids at school day. Writing day.  Bible Study prep day.  Prayer meeting day.  Homework day and library day.

It’s an intricate design that took effort and some trial and error to develop, but by October it all settled into a perfect rhythm.

Then December arrived and stomped all over my perfectly balanced schedule like a giant through a flower bed.

Suddenly, my calendar has arrows swapping events in my week, items written in ink now crossed out and rewritten on different days and at different times.20931038_s

Oh yeah, can you fit in a class party?  And a holiday concert?  Could you make gifts for teachers and stop by the Christmas get-together?  Mom, what are we doing for my birthday?  Can we have an extra cantata practice?

Onto the calendar it goes.  I’ve begun color-coding the items. Red is for the really super important things that I absolutely cannot forget, but am certain I’m going to miss.  I add dark circles around those also.  And some stars and exclamation marks.  You can’t go wrong with stars.

Now my calendar has become illegible.  So, I switch to the daily agenda plus master to-do list that spans the next two weeks.

Add in the meal plan for family dinners up through Christmas and the shopping list that I had to restart the day after I just went to the grocery store and the planning is complete.

How euphoric it would be to keep the schedule in balance at all times!  For the expected activities to happen on the assigned days.

No doing laundry on shopping day.  No extra trip to the store when it is supposed to be writing day.  No third trip to the school on a day I’ve scheduled for cleaning house.

It would all be so expected.  So perfectly planned.  So in control.

That’s the problem, though, isn’t it?  I have a certain capacity for juggling and as long as I’m tossing around the same few balls, I’m a fairly competent performer.

But when God tosses an unexpected ball into my rhythm and routine, I’m liable to drop them all on the ground.

To a certain extent, I need to practice the “no” and guard the schedule.  Keep it simple.  Don’t try to do too much.  Don’t over-commit.

At other times, though, the schedule just is what it is.  The lesson isn’t about eliminating activity.  It’s about allowing God to shuffle our expectations and disrupt our plans so that we remember how much we need Him.

It’s His reminder that we can’t always package up our days with decorated wrapping paper and a shiny bow, oh so neat and perfect.  Life is messy at times.  Chaotic in some moments.  Fairly unexpected so many days.

The one constant is Him and even He has a way of surprising us. I think somehow it’s appropriate that December is the month when my calendar is left in tatters and all my perfect plans are shattered.  It’s a reminder that God has a way of shaking us up, mystifying us, and going far beyond our imagination.

Like the fact that the Savior of us all, the long-awaited Messiah, entered this world as a baby.

In Nativity scenes, we usually see the pristine image of well-groomed stable animals, fresh hay, perfect baby wrapped in bright white cloth.  Mary is already back to her pre-pregnancy weight and looking like she didn’t just labor and give birth.

But God chose to come to this earth the messy way.  It was childbirth.  It was pain.  It was blood.  It wasn’t even in the sterile white setting of a hospital, but all smelly and oppressive like the barn it was.

A newborn, a little Child came to save the world.

The Light of the World entered in darkness, while nocturnal shepherds were keeping the night-watch over their sheep.

The King of kings arrived in a stable.

The Eternal God, the Word who in the beginning was “with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning”—lay in a manger with baby dimples and the red skin of a newborn (John 1:1).

Have you settled into a routine and rut with God?  Have you figured Him all out?  Have you gotten comfortable with what you can do and with what you believe He can do?  Have you scheduled Him and assigned Him portions of your life?

Don’t be too sure!

Just when we figure everything out and fit everything in, God often will interrupt and amaze, befudddle and change your direction.

As Paul writes: “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.  Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes” (Ephesians 3:20-21, MSG)

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Christmas Devotions: Remembering …The Neon Sign

Originally posted on December 19, 2011

Maps just aren’t enough for me.  I need some curious combination of maps plus highly specific step-by-step directions plus landmarks to get me anywhere.

I’m a hopeless case of lostness, the kind of girl who gets turned around in parking lots and shopping malls.  My life would be far simpler if my destinations were always marked with large neon red signs flashing, “This is it!  Turn here!!”

The prophet Isaiah knew that some day we would all see the flashing neon sign saying, “This is the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ.” He said:  “In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation’” (Isaiah 25:9).

Indeed a day will come when “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” at the very mention of Jesus’ name (Philippians 2:10).

We’re not there yet.  Many believe; many do not.

Even John the Baptist had a moment of questioning.

Years before, he had so confidently announced to a crowd around the Jordan River that Jesus was the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.

But when John sat in prison, awaiting execution at the hands of a vengeful king and his devious wife, he sent his own disciples to Jesus with a question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20).

Scripture tells us:

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.  So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor”  (Luke 7:21-23).

How could John know that Jesus was indeed the Savior?  Because Jesus’ presence had made a difference.

Jesus’ answer to John’s question was a landmark.  It was the neon sign John needed to be comforted and reassured.  Yes, Jesus was the Messiah that Isaiah had foretold would come:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:1-3).

He wasn’t a Messiah who came just to be, to exist, to occupy earthly space for a time and then fulfill a checklist of requirements before returning to a heavenly throne.  He wasn’t punching some divine time clock and then zooming out the door at quitting time.

Isaiah had promised and Jesus fulfilled.  He came to kneel in the dirt, to touch lepers and heal them, to eat with sinners and to extend a hand of grace to a woman about to be stoned for adultery.  He challenged the legalism of the religious elite, called simple fishermen and tax collectors to be His closest followers, and told a crowd of listeners that the meek, the peacemakers, and the poor in spirit are the ones who will see God and inherit the earth.

And He came to die.  Not the painless and peaceful slipping away after a long life and a fulfilled old age.  He died the gross and horridly painful death of crucifixion and felt the full separation from God His Father as this perfect Lamb assumed all of the sins of mankind  . . . ever.

He lived. He died.  He rose again.  All because He loved us.  Because He loved you.  You and me, sinners steeped in sin, deserve a punishment that He endured on our behalf.  He did it because on our own, our goodness and morality could never achieve the perfection needed to enter into heaven.  We just can’t be good enough.

So, we head for destruction until the one day it gets personal for us.  It’s not just the angels and the shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and wise men from the East who bow down low and proclaim, “We have our savior.”

It’s us.

And we know it’s true because Jesus’ presence in our lives makes a difference.  At salvation and beyond, our encounters with Him change us.  His revolutionary impact on our hearts and minds transforms us bit by bit into His reflection.

We submit our lives to the Lordship of this Savior and allow Him to change us, totally and without reservation, because Jesus’ presence in our lives should still be making a difference.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Christmas Devotions: Christmas Eve and a Letter to a Savior

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”
(Luke 2:19)

I was eleven and my Bible Study teacher gave our class a homework assignment for Christmas break.

Write a letter to God, she said.  Make it a prayer, a re-dedication, an offering of my own treasures, not the gold, frankincense, and myrrh of wise men, but the very finest gifts I could lay at the feet of a worthy God.

It was my Christmas gift to Him.  I wrote it out on Christmas Eve, folded it up, tied it with a ribbon and placed it under the Christmas tree.

Two decades later, I have twenty years of Christmas Eve letters to God.  It’s my most intimate and holy Christmas tradition. This Christmas Eve, I fingered the packet of letters and marveled at God’s gracious work in me.

One of my “rules” is no peeking at the letters on any day of the year other than Christmas Eve.  Yet, on that one night a year, I can glance back at twenty years of me drawing near to God just as He drew near to us on the first Christmas of all.

Usually by about February each year I can see clear answers to the prayers I scribbled out on the page just months before.

In some ways, this prayer letter is my moment to lay gifts before the King as the wise men did.  It’s my re-commitment to serve Him in a new year and place at His feet the deepest desire of my heart to give Him praise.  I offer Him my very life, noting the places He is already at work in my character and asking Him for spiritual growth so I can bring Him glory.

Like the angels, though, I am also praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Luke 2:14), as I give thanks and specific praise for the blessings of the year drawing to a close.

Then, like the shepherds, I turn my attention away from the busyness of work and daily life to see what God is doing in the heavens.  I write my letter to God at night after my daughters are asleep, the dishes are done, the gifts are wrapped and under the tree. There, in near-darkness, illumined almost solely by Christmas lights, I pray and write.

I look away from the “sheep” in my care, lift my eyes and attune my heart to hear the announcement of good news, of promises for the future and the certainty of promises fulfilled.  I dwell not just on what God has done or what He is doing, but what He will do in the new year.  What burdens has He placed on my heart?  What directions has He asked me to travel?  What steps of obedience has He asked me to take?

Mostly though, my Christmas letter is a moment to be like Mary, who after the shepherds came “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Sometimes God’s work in our lives needs times of reflection and stillness.  What He reveals to us as we sit at His feet isn’t always meant for public announcements or official New Year’s resolutions, or campaigns or church-wide programs.

Sometimes God asks us to ponder and treasure, to reflect, pray, and wait for the appointed time.

So, I ponder.  I ask for God’s perspective on my marriage, my kids, my ministry and job and heart and mind.

Instead of monopolizing my conversation with an oh-so-patient God, I ask for His perspective.  Before I ever begin to write, I flip through my prayer journal and track the themes I see there.

How at times everything I read seems to be about grace.  Or prayer.  Or allowing Him to bring light into dark places. Or believing God for the impossible.  Or how He is a God who restores.

I follow the clear path of what He has already been doing in my life and then I join Him there in that place.  Yes, Lord, I pray, be at work here.  I will join You.  I will be submissive and receptive to what You want to do in me.

It’s not too late for you to sit in the stillness of a Christmas Eve and write your own letter this year.  What a perfect time to begin a holy and intimate tradition of your own.  A letter to Your Savior.

What gifts do you have to lay before the King?  What songs of thanks can you sing in the night?  What do you see in the spiritual places when you shift your focus off the physical daily routine of life?  What has God been doing in you and teaching you that you need to ponder in your heart?

Originally posted on December 26, 2011

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Christmas Devotions: A Birthday Encounter and the Magi

Originally posted on December 21, 2011
Today is my oldest daughter’s eighth birthday.  Here’s the post I wrote last year when she turned seven about growth and how encounters with God change us.

“Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:12).

Seven.

My oldest daughter turns seven today.  She asked me to stop calling her “Baby girl” this week.  She seemed to think that seven year olds are too big for a nickname as embarrassingly babyish as that.

Birthdays never seem to be what my “Big girl” expects.  We take a birthday trip.  We do presents.  She shares in time with friends and family.  We sing to her.  She picks out her favorite cake (spice with cream cheese icing) and her favorite dinner (tacos or chicken and dumplings).  We celebrate her that day and she’s sheepish and sweet and content.

But at night as she climbs back into bed, she wonders why she hasn’t grown six inches.  Why, if she’s now seven years old, is she still wearing some 6X clothing?

Somehow my girl thinks an annual encounter with a birthday candle should provide immediate change, as if it’s a fairy dust *poof* over her head.

I can’t say how these things happen.  I remember so clearly the night nurse bringing my newborn into my hospital room at 3 a.m. seven years ago to the day.  She was screaming inconsolably.  Didn’t want to cuddle.  Didn’t want food.  Just needed to scream in protest for a bit.  I looked up at the nurse with the fear of a brand new mom and asked, “What should I do?”  She shook her head at me and said, “I don’t know!”  Then she walked out leaving me with Victoria, still screaming at the top of her lungs.

She was strong from the beginning.  Sure of herself, demanding of others.  Determined.  Sensitive and full of big emotions that just didn’t fit all bottled up and contained in a little body.

I remember her crawling, walking, talking, reading, dancing, and her first day of preschool and kindergarten and first grade.  Her love of horses, princesses, tea parties, arts and crafts, sparkles, and dancing and the mystery she is to me.

And yet, I can’t say when she grew up.

When, after all, does change happen for any of us?

Surely we have that immediate moment of course redirection when we first choose to worship Jesus.  Paul describes it this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

One encounter with Jesus was enough to change the Magi’s travel plans also.

They had come from the east to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:1).

Their Messiah pursuit wasn’t popular.  It disturbed King Herod and “all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3).

Undeterred, the wise men followed the star and found Christ.  They were overjoyed, bowed down and worshiped him, presenting the gifts they had carefully toted along on their journey.

Then, “having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:12).

It was a practical decision for them.  To trick King Herod, they slipped quietly out of the country.

It’s spiritual for us.  We meet Jesus and from then on, we simply can’t travel back the same way we came.  We have to follow “another route.”

Nor is this a one-time course correction for us.  Just like my birthday girl who doesn’t magically grow six inches at each birthday, so we change gradually.  There’s the initial moment of commitment to Christ and we are a new creation.

Then there are seasons of growth spurts as God performs focused work on our character. Intense encounters with God cause us to drastically change course.

At other times, the change is slow and daily as we shed layers and layers of flesh.  It’s so gradual we can’t always see it until someone sees the change in us.

They see how we react differently now.  How our words are seasoned with grace.  How people have become our primary heart motivation.  How our hearts are broken for the lost. They see that the faith we profess now impacts our motivation and activity.

It’s the change God is working in our hearts, just as Paul said: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

But the ever-increasing transformation in us requires us to drop the veil from our faces and “contemplate the Lord’s glory.“  Like the Magi saw Jesus after their relentless, focused, studious search for Him, we have to seek God in order to see God.

That’s our task, to “look for God like the watchmen looks for the morning” (Psalm 130:6).  We search.  We find Him.  We adjust our course to follow Him.

That’s how change happens.  That’s how we grow.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Christmas Devotions: Easy Bake Faith, Anna and Simeon

Originally posted on December 23, 2011

Last year, my oldest girl was asked one question repeatedly by friends and family alike.

What do you want for your birthday?

I grimaced every time I heard her consistent answer.

An Easy Bake Oven.

It was the one true desire of her little girl heart, an oven all her own to create delicious treats, host tea parties and open restaurants.

This mystified me.  I am a baking mom.  We often huddle around the kitchen table taking turns pouring ingredients from a recipe into a bowl, mixing and stirring, filling trays and pans and then licking spoons.  We’re the four musketeers of cooking, a team of kitchen queens.

Why, I asked my girl, did she need a mini oven of her own?  Why did we need to spend $6 on a mix that produced two sugar cookies of doubtful quality when we could bake dozens of scrumptious cookies for less money in our own regular oven?

My logic was impeccable, unanswerable, indisputable.

But the commercial conspiracy defeated me.  In the end, a friend bought her the Easy Bake.  It made my daughter’s day and proudly assumed its place on our kitchen counter.

I know what you’re thinking.

How long before the precious Easy Bake Oven joined the rank of unused toys shoved in the closet?

Never.

She still loves her oven and is inspired to create with it as often as I give into the whining request to use it.  It still confuses me as she happily mixes and bakes in her own personal oven.  Fortunately, she also eats the cookies since I consider them inedible.

Then she declares that it is in fact the best thing she’s ever eaten.

I try not to be offended.

So why does this Easy Bake Oven bring her so much joy?

It’s the independence of it.  The feeling that she made this cookie herself.  The power of self-determination and personal creation.

It’s the speed of it.  After the light bulb is heated up, it’s only a matter of minutes before her own personal cookie emerges fully cooked.

And who can blame her for loving this?  Aren’t we so often entranced by advertisements for the perfect “toy” that will bring us independence and speed?

In just two easy steps you can have fantastic creations just like this!  You can look like this!  You can make your own!

Anna and Simeon, though, knew that God mostly desires dependence and patience.

Simeon was “righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25) and he spent his life waiting for “the consolation of Israel”—the Messiah, and “the Holy Spirit was on him” (Luke 2:25).

Pause there for a moment.  The Holy Spirit didn’t live in each and every Christian on the earth at that time—because Christians didn’t exist yet.  Jesus was still being rocked to sleep at night by a doting mother.

Yet, Simeon walked so closely with God that the Holy Spirit found a unique dwelling place in him and revealed that Simeon wouldn’t die without seeing the Messiah’s face.  Then, “moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts” (Luke 2:26).

While we might wish for that uniquely intimate relationship with the Lord, we might balk at the requirement to surrender all of our independence.

Simeon did just that.  He moved into the temple and, as a result, was in exactly the right place at the right time when Mary and Joseph carried Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.

Anna, a prophetess, had moved into the temple also.  She had been a young widow after only seven years of marriage, but instead of remarrying and settling into the busy life of a wife and mom, she instead “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37).

Anna surrendered everything in order to devote herself to her relationship with God.  And He blessed her willful dependence on Him.

She was there that day also when Jesus entered the temple for the first time.  Simeon lifted baby Jesus into his own arms, praised and prophesied. Anna walked over to them just at that moment and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

Just like Anna and Simeon, we can devote ourselves to seeing God, but we can’t pursue our own independent, quick-solution agendas in order to achieve spiritual growth, answers to prayer, fulfilled promises, or the revelation of His will.

We can’t have Easy Bake faith.

Instead, we must abandon our own course and commit ourselves to a patient and passionate pursuit of Him.

That’s what Anna and Simeon did.  They didn’t run after every false Messiah that the world touted and promoted.  They fasted, prayed, and worshiped in the night and in the day for decades.  They made their relationship with God their highest priority and their only true desire,

And thus they saw God.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

 

Christmas Devotionals: God With Us

I remember thinking that I would have done the same thing.

When some friends and I visited the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC this summer, we began by picking up a tiny booklet that allowed us to follow the story of someone who lived during that time.

My booklet told the story of a survivor.

My friend’s booklet, though, told about a mom with a young daughter.  When they stepped off the train car at the concentration camp, the guards separated them into two lines, the children pushed apart from their moms.  The women were considered fit for labor.  The kids, though, considered a burden without benefit, were immediately sent to the gas chambers.

The mom in my friend’s booklet refused to leave her daughter’s side.  She must have clung desperately to that little hand and I imagined her saying, “Don’t be afraid.  Mommy’s with you,” even as they walked the slow walk to death.

I would want to be there, too, for all the frightening things my children faced.  I would have wanted to stay in the same line.

People have asked me repeatedly how I’m doing following the school shooting in the news this past week.  What can I say but I can’t imagine my children facing terror without me…

And this world is a terrifying place at times.  Last week, I drove my minivan out of the school parking lot and watched as another mom squeezed her fourth grade son before they got into their car.  When a lunatic gunman rampages in an elementary school, we all cry, we all lose our words, we all shake our head, we all hold our own children just a little tighter and remember to be oh so grateful that night.

We all fear.  I do it, too.  After the news headlines, I want so much to retreat with my kids to a secluded cabin in the woods, my pitiful attempt to protect them from the madness of sin in this world.

That’s the truth of it all, that we live on a sin-scarred planet and while there are hints of beauty here and there is mercy and grace, there is also pain and sorrow.  So, what hope do we have?  How can we wake day after day, not in defeat, resignation or anxiety, but with the joy of the Lord and the peace of salvation?

The gospel message is all about hope for the hopeless, light in the darkness, joy in sorrow and peace in turmoil.  It’s for those hopeless enough to feel like one more day alive is too much to bear.  It’s for those of us watching the clock at night, too worried about bills and our kids, our marriages, conflicts with family, or problems at work to sleep in peace.  It’s even for a worrier like me, anxious over my daughter’s birthday parties and the plans for a church Christmas cantata.

It’s for the daily troubles that we turn into crises and for the life-and-death struggles we sometimes face.

It’s the reminder that God came here to be with us so we wouldn’t be alone and He will not leave our side.

That’s the hope we have.  Not us alone in a crazy, mixed-up, broken world.  Not us alone facing bills and divorce, depression or stress.

Emmanuel.  God with us.GodWithUs1 copy

As it says in Isaiah “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

That wasn’t just God’s plan for our past.  It’s been His passion from the beginning of Creation—to be with us.  It was His driving desire all those years of patiently planning for our salvation through Christ’s coming, His death, His resurrection.

It’s the great passion of God’s heart even now.  In the book of Revelation, we are told that when the battle is over and Christ establishes His forever kingdom here, God will say:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

This is the hope we have every single day and it’s the hope we have for eternity.  God never leaves us to face the darkness or the anxiety alone, never the tough times, never the fear-filled moments.

He chose to be with us so we could choose to be with Him.

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Christmas Devotionals: Keepin’ It Real

My dad always insisted on a real tree.  Sometime in December, we wandered around the Christmas tree lot, everyone searching for the one perfect tree full of pine needles and vibrant green.

Somehow we always chose trees that were fat and wide and typically too tall for our ceiling.  When we hauled the tree home, my dad had to lop off the bottom until it fit in the stand.  Some years, we still couldn’t top it off with the angel or star.

There was always the lingering suggestion that perhaps it would be easier and cheaper and neater to tuck an artificial tree away in the garage and just pull it out of the box each December.

But for my dad, this suggestion would destroy Christmas.  There are no substitutes for a real tree, he’d say, despite my mom’s suggestion to burn pine-scented candles or potpourri.

This, after all, was his only contention—that no matter how good an artificial tree looked, it would never smell the same as a real tree.

Christmas smelled like pine.

I think about my dad and how he made us all trek every year to choose the real Christmas tree.  Mostly, I think about him while I’m pulling the various wired limbs of my own artificial tree out of the box.

I’ve never been a convert, per se, to the need for a real live tree that smells like real live pine. I’m more of a sucker for convenience and control and a bargain.

Yet, as I hunkered down inside my wool coat and pushed through the wind into the Wal-Mart the other day, I lightly brushed the branches of a Christmas tree leaned against the front of the store.

And there it was…the scent of pine carried on cold air.

It was real.

All of those years growing up with sticky sap-covered branches, pine needles scattered on the carpet and my parents crawling under the tree to water it, I never truly “got it.”  I never once smelled the scent of pine that my dad loved so much.

It took the incidental brushing against a tree on the Wal-Mart sidewalk for me to understand the appeal…and to breathe deep the air and think of the beauty and feel newly reminded that Christmas is here.

Perhaps we need reminders because it’s so easy to forget.

In fact, sometimes we’re so busy trying to “remember” that we bury ourselves deep in endless tradition-making, busyness, activity, have-to’s and must-do’s that suck the life and energy right out of us.

Oh, I understand the feeling like it just can’t be Christmas without….

For me, it’s not so much the scent of the pine tree as the sound of the Christmas music.  We played it all season when I was a child.  But every time I flick on the radio for the “all-Christmas all-the-time,” my own kids protest.  They balk and whine.  Why can’t we just listen to the same ten songs we like and listen to every other time of the year?

My daughter complains for an entire half-hour drive, slumps herself in the back seat of the mini-van and announces, “Well, I won’t sing to it.”

Kind of sucks the joy right out of the carols.

And I understand the desire to make Christmas powerful and lasting.  For many of us, we’re just trying to stay Christ-focused and giving-centered.  But we set ourselves up for failure at times by trying to heap on so much to make it “really” Christmas.

Why not make this new tradition and that….read this devotional, light these candles, do these acts of kindness, bake these goodies, sing these songs, visit these places, take these pictures, make these crafts…..all in one year.

All of that effort to make Christmas seem real, to infuse it with magic and memories.

Yet, truly it’s just a simple thing.  So, we can breathe in and breathe out and relax into the celebration.

We’re singing it this year in our church Christmas cantata:

“This is salvation.  This is redemption.  A Child is born.  A Son is given.”

What more is needed?

All the rest we can do or not do.  We can enjoy, but not stress about.  We can choose the live tree or pull out the fake one in the Rubbermaid container.  We can sing.  We can bake.  We can light the candle and make the gift.  We can pop the popcorn and watch Rudolph or Snoopy or the Grinch.

Or not.

It doesn’t change Christmas.  Christ is all we really need for that.

The angels said it simply: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Are you finding ways to keep Christmas simple this year?

Christian Writers Blog Chain

Today’s post is part of the December topic, ‘Christmas Scents/Sense’ by the ChristianWriters.com Blog Chain. You can click on the links on the right side of this page to read more articles in this series.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Remembering: The Christmas Countdown

Originally posted on December 12, 2011

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5, NIV).

“Mom, how many days until Victoria’s birthday?”
Nine.

“How many days until we go see The Nutcracker?”
Five.

“Once we see The Nutcracker, how many more days will it be until Victoria’s birthday and then to Christmas?”
Four and Eight.

“How many days until my party at school?”
Three for Lauren, four for Victoria.

“How many days until our program?”
Four.

“How many days to Christmas?  Do you know how many hours that might be?”
Thirteen and go ask your dad.

Right now, my kids are living for the countdowns.  We’ve carefully examined the calendar, marking every upcoming event and charting out the wait-time from now until then.

Still, every day they ask me to perform mental calculations rapidly and with precision.

Then they moan and groan as if five days of waiting is interminable and two weeks of patience too much to bear.

Inspired by all the anticipation, my oldest daughter asks, “How long until I’ll be thirteen?”

Now I’m the one moaning and groaning.

In some ways, I share all their excitement.  I can’t wait to see them open the special gifts I’ve chosen for them or enjoy special family time and build on the traditions they’re only just becoming old enough to appreciate.

Still, it’s made me realize how I struggle with the Christian walk because there so often aren’t any countdowns at all, not that I know of anyway.

How many days until You reveal Your will, Lord?

How many days until I know what this experience is for?

How long until You deliver me from this circumstance?

How much time must I wait for You to answer this prayer?

So much of my life seems to hang right now on uncertain hooks with undefined strength.  Perhaps you feel this way also–like you’re just dangling there, waiting for the “Go” sign, the signal, the map, or the plan.  And until then, you wait with anxious anticipation, always on guard, always watchful so that you don’t miss the moment when God says, “Now.”

The trouble is, we have no date on the calendar to circle in red as the day God will speak or the moment our time of waiting will end.  No certain time of revelation or definitive arrival date for answered prayers.

So, we keep up our focused vigil and continue doing what God has told us to do right now, trusting that He’ll reveal the next step to us clearly and in His perfect time.

That’s what the Israelites did for 400 years between the end of the Old Testament and the moment that John the Baptist first stepped out of the wilderness and began crying out for people to repent.

They waited.

They looked for the Messiah.

They prayed and searched His Word and obeyed (hopefully) what He had told them to do before.

In the Gospel of Mark, the very first words we have recorded from Jesus are “The time has come.” (Mark 1:15).

How appropriate.

Maybe the people of God weren’t able to countdown the days to the Messiah’s ministry on earth, but God could.  He knew the right moment all along and He didn’t rush His plan or sleep through the alarm.

When the time had come, Jesus was there.

Paul wrote in Galatians thatwhen the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5, NIV).

And later in Titus:  God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior (Titus 1:2-3).

The writer of Hebrews tells us: But [that appointed time came] when Christ (the Messiah) appeared as a High Priest of the better things that have come and are to come (Hebrews 9:11 AMP).

The time between the promise and the fulfillment must have seemed impossible and unending.  Just as there were many who still fervently sought out the Messiah, still others probably had given up.  After hundreds of years without revelation from God, who could blame them?

And yet, at the appointed time, Jesus was born.

This was the promise for the prophets during all of those centuries of waiting:

 “For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3, NASB).

Notice that Habakkkuk says, “it will not delay.”

We might disagree.  For those tapping their foot in the waiting room, it certainly seemed like a delay.

Yet, not from God’s perspective.  He knew all along when the appointed time would come, and He wasn’t a moment too soon or a second too late.

He never is.  We can take heart that God knows exactly where we are in the countdown even when we don’t and we can rejoice with the Psalmist that “my times are in Your hands” (Psalm 31:15a).

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King