Devotions from My Garden: Breaking Ground

It is an annual ritual in my house.

The first time I push aside the leaves and mulch in our garden and discover tiny green shoots in the earth, I call for each of my kids.  We stand around in awe and anticipation, just spending a few moments looking down at our first sign of spring.  It feels so wonderful, so hopeful, to see physical evidence that the coldness and deadness of winter will be ending soon.

So far, my youngest daughter is the only one I haven’t yet put to work in the garden. Although, even she was beginning to carry weeds to the wheelbarrow and dig into the soil last year.

When my baby girl sees these little green leaves, it may seem almost like magic.  The rest of us, though, know that before we can enjoy the fanfare of brightly colored spring tulips and daffodils, we had to plow up the earth, plant the bulbs, weed, and protect them from weather that is too harsh.

Our efforts didn’t produce much at first.  These bulbs didn’t grow all fall and into the winter.  We’ve endured a full season of drab brown and gray.  It’s only now, months after their original planting, that we see evidence of growth and life.

As Christians, it’s easy to forget that in order to grow and produce life, we have to let God work in our hearts.  It’s sometimes painful and we don’t always see the purpose of this work right away, but our fruitfulness depends on it.

Last year, I felt God turning over the soil of my heart, sifting out the deep-rooted sins that have to be removed before I can produce fruit.

From the surface, I may have looked like good soil before this.  Sometimes it’s the sins that we can easily hide from others that are the hardest to dig out.  Yet, He knew about those hidden sins that I manage to keep so private—sins like pride and jealousy, and He’s been digging them out with firmness and yet with so much grace.

We may think we’ve given over all of our lives to God.  We may see some fruit and think that it’s enough.  Yet, God will always ask us to draw closer to Him, to give more of our lives, to break up unplowed ground and allow Him to work in the areas we’ve previously kept from His hand.

Sometimes in real life, I’m tempted to just dump a whole bunch of mulch on top of the weeds, hoping they suffocate under the load.  It’s that way in my heart, too.  It seems easier somehow to just dump a righteous façade on top of my bad attitudes, lack of trust, and other heart problems and hope that those sins remain hidden.

Any good gardener, however, will tell you that the only way to get rid of weeds is to completely remove them, roots and all.  It’s work—hard work—but it is what needs to be done to ensure the quality of the soil and to produce the best harvest.

In Hosea 10:2, it says, “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until He comes and showers righteousness on you” (NIV).

If God has been urging you to “break up your unplowed ground,” allow Him to work.  It might hurt as He uses circumstances and other people to break up the hard rocky places in your heart.

Yet, when He has uprooted the weeds of sin in your life and turned over soil, unsettling your ground and disturbing your status quo, “sow for yourselves righteousness . . . and seek the Lord.”  Protect your heart from those same sins taking root again by filling up that dirt with His Word and with time spent in His presence.

He is a Master Gardener.  He doesn’t just plant without tending.  Instead, He “comes and showers righteousness on you” so that you can “reap the fruit of unfailing love.”

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com 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

Weekend Walk: 01/27/2012

Hiding the Word:

Today is our Awana derby race at church.  The girls announced two weeks ago that they wanted cars shaped like an ice cream sandwich and a cheetah.  My husband cut the shapes into the wood and the girls painted the cars (and much of themselves) and drilled holes.  They are excited and proud of their hard work!

At the race, the girls hope for a trophy of some kind, maybe for speed or for their car’s design.

Me—I mostly hope that our car isn’t the one that hops the track and flies across the gym.  Also I hope that our car makes it all the way down to the finish line without getting stuck along the way.

I kind of stand to the side, squint my eyes and breathlessly plead, “Please stay on the track.  Please make it to the end.”

With racing on the brain, I decided to pick a verse for the week that focuses on perseverance in the race God gives us to run.  No flying off course.  No giving up.  No getting bogged down and stuck halfway through.

I’m hoping for victory.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

Weekend Rerun:

Hot Enough For You?
Originally Published 08/12/2011

One night years ago my daughters discovered popcorn.

At first, we did our popping in microwavable bags, but we soon switched to a popcorn popper.  On that first exciting day when I pulled the contraption out of the cabinet and set it on the counter, the girls stood on stools so they could watch what would happen.  The kernels tumbled into the popper and I plugged it in.  One daughter covered her ears with her hands and the other shouted, “What’s going to happen?” over the roar of the machine.

And then that first kernel popped.  They squealed in surprise!  And then more kernels began popping in quick succession until there was a constant stream of fluffy white popcorn pouring down the shoot and into the bowl.

The girls danced, laughed and shouted and kept calling our attention to the popcorn as if we’d never seen such a magic trick.  My husband and I watched the girls more than the popcorn; their excitement was joy-giving.

It does seem like magic.  Dump into an inauspicious machine a hard, dried up tiny little crackle of corn and with heat, it transforms into a new texture, color, shape, consistency and taste.  Who would have ever thought looking at the original kernel that the wonders of popcorn lie within?

Likewise, who would look at us much of the time and fully realize all that God has placed in our hearts and all that He has planned for our lives?  Others might see a brittle surface with no flavor.  We might look useless or dried up.  We might simply look un-fun and plain old ordinary.

Yet, God is the Master of transformations.  Although He sees us and fully knows who we are in this moment, He also always sees what we can become.  And He’s willing to turn up the heat to change us.

Because heat is what it takes to break us down, cracking our exterior and softening our insides so that we’re receptive and usable.

To the untrained popcorn popper, it might seem like waste, like the Master is burning His kernels over the flame and they’ll be ruined and tossed aside.  Or that this process is pointless and no good will come from the heat; nothing will ever change.

God, however, never takes us through the fire without purpose and never leaves us in the flame a moment longer than necessary to achieve transformation.  He isn’t reckless or thoughtless.  He’s not cruel or forgetful, blind or oblivious.

Paul wrote in Romans:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

Over the years, I’ve read these verses often and just as often shrugged them off as an impossible standard.  “Glory in our suffering?”  Not hardly.  Truth be told, I’m more of a whiner than a perpetual rejoicer.

But as a toughened kernel who’s experienced at least a bit of transformation from my own sessions in the heat, I’m looking at these verses anew.

My commentary says:

This is more than mere Stoic endurance of troubles, even though endurance or steadfastness is the first result in a chain-reaction outgrowth from distress. This is spiritual glorying in afflictions because of having come to know (as in “to know by intuition or perception”) that the end product of this chain reaction (that begins with distress) is hope.

This gives me pause.  Have you really considered how hope fits into this picture?  Perhaps I can begrudgingly endure a trial here or there because some periodic heat produces perseverance and fixes flaws in my character.  But how does that stir up hope?

For the Christian, hope is confident expectation that God will do what He says He will do.  The only way we know that is through experience, the kind of experience that develops perseverance and strengthens our character.  We have hope because we’ve seen God deliver us time and time again and we’re confident that He will never fail.

Paul finishes those verses by telling us “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” In other words, we won’t be disappointed or shamed by unfulfilled promises.  The commentary continues:

“The reality of God’s love in a believer’s heart gives the assurance, even the guarantee, that the believer’s hope in God and His promise of glory is not misplaced and will not fail.”

It all comes down to the reality of God’s love for us.  He loves us enough to know that we’re more than a golden kernel with a tough exterior.  He knows that sometimes it takes heat to reveal, refine and transform, but He also knows just how hot it needs to be and just how long it needs to last.  He’s not out to singe us or blacken us with despair.  He’s lovingly and expertly making us new.

I use The Bible Knowledge Comentary, New Testament Edition, by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com 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.

One Thing

Today, my to-do list keeps growing instead of shrinking. It’s like a monster from a sci-fi movie, a speck of a bug that everyone scoffs at until it morphs into a gigantic beast who crushes unsuspecting humans underfoot.

This is frustrating.

I’m running around, working frantically at each item on my list.

But I’m hopping from the laundry to picking up beads to cooking, back to laundry to writing to playing puzzles with my toddler to more writing to cleaning up more beads and then reading my daughter a book.

Unfortunately, as I wash and scrub, I’m discovering more cleaning to do along the way.  Open up the refrigerator.  Good grief—how long since I’ve cleaned in there?  Open up the microwave.  The inside looks like a modern art painting.  Yeah, add “clean microwave” to the list.

I’m working. I’m active.  But I’m not getting anything officially done. I’m bouncing too much from project to project.  There’s so much to do, it’s hard to pick a starting point.  It’s difficult to shut my eyes to the rest of the mess and just scrub the spot I’m on.

Isn’t that the way with life?  There’s so much to take in.  So much to do.  So many activities and so little time.

So maybe after a little hyperventilating, a big cup of tea and a generous helping of chocolate, I’m ready to do one thing.

One thing.  That’s really all we need sometimes.  We’re trying to do it all, and God asks us just to do one thing at a time.

The morning show at our local Christian radio station, KLOVE, reminds us of this every January.  They say, “Don’t get bogged down in a dozen New Year’s resolutions.  Pick one word that you want to define your year and just stick with that.”

One word to bring all my of life into focus.  One word to ask God to cement on my heart and mind.

My friend, Andrea Anderson did just that in her blog, Live With Laughter.  You can read about her word for the year here.

That’s kept me thinking this week, not just of the one word that will define my year.  I’m wondering:

Who is the one person I need to encourage today?
What is the one main thought or verse I need to take away from time in God’s Word?
What’s the one issue I need to make top priority with my kids today?
What’s the one conversation God wants me to have?
What’s the one thing God wants me to learn today?
What one lesson does God want to teach me in this circumstance?

If I get more than that one thing, it’s a bonus!  A little bit of super-blessing from God.  But, it’s enough to hold onto the one thing and trust God with the rest.

In Psalm 27, David brought all of His prayer requests into focus with just one definitive heart’s desire when he wrote:

One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple (Psalm 27:4).

Jesus told Martha that all the frantic cleaning and cooking shouldn’t be her focus.  He said, “One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).  Mary had found her one thing—time with Christ trumped everything else on her to-do list.

When the rich young ruler sought salvation from Christ, he declared that he had followed every rule, every bit of the law and fulfilled all of its requirements.

Jesus cut through all of the excess and said, “You still lack one thing.  Sell all that you  have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Luke 18:22).

There was one issue, one lesson, one attitude of the heart that Christ needed to address with this man.  Unfortunately, even though the rich young ruler was willing to take on the cumbersome burden of the law, he wasn’t willing to do the one thing Jesus really wanted.  Material goods mattered more than salvation to him.

When Jesus healed a man who had been blind since birth, his family and friends pestered him with questions.

How did this happen?  Who healed you?  Where is this Jesus guy now?

Then the Pharisees heard about the healing and asked questions of their own.

Who is this healer?  Why does he have such power?  How can a sinner perform this miracle?

Tired of it all, the man finally said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (Luke 9:25).

That was enough.  Sometimes we want to know everything.  The reasons for the past.  The destination of the future.  How God is going to work it all out and certainly when it’ll all happen.

What if instead of trying to know everything, we stick to the simplicity of truth?  I know God’s in control.  That’s enough.  Maybe that’s my one thing.

What’s the one lessons God’s been teaching you?  What’s the one word that you need to focus on this year?  What’s the one truth you can hold onto when life gets confusing and crazy? 

What’s your one thing?

You can read more devotionals on this topic here:

A Penny for Your Video Game

He said he was selling his Wii for a penny.

She believed him.

A little boy in my daughter’s class announced on Friday that he had decided to peddle his $150 video game system for the bargain of a lifetime.  One cent and it was yours.

On Monday morning, I tousled my daughter’s hair as she slept and told her it was time to wake up and get ready for school.

“I’ll get up if you give me a penny,” she announced.

I thought she had been dreaming and was still half-asleep.

Three attempts to get her moving into the morning routine failed.  I finally discovered her reaching for her piggy bank to find her own coins.

Then the truth came out.  She had set her hopes on that one-cent treasure.  Her Daddy carried her to the couch and held her as she cried from disappointment when we told her the ugly truth.

That sometimes people don’t say what they mean.  Sometimes they make up stories.  Sometimes they talk without thinking—and certainly without asking their parents.  Sometimes they make promises and don’t keep them.

We’ve all felt the painful dashing of hopes and the shocking let-down of reality.  Whether it’s disappointment in ourselves or other people or disillusionment with God, it’s reason enough for a long cry on someone’s shoulder.

Sometimes it’s because we’ve been tricked.  Satan has duped us into settling for less than God’s best.  We’ve fallen prey to false advertising and empty promises.  We’ve trusted in people and, unfortunately, people aren’t always trustworthy.

The nation of Israel learned this lesson the hard way.

God specifically told them not to make treaties with the surrounding nations as they entered the Promised Land.  They were to conquer each territory completely.

The people of Gibeon knew that Israel was headed in their direction and they had heard how Israel had destroyed Jericho and Ai, so “they resorted to a ruse.”

They sent a delegation out to Joshua.  These men were dressed in rags and patches with broken sandals and dirty faces.  Their wineskins had cracked and been mended.  They even remembered to stash some moldy bread among the supplies.

Then, they told a lie: “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us” (Joshua 9:6).

Our bread was warm and fresh when we started this journey.  Our clothes were brand new when we set out.  See the proof.  Believe what we are telling you.

Scripture tells us, “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.  Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live (Joshua 9:14-15).

Three days later, Joshua found out who the Gibeonites really were.  They weren’t strangers from a distant land.  They were neighbors.  And they had tricked Israel into disobeying a direct commandment from God.

This commandment was for their benefit and protection.  God knew that Israel wouldn’t stay true to Him if they were surrounded by nations who worshiped false gods.   By the time of the Judges, “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.  They forsook the LORD, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them” (Judges 2:11-13).

The Israelites settled for less than God’s plan, all because they hadn’t inquired of the Lord.  They hadn’t asked for His input, discernment or insight.  Instead, they trusted in fake promises and had been disappointed in the result.

Have people let you down?  Have you trusted their promises only to discover lies and tricks?  Have you made poor decisions because false advertising made it all sound so good?

Remember to bring God into the midst of your every decision.  Inquire of the Lord before signing treaties and shaking hands in agreement.  There’s no need to rush or settle for what the world offers; be willing to wait for God’s best. 

Perhaps, though your disappointment isn’t with other people.  Maybe it’s with God.

Maybe you did trust in Him, waited for His best to come and yet you haven’t seen the answer to prayer . . .still.  Maybe you stood up for Him and don’t feel like He defended you.  Maybe you thought the Christian life meant perpetual blessing and prosperity, but your bank account, the doctor’s office, and your relationships aren’t the fairy tale life you imagined.

What then?  What do you do when you’re disillusioned with God?

Tell Him about it. Cry at His feet.  Tell Him how you’re heartbroken and hurting.  Mary and Martha weren’t afraid to tell Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”  They poured out all their pain and didn’t hold anything back.

We can be honest with God.

Then, keep praying.  Keep waiting.  Don’t ever give up on God.  He invites us into prayer with perseverance.  Pressing in before the throne, we keep “asking, seeking and knocking.”

He may not answer you in the way you expect.  He may not answer you as quickly as you’d like.  But He is committed to faithfulness, true to His promises and He cares for you.

You can read more devotionals about this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com 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

Let There Be Light

She stood by my bed at midnight.  Holding her Bumblebee Pillow Pet in one hand, she dragged her pink and purple quilt behind her.

I fumbled for my glasses and reached out a hand to stroke her hair.

“Mom,” she cried, “it’s too dark.”

I walked with my daughter back to her room and realized that the one light we always keep on had been turned off accidentally.  Our house was truly black.

It’s as if my girl has an internal light-sensory device.  As soon as she sensed darkness, she had awoken and plodded across the house half-asleep in order to regain light.

Have you ever grown aware of darkness? 
Have you woken up to a sun-bright day, but still feel the heaviness of the unknown? 
Have you felt pommeled by Satan, test and trial after test and trial, and you lose hope of the brightness of the future? 
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by shadows, gloom, fear and worry?

We’re like plants, always growing toward a source of light, reaching up and over obstacles until we bask in the warm, nourishing rays of the sun.

We can do this with God because He is a light-bringer.  He is always shining brightness into our dark places.

God “divided the light from the darkness” at creation (Genesis 1:4) and declared that it was good.  It was His first act as Creator in a formless void of a world.

And when God sent us a Savior, He declared that Jesus was “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:7-9).  This is what the prophet Isaiah had promised: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2).

What does this mean for us?  What does a God who forms light out of darkness and a Savior who brings light to the world mean for our lives now?

It means we can trust Him to shine on the steps we need to take, to reveal His will, and to be present in our darkest moments.  David rejoiced: “For you are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord shall enlighten my darkness” (2 Samuel 22:29).  In the Psalms, David also wrote:
“For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness (Psalm 18:28).

God is just like the one light we leave on in my house after we’ve flicked off the other switches.  He is our Lamp at all times and in all places.

Even so, we all have moments when we can’t see the light, can’t feel its warmth, can’t identify its glow.  We’re in the shadows and we know it.  What then?

David also wrote : “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

He is with us in the shadows and He will walk us on out of there.  We need not fear.

In the same way, my daughter stopped crying the moment I grabbed her hand at midnight and guided her back to her room.  She was calmed by my presence even before I turned on the lamp and tucked her back into bed.

God is with us in the dark places.  He knows and sees us there.  Not only that, we can ask Him to reveal to us the treasures hidden in the shadows.

Isaiah tells us:  “I will give you the treasures of darkness and And hidden riches of secret places, That you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel” (Isaiah 45:3).

Daniel similarly wrote: “He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, And light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22).

Maybe there’s great treasure hidden in your darkness right now.  Perhaps God longs to share with you secret things that are covered over in shadow, lessons we can’t learn in perpetual sunshine and a knowledge of Him that we can only discover in the valley.

Why is darkness so frightening to us?  Is it because we can’t see where we’re going?  Is it because we don’t know what’s hidden in the shadows?  Is it because we can’t tell who is next to us?

Whatever our fears, whoever “walks in darkness and has no light” can “trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon His God” (Isaiah 50:10).  We can be certain of His presence.  We can trust Him to shine brightly when we need to see.  We can count on Him to see through darkness and reveal to us the secrets and treasures of the deep places.

So, reach for God’s light today, just like the plant on the windowsill bending toward the sun.  In the middle of your darkness, your sadness or despair, your gloom or hopeless state and all the shadows of the unknown, stretch out until you are warmed by His presence and in awe of His glory.

For more thoughts on this topic, you can read these other devotionals:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com 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 © 2011 Heather King

Weekend Walk, 01/21/2012—Perfect Peace

Hiding the Word:

Every week, I share a memory verse with you for the week.  We write them down on index cards or post-it notes and review them each day.  I don’t just memorize; I meditate on the verse.  I pray it through and ask God to teach me from this Scripture and how it relates to my life and to the rest of the Word of God.

Two weeks ago, I started a passage from Philippians that ultimately addresses the peace of God.

Now, here I sit, still thinking about peace.  Maybe it’s because in a scary world marred by sin, peace is hard to attain.  Certainly hard to maintain.  Every time I settle my heart and fix my eyes on Jesus, a news story upsets my stomach.  Or a phone call shakes my world a bit.

So, here I am again choosing a verse on peace and once again I am reminded that we have the power to reject and destroy this gift from God.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you (Isaiah 26:3)

God promises peace, but we must have steadfast minds—-focusing on the things of God.  We must trust in Him—controlling our stormy emotions.

This is how we prepare our hearts for peace.  This is how we guard and protect the gift of peace He gives.

Weekend Rerun:

Live Long and Forget or Prosper
Originally Published 06/13/2011

Not long ago, I wrote these words in a message to a friend, “Middle school was an absolute nightmare for me.”

Oh, it so was.  I had great friends; it wasn’t peer pressure or mean girls that made it so miserable.  Yet, those were difficult years for lots of reasons all piled together forming one mountain of middle school angst.

Most of the time, I forget those preteen emotions.  They have little presence in the workings of my everyday mind and heart.  Yet, just occasionally I am reminded of them.  Although it takes some purposeful recollecting, and although the pictures are unclear, almost as if they happened to someone else—yes, I do still remember.

Joseph knew more than most of us about enduring hard times and living through moments he’d rather forget.  Narrowly escaping being murdered by his brothers, he had instead been sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, tossed into prison and left there—not for days or weeks, but years and years.

Time passed and Joseph was freed, even elevated to power in a whirlwind of activity.  Now second in the land, lesser only than Pharaoh, he married and had two sons.  The names he chose for them have made me pause.

Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”   Genesis 41: 50-52

Manasseh, God has made me forget.  In some ways, through the sheer distance of time, we cannot remember the details of the past clearly.  Sometimes that’s God’s grace, that our past of pain grows hazy in the light of present blessing. 

Yet, do we ever forget, truly forget, all our trouble?  Did Joseph?

Surely he was now in a foreign land, an adult and no longer a teenage braggart annoying his brothers. No more following sheep in a field; now he managed a world power.  His life seemed totally broken off from the long-ago upbringing by a doting father. The coat of many colors probably wouldn’t have fit over his frame any longer.

But did he forget?  Truly forget?

Not by the way he reacted to his brothers’ sudden appearance in Egypt, begging for food in the midst of famine.  Not as he spotted their faces in the crowd of travelers.  Not as he invited them to a personal audience.  Not as he conspired to see his younger brother and father once again.  Not as he returned their silver.  Not as he fled the room to cry in privacy after talking with them all once again.

Is it not so much that he forgot, but instead that he learned and grew, matured and transformed?  Through trouble, God had refined him.

Not Manasseh.  Not forgetting.  But Ephraim.  Being made fruitful in the land of my suffering

It seems so much less about a past wiped clean from memory and so much more about allowing God to work “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), even during those moments and seasons and years we would prefer to forget.

It is the treasure of God’s presence while in darkness, the discovery of fruitful grace in a barren land, the finding of fresh water for a parched soul.

So it was for Joseph’s brothers, who dug down deep into the sacks of grain they carried back from Egypt.  Suddenly their hands felt not wheat, but silver.  Secretly, Joseph had placed treasure in each bag.

Beth Moore in The Patriarchs wrote:

“In the midst of His unfolding plan, He’d buried treasures for them to unearth at times they least expected.  Do you feel in deep peril?  At great risk?  Your God has given you treasure.  Search for it.” 

We can stand at life’s blackboard and erase and erase and erase in attempts to forget.  Oh, could we just forget how we felt in that moment, how we went through that trial, how we hurt, how we cried, how we were afraid, how we were broken.

But we would miss the treasure hidden there.

When you find yourself in famine, dig deep for the treasure of God.  Perhaps God in His grace will cover over pain with forgetfulness, replacing memories of hurt with the blessing of intimacy in His presence. Yet, even more precious than forgetting is allowing Him to make you fruitful in the land of your suffering. 

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com 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 © 2011 Heather King

Now Recruiting Team Members: Job #3, John

I clearly remember the first time my then future-husband, James, told me he loved me. He sat next to me on the couch, held my hand, looked deep into my eyes and said those three magic words.

I then walked to the bathroom and threw up.

Romantic, huh?

It’s partly because it wasn’t just some sweet nothing that people in a relationship say to each other when their hearts go pitter-patter.  We had decided when we started dating that James would be the one to say, “I love you” first and that he would say it when he felt confident I was the one he wanted to marry.

So, “I love you” really meant, “I’m committed to you and to our relationship.  This isn’t casual dating; it’s getting ready for marriage.”

Hence, my reaction.

Now, we’re just two days away from our 12th anniversary and “I love you” is something we say all the time.  In fact, I often stop and think about what I’ve just said or heard when we hang up the phone or kiss goodbye in the rush of the morning.  I want to make sure the significance isn’t lost in the banalities of life or the commonness of overuse.

I love you.

That means I’m committed to you and to us.  I care about you because of who you are and not what you do.  Whatever we’re facing in life, we’re doing this together.

We all need a reminder at times of what love really means because we take it for granted too often.  Or, perhaps, we need the reminder that we’re loved because sometimes we just don’t feel it’s true.

That’s why the last person I’d choose for my Spiritual Dream Team is someone who always reminds us of God’s love—the apostle John.

In Part One, I told you how we all need an encourager, a Barnabas to help us keep going and never quit.

In Part Two, I told you that we need an intercessor, a James, who will wear holes in his jeans from time on his knees praying for you.

We also need someone to remind us all the time that we are loved.  Fully, truly loved.  Known intimately, through and through, but loved just the same.  Loved so greatly that nothing we can do can alter God’s affection for us.  Passionately loved with such intensity that Jesus would die just for us.

Job Posting #3: John

  • Must remind us on the tough days and in the moments when we don’t feel it’s true that God loves us.
  • Must spur us on to love one another with more grace so we can be a living example of God’s love in the world.

John couldn’t forget that God loved him.  Jesus had chosen John for his inner circle of three intimate disciples.  At the Last Supper, John had actually leaned against Jesus.  He was the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13).  Jesus thought so highly of John, that He entrusted His mother into John’s care as He died on the cross (John 19:26-27).

It’s no surprise, then, that John’s primary message in his writings is that God loves us and that we should love others. 

God’s love was John’s consistent theme.  He wrote:

  • “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
  • “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
  • “God is love . . .  We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:16, 19).

God didn’t just love us; He loved us first and He loved us sacrificially.

In his book, 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know By Heart, Robert Morgan wrote about one of John’s most famous statements of all:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)

According to Morgan, when the great evangelist D.L. Moody heard a fresh young preacher named Henry Moorehouse speak on John 3:16, he said,  “I never knew up to that time that God loved us so much.  This heart of mine began to thaw out, and I could not keep back the tears.  It was like news from a far country.  I just drank it in” (p. 53).

We can’t take such extravagant love for granted.  We can’t depersonalize it and assume that although God loved the world, He doesn’t necessarily love us–you and me—personally and passionately.

We need someone to remind us during stress, fear, trial, and even in the midst of the mundane that God’s love for us never fails.

But John doesn’t stop there.  He says, God loves you . . .so, love one another.

It’s a natural progression.

We all have the opportunity to be the physical, tangible reminders of God’s love in a world starving for His affection.

John tells us: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).

Yes, he says, “You who are loved, love others.”

How can you show God’s love to others today?

You can read more about this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com 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 © 2011 Heather King

Now Recruiting Team Members: Job #2, “Camel Knees”

I don’t think I’m traumatized now because my PE teachers made me play dodgeball as a kid.

But it’s a miracle.

I was terrified of PE on dodgeball days.  Also on kickball days.  The worst moment of every year came when I walked into the gym and the PE teacher pointed to a rope dangling from the ceiling and told us to climb up.

I hated the gymnastics unit since I was the only girl on the planet incapable of doing cartwheels.  I’ve been hit with a softball, basketball, and hockey puck before.  In volleyball, I just prayed no one would serve in my direction.

I was a physical education disaster.

So, it’s little surprise that the other kids weren’t jumping all over themselves to pick me for their team.  It’s a cruel ritual of waiting for some person to have mercy on you and call out your name so you wouldn’t be the dreaded last.

In Part One of this series, I wrote about one kind of person who’d be the first pick on my spiritual dream team.  I’d want a Barnabas, an encourager.  He was a talent scout who could always spot the good in others and would stand up for them against naysayers.

He even had a cool nickname.  His real name was Joseph, but the apostles called him Barnabas or “Son of Encouragement” to show off the great spiritual gift God had given him.

Now, for my second draft pick, I’d choose a guy with a nickname of his own: James, AKA “Camel Knees.”

Job Posting #2: James

  • Must be full of wisdom and good counsel, giving you sound, Godly advice whenever you need it straight from Scripture.
  • Must get down on his knees for you, continually lifting you up in prayer and being your greatest supporter before the throne of God.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, became the head of the Jerusalem church.  One thing is clear about him: He knew God’s Word through and through.

When Paul appeared before James and the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 to present his case for evangelism to the Gentiles, James immediately referred back to Old Testament prophecy (Acts 15:16-18).  He had the power of God’s Word at instant recall.  There was no lengthy pulling out of a concordance or searching through scrolls.

James had committed Scripture to memory and used it to inform his decisions and to give advice to those who needed it.

Clearly, this is a man who clocked significant time in the study of God’s Word and all that time in Scripture had convinced James of one thing.

Prayer Matters.

In her book, James: Mercy Triumphs, Beth Moore tells us the early church called him ‘Camel Knees’  “because he knelt and prayed so long that he developed thick calluses” (Beth Moore, James, p. 177).

James began his letter to the church with a call to faith-filled prayer: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:5-6).

He ends his book by coming full circle and exhorting the church once again to pray with great faith about all things:

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray . . .  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  (James 5:13, 15-16).

If there’s anyone we need on our team, it’s someone passionately in love with God and His Word, who will consistently intercede on our behalf.

Not only do we need someone like that to support us, we need to be that support for someone else.

It may seem an insufficient offering for a hurting friend.  You want to rescue them, make them well, pay off their debts and fix their relationships. Sometimes God allows us to serve others in practical ways by fixing meals, watching children, cleaning a house, or visiting them in the hospital.

There are times, though, when all we can do is pray.

And we say it just like that—“All I can do is pray,”  as if praying isn’t of real value or impact

Yet, James reminds us that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV).

We don’t just pray quick and general prayers of blessing, either.  “Bless him.  Bless her.  Bless them.  Bless this.  Bless that.”

Five minutes in prayer for a few folks in a small group didn’t give James callouses on his knees.

We drop to our knees and pray with intense faith.  The Holman Christian Standard Bible says “the urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect” (James 5:16, HCSB).  The NKJV translates this verse: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

We pray with urgency.  We make fervent requests before God.  As God brings people to mind, take the time to pray specifically and passionately for them because it will have a powerful impact on their circumstances.

And pray this prayer for yourself as you have need—ask God for a James in your life.  Ask that He give you a Scripture-knowing, Godly person who will consistently cover you in prayer.  As James himself says, if you’re in trouble, if you need wisdom, if you need forgiveness, if you need healing . . . pray and ask others to pray with you.  It will make a difference.

Want to read more on this topic?  Check out these posts:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com 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 © 2011 Heather King

Now Recruiting Team Members: Job #1, Barnabas

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)

We have the world’s largest dress-up collection.

Our closet holds two Rubbermaid containers full of tiaras, fairy wands and wings, long flowing dresses, and clickety-clacky high-heeled shoes.

But after my daughters choose their perfect outfits, they find themselves missing a piece in most of their fairy-tale games.

They can play Sleeping Beauty, but there’s no prince to wake her up.

They can play Cinderella, but there’s not much point in going to a ball if you have no dance partner.

They can play Snow White, but once she eats the poisoned apple, she’s a goner without a prince to rescue her.

With three girls in the family, we’ve got the princess roles pretty well covered, but we’re always missing the prince.  My oldest daughter always suggests what seems like the perfect solution, “Mom, if you just had a boy than he could play with us.”

Never mind that he won’t pop out of the womb and instantly be ready to ride over the hill and wake sleeping princesses.  Or that even if they waited until he was five years old, he might prefer playing Legos to wearing tights and a feather cap and dancing at balls.

My girls are missing a role.

It’s made me think about the roles we are sometimes missing in our own lives and ministries.  Maybe we all could do some recruiting for some open positions in our circle of friends.

Job posting #1: Barnabas

  • Must be willing to believe in you when no one else does.
  • Must always “have your back” and stand up for you against opposition.
  • Must know exactly the right encouraging words to say when you need it most.
  • Must be willing to work alongside you and give you friendship and practical help in whatever God calls you to do.

All applications will be considered.  Deadline for applying is as soon as you can! Equal opportunity employer.

Have you ever had one of those days when you just needed someone to put their arms around you and say, “You’re great.  You’re beautiful.  I believe in you.  What you do matters.  Don’t quit.  I’m with you all the way.”?

You need a Barnabas.

We all do, I suppose.

It’s hard for any of us to be strong and confident on the tough days when our hair doesn’t look right in the mirror and the ten outfits we try on make us look frumpy.  Oh, and of course a runway model stands next to us in line just to accentuate our plainness.

We tend all day to needs that seem so vital to the little people at our feet, but don’t ever seem to make it on the news.

We pour ourselves daily into ministries that don’t make a bestseller list or pack arenas and at times seem to make so little difference, no one would care if you quit.

We make ourselves vulnerable and put ourselves out there in obedience to God’s call and others come trampling all over our dreams with massive steel-toed boots of apathy or even outright opposition.

Yes, we surely need a Barnabas.

Paul certainly did.

Paul didn’t start out as a massively famous and successful missionary who penned the bulk of the New Testament.  He began as a devout Jewish man named Saul who was famous for his brutal persecution of the early church.

When he encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and dramatically converted to Christianity, the disciples didn’t welcome him into the Christian fold with welcome arms either.

They were terrified of him, “not believing that he was a real disciple” (Acts 9:26).

The church thought Saul was a faker with a capital “F.”   Everyone except Barnabas, that is.

Luke writes, “But Barnabas took him (Saul) and brought him to the apostles.  He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord” (Acts 9:27).

This was Barnabas’s great spiritual gift, encouraging others in their faith and bolstering their ministry.  In fact, his real name was Joseph, but the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, “which means ‘son of encouragement'” (Acts 4:36).

It makes sense then that Barnabas would believe in Saul when no one else did.

He wasn’t just a source of encouragement for Saul.  In the early days of the church, the Gospel message was spreading, but only to Jews at first.  When some people crossed the line and started telling Gentiles about Jesus, the church leaders weren’t too sure that this was acceptable.

So, who did they send to visit with the Greek believers in Antioch?

Barnabas, of course.  Just like he did with Saul, he put aside prejudice and “he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:23-24).

Barnabas was forever encouraging others, telling them “Don’t quit.  Don’t give up.  I see God at work in you.”

Even when others counted people out, he had the faith to see what God was doing in their lives.  Not only that, he put himself on the line in order to give the ministry of others a boost.

He didn’t just affirm God’s call on Saul’s life, he said, “I’ll come alongside and join you in your work.  I’ll travel with you.  I’ll endure hardship and persecution because I believe in the call God has placed on your heart.”

Without Barnabas, would we have Paul?  Would the Gospel have spread to Gentiles everywhere?  Would Paul’s New Testament epistles be written?

Maybe not.  It took someone with the gift of encouragement to help Saul reach the full potential of the Paul we know.

We all need a Barnabas.

And we all need to be a Barnabas for others.  Someone today needs you to be a Barnabas for them.  How will you be the encouragement they need?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com 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.

Weekend Walk, 01/14/2012

Hiding the Word:

It’s a scary world, isn’t it?  I read this morning of an Italian cruise ship that took on water and listed completely to the side, blocking the life boats.  They were rescuing passengers via helicopter and hoping to evacuate everyone.  As of now, dozens of people are still missing.

These travelers went on a vacation, a pleasure cruise, and ended up riding the Titanic.

Sometimes our life changes that rapidly.  We wake up fine.  By lunch, our world has twisted and contorted itself into knots of fear.

At other times it feels like we’re trapped on a sinking ship and even the life boats are under water.

This week, I’m meditating on verses that may not change circumstances, but help us to control our run-away thoughts and overwhelming terrors in any situation we face.  These verses build on the passage from last week, so I’ll list them all together here and bold the new section for this week.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:4-9)

We continually (and perhaps with great effort) choose to rejoice in the Lord.  We deny anxiety and take every situation to God in prayer, being sure to give Him thanks.

We tighten the reins on our unruly thoughts and demand that they focus on what is true and right, pure, lovely, admirable . . . We don’t dwell on hypothetical horrors, the hidden monsters of what-ifs.

We think on what is true: God is faithful.  He is compassionate.  He is powerful.  He is love.

Then, yes then, “the God of peace will be with you.”

Weekend Rerun:

Nothing Too Difficult
Originally published 04/14/2011

“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what He had promised
Genesis 21: 1 (NIV)

Last week, I stood in the checkout line at the grocery store with a week’s worth of food for my family all lined up on the conveyor belt.  I assured the cashier that I didn’t need my milk in a bag; it seemed like putting her through extra effort just to take the plastic bag home and recycle it.  “Not really,” she said, “What is a really big pain is people who bring 15 or more of those reusable bags and make me put cold stuff in one, cleaning stuff in another, bread and eggs separate.  Now, that takes forever.”

I nodded my head with understanding and sympathy.  Meanwhile, I was praying under my breath that she wouldn’t notice how my groceries were carefully categorized and organized as they headed to her scanner.

  • Heavy things first.
  • Nonperishables.
  • Cold items with meat and poultry separate.
  • Non-food items like cleaning supplies and personal care products.
  • Produce.
  • Bread and eggs.

What can I say?  I like my groceries bagged a certain way.  But, I don’t leave this to chance or pester the tired Wal-Mart cashier to organize my purchases for me.   No, I like to help things along.  Truly, I am trying to be considerate of the girl getting paid so little money to incessantly scan and bag during her entire work shift.  Organizing all my items saves her some time and effort.

But, there’s also something else.  I don’t believe that she would do it correctly if I didn’t categorize the items for her.  I don’t trust that she knows not to put my cereal with the yogurt or that my laundry detergent shouldn’t sit next to my chicken.

I don’t believe.  I don’t trust.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether I fully trust and believe in the professional skill of the girl checking out my groceries.  But, my unbelief and lack of trust seep into other areas of my life that should be in the hands of our thoroughly trustworthy God.  It’s a slow drip, drip, drip of anti-faith that I ignore until suddenly I’m drowning in a sea of uncertainty and gasping for air in a flood of my own making.

I pray for things and then make plans and decisions based on God NOT answering my prayers.

I lay at His feet my anxiety and concerns about situations and then snatch them back up later when His answer doesn’t come quickly enough.

I hover over His shoulder and share my opinion on the kind of job He is doing in my life.  Are you sure you want to put the pasta in that bag, God?  Don’t you think the cheese would be better next to the butter, God?   I think you could provide a bit better for me if you changed this about my job.  Don’t you think I’ve waited long enough, God?  Surely there’s a more efficient way of doing things.

I pester and nag and “help” and act like a know-it-all back seat driver.  Abraham’s wife, Sarah, had her moments of grasping for control just like I do.   She helped things along a little bit, made “suggestions” (demands), and pressed ahead with plans without considering consequences.

To be fair, Sarah waited years for God to fulfill His promises and patiently trusted that God would give Abraham a “son who is your own flesh and blood” (Genesis 16:16, NIV).  It may have even been thrilling and easy to believe at first.  A promise from God, a child, the deepest desire of her heart seen by Almighty God and assuredly in her future!  Surely she headed to the wilderness version of Babies ‘R Us and set up a registry just days after Abraham came home and told her what God had promised. Faith is easy when the promises are fresh.

But then nothing.  No pregnancy.  No baby.  Promises faded away.  Questions arose.  Cultural expectations weighed heavy on her.  Just about a decade after the original promise, Sarah’s faith finally buckled under the heavy weight of circumstantial evidence mounting up against God.  He hadn’t done what He had promised.  No baby was coming.  Sarah’s biological clock had ticked and tocked out and she clearly needed to step in and help God out a little bit.

And so the trouble begins.  A second wife for Abraham.  Conflict and abuse between Sarah and Hagar.  Runaway maidservant.  Ishmael born, son to Abraham, but not the child God had promised.

Thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth and about 24 years after the original promise, none of Sarah’s involvement, ideas, or attempts to help (or control) the situation had yielded results.

Yet, in all this time, God’s plans never changed.  His intent from the beginning was to birth an entire nation through Abraham and Sarah and He was willing to let Sarah reach the point of impossibility, of clear human failure, before fulfilling His promises.  She was past menopause, now 90 years old.  There was simply no possible earthly way for Sarah to bring forth the promised heir.

That’s what unbelief would say.  That’s what lack of trust would claim.

God is so gracious to us in our weakness, though.  He certainly was with Sarah.  He visited with Abraham again and reiterated the promise, this time with an added clarification—I believe it could only have been for Sarah’s benefit.  He told Abraham, “I will bless her (Sarah) and will surely give you a son by her.  I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her . . . your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.”

Did you notice that subtle new bit of information in the promise?  The first time, God said that Abraham would have a son and heir.  This time, He clearly said to Abraham, “You know Sarah, as in your wife Sarah?  She will have a son by you.  Together.  Nobody else needs to be involved in this.  Just you and her.  Got it?”

And there was a promise for Sarah in this, too, a special notice by God, who called a childless woman in her 90s to be the Mother of Nations.  As kids we sang the silly song, “Father Abraham, had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham.”  Why don’t we ever sing about Sarah?  After all, the poor woman had to give birth to the promised child at 90 years of age with no epidural.  I think she deserves her own song!

Abraham and Sarah were nothing without God’s miraculous involvement in their lives.  “Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth.  When I called him, he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many” (Isaiah 52:2, NIV).    Like Abraham, it is God’s blessing on us that multiples our lives into bounty and fulfillment.

Therefore our testimonies are not that we have accomplished much or attained great things in our own strength and ability. If Sarah had produced the promised heir through surrogate motherhood, fertility treatments or even naturally while her body was still ripe for childbearing, then there would have been no need for God’s personal touch.

As Beth Moore wrote, “If Isaac’s birth says anything at all, surely it says that nothing is too difficult for the Lord.”  That’s the question God asked Abraham while Sarah stood laughing in her tent over the promise of pregnancy in her old age.  “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14, NIV).  Isaac’s birth proves God’s possibilities even in impossible situations.

In Genesis 21:1, it beautifully says, “Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what He had promised (NIV).  And so He will for you.  God will do what He has promised.  And when He does, when He so graciously delivers you, He will receive all the glory and give you a testimony of miraculous provision so that others may believe and trust in a God for whom nothing is too difficult.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com 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.