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

Christmas Devotionals: I Lay Me Down

Grumpy.

That’s how I get sometimes.

Only that night, my daughter and I had sat down on the sofa with her Awana book between us, studying her lessons and verses for the week.  After learning all of Psalm 23, all 66 books of the Bible, and a run of other long and difficult verses, she nearly bounced off the couch when she saw the first verse on the page:

Do everything without complaining or arguing (Phil. 2:14).

“Wow, Mom, that’s sooooo easy,” she announced and then poured out the verse a few times just to show off her impressive memorization skills.

So easy, she thinks.  Oh, sometime it’s the shortest, simplest lessons that I’ll be learning over and over, repeatedly day by day, one relentless crawl up the mountain after another, until I collapse in worship at Jesus’ feet in heaven.

Do everything without complaining or arguing.

No grumbling in the kitchen when you’ve called your children to dinner five times and they can hear each other, hear the television, hear the phone ring, hear their game….but at momma’s voice they go conveniently deaf.

No whining about cleaning up the trail of trash or complaining about lunch packing or wailing “woe is me” because I’m tired and bone-aching weary, falling asleep on the couch as my daughters read the bedtime story to me.

No elaborate, shoulder-heaving, dramatic sighs over sock piles and shoes strewn here and there.

Our ministries in our homes, churches, communities, and jobs, sometimes they are joy and sometimes we lose focus and feel the burden.

We see bother and mess, not beauty and grace, precious gifts from God to us.  We forget to be thankful.

And we become grumbling complainers and then staunch defenders of our “rights” and the boundaries we feel will protect those “rights.”

I get the need for boundaries, really I do.  I understand that God’s people aren’t expected to just let others walk all over us. I see how that’s not healthy for us or for them.

And yet, sometimes I feel we set “boundaries” not to help others, but to protect ourselves from the slightest hint of inconvenience, the smallest encroachment on our time or budget or activity.

Sometimes boundaries are less about helping others be healthy and more about keeping ourselves comfy, uninvolved and apathetic to the people around us.

Not always, but sometimes.

How can we, nearing the Christmas season and singing and talking and preaching often about Jesus born in a manger, still stand in our kitchens and grumble about dinner and socks and lunches and mess?

After all, God of the Universe “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7 NIV).

Christmas reminds us to be self-sacrificing, to be servants, to offer ourselves with joy.

Because that’s what our Savior did for love of us, setting aside His rights, privileges, and glory, and humbly, oh so humbly, living among us and our dirt, sin and ugly pride.  Being born and then dying for us, choosing the blood and choosing the pain.

Didn’t Mary also willingly endure shame, the possibility of abandonment by Joseph—and even worse, death by a mob—the loss of her reputation, the disappointment of her parents, the discomfort of pregnancy, the uncomfortable and bumpy trek to Bethlehem, the pain of childbirth, and more…..for God and for the people her Son would save?

And Joseph willingly chose to stand up against the mockers and marry this virgin-with-child anyway, abandoning his home and occupation in Nazareth to journey far to Egypt in order to keep his family safe.

Even shepherds and wise men left their daily toil to journey to a baby.

They sacrificed plans and personal agendas, convenience and reputation, money, careers, relationships…because God asked them to abandon it all for Him and for His people.

It’s an indisputable fact of Christianity, an irrefutable part of our faith…God loves people.

And if God so loved the world this much, to give His only Son….then we should love people, too.  Enough to serve without complaining and arguing.  Enough to give to others more than is comfortable.

Enough to forget the burden and remember the joy, as Mary did in her song, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name” (Luke 46-47, 49).

“I lay me down”—that’s what Christ could have sung, and Mary, Joseph, and the worshipers traveling from afar.  That’s what we sing, “I lay me down, a living sacrifice…a pleasing sacrifice to You.”

To hear Darrell Evans lead in worship, I Lay Me Down” you can click here.

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

Weekend Walk, 11/26/2011

Hiding the Word

I’d like to spend some time this season meditating on the Christmas “story.”  It’s too easy to nod our heads at the same old-same old telling of the tale, but this year I want to sink deep into it and recognize the miraculous glory of it all.  I want to recapture joy.

Do you remember how incredible the news of Christ’s birth was?  How excited the angels were to take to the skies and trumpet the birth announcement to a crowd of nocturnal shepherds hanging out on the hills that night?

How after 400 years of silence from Malachi to John the Baptist, God’s presence could be felt on this earth!  Four hundred years of waiting for a Word from God.  Four hundred years of celestial silence.  Surely that beats any of the waiting room seasons we’ve endured in our faith walks!

How God told each of the principal players in this event, “Do not be afraid.”  And how He says the same to us today.  Fear not.

So, that’s my starter verse this week as we prepare our hearts for the Christmas season.  It’s the announcement of the angels and the reminder that Christ brings us great joy—joy for all the people, and that because of Him we need not fear.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

Here’s what Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas says about this: http://youtu.be/DKk9rv2hUfA

Weekend Rerun:

Fear Not
Originally Published 05/11/2011

“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

My older girls raced outside, tumbling over each other in their speedy way.  They jumped onto the swings and pumped their feet to go higher and higher.  They chased each other down the slide.

I watched from the kitchen window to make sure they were safe, were playing nicely, were obeying the rules.  Every time they travel outside my backdoor, we review.  Don’t leave the backyard.  Don’t go into the woods.  Don’t even go to the side of the house and certainly not the front.  Stay where I can see you through the kitchen window.  Come when I call.  You may say “hi” to our friendly neighbors, but do not enter their yard.  At all times, Mom needs to know where you are.

They’ve heard it so many times that I start the sentences and they complete them.

And as they closed the door behind them, I called them back for suntan lotion to protect their fair skin.

I sat down in the quiet to rest and read and then I heard them—two tiny voices screaming, hysterical, shrieking, piercing.  Not a hurt cry.  A fear cry.  More like terrified.  I ran, crossing over the gravel driveway without shoes, looking right at the two little girls perched at the top of the slide.  I could see them safe in front of me.  So, what was wrong?

Expecting a rattlesnake or tarantula, I arrived at the foot of the slide and demanded to know what had happened.  Were they hurt?  Were they bleeding?  What monster had threatened their well-being and brought me out here with my heart in my stomach, knowing they were in grave danger?

It was an ant.  A teeny, tiny, almost not visible black ant that had crawled onto their slide.

“It’s a fire ant, I know it,” screamed my oldest girl, face all red and hair wild, tears wetting her cheeks.

I bluster.  I don’t really know how to react.  It’s not a fire ant.  It’s the tiniest of tiny normal black ants that are only really scary at a picnic as they invade your lunch.  Even if it were a fire ant, it shouldn’t cause that much fear.  So, I calm them.  Then I instruct them.  I say, “God tells us that He “has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).  Then I tell them, “Even if it’s a  fire ant, even if it’s a spider, even if it’s a snake, even if it’s a monster, even then you don’t have to be be afraid because God is bigger than all those things.”

This morning, I gave myself the same instruction.  I read a devotional from a woman sharing about her childhood horrors from sexual abuse by a neighbor and it struck those familiar chords of fear that paralyze me just as my daughters were frozen in fear at the top of a slide.  In the car as we waited for school to start, I talked it over with my precious girl.  “If anyone hurts you,” I say, “you can always tell me.  It doesn’t matter what they say—if they threaten to kill me or dad or you or your cat.  If they say it’s your fault.  If they offer you candy.  No matter what, you tell me.” And in all the innocence of a child who doesn’t really know about evil, she said, “I don’t think my friends from school would hurt me mom.”  Yeah, I know.

This world really is a frightening place to live, though—for all of us certainly, and especially so for moms.  All of the evil that exists, the sin-state of this world, the reality that people hurt other people, people harm innocence—it’s enough for me to panic and want to hide away and take my children with me.

And it’s not just the big things that sometimes make me worry, but just the possibilities that exist in the unknown.   I registered my oldest girl for public school the other day.  In September, she’ll step onto a school bus with a driver I don’t know and other children I’ve never met.  I’m afraid.  It’s a true confession of what is lurking in my heart right now.  I’m afraid she’ll get lost in a school so big (if you knew my daughter, you’d understand this).  I’m afraid she’ll miss the bus and be scared herself.  I’m afraid mean kids will tease her and hurt her so sensitive heart.  I’m afraid of the influences I can’t control.  I’m afraid she won’t know how to maneuver the cafeteria system.

It’s true that this world can be a scary place to live at times.  It’s true that most of the monsters we battle are far more destructive than a tiny black ant and not so easily overcome.  It’s true that bad things happen and people get hurt.  But, there’s another truth I cling to in this moment; it’s what coaxes me down from the slide where my fears have pinned me.  God tells us, “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).

We don’t travel through this world alone.  Even in the darkest places when fears of the unknown transform into the horrors of reality, God is with us.  That is why we need not fear.  He does not leave our side and in the moments that we collapse with the overwhelming terror of it all, He strengthens us and helps us and lifts us up in His right hand to safety.  He commands us to “fear not” and then clasps our hand as we take those first uncertain steps into the shadowy places that we’ve been running from.

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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.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King