He loved me and Gave Himself for me

“Use your self-control.”

This is one of my favorite takeaways from my son’s preschool teachers this year.  They are so gentle and measured when they say it.

He’s ready to lose it over a near-tragedy—not getting to sit next to his good friend or struggling with the zipper to his backpack because it’s extra full that day.

Their gentle reminder is the same: “Use your self-control.”

I love that it assumes he  has self-control and that he can access it, that somehow this little pause and this little reminder gives him the ability to breathe….reflect….choose.

Meltdown?  Or self-control?

He’s in progress.  He sometimes  chooses meltdown.

Me too.

Fruitfulness is part of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.  It means He is alive, and He is active, and we are yielded to Him.

Paul tells us:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things (Galatians 5:22-23 CSB). 

It’s not a list for me to tackle like some holy agenda.  It is not up to me to manufacture goodness or to self-concoct gentleness or peace.   It takes  a leaning in with the full weight of my fractured soul on the strength and the character of God in me.

May He be at work and may the work-in-progress be me.

May He be the one to cultivate love in me, to stir up joy, to  grow patience, to establish goodness.

May I be the one to learn, to long for the Spirit and to open myself up to the work that He does.  May I be the one to  focus my eyes on Jesus and His own fruitfulness because He is the perfect model of:

Love.
Joy
Peace
Patience
Kindness
Goodness
Faithfulness
Gentleness
Self-Control

And when I see this fruit in Jesus,  I love Him for it.  I long to be like Him, to let Him shine in my heart, to turn over hardened ground and to till up the soil and to plant the seeds.  Fruitfulness, Lord.  Abundant fruitfulness in my life. 

It seems fitting during Holy Week to consider Jesus and the fruit He bore out on the cross.

Some conflict, some uncertainty, some worry, some stress may bring out the uglies in me.  I’m not always loving, not always peaceful, not always gentle when my kids are picking at each other at the kitchen table and we’re rushing because we need  to be out the door in 8 minutes and I’m still  trying  to cook dinner and give a practice spelling test to  a child.

But Jesus endured all of the pain of the garden, the betrayal, the trial, the beating, the mocking, the condemnation, the cross, the sin and the separation.

And the fruitfulness is still there:  He showed love, joy, peace.  Despite the pain, He was gentle and kind, good and faithful.

He also “used His self-control” by choosing the cross for Himself so He could offer forgiveness to us.  It was, after all, His choice to make.

He wrestled in prayer and made the final declaration on His knees:   “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

That set His destination.   He would not give into fear or to  the flesh.  He would  choose the cross.

And He chose not to call down angels to rescue Him when the soldiers marched into the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 27:41-42).

With the very power of His voice there  in the Garden, He spoke the words:  I AM.  Then all of the military might fell to the ground, struck down by two  small words spoken by the Messiah.

What an embarrassing mess for them.  They were all geared up, swords and clubs at the ready, and a completely average-looking Jewish teacher said two little words and they landed on their backsides.

They walked out of the Garden with Jesus  as their captive because Jesus chose to be their captive.  Paul says it this way, Jesus “loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 CSB).

The author, Selwyn Hughes, reminds me that Paul lists self-control last in the fruit of the Spirit.  It’s not first.  We don’t begin with self-control and then produce all  the other fruit, even though that’s likely what we try to do sometimes.

“I will be more holy. I will be more righteous. I will hate sin more.”

That’s self-righteousness at work.

Instead, Hughes writes that we begin with love—just as Paul lists it in Galatians 5– and “when you begin with love, you end up with self-control.”

Christ’s love covers us and compels us.

Because we are oh-so-loved by a Savior who is oh-so-good and who chose the cross for us,  we delight in Him and in what pleases Him and what pleases Him is the Spirit’s fruit in us.

Parenting in light of the resurrection

My son woke up early on Easter morning and he is not a morning person.  He is, instead, a curious combination of early riser plus total  morning grump.

That  means demands, tears, and the request (denied) that we use the tie-dye kits he and his sister received to make “splat shirts” right away, as in before 7 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning.

Mornings aren’t usually rough, but everyone has a  tough start sometimes.  Mostly, I just shrug ours off and move along.

But this day.  This day was harder on the soul.

It was Easter Sunday morning.  It should be holy and sacred and full of worship in all-the-things.  Worship  in my parenting.  Worship in my daily routine and acts of service for my family.  Worship in the breakfast meal and the dinner preparation.

Good golly, we should have JOY!  Joy, I tell you!

It wasn’t  worship, though.  Or joy.

It was  more chaos  then calm.  A clothing crisis (or two or three) and missing shoes despite instructions that all  children should prepare all outfits the night before.  It was a grumpy four-year-old not wanting to leave the comfort  of the couch.

It was the culmination of a weekend when we had seen sin and attitude and outbursts of anger and fighting.

That’s how I ended up at church on Easter Sunday, trying so hard to psych myself up into feeling all the excitement of celebrating Christ’s resurrection, but actually feeling stretched thin with the realities  of me being not-enough.

It hit me in a wave  of realization as we sang about death losing its sting and about the wonderful cross.

I was  distracted by a teen outgrowing her  clothing, a lost pair of white shoes and a four-year-old who doesn’t like waking up.

Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be worshiping the God of the Universe who died on the cross for my sins and then rose up from the dead!

That’s what started my searching:  What does it look like for the resurrection to impact my parenting?   My home?  My everyday morning routine and beyond?

Christ brings  all the power of the resurrection right into my everyday, ordinary life.

We read in Romans:

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies [a]through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:11 NASB).

and in Ephesians:

 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 1:19-20 NLT).

The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is within us!

He can mightily heal what is broken and  He can re-order any mess that seems hopelessly overwhelming.   No way can an “off” morning defeat me, nor should it  distract me.

It also means He brings peace.

After Jesus’s resurrection, He stood in the middle of a room, surrounded by followers, and He said:

“Peace be with you” (John 20:26).

He knew that’s what they needed with all their fear, worry, sorrow, and their deep grief and confusion.  They needed His peace smack dab in the middle of the mess they were in.

He brings the peace of His presence  right  into my life, too.  Right into my craziest morning with the deepest ache for calm and for quiet, He can speak peace.

He can BE my peace.

Parenting in light of the resurrection also brings great value to what we’re doing here.  It means there is salvation for my children.   No one has to stay the same.  And I get to be part of their sanctification.  I get to witness God at work in their lives and hearts.

Not only does Jesus bring peace.  He brings redemption.  He brings strength for me and He brings grace for  my kids as we come face-to-face with sin and how ugly it is.

Because Jesus died and because He arose, my kids can be forgiven.  They can be transformed over time.  The sin that tangles them up now doesn’t have to tangle them up forever, as long as we’re willing to battle together against it .

I’m a mom who needs Easter.  I  need the resurrection to  keep the right perspective.

He came.  He died.  He arose.

Such grace.  Such love.  Such power.  Such hope.

Such peace.

 

Bible Verses and a Prayer about the Resurrection Life

  • Job 19:25 ESV
    For I know that my Redeemer lives,
        and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
  • Isaiah 25:8 ESV
    He will swallow up death forever;
    and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
        and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
        for the Lord has spoken.
  • Luke 24:46-47 ESV
    and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
  • John 11:25-26 ESV
    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?
  • Romans 6:4 ESV
    We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
  • Romans 6:5 ESV
    For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
  • Romans 8:11 ESV
    If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
  • Romans 8:34 ESV
    Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
  • Romans 10:9 ESV
    because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:14 ESV
    And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV
    For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV
    And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 ESV
    For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
  • Philippians 3:10 ESV
    that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death
  • 2 Timothy 2:11 ESV
    The saying is trustworthy, for:

    If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

  • 1 Peter 1:3 ESV
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
  • 1 Peter 1:21 ESV
    who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Devotionals and Storybook Bibles for families

Devotionalsand Storybook Biblesfor Families

Easter is a great time to evaluate and refresh your family devotional time.  If you’re looking for the perfect devotional or storybook Bible to read with your kids, I have some ideas for you!

We’ve had our share of duds—devotionals that were too superficial and lacked any spiritual depth.  Some of the ones listed below our our favorite finds that stand out as digging deeper and providing a solid biblical foundation for our kids.  Other items on the list are ones that are on my “I want to do this next list” because they look so good!

Don’t worry about starting a 365-day devotional in the spring.  Either begin at the beginning and just keep going to the end.  Or, start on the actual date and wrap around through the new year until you’ve finished.

Feel free to browse and find the book that might be the best for your family! Any of these could make a great Easter gift for children or grandchildren, as well.

For Toddlers and Early Preschoolers:

  • My Good Night Bible by Susan Lingo
    These are the very first devotion books we used with my kids starting at late two-years-old and on through the early preschool years.  They are short and sweet and, unfortunately out of print.  But you can still buy used copies from sellers on Amazon!
    good night bible
  • My Good Night Prayers by Susan Lingo
    good night prayers

Devotional for families with older children (tweens and teens):

Storybook Bibles

  • The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
    Every story in The Jesus Storybook Bible points to Jesus, creating one overarching message of salvation.  I read this to my youngest daughter when she was finishing up preschool.  I think that’s really too soon to fully appreciate the message of the book and think it’d be a good fit for younger elementary years instead.
    jesus storybook bible
  • My First Message by Eugene Peterson
    my first message
  • The Beginner’s Biblebeginners bible
  • The Action Bible
    The Action Bible
    was a huge hit with one of my daughters who loves graphic novels.  She devoured this during her reading time.  It has solid biblical content with artwork and a style she loved.  She first received the Action Bible when she was 8 and that seemed like a good age, but it would likely appeal to any of the upper elementary grades.
    action bible
  • The Story for Children, a Storybook Bible
    The Story
    is at times a good storybook Bible, although my kids weren’t always happy with the details or stories that were left out. I think my own children were just getting too old and were ready to read the Bible itself instead of the abbreviated version.
    story for children

Easter Devotional:

As our children get older, we’re moving away from storybook Bibles and devotionals and spending the majority of our time reading Scripture itself as a family.  If you’d like to begin reading the Bible aloud with your kids, here is a plan that takes you through the book of Mark in 30 days:
30 Days in the Book of Mark

Here’s the Good News

nehemiah8“Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions”
Psalm 45:7

Last year, I glued googly eyes to all of the food in our refrigerator, swapped my kids’ clothes around into different dressers, and stuffed toilet paper into their shoes.10152562_10202409425731544_115203408_n

This year, I swapped out all of their regular shoes for doll shoes and acted like they shrunk over night.

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I drew terrified faces on the hard-boiled eggs I packed in their lunch box with the message “Don’t eat me!”

IMG_3499

And, I lined up their stuffed animals in the bathroom as if they were all waiting for the toilet.

IMG_3501

I hate pranks.  It’s just not my kind of humor.

But I knew my kids would get a kick out of my April Fool’s fun, especially my one girl.  Maybe my other kids would laugh at mom’s silliness, but this girl of mine would cackle.

So, I’ve been lightening up a little and celebrating April Fool’s Day as a mom.

It’s because I love my kids and I love this wacky, quirky, silly-joke-telling, comic-book-reading girl of mine.

Maybe she teaches me a little how to choose joy.

This world can batter us and beat us with depressing news and overwhelming sorrow.

But we have Good News.

God Himself came to earth in human flesh, received the punishment we deserve for our sin, died in our place and rose again, offering us eternal life with Him in heaven.

This Good News should root itself deep into our hearts and make our lives blossom with joy.

It’s an excitement that maybe the world just doesn’t get.  Maybe they don’t understand.

Maybe we miss it sometimes ourselves.  We talk about Easter or new life in Christ like it’s blah, blah, blah….words in a book, something that happened a long time ago, information for our head never impacting our heart and life.

Unfortunately, we become immune over time to the message’s impact.  We forget the joy.  We forget the wonder and excitement.

And when we imagine Jesus Himself healing people and teaching them, so often we picture Him as a melancholy Savior, all staid, straight-laced and serious.

Surely, though, he must have smiled a bit as Nicodemus puzzled out the meaning of “born again.”

When Jesus deftly sidestepped the theological traps laid by the Pharisees and Sadducees, I imagine He did it with an internal grin.

As He delivered the revolutionary Sermon on the Mount, Jesus could not have been a boring monotone preacher.  He held the crowd’s attention for two solid chapters worth of teaching in Matthew 5-7.  There must have been some joy there!

And I hardly think children would climb all over Jesus’ lap if He frowned and scowled and scolded.

Jesus is a joy-filled Savior teaching us to live with the joy of God’s presence.

Not that our life circumstances always make joy easy.  Sometimes we feel like our “cup runneth over” and sometimes we feel like our cup is all poured out.  What then?

Nehemiah faced a crowd of Israelites who felt too overcome by their sin, too full of repentant sorrow to feel joy. Yet he told them,

“Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

We have our weak days, our weary days, our times of feeling out of control, confused, worried uncertain, scared, sad, and broken into a million pieces.

Yet, the joy of the Lord is our strength.

It’s not the fake, paste-on-a-smile joy or the pretend-like-the-world-is-perfect joy.

It’s living fully confident that God is sovereign.  We are in His hands and His hands can be trusted.

That’s what gives us strength to face each day, that quiet assurance of His love and His might.

So, we rejoice together when we consider the Good News of the Gospel.

We rejoice in God’s presence, in His accessibility to us at all times, in His compassion, in His faithfulness and unfailing love.

We rejoice in the journey of our faith, knowing that wherever He takes us, He is present there with us, even in darkness and long journeys through the valley.

Still we have joy.

“always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, NLT)

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 book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Why do we call this Friday “Good?”

She asked me why we call it “Good Friday.”  Why “good?”

Why “Happy Easter” or “Happy Resurrection Day?”

What makes this so “happy?”

How could we celebrate this death, this sacrifice, this sadness?  We should be so much more serious and sad, she tells me.1corinthians11

Like the disciples who mourned, like Mary Magdalene crying beside the tomb, surely we should remember this day with tears.

This she asks in confusion.

On Thursday, we ate the bread and drank the cup.

That’s what Jesus said that night in the upper room with disciples scattered around:

This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 NIV).

So, we remember.

She is thinking of grape juice and crackers, a snack when you’re hungry, but I tell her it’s more than that.

And she asks, why do this?  Why talk about blood–so gross, so morbid and earthy?

It’s too corporeal for holiness and for the sacred places, the striking red against the purity of the righteous life.

Why Mom?

That’s yucky.

I think today about the remembrance of it all and why it matters.

Today is Good Friday.

Last year, Good Friday was also the eight-year anniversary of my dad’s death.

So I sat with my daughter brushing her hair and telling her about my dad: little remembrances here and there and what makes that day special.

Then what makes this a day holy and set apart from other days?  Why Good Friday?1peter2

Because there’s beauty in the remembrance.  There’s honor and power in recollection.

I think this about my dad.  Talking about him makes his life real here and now after death.  It makes it more tangible, relevant.

These daughters of mine who never knew him and only see the pictures in a photo album, mostly after he was sick and didn’t look like the dad I remember, what other way for them to know than for me to tell?

And you just don’t want the anniversary of his death to slip by forgotten because it would be forgetting him.

Is it any different remembering our Savior in this season?

In German, they don’t call this day Good.  They call it Mourning Friday.

But isn’t that the beauty of this day?  That even as we remember Christ’s death, even as we talk about the cross and give it true attention, even as we drink the cup so apt to stain white and we eat the bread broken, even as we tell our children the stories and we say:

This is what He did for us.  Not some pristine ritual, not something pure and clean.  It was bloody and painful.  It was death.  It was hard.  And sacrifice like that was suffering. 

It wasn’t pushed on Him because He was too weak.  Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8 NIV).

This is what He chose to do for us because of love so great. 

Love so good.  Love so amazing, so divine…

Even as we say this and tell this to our children, the beauty of remembering the cross isn’t just the Mourning of our Savior, it’s the Good News that the resurrection came.

Why Good?

Why Happy?

I tell her remembering is how we worship, how we give thanks, how we honor His gift to us.

And that gift wasn’t just a trinket wrapped in a package with a bow.

It was good.  Truly good.  The greatest gift at the highest price.

And the resurrection; that’s our joy.  What better reason to be happy than to know the cross was not the end and the tomb didn’t destroy our hope?

Because of this, we have life everlasting.

And because of that day, we can see any crisis as an opportunity for Him to shine with resurrection power, to resurrect the dead, to defy all expectations and trample all over the circumstantial evidence by doing the impossible.

Yes, this remembering is good.

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 book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2014 Heather King

7 Activities to teach kids about Easter

I’ve been on a bit of a Mom Quest these past few years.  We’ve never been an Easter bunny family who lines up for pictures at the mall or decorated the house with rabbits, chicks and eggs every spring.easter

Our goal as parents is to keep the focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection.  That’s what we want our kids to remember, ask questions about, investigate and take to heart this season.

But when you bypass the bunnies in the Wal-Mart aisle, you can end up with Easter looking something like this:

Go to church in a pretty dress.  The end.

I want to teach my kids that Jesus is the Reason for THIS Season, too, and that needs to be a big deal.  Not just preaching at them; engaging them.

So, I’ve collected ideas that we do, some every year, some every few years to keep things new and interesting.  Here are some of our favorite ways to focus on Jesus this holiday:

Resurrection Eggs:  It’s an oldie but a goodie, a classic that’s been around since I was a kid.  I love the fact that the children drive the discussion in this activity. They open 12 eggs in a specific order.  Each egg holds a symbol of an event in the Passion week.  My kids tell what they think it might be about (the praying hands for the night Jesus prayed in the garden or the coins that Judas received to betray Jesus), and the booklet directs us to Scripture to fill in any blanks.003Empty Tomb Snack: This was so fun and only took a few minutes.  Each of my kids could basically put the pieces of the snack together.  I didn’t tell them what we were making, just gave them directions along the way.  Once they put the Oreo in place, they knew we had made the empty tomb.  Added bonus: Eating a yummy Entenmann’s chocolate doughnut (a secret passion of mine).  You’re supposed to use shredded coconut dyed green for the grass, but coconut isn’t my favorite.  So, I opted for green icing.

011Butterflies: I order a cup of painted lady butterfly caterpillars every year from Insect Lore.  We learn about how butterflies transform while also talking about a long-standing symbol of the resurrection—how the caterpillar goes into the chrysalis and seems to be dead, but then emerges with new life even more beautiful than before.  It’s science and Scripture together at its best.

butterflyResurrection Rolls: This was a new discovery this year and what a treat!  It’s especially good to do on Holy Saturday, talking about preparing Jesus’ body for burial, placing him in the tomb and sealing it up tightly.  When you open the rolls, they are empty inside.  A great surprise for kids.  It’s easy, too, with crescent rolls, melted butter, marshmallows, and cinnamon and sugar.  Bam!  Here are some great step-by-step directions.Resurrection RollsLamb cupcakes: These cupcakes aren’t just cute, they remind us that Jesus is the lamb of God.  Just top a cupcake with white icing (I’m a cream cheese icing fan, personally) and cover with mini marshmallows and one large marshmallow cut in half for the lamb’s head.  The kids mostly love the cupcake, but it’s also a great opportunity to talk about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and why Jesus was the perfect sacrifice.

Lamb cupcakesJelly Bean prayer: This is truly simple and sweet.  I put a handful of jelly beans in a baggie (at least one of each color) and include this little poem to walk my kids through the Gospel.  And I sneak a few of my favorite flavors to eat while I’m packing the bag.  That’s a mom bonus.  Here’s where you can find a free printable for the prayer.013

Easter garden:  This idea went viral on my Facebook and Pinterest feed last year and instead of just looking at it, I did a unique thing.  I decided to actually make it.  Shocking, I know!  My daughters and I had the best time setting up our little potted garden.  After all, it feels good to get your hands into a some potting soil in anticipation of spring!  The grass grew very quickly, though, so I’d likely wait until closer to Easter to plant our garden again next year.  I loved that my kids were asking questions about the three crosses, about the size of the stone covering the tomb, and how it was rolled away.Easter Garden

Of course, we don’t miss out on the basics.  We go to church and worship on Easter Sunday.  At night, we read from different children’s devotionals or the Bible, walking our kids through what Scripture says about the week of the Passion.

So, how do you teach your kids about Jesus’ death and resurrection during this season?

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 book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2014 Heather King

 

VBS Lessons: No Matter What Happens

All week long I’m thinking about the Bible points for our Vacation Bible School and what they mean for adults.  This week will be a mix of some old and some new as I share these lessons.

Tonight at Sky VBS! (Group Publishing), we’re learning: No Matter What Happens…Trust God!

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“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love”
Romans 8:38

There are times when I take prayer requests at the close of a meeting almost reluctantly, not because I don‘t care or because I don‘t want to pray.  It’s just that the requests seem so big and I feel the heaviness of them.

That perpetual litany of need, of cancer; mystery illnesses; the death of babies, husbands–and marriages; lost jobs and shattered finances seems like darkness with light, pain without hope.

I feel an affinity for the disciples in the three dark days between the cross and the resurrection, a silent understanding of their pain.  In “Valleys Fill First,” Caedmon’s Call sang: “It’s like that long Saturday between your death and the rising day, when no one wrote a word and wondered is this the end.”

Yes, that was the terror of looking at the cross and standing at a grave and thinking it was all over.

Days after riding through the streets of Jerusalem cheered by the crowd, Jesus had been captured, put on trial, crucified, and shut up in an impenetrable tomb, leaving the disciples overwhelmed, confused, and without hope.  They questioned everything they had seen, heard, and believed about Jesus just days before.

Then, they had confessed Him as Messiah.
Now, their Messiah was dead.

Then, they had seen Him raise Lazarus and others from the dead.
Now, His own death seemed unconquerable.

They had been catapulted into darkness and all of God’s promises and even their personal testimonies were called into question.

In the dark places, we too forget.  Surrounded by pain and despair, we allow circumstances to determine our view of God.  The physical “reality” of death, sickness, financial insecurity, and broken relationships tells us God isn’t loving, God won’t provide, God isn’t at work on our behalf.

When faced with tough circumstances, David also asked God some tough questions: “Will the Lord reject forever?  Will He never show His favor again?  Has His unfailing love vanished forever?  Has His promise failed for all time?  Has God forgotten to be merciful?  Has He in anger withheld His compassion?”  (Psalm 77:7-9, NIV).

Ultimately, though, David fought against these doubts by returning to what He knew was truth: “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:11-12, NIV). 

In the same way, we remember who our God is.  No matter what happens, we trust God.

Because He is a Creator, who can bring forth something altogether new out of nothingness.

Because He has Resurrection Power, the ability to take what is utterly dead and bring new life.

Christ’s resurrection gave the disciples new hope, real hope, true absolute belief and confirmation that their faith was more than a fairy tale, whim, emotional crutch or delusion.

So often, we use “hope” to mean little more than “good luck” or “best wishes.”  We give a friend a hug and say, “I hope you have a good day” or pat them on the back and say, “I hope you get that job you want” or “I hope your treatments work.”

We might as well be calling “heads” as we toss a coin.

Instead, because of Christ’s resurrection we have real hope for eternity.  We can have full, confident assurance in what Titus 2:13 calls “the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (NIV).  

Because of the Resurrection, we also have hope in the present.  After all, nothing is too big for a God who has power over life and death.  Jesus proved that no matter how bleak our physical reality looks and how much our five senses tell us God is not in control, He is still Lord and He can do all things.

Fortunately, our hope is in His strength and not our own.  It’s too much for us to carry around the weight of our problems and our dead circumstances.  We’re not creators. We don’t have resurrection power.  A world that relies solely on us is a hopeless place indeed.

Yet, no matter how dark our circumstances, even when we are in the closed tomb with every sign of death, we can have hope in Christ.

God, who conquered death and the grave, is working on your behalf in the here and now and also in preparation for our eternity with Him.

Instead of struggling to handle things on our own, we need to do something that is sometimes far more difficult–yield.  Cry out to Him that this weight is more than you can handle, allow Him to carry the load, and have renewed hope in God’s ability to care for you no matter how insurmountable the circumstances appear.

Would you like to hear the Caedmon’s Call song, Valleys Fill First?  Click here to follow the link or play it directly from the blog:

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, 04/07/2012

Hiding the Word:

Last night, our family sat at the Good Friday service at church.  We sang hymns about the cross. We read Isaiah 52-53.  My girls nailed papers with their sins written on them to a wooden cross in the front of the church sanctuary with the help of their Daddy and their grandparents.

We remembered the cross and the sacrifice Jesus made there.

Afterward, when we had arrived home, stripped off our jackets and plopped down our belongings, we glanced at our five caterpillars in a cup.  In our short absence, two of them had climbed to the top and tipped themselves upside down.

It’s time.  They know exactly when to spin the silk and form the chrysalis, just as they will know when to emerge as butterflies.

We are waiting with expectation now.  We know the end of their story and it doesn’t stop with upside down caterpillars or bugs entombed in the cocoon of their own design.  New life is the beginning that starts with the end.

In the same way, knowing as we do that Jesus didn’t stay in the tomb, we celebrate Good Friday with hopeful expectation–because Sunday is coming.  His resurrection day is near.

Jesus’ close friends and family, however, hadn’t understood His messages to them.  They didn’t fully expect His death.  They didn’t look forward with hopeful anticipation for His resurrection.  They got it all wrong.

Don’t we get it all wrong so much of the time?  Don’t we expect God to act a certain way, and when He doesn’t, we lose hope?  We grow weary and depressed, perhaps even angry.

We look at circumstances and we pronounce death over them.  We think surely this is over.  Surely nothing can be done.

Jesus defied all of our plans and expectations through His death and resurrection, providing the perfect way of salvation for the entirety of mankind.  He continues to do that today.  When He declares that the time is at hand, He can speak life into every circumstance and situation, and His plan is perfect.

Our verse for the week:

“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Corinthians 15:55-56).

You can listen to Matt Maher’s song, Christ is Risen, by clicking on this link or viewing the video from the blog:  http://youtu.be/IExdrZGQVeI

Weekend Rerun:

Surprise!
Originally posted July 27, 2011

All day long people were singing at her.  Smiling and singing.  They tickled her belly, kissed her cheek, hugged her, and said two magic words that she didn’t even understand, “Happy Birthday!”

At first, my now-two-year-old reacted to all this attention with nothing more than a puzzled expression.  By the afternoon of her second birthday, she smiled a sweetly confused grin when we scooped her up for birthday hugs and kisses.  After dinner, she enjoyed the visit from her grandparents, but it wasn’t until I brought out the birthday cupcakes and we sang to her that she really began to understand that this special day was about her.

As soon as I lit the candle, she knew what to do.  She started blowing at the air while I still stood across the room with her birthday cupcake in my hands.  And then after she was covered in icing and Mickey Mouse-shaped sprinkles, I brought out wrapped presents and gift bags.

Her face said it all.  “For me?”  She unwrapped each gift and immediately played with it, read the book, put the puzzle pieces in place, and fed the baby doll.

My little one had been surprised by joy.

How I love that age when the simple fact of a birthday is enough to bring laughter and excitement.  My older daughters now anticipate their big days all year long.  Within a week of turning six, my eldest began telling people she was, “Almost seven.”  I’ve heard all their big plans for birthday parties (despite being told that we’re skipping this year), and yet they plan anyway.

But for my baby girl, there was no anticipation.  She had no idea we were planning for her joy.  She was oblivious to me stashing presents in the closet.  She had no clue I wrapped them during her nap the day before the big day.  She did know that I made cupcakes (she has a sixth sense for finding cupcakes), but she didn’t see me decorate them or pop two candles onto the top of the one just for her.

During those final days before her birthday, her sisters and I were the excited ones.  We looked forward to showering her with special treats and signs of love, even more because we knew she wouldn’t be expecting it.

Matthew 7:11 says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

When we’re feeling broken, just emptied out or filled with fear . . . when we look ahead to an uncertain future, not even knowing what tomorrow will look like for us . . . when we’ve been attacked into the ground, pounded on by trials and Satan and circumstances and one bad event after another . . .

. . . then we remember that God is at work in invisible ways, even when we cannot see His hand, His activity, or His plans.  He gives us the good gifts of salvation, His Holy Spirit, His peace, yes.  But even more, He pours out on us surprises of joy, presents of grace in the unexpected places, an oasis in the midst of our wilderness, and a shooting star of hope across a midnight black expanse of our future.

Angela Thomas in her book Do You Know Who I Am? wrote:

“there is always a hidden work of God.  When you think that God is distant or that maybe God has turned against you, I want you to remember that in the unseen God is plotting for your joy.  He is planning the redemption of your brokenness.”  Angela Thomas

Does it tickle you to think of God in heaven wrapping presents for you, sending down cupcakes with sprinkles just for you–when you least expect it and on a day that seems so ordinary or worse, filled with despair?

That’s what He did for Mary Magdalene, sitting at the tomb of her dead Savior, weeping for the loss of Him and the seeming loss of all He had promised.  In her sorrow, she had traveled to the tomb while it was still dark.  Perhaps she couldn’t sleep, so throwing back her blankets she had simply gotten up and started walking to the place of His burial.

But the stone was gone.  The tomb empty.  She called for the disciples and they searched through scraps of linen for any answer to the mystery of the missing Savior.

There was despair and confusion and hurt.  There was anger and defensiveness about grave robbers and defilers. It was a day that had started out bad enough and was quickly getting worse by the second.

Mary didn’t see Jesus “plotting for her joy.”  He had been at work in the hidden places, descending into hell and snatching the keys of death out of Satan’s hands.  He had risen on that third day and exited the tomb already, but she hadn’t seen any of that.

While God planned her surprise, she: “stood outside the tomb crying” (John 20:11).

It’s not until she sees Jesus herself—not even then, not even when she talks with Him, but only when He calls her by name—that she realizes the victory before her, the amazing miracle of resurrection.

The angels asked her why she was crying.  Jesus Himself asked the reason for her tears.  She cried because the brokenness was all she knew and the evidence of loss and grief was overbearingly present.  An empty tomb, grave clothes in a pile, Savior’s body gone.  That’s what she saw.

Isn’t that what we sometimes see, too?  We see here and now.  Bills due.  Relationships broken.  Uncertainty about the next day and the next.  Unanswered questions.  Danger for our kids.  Loss and mourning.  Difficult ministry.

We see the grave.

God sees the resurrection.

He’s your Father who loves you, who knows how to give you good gifts and is wrapping presents for you, rejoicing “over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17), and working “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”” (Rom. 8:28).

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

Life or Death

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, He has risen”
Luke 24:5

A few months ago, my husband came home, arms full of roses—deep red, fragrance so rich.  They were the most beautiful flowers I’d ever been given.

This bouquet from my husband greeted me throughout the day for two weeks, perfect in their vase.  I’d stop my chores and my rushing to literally stop and smell the roses.  But, of course then came wilting and fading and falling petals.  As a girl, I had collected up rose petals over time and filled a glass cup with them, like homemade potpourri with scents of summer and memories dear.  So, I once again gathered up the petals to keep them as a reminder of my gift.

Last week, I peeked into my jar of keepsake roses to enjoy them just for a moment and instead of dried and faded flowers still filled with aroma, I found instead mold grown over.  Into the trash they went.

Sometimes there are things we hold onto so dearly that are truly dead.  We try and try to revive and preserve; we linger over things past.  Have you held onto the habits and comforts of the past when Christ has called you to lay them down and move on?  He has asked you to sacrifice and instead you clutch it to your chest, not willing to give it up.  So, you cling to the old and fail to receive the new “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! ” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV).

At the tomb on the morning of Christ’s resurrection, women brought spices for anointing.  Instead of the expected, they faced the unexpected—the stone rolled away, the body gone, two angels in clothes gleaming like lightning, asking a question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, He has risen” (Luke 24:5)

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

Surely there are times we do this, too.  We look for our Living Savior among the graves.  Sometimes our faith is more cemetery than empty tomb.

Chris Tiegreen wrote:

We read the Bible as a historical document rather than as a living Word. We follow Jesus as our example rather than listening to Him as our living Lord.  We take our cues from our denominational traditions rather than from the Spirit of life.  In other words, we turn our faith toward dead things rather than toward the Living One.

Has this been you?  Has faith been dulled and the joy of your salvation replaced by compulsory duty and passionless motions—doing Christianity rather than living with Christ?

Or, are you instead staring at a tomb of a different sort, but still there is death?  A relationship broken.  A marriage over.  A child turned prodigal.  A ministry struggling.  A passion now cold.  A vision gone dark.  A hope proved impossible.  A lack of direction and not knowing where to go.  A season of waiting, waiting, waiting, always waiting.

There is some mourning to be done, some grieving over what is lost and dead in our lives.  Some letting go and laying down.  And there may be tears; that’s expected.   Yet, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

With morning, comes resurrection and abundant new life, and we rejoice for He is “making everything new” (Revelation 21:5, NIV).  This Savior whose sacrifice we remember on Good Friday by eating the bread, drinking the cup—this Savior declared victory over death and the grave.  Power over His tomb.  Power over the places we mourn and grieve.

“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57, NIV).

and

“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14, NIV).

What would this rising look like for us?  What can He resurrect in us this year?  Over what can He give us victory?

I pray this new life for you. 

That His Word will be living and active, changing your heart, altering your perspective.
For renewed passion, vision, excitement, and ministry impact.
For restoration of relationships.
For the return of hope.
For weeping to end and joy to fill you.
For your eyes to be opened wide to God’s presence, His character, His goodness.
~Amen~

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Now it’s your turn:

Is there something you are praying that God will resurrect in your life this year?  Is there something dead that needs to be laid down?  How can I pray for you?

What verse or thought has been on your mind as you prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday?

Please post a comment to share!!

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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