Joy and April Fools and Finding New Strength

nehemiah8

Two years ago, 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

Last 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!”

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

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This year, I’m sending my kids to school with gummy worms hanging out of the apples in their lunches.

And, I’ve turned all the pictures and knick knacks and everything I can get my hands on upside down in the night so they wake up to an upside-down house.

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)

Originally published 4/1/2015

This is What He Told Everybody, Anytime, Anywhere

Romans 1

I wrote this post almost exactly 2 years ago to honor an amazing man who spilled Jesus everywhere he went.  Mr. Altemus went to be with the Lord this week and I am remembering his testimony and his contagious faith today.

I wished him a happy birthday.

I’d seen the pictures that week of family and friends celebrating his 94th birthday at the Chick-fil-A in our tiny town.  So, of course I wanted to join my “happy birthday” with theirs.

He accepted my birthday wishes with a friendly grin and then opened up his wallet to show me a treasure, not cash or check or credit card, of course.

No, he had packed his wallet full of small Gospel cards that he’d designed and had printed up himself–200 of them.  He fingers the Bible verses as he tells me all about them, about how they tell of Jesus loving us, dying for us, forgiving us….and how we can spend eternity with Him if we accept Him as our Savior.

Then he touches his hand to the cross he wears, two nails formed together, and he tells me how he’s given away oh 14 dozen or so because Jesus took the nails for him and me and for all of us.

I gave him a birthday greeting.

He gave me the Gospel.

I received the greater gift.

He knows who I am, knows I’m a Christian, worships with me every week at our church.  Still he shares.

I smile as he talks, smile at his enthusiasm and his boldness, and smile to think that Jesus must be his very favorite thing to talk about.  How many hundreds of times has he shared this very same message with others?  That’s what I wonder…that’s why I marvel.

And that’s why, later that night, I still ponder a 94-year-old man who used his birthday to share the Gospel with a church-girl like me.

I feel the Holy Spirit nudge, the conviction deep.

He, after all, overflows with the gospel.  He tells me about Jesus not because I need to know or because I look like a lost soul, but because talking about Jesus is what He does everywhere, to everybody, without fear or shame or concern for public opinion.  There’s no keeping it hidden, no compartmentalizing his conversation into Jesus-talk for church folks but small talk about the weather for anyone else.

Indeed, he could say:

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes–the Jew first and also the Gentile (Romans 1:16 NLT).

Could I say this about myself?

It’s easy, of course, for God, Jesus, the Bible, grace, sin and forgiveness to be my sometimes conversation in safe places with safe people at safe times.

But I’m a people-pleaser, anxious not to offend, worried about the awkwardness of a difficult conversation, the tension of loving confrontation with the truth, or what might happen if someone doesn’t like the salvation message on my Christmas card.

Faced with this man, though, who is clearly not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I long for unashamed boldness and passion.

In The Christian Atheist, Craig Groeschel writes:

….I believe one of the main reasons people don’t share their faith in Christ is that they don’t really believe in hell.  Many of us are out of touch with the genuine urgency.

He hits the truth and I wince with this pain:  I don’t feel the urgency to share the news of Christ.

I believe the Scripture and that our choice here isn’t heaven or nothingness….heaven or a lesser heaven…..heaven or a mildly uncomfortable but ultimately more fun destination.

It’s heaven or hell.  Either/or.  Black or white.  Here or there.  No in between or sugar-coating or gray.

Yet, I’m sometimes more worried about the here-and-now consequences of a difficult conversation than I’m concerned about the ever-after results of others not knowing Jesus.

Street preaching or door-to-door Gospel-selling isn’t the mandate here.

But being prepared.

Being yielded.

Being ready.

Being willing.

Being articulate, clear, simple, passionate.

Being purposeful.

Being loving.

That’s the example he sets for me, a 94-year-old man with a wallet full of Gospel cards and a pocket heavy with nail crosses.

Originally posted 12/6/2013

Christmas devotions: When preschoolers ask ‘why?’

I am cutting out flannel board figures today and pulling out my Jesus Storybook Bible.  I am choosing simple carols that repeat….a lot.  Like Angels We Have Heard on High (Glo-ooooo-ooooo-oooooo-ria) and Go Tell It on a Mountain.titus3

And Jingle Bells.  That’s a carol, right?

Today, I head into a sanctuary of preschoolers to present a Christmas program for them and I want to cut through all that they hear about Christmas—Santa and reindeer and cookies and presents and colorful lights and an elf with a crazy nightlife.

I want to get one message out loud and clear, though, through all that noise:

Jesus.

I know preschoolers.  I’ve had my fair share.  Just last year, my own four-year-old quizzed me all season long:

She asked me:  Why?

Why was the serpent bad in that garden?

Why did Eve give the fruit to Adam, too?

Why did God choose Mary to be Jesus’ mom?

Why did the people shout to kill Jesus when He didn’t do anything wrong?

Why did they slam that crown of thorns down on Jesus’ head and why did they lash His back again and again and again?

Why did He die on that wooden cross?

Why did the women put burial spices on His body and why did they wrap Jesus in those cloths?

Why did Jesus walk on out of that grave?

I tried to break it all down, this Gospel, and explain it in a way she could understand.

I tried to keep it simple.

But I stumbled and tripped, and got tangled up in complicated explanations.

Start, stop, start over.  That’s how it went.

In the minivan, at the dinner table, as we turned the pages of her children’s Bible, as she held my hand and walked out the door, she asked.  “Why.”

Over and over we walk through the Gospel, letting it sink down deep into her heart and mind.

We adults tend to complicate this Good News, fumbling to unwrap the beautiful simplicity with our overgrown paws.

Wasn’t that part of the trouble for the Pharisees, too?  They piled on laws, rules, legalism and judgment, tripping people up with their obstacle-ridden path to redemption.  They took something simple and made it so difficult.In the same way, we can tangle the Christmas story in details and asides, but God unravels the mess and says it clear:

 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 1:18

In the Women of Christmas, Liz Curtis Higgs writes, “He summarized the main characters and their plight in a single sentence.”Wreath of Snow_cvr.indd

That’s what we need.  We need our God to free us from complicated explanations and tricky religious routines.

Because when salvation gets complicated, we lose sight of grace.  It becomes about us instead of all about Him.

What a mess we are on our own.  Paul tells us:

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient.  We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures.  Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other.  (Titus 3:3 NLT).

That’s what we are without God.

“But…”

Paul writes that one three-letter word of hope and freedom for all of us chained to sin.

But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.”  (Titus 3:4-7 NLT)

We bring mess.

He brings mercy.

It’s as simple as that.

All of those “Why’s” preschoolers ask and all of the “why’s” I ask myself when life seems complicated and confusing find their answer here:  “because of his mercy.”

And Christmas, oh how we can tangle it right up with confusion and busyness, but here is the clear and simple truth:

It was at Christmas that God gave us a Savior we didn’t deserve and a sacrifice we didn’t merit.

Why did God send a Savior?

Why did He come as a baby?

Why did He take that crown of thorns, endure that lashing of the whip, die there on that cross?

Why did He walk out of that tomb, alive anew?

Because of His mercy.

Yes, because of His grace.

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.

 

What she said on the mountain….and why I didn’t expect it

She stepped right off that bus and kept on going.

The rest of us shuffled off after the long drive and congregated silently on the sidewalk, awaiting further instructions.  No one really knew each other so we generally avoided awkwardness by pretending to be busy getting our stuff together.

Not her.  She pushed right past and flung her arms open into the cool October air.

She even spun around.  I’m not kidding.  It was just like Maria from Sound of Music only she didn’t break into, “The hills are alive…”psalm19

But she could have.

Instead, I heard her say it and it stopped my self-obsessed heart right there:  “It’s so beautiful!  How could you see all this and not know God?”

That’s what she said.

It’s the first time I really noticed her.  I mean really noticed, more than the passing glance and distant, friendly nod in our college history class.  We’d spent a whole semester together and I think perhaps by the end I’d at least learned her name.

But here she was, declaring the glory of God in the mountains of Western Maryland as we spent a weekend at a leadership retreat for college students.  She was bolder than I had been all year, didn’t care what anyone else thought, just threw herself into a declaration of faith and worship while everyone else looked on.

I didn’t know about her faith, didn’t know her heart at all.

Sometimes we think we know what’s inside the hearts of others.  We think we can tell—-who knows God?  Who doesn’t?  Who is close to salvation?  Who is “hopeless.”

But we can be wrong

God isn’t.  He declares,

But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives (Jeremiah 17:10 NLT).

He knows.

So, when we feel like giving up on someone and think no way will they ever believe in God, remember that only God knows.  Maybe we stop that persevering prayer for their salvation because it just won’t ever happen, but maybe they are just one moment away from faith.

Or we think all this depends on us.  Our words, our prayers, our testimonies make salvation happen.

But really, God is at work.  He grants us this privilege to be part of His love for others, but it’s never all about us.

We just share our heart.  We live out Christ.  We love others like Him.  And we pray.

We obey Him and trust Him with the rest.

And we can get all tangled up in worry over, ‘What about the people who never hear about Christ?  How can a good God deny them heaven?”

But the truth is the same…It’s All About Him….and He is more than capable.  He knows the hearts of every one of us, knows who is close to faith, who needs to hear the message, whose heart is made ready for the Gospel.

Rahab lived in that pagan town Jericho.  No one would have expected her to be a God-follower, not a rescuer of Israelites or the one person in Jericho who was closest to salvation

She was a prostitute.  Hopelessly lost, for sure.

Maybe that’s what any human would judge with all the external evidence we could muster against her.

But God knew her heart.  He knew that of all the people in the city, she was the one person who heard the testimony of the miracles God had done and would think, ‘This is a God who I can trust to save me.”

That’s what she said in a whispered conversation with two Israelite spies she hid on her roof:

For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below (Joshua 2:11 NLT).

She believed.

Who would’ve thought?

God, that’s who.  He sent those spies straight to her door because He knew she would save them…..and He knew that He would save her.

He knocked down a seemingly impenetrable fortress of walls around Jericho, but kept her one lone house standing.

He moved heaven and earth to save a woman whose heart was ready for grace and faith.

This is our God with His heart to save, with His power to do the impossible and to share the Gospel with those who need to hear because He does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).

Lord, forgive us when we’ve given up praying for salvation for others.  Help us to persevere in prayer. 

Give us a heart for others and the boldness and compassion to share our testimony and display Your love and truth.

Remind us that only You can know what is in the heart of another.  No one is ‘hopeless’ or so far from You that salvation is out of reach.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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

Devotionals for Christmas: How to answer when your preschooler asks, “Why?”

She asks me:  Why?

Why was the serpent bad in that garden?

Why did Eve give the fruit to Adam, too?

Why did God choose Mary to be Jesus’ mom?

Why did the people shout to kill Jesus when He didn’t do anything wrong?

Why did they slam that crown of thorns down on Jesus’ head and why did they lash His back again and again and again?

Why did He die on that wooden cross?

Why did the women put burial spices on His body and why did they wrap Jesus in those cloths?

Why did Jesus walk on out of that grave?

I try to break it all down, this Gospel, and explain it in the language of a four-year-old.  But I stumble and trip, throw in words she doesn’t understand and then toss them out again.

Start, stop, start over.  That’s how it goes.

I answer.

But she asks again.

Why?

In the minivan, at the dinner table, as we turn the pages of her children’s Bible, as she holds my hand and walks out the door, she asks.  Over and over we walk through the Gospel, letting it sink down deep into her heart and mind, and I pray that the seed sewn and watered will sprout faith, strong and true.

We adults tend to complicate this Good News, fumbling to unwrap the beautiful simplicity with our overgrown paws.

There is, after all, depth here.  No matter how down deep we dig into God’s Word, there is rich truth to uncover.

Paul exclaimed:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  (Romans 11:33 NIV).

Wasn’t that part of the trouble for the Pharisees, though?  They piled on laws, rules, legalism and judgment, tripping people up with their obstacle-ridden path to redemption.  They took something simple and made it so difficult.

And yet, how capable our God is at breaking down the difficult and complex, making it simple so we, His own precious children can understand.

In the same way, we can tangle the Christmas story in details and asides, but God unravels the mess and says it clear:

 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 1:18

In the Women of Christmas, Liz Curtis Higgs writes, “He summarized the main characters and their plight in a single sentence.”Wreath of Snow_cvr.indd

That’s what we need.  We need our God to free us from complicated explanations and tricky religious routines.  We need Him to be clear.  We need Him to break it down.

Because when salvation gets complicated, we lose sight of grace.  It becomes about us instead of all about Him.

We know what a disaster that is.

Paul tells us what we bring to this salvation table:

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient.  We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures.  Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other.  (Titus 3:3 NLT).

What a mess we make.  Foolish, disobedient, mistaken, slaves to sin, evil, envious, and filled with hate—that’s what we are without God.

“But…”

That’s what Paul writes next.  One three-letter word of hope and freedom for all of us chained to sin.

But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.”  (Titus 3:4-7 NLT)

We bring mess.titus3

He brings mercy.

It’s as simple as that.

All of those “Why’s” my preschooler asks and all of the “why’s” I myself ask when life seems complicated and confusing find their answer here:  “because of his mercy.”

And Christmas, oh how we can tangle it right up with confusion and busyness, but here is the clear and simple truth:

It was at Christmas that God revealed His kindness and love, mercifully, generously, with a Savior we didn’t deserve and a sacrifice we didn’t merit.

Why did God send a Savior?

Why did He come as a baby?

Why did He take that crown of thorns, endure that lashing of the whip, die there on that cross?

Why did He walk out of that tomb, alive anew?

Because of His mercy.

Yes, because of His grace.

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 © 2013 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.

Keeping It Simple and Sweet

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord and He answered me by setting me free”
(Psalm 118:5).

I grew up in a family of five kids.  Life at our house was rowdy, busy, loud and fun.  We were always joking.  We were forever playing games.

Like canasta

Now, canasta was “the family game.”  Sure, we plowed through rounds of Monopoly or Yahtzee, Scrabble, Othello or Clue pretty frequently, too.  Playing canasta, though, was like an initiation rite for us.  Friends and boyfriends or girlfriends all gathered around the table at some point and we began the canasta lessons

Okay, so first we are going to tell you about points.  You see the goal is to reach 5000 points before anyone else.  So, Jokers are worth 50.  Got that?  And Aces and 2’s are 20 points.  Now, Jokers and 2’s are wild cards, but everything else is a natural card.  Cards 8 and higher are worth 10 points and anything less than that is worth 5 points.  Except for 3’s, you see, because red 3’s are special.  If you get one of those, you have to put it down right away on your board and you get 100 points for that at the end of the hand and you get another card to replace it.  Unless you don’t put anything else on the board the whole round in which case the red 3 counts against you.  Got it?  Okay, so now let’s talk about how to freeze the deck . . .

It was dizzying really, trying to explain this game to a newcomer.

Sometimes, it may feel like it’s just as complicated to explain the gospel of grace.

It’s not because grace is so convoluted or hard to understand.  It’s us.  We tangle the web until it’s a jumble of mis-explanations and unnecessary additions.

But Jesus said we should have faith like a child and that means that God’s Good News, the Gospel, is simple enough for a child to understand.

Last night, I listened to my oldest daughter recite her memory verse for church.  Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We broke the verse down and chatted about it.  And as complicated as it may have sounded at first, the message was simple.

We sin and so we’ve earned death.  But because of Jesus, God gave us eternal life.

That’s the whole salvation message right there.  Simple.  Straightforward.  And easy enough for my child to understand during a simple evening chat on our living room sofa.

She learned the verse that summed up Jesus’ entire purpose for coming to this earth: “The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).  And she can tell you in one quick verse how we accept the gift of eternal life: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

So, why do we make it so difficult?  Why do we add in requirements and make judgements?  Why do we create hierarchies of sin and levels of righteousness?  Why do we create rituals and blessings that hinge on extra expectations?

That’s what the Pharisees did.  They tried to trip Jesus up with complicated questions about the after-life and regulations about the Sabbath and whose sin was to blame for a man’s blindness.  They delighted in the complexity of the law and rejected the simplicity of grace.

In the same way, we ourselves stumble into being spiritual lawmakers at times.  But we are always doomed to failure in that system of rules and regulations and hoops to jump through.  We become chained, trapped and imprisoned by the law.

Paul called it slavery.  He said it was a “yoke of bondage” that we accept even though “Christ has made us free” (Galatians 5:4).

Free.  Free from condemnation.  Free from perpetually feeling less than.  Free from always having to perform to earn approval, salvation, and nearness to God.  Free from the oppressiveness of perfection.

That’s not to say that God lacks depth or that it’s enough to skirt the surface of the Bible, dwelling in a shallow and superficial understanding of our faith.  Just because the gospel that God has crafted is simple, doesn’t mean God is.

Even Paul, the accomplished Jewish scholar and rhetorical expert, admitted sometimes God was just too much for him to fathom.  He exclaimed, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (Romans 11:33).

And so we plunge the depths of God’s Word, rolling up our sleeves and becoming students of the Bible, not to earn religious accolades, but to know Him.  We want to worship Him in “spirit and an in truth.”  We want to love Him not just with our heart and soul, but with our mind also.

But at the end of the day, we need to be able to explain grace to a child, partly so we can maintain our own focus.

When I was an English teacher, I occasionally marked students’ papers with K.I.S.S.—Keep It Simple and Sweet.  That’s what our God did for us.  He knew our propensity to miss the point because we’re ensnared in confusion, so He kept grace simple.  He placed the freedom of the gospel within easy grasp.

If we’re making it difficult, if we’re expecting perfection, if we’re demanding impossible standards and if we’re imposing obstacles to salvation, we’re missing just how simple and sweet God’s grace really is.

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